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Product Marketing

The Content Dilemma

Every time I find myself in a new role or with a new product, I always start with engaging the market. Working with customers and prospects will provide insights into what your users value and the problems that they want to solve. This will help you determine what content to focus on.

You should also engage with your sales team to see who the typical buyers are and then perform win/loss calls. Once you have identified the buyer and user personas through these methods, spend time with the team to do a positioning exercise for those personas. Now you will have a core message established and an understanding of your buyers’ criteria for solving their problems. This is in essence the DNA you need to start creating content for the web. And content that focuses on the buyers’ needs is significantly more engaging than product-focused content.

You may have heard that nearly 70 percent of the buyer’s journey is complete before they even reach out to sales. That means when buyers find your content, it’s because they have a particular challenge to solve and are evaluating the options. So make sure your content explains how you can help your customers.

Your online presence should also extend to other places your personas congregate online. This is another place a buyer persona is helpful, because when you interview buyers you can find out what they read (blogs, journals), whether they use social media, and if so, which networks. This will help you prioritize your content channels, mirror the language they use and understand how your content resonates with readers and drives engagement.

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Win/Loss Questions for Software, Hardware and SaaS offerings

A great way to better understand the buying and using criteria around your current solutions is to talk with new customers. You can ask them open end questions like:

  • What first led you to buy our product?
  • What other products were considered in your evaluation?
  • What problems does our product solve for you?
  • What do you like most about our product?
  • What do you like least about our product?
  • How can we improve our product?

But you can also broaden your focus to try and find new opportunities—whether it’s new products, incremental offerings or solution bundles—with questions like:

  • How did your organization prioritize solving this problem over other problems in your business?
    • The responses will help you better understand buying drivers, the budget process, total elapsed timelines and buyer personas.
  • What do you think about our company?
    • The answers will help you identify the positive perceptions that exist—which you may want to amplify—and unearth less positive sentiments, which you may need to address.
  • What are some of the best products you’ve seen lately?
    • These answers will help you identify emerging competitors, potential acquisition options and potential partners.
  • As you think about the company as a whole—not just our current offering—what additional problems can we solve for you?
    • This question helps move the discussion beyond the constraints of current implementations or services to identify potential products you could develop or extend in your current portfolio.

In my experience, once you start getting feedback on the questions you ask, more questions easily pop up. Here’s hoping these questions will encourage other ideas and new areas to explore.

Annual Planning and Budgeting: Operating a business and managing your product with metrics


It’s that time of year again – budget season and annual planning. YEAH!

Understanding the plan, the progress and next years investments require visibility.  The visibility required to understand if you are directionally on track to hit plan and how to justify resources and budget.  As I get the opportunity to teach folks all over the globe, I’m often asked what we should measure to ensure we are making fact based decisions and the answer is always, it depends.  Depends on the market, the management team expectations, company’s point in its lifecycle, product lifecycle and alike.  The most typical way organizations align product teams and operational groups is through annual planning and the business plan for your products.

Your business plan is your path forward. But to create a comprehensive business plan, you first must understand your business and the way your products fit into that business. Simply put, if you don’t know how operations, sales or any other area is performing, how can you make plans to improve?

The great thing about the systems and methods used in modern marketing is that most are measurable. But that doesn’t mean you want to measure everything. It’s important to focus on the analytics that inform the business about where you are relative to corporate-wide goals, as well as your given portfolio mix and its contribution to the business. Reviewing these analytics helps you figure out what’s next.

Of course, it’s one thing to know your numbers; it’s another to understand those numbers in context. You must understand where to invest based not just on analysts’ stories and high-level trends, but also on the effectiveness of products in the market and the historical return on their efforts.

To keep it simple, ask your teams to describe the performance of products and investment opportunities by addressing three items: size, shape and direction.

Size: How large is the opportunity relative to other opportunities?

Let’s say you manage a $4 million product line. How much of the company’s resources should be used to support that? How does that change if it’s a $10 million company or a $10 billion company?

It’s important to understand how big your portfolio or product is relative to other portfolios and products in the business. And while it’s easiest to focus on revenue, it’s also important to know your profit contribution, as the health of your margins can affect both your investment levels and your ability to scale.

Remember, not all product lines or portfolios are created equal. Every product has different revenue and profit contributions. Once you understand yours, you can analyze the overall size of the organization in the portfolio, and your size and contribution to that portfolio (both top line and bottom line).

Shape: How does it target your most profitable and satisfied segments?

When you’ve identified the relative level of influence of your product, it’s time to analyze the shape of the business. Imagine your business as a series of three triangles representing customer count, revenue and profits. Consider your customer base: what does a large customer look like, what does a small customer look like? How many customers do you have?

Next, calculate how much these customers contribute to revenue, and how much they contribute to profits. Some customers may produce a lot of revenue but don’t generate comparable profit because they receive better price points or better service levels. All kinds of drivers might produce the traditional pyramid across customer accounts, revenue and profits.

It’s important to understand this segmentation so you can optimize where to invest. You want to analyze which products solve the problems of your most satisfied and profitable customers to identify projects and opportunities that best benefit your business.

Direction: How will it affect the trajectory of the product and business?

Look at the direction of your company. Is it flat, declining or growing? Assess the direction, not just of the top line, but the bottom line as well. Are you leaking profits? Perhaps you’re growing revenue but every dollar that comes in is eroding incremental profit. Consider how these things affect fixed and variable costs, and ultimately, the way you run your business.

Every product or portfolio also has its own trend. It’s important to know the quarterly and annual financial performance of each, to understand the product trajectory relative to overall business goals and the goals of other products. Then you can decide which opportunities are worth pursuing.

Having access to data is meaningless unless you shape it, customize it and make it relevant to your business. When you understand the size, shape and direction, you understand how your business operates and the context of your products within the business. This allows you to think, decide and act. But this isn’t a one and done exercise. It’s a loop that requires continuous monitoring. Commit to performing at least an annual assessment and start putting your data to work for you.

When Losing 800 Customers Pays Off

I once ran a $32 million business with 10,000 customers. It was primarily subscription and user based with some additional premium features in a mature market.

A small number of customers contributed a large amount of revenue, and a large number of customers contributed a small amount of revenue.

As we started looking at trends and customer segmentations, we created five tiers. The lowest-value tier was the “single office, home office” group. Approximately 3,000 folks were responsible for about $2.3 million; it was just about a break-even business. They could be a slightly annoying subset. Since they were infrequent users who were not proficient, they consumed development and support capacity and dragged on profit. Upon further analysis, we found that there was actually a trend down on this particular segment of our customer base.

Our solution? Triple their pricing. We understood that we would lose a lot of those customers but the results were interesting. While we did lose 800 customers, the revenue actually went up to $3.6 million, $1.3 million of which was pure profit.

By understanding the size, shape and direction of our business, we were able to confidently make this decision resulting in lower costs and increased revenue.

A version of this article originally appeared @

Using Win/Loss to help sales succeed.


A continual challenge for marketers – how do we make deals go faster as marketers? The initial concept which jumps to mind is automation, but marketing automation is a tool that requires context. Many marketers are finding while have technology improves visibility, it may not be changing overall results.

Results requires understanding not just the goals of business, but the goals of the buyer.   This requires empathy and context.  To get context around the buying journey, interviews and specifically Win/Loss help provide the roadmap. Win/loss provides insights into the buyers, process and criteria used to make a decision. As such, it can often improve velocity by allowing you to better support the buying process through the following:

Creating A Baseline

Gain your under standing of the buying process and participants through Win/Loss.  During your discovering of how the decisions are made and who participates you make find you need to build more stuff – collateral, tools and content in general. While you may have some of the items, you will find there are gaps in materials needed to nurture  leads and bring buyers along on their journey.

Where gaps in tools and content exist, it often introduces delays in follow up. Custom tools must be created. Even if the team isn’t creating one-off pieces, the reactive nature slows the process down. Win/loss helps you identify and prioritize sales tools so you can proactively arm your customers and salespeople.

Find the Friction

Win/loss identifies points in the buying process where internal processes and sales steps are inconsistent with buyer expectations. For example, perhaps the conflict is seen as arduous or the time to receive a quote seems too long. Some of these items may not be the domain of marketing, but having market knowledge empowers other teams to prioritize initiatives that can improve sales timelines.

Optimizing The Funnel

Win/loss not only helps move deals faster, it also provides guidance on when a deal may not be the right one. Knowing early whether to run from a bad deal increases channel productivity, because it allows individual reps to stay focused on deals they can win.

Lead scoring is a collaborative, iterative sales exercise that identifies the actions taken by individual evaluators and defines a score or value for each action completed. Once evaluators reach a certain score, they are classified as a qualified lead, meaning they have the correct characteristics for sales engagement.

Win/loss calls are invaluable for defining the steps evaluators take and the value of each. Plus, once a lead scoring program is deployed and a baseline established, additional win/loss efforts can help fine-tune the definition of “qualified,” making it increasingly accurate.

Using win/loss to better understand the buying process, identify gaps and focus your salespeople can improve speed to close, another reason it is one of the most powerful tools for any marketing department.

A version of this article appeared @