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Intellectual honesty is the best policy

So I’ve had some great conversations over the last week and am having a great deal of fun with the Marketing IS in the Middle project.  I’ve had to connect on phone, via email and in person with key people I trust who do a little marketing which in and off itself has been very informative and rewarding.   This post is ultimately the synthesis of three key quotes from the project:

Did I get something to change and stay changed from when I started until when I left. – Chris Brogan

Being in the services industry (read: low IP) the value has to be defined at a very fundamental level – Vikram Singha

…honest self assessment of the firm’s realistic position in the competitive landscape is critical – John Mecke

If there is already a set of key themes in the feedback from the interviews they are culture and organizational alignment.   What is acceptable, what is required and where do you focus.   Another way to look at it is  –  What support does the greater organization provide, what contributions can you make and how can you impact sustaining change in an organization or for a given product/brand in a portfolio.  For some reason that takes many a marketer down the “we’re best and undifferentiated” path.

Not every product can be the best, but it may be the best for a very small use case and market segment, which doesn’t suck, but isn’t that exciting.  So we try and get a little creative and end up a little bland.  I’m not saying that marketers are dishonest, I’m more saying we are optimists and love our products.  To that end, some marketers optimistically position products as best in class, industry leading and other category killer references which are sure to drive explosive growth.

Being the best is the fun/easy, but isn’t really marketing.  Predicting growth is definitely the better side of product management and marketing, but not always like – sometimes you’re number 6 in the market with flat to declining revenues.  Ultimately buyers have problems and don’t necessarily care about your products, so if you could spend sometime figuring out what the problems are, rather than declaring your products the best you might be able to create a “behavior change” which is lasting and drives growth. To that end, perhaps a little intellectual honest about your product just might be the start.

I find that 9 questions will always help out when trying to gauge your position in a technology market:

3 Questions for your Sales Organization

  1. Who are the top 3 competitors and how do we rank?
  2. Why do we win against each of these competitors?
  3. If you could sell 2 of the competitor products which would they be and why?

3 Questions for your customers

  1. Who else did you consider in your search for a solution?
  2. Why did you select this product over our competitors?
  3. Will you buy more products from us? Please explain why

3 Questions for the Marketing organization?

  1. What is the reason you win?
  2. What is the clear differentiation against key competitors?
  3. How many sales calls have you gone on/customer visits have you had in the last 60 days?

If you extend a wide outreach into these stakeholders and look at the responses it might just tell a different story for your press release boilerplate, keep you honest and let you know the buyer just a little better.  The worst thing that happens is you find out your place for your product in the marketplace.