It might have been a four-day week but that didn’t slow down the questions in Slack, and edition #36 of the round-up’s packed with everything from competitor comparison wars and naming conventions to customer advisory board tips and prospect-facing roadmap advice.
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Q: One of our competitors has been going after us pretty aggressively with ad campaigns, as well as pages on their website, comparing our feature sets and actually listing ours incorrectly. A few of our prospects who are talking to both companies have brought this up to our sales team, does anyone have any suggestions of how to combat this (other than outbid them on ads)?
A: Lots of people shared the pain of this one and here’s some of the advice that came in:
“Would you guys ever consider a similar landing page where you can control the message? I have a competitor that does that, and it really irks me because the information on the LP is actually very wrong! We had one of our partners put together the comparison page for us and publish it on their site which we then share, so it looks like an impartial third party is actually saying how great we are compared to them. We also share the G2Crowd grid with prospects who bring it up, which shuts that down fast as well (we have a ton of reviews and are the leader by a longshot).”
- Madelyn Wing, Director of Product Marketing at CallRail
“IMHO, the best thing you can do is to continue to run your own race. I've worked in several competitive markets and it's really easy for the sales team to get focused on what the competition is saying or advertising and lose sight of their messaging, positioning and strengths. Rather than competing on ad buy or focusing on correcting their errors with prospects, get your team to double down on your specific value proposition, ensuring your team is talking about your strengths and success stories and not giving the competition any more air time. And of course, use your customers to reinforce and sell for you.”
- David Verhaag, Founder at Olifano
“You could choose to make your features available, perhaps in a datasheet. That way, if a company says they heard this about you, you can point them at the datasheet. I assume you are better known which is they are doing it, so comparing against them is a double-edged sword since it gives them validity. I would also arm sales with a competitive guide against them to use at their discretion.”
- Martin Bakal, Product Marketing Director at OpenLegacy
“I’ve done blogs in the past to “debunk myths” without directly calling out a competitor.”
- Kelly Masters, Senior Product Marketing Manager at VMware
“I’ve seen some companies be very successful with those types of published comparison pages - it allows you to control the message and if it’s a highly competitive market, chances are prospects will be searching for “x vs. y” and that could land them on your curated page.
“Other than that, I’d focus on marketing the key messages, use cases, features, etc. that matter most to your customers. If that’s the same set of functionality that your competitors claim you don’t have, then that’s a good opportunity to promote the great functionality that you offer.
“If your competitors claim you don’t do X but that feature isn’t even something of value, I would coach your team to stay above those conversations - it’s a bad look for your competitors and you can come out on top by quickly disproving that, even creating some fud that the competitor has all sorts of lies in their marketing messages.”
- Ellie Mirman, Chief Marketing Officer at Crayon
Q: Are there any actions or incentives people are using to reduce churn (specifically in SaaS) during this time of uncertainty and price sensitivity?
A: Here are a couple of really great resources (one new, one old) published by Baremetrics on this:
Q: My Product team created use cases to help our internal teams get a better understanding of how a product works/functions. Has anyone done something like this in the past? How have you communicated it to the rest of the company?
A: There were a few different approaches recommended for this one, but here they all are:
- Deliver it in either one-on-one training or small groups.
- Once you’ve decided on the important features you want the teams to know, make every internal team member explain the feature to you two days after you complete your training session.
- Put it in an 8.5x11 slide format - this’ll force you to be more precise with the content, is easy to layout/modify, and it is printable if that’s someone’s jam.
- Produce an internal blog (if you have somewhere to host it).
Q: Does anyone have a recommendation for a push notification marketing tool?
A: Yup, here’s what came up in the thread:
And for tons more, check out our Product Marketing Tools of Choice report.
Q: Has anyone set-up/managed a Customer Advisory Board for a company? If so, do you have any tips?
A: We actually dedicated an entire podcast to Customer Advisory Boards not too long ago, with Dropbox’s APAC Product Marketing Lead, Bree Bunzel. It’s packed with actionable tips from start to finish and you can catch-up here.
And here are a few words of wisdom from Janessa Lantz, the Head of Marketing at Fishtown Analytics:
“We don't have an official customer advisory board, but we started a Slack group around our product years ago. There are several people in that group who are my very unofficial advisory board -- they give me feedback on website copy, events, everything we do, and in exchange, I edit their blog posts and promote their work...it's become a nice two-way street.
“So this is not a direct answer to your question, but if your industry allows it, my one recommendation would be to keep it as informal as possible. Slack is magic in how easy it is to embed your customer communications directly in their day-to-day workflow.”
Q: Does anyone have any good product naming resourcing/exercises?
A: Shoutout to Hanna Woodburn, a Product Marketing Manager over at FullStory, for her three bullets on this one:
- Define a clear rubric for what makes a “good” name. That way, stakeholders can more accurately judge if a name should be considered or not. The rubric could include things like: “Must be short (one word)” or “Must not have any negative connotation”.
- It can be helpful to run a sentiment analysis exercise to see what you want to signal with the name. Where on the spectrum should it be between things like serious/silly or trendy/reliable?
- Clarify roles among those involved in the naming process. Who gets to decide on a final name? Who has input, but isn’t able to block a decision?
And Borislava Kyurkchieva, a PMM at KONUX, made a great point as to whether a new name was needed full stop.
“You need to first decide on your brand architecture. We did this exercise and decided that because of our market composition it does not make sense to create and build a separate brand for our product but instead have a Master brand with an identifier/descriptor for the product name.”
Q: What do you do when your buyers and users are different personas? E.g. buyer = CIO and user = developer?
A: Responses flooded in for this one (thanks, everyone!), but to summarize:
- When buyers and users are different personas, your value propositions have to be tailored to their specific and individual requirements, what their current challenges are, and what they are looking to achieve from your solution. In terms of how to achieve this in your messaging, it’d depend on the granular level of understanding you have for these personas. If you have enough details, create different landing pages on your website so that the positioning/messaging is tailored to their individual needs - and the same applies to your sales collateral, too. As a starting point though, it’s extremely important to speak to the buyers and analyze the trends coming from them and use that as a foundation.
- In our case (and I think this is quite common in these situations) -- the user is the one doing the research, so all of our primary messaging speaks to them. We're building out collateral now targeted toward the buyer, with the idea that these materials will be used for "internal selling" so they're not prominent on our site.
- Having content the developer buyers can give to their CIO/leadership can be another good strategy. Then you enable them to make the business case for your product with them not having to think or package the value proposition.
- As far as your website goes, it can be helpful to create some ideal journeys on your website for both your users and buyers. That way, you can better ensure that your messaging on specific pages is geared toward the right audience.
- As a general tip for messaging, if your buyer is a high-level exec like a CIO, speaking to the business value vs. the tactical problems solved can help. Also, using language like “your team” in messaging can help when you are talking about things that impact the user more than the buyer but have the ultimate benefit for the org as a whole.
Q: Does anyone have any experience in building out a prospect-facing product roadmap? We're working to create "official" external-facing roadmaps (separate versions for customers, prospects, events) to avoid our sales reps from creating their own versions. I would love to know any tips or considerations for those that are doing it.
A: We’ll pass over to Virginia Diego, a Senior Product Marketing Manager at CARTO, for this one:
- Focus on the story, i.e. what it means for the customer, the problem the product is solving, and workflows (e.g. you will be able to accomplish X and Y) rather than specific features. I tend to stay away from too prescriptive solutions and getting into too much detail on the ‘how’ and rather focus on the ‘why’ and the problem that’s being solved. Your product team may end up solving the problem in a different way.
- Stay away from too-specific timelines (unless you’re 99% sure the team will be able to deliver). I personally tend to say what’s coming next by quarter because product ships every two weeks in my company, so I have enough room for changes. If your release cycles are longer I’d consider a longer timeline so that you have a time buffer.
- Don’t overpromise functionality or underestimate how long it will take to it make it available. I’ve seen salespeople push the ‘vision’ too hard, which can be misleading to prospects - who should make decisions based on current production functionality. Getting this wrong is a sure-fire way to customer frustration and churn down the line.
- Work with your legal team to always include disclaimer language to cover your firm from a legal standpoint and manage expectations (e.g. you’re not promising the delivery of feature X on date Y).
Q: I’m at a startup that’s historically been engineering-led. We are trying to be a more product-led company. There are also a few folks who are leaning heavily into analysts for go-to-market strategy. From your experience, how much weight should analysts have in a go-to-market strategy? I’d love to hear from anyone who’s had experience with analysts (like Gartner, Forrester...).
A: There are some really smart analysts at Gartner, Forrester, etc., but rarely were they marketers in their prior lives and they probably wouldn't be at the top of our list for go-to-market strategy advice.
We suggest you do your 3Cs research to discover the right strategy, and the 3Cs are your customer, competition and channel (how you sell either directly or through partners).
You'll learn a lot about the other two Cs by interviewing the people who sell your product, plus, you - as the product marketing leader - need to know your customers (and their problems) as well as you know your own product.
The 3Cs may make it obvious what your go-to-market strategy should be. If it is still unclear find a consultant who knows your market but unless you have plenty of money to burn, we'd not recommend Gartner, Forrester, etc.
There are, however, second tier, boutique consulting firms you could consider, like Ventana, Dresner and Eckerson Group (BI/analytics) and several others.