A B2B go to market analysis plus the creation of a marketing strategy begins with an internal and external look at the company. As students of marketing for nearly 5 decades we understand the evolution that has taken place but there is one common denominator spanning the years. Companies tend to “drink their own Kool-Aid”. There is a culture and a belief system that is propagated inside a company, and this makes its way into their marketing.
Of course, a company wants employees to believe in the company and the products or services that they provide, and this is not a bad thing in itself but…. In this day and age of parity and the appearance of sameness, a myopic vison, or the ability to see close objects more clearly than distant objects can be limiting at the very least and harmful at the worst. What is needed is for each company to assess (sans Kool-Aid) who they are, who their competitors are, what is lacking, and what is their potential. This analysis takes work and should not be limited to one level of the company.
The key to an honest, effective, (and in the end productive) assessment of a company is to get a cross section of the company involved. This should involve a variety of stakeholders. A stakeholder is a party that has an interest in a company and can either affect or be affected by the business. Stakeholders play an important role in defining the future of the company as well as its day-to-day workings.
Your stakeholder definition will vary but should also include people who should have a say and involvement in decisions, as well as groups/people who represent particular interests. The point is to “mine” the experience, intellect, and opinions of stakeholders in the company. From their involvement in an introspective assessment process a consensus and way forward can be formed.
A formalized process of discovery is the next step. This is where a SWOT analysis comes into play. By exploring the stakeholders’ perceptions and opinions of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, senior management will be confronted with the collective wisdom of the most important people in the company, the stakeholders. Each one will have a different take on each area. The goal is not to simply hear but to listen. Here is a brief overview of the objectives in each area of a SWOT:
- Strengths reflect things that your company does well and distinguishes you from your competitors. Think in terms of the advantages your company has over other similar companies or those offering similar products.
- What do you do better than anyone else? What values drive your business? What unique resources can you access that others can’t?
- Identify and analyze your organization’s unique selling proposition (USP) and add this to the Strengths section.
- Also ask yourself what your competitors might see as your strengths. What factors are in play when you get a sales instead of them
- Keep in mind that something is a strength only if it brings you a clear advantage. For example, if all of your competitors provide high-quality products this is not a strength or differentiation in your market: it’s a prerequisite and price of entry.
- Now it’s time to consider your companies weaknesses. A SWOT Analysis will only be valuable if you gather all the information you need. So, be honest and realistic and face what one subject matter expert calls “any unpleasant truths as soon as possible.”
- For weaknesses, focus on your people, resources, systems, and procedures. Think about what you could improve, and the sorts of practices you should avoid.
- Explore how other people in your market see you. Do they notice weaknesses that you tend to turn a blind eye to? Take time to examine how and why your competitors are doing better than you. In short, what are you lacking?
- Opportunities are defined as a favorable juncture of circumstances and a good chance for advancement or progress. In essence these are possibilities for something positive to happen, that you can address.
- They are typically external to your organization and are focused on the future. They might be from developments in the market you serve or in the technology you represent. Spotting opportunities is a practiced skill that can make a huge difference in your ability to compete or even take the lead in your market.
- Opportunities don’t need to be “game-changers”, even small advantages can increase your organization’s competitiveness.” Large or small market trends could have an impact.
- Be aware of changes in government policies that might affect your company prospects.
- Look at changes in social patterns, population profiles, and lifestyles that can produce interesting opportunities.
- Threats are any elements that can negatively affect your business from the outside. It may be product related, supply chain related, market forces, or economic related to name a few. It’s critical to anticipate and respond to threats before you “become a victim of them and your growth stalls.”
- There may be obstacles in getting your product to market and then selling it profitably. It may be quality standards or specifications for your products that are changing, or evolving technology which may be a threat, or it could be an opportunity.
- Always consider your competitors and what they are doing as a form of a threat. It may or may not be something you need to respond to. But by be aware just in case by changing something to this threat might improve your situation.
- Be sure to explore whether your organization is especially exposed to external challenges. Are there things internal or external that could make you vulnerable to even small changes in the market?
The key to the SWOT responses in each of the 4 categories is creating a questionnaire that asks the right questions. One size does not fit all but most SWOT questionnaires ask about the following with specific questions under each category:
- Strengths in:
- Human resources
- Financial resource
- Weaknesses in:
- Human resources
- Financial resources
- Opportunities in:
- Competitive environment
- Market environment
- Economic environment
- Political environment
- Technological environment
- Threats in:
- Competitive environment
- Market environment
- Economic environment
- Political environment
- Technological environment
A subset of the stakeholders (a task group) along with input from senior management should create the questions. It boils down to a simple set of factors. What is the status of the company, what does the company lack, and what is needed to grow?
The point is discovery and the avoiding sequestering oneself in a bubble that is impenetrable from the outside world. There is also a tendency to revert to the “we are better syndrome” and many stop there. The problem is that everyone in a given niche says exactly the same thing. Sufficed it to say that “better” may or may not be accurate but is not good enough!
We have found that when conducting the SWOT, it is most effectively done by using a neutral or unbiased third-party subject matter expert as a moderator. The stakeholder responses should be collected by the moderator and be anonymous to the other stakeholders. This avoids any pressure to respond in a certain way. The idea is to learn what people really think.
In some cases, the company “line” will be evident and in others new ground will be uncovered. Once the initial response are received, we recommend follow up questions for each stakeholder to explore in-depth their particular answers.
Once again, a third-party moderator can do this in a more probative, fair, and equitable manner than someone inside the company. After the follow up questions, the moderator can report the consensus thinking in each area and to each question. We call this phase looking from the inside out. The next part of the process is to look from the outside looking in.
The SWOT questionnaire plays a dual role and is also used to assess how the outside world looks at the company. By comparing inside-out and outside-in responses informed decisions can be made in several areas that may have impeded growth and ones that may improve and promote it.
While the primary objective of a SWOT analysis is to help organizations develop a full awareness of all the factors involved in making business decisions, better still, you can start to craft a marketing strategy that distinguishes you from your competitors, and so compete successfully in your market. This leads us to the B2B go to market strategy.
Go-to-Market (GTM) strategy for technology companies
A B2B go-to-market (GTM) approach employs a step-by-step approach. It is comprised of a strategy, and a detailed plan, and process created to successfully launch a product or service into a market. It may also be used to launch a division or a new company into a vertical market. An effective GTM strategy starts with the product or service (price of entry) and identifies a target audience. It includes the creation of a marketing plan and approach, and then outlines a sales channel strategy.
At its core a GTM strategy involves successfully bringing a product or service to market. It should identify a market problem (need) and position the product or service as a clear solution. It should be based on market research, prior examples, and competitive data. This begs the question from some as to the necessity of conducting a GTM.
Think about it this way. Failure is an (all too real) option. The old adage “fail to plan and plan to fail” should be the hallmark of every company. No matter how great your ideas or products are, research tell us that the vast majority of new companies and even new divisions of older companies totally fail or at a minimum fail to meet their objectives in the first year.
This can be traced back to a lack of planning or improper planning. This is where a well-researched GTM strategy followed by the creation and launch of a plan can prevent many of the mistakes and oversights that can be the death knell of a product launch or a new division or new company. As one subject matter expert noted, “While a go-to-market strategy isn’t guaranteed to prevent failure, it can help you manage expectations and work out any kinks before you invest in bringing a product to market.”
The consensus in the B2B marketing community is that there are four critical questions at the core of a go-to-market strategy:
- Does the product fit the market, and does it solve a problem?
- Who is the target audience (the buyers) and are they experiencing the problem?
- Is the market saturated and who is the competition?
- How do you intend to sell the product?
Once you understand your own company, ultimately it all hinges on understanding the buyer. If we know them and their pain points, we can market to those. Gartner™ has done some excellent research on what they call the “New B2B Buying Journey and its Implication for Sales”. Their research shows that 77% of B2B buyers state that their latest purchase was very complex or difficult. Your job becomes to help your potential buyers “advance through a complex purchase”. As we delve deeper into this topic keep in mind that marketing and sales must operate in parallel and not in a serial fashion.
Perhaps the most powerful part of the Gartner research is their findings that marketing is more effective today than ever before. They claim that information drives what they call “purchase ease” and that it drives sales.
They note that “All of this looping around and bouncing from one job to another means that buyers value suppliers that make it easier for them to navigate the purchase process.”
In fact, Gartner research found that customers who perceived the information (i.e., marketing) they received from suppliers to be helpful in advancing across their buying jobs were 2.8 times more likely to experience a high degree of purchase ease, and three times more likely to “buy a bigger deal with less regret”. The key here is that marketing works but it has to be done right! Doing it right requires a lot of hard work so be prepared. No shortcuts allowed.
Gartner reports that the typical buying group for a complex B2B solution involves six to 10 decision makers. These people make up what is called the “buying center.”
Each of those buyers (your targets) typically fills one or more of the following roles:
· Initiator: Shows interest and starts the buying process
· User: Uses product
· Influencer: Convinces others of the need
· Decision maker: Gives final approval
· Buyer: Owns and manages the budget
· Approver: Final approver (senior management) who pushes the initiative scale and scope
· Gatekeeper: Blocker in getting a product implemented or approved
As we look at the typical (one size does not fit all) buying group roles, there are “buying jobs” to be done leading to a final purchase.
· Problem identification. “We need to do something.”
· Solution exploration. “What’s out there to solve our problem?”
· Requirements building. “What exactly do we need the purchase to do?”
· Supplier selection. “Does this do what we want it to do?”
· Validation. “We think we know the right answer, but we need to be sure.”
· Consensus creation. “We need to get everyone on board.”
Your companies marketing and sales job is to research each role and their jobs to get a general sense of who they are, what they do, their goals, motivation, and their pain points. This is your audience, and they will be the ones to “put your product on the map”.
One audience identification evaluation tool that may be of help comes from the folks at HubSpot. They recommend creating a matrix of what they call “buyer personas”. Buyer personas are intended to help you understand your customers (and prospective customers) better. This makes it easier for you to tailor your content, messaging, product development, and services to meet the specific needs, behaviors, and concerns of the members of your target audience.
The matrix provides a breakdown of each buying persona, their business problems, and how your product solves those problems. Once this is done you include a relevant marketing message tying the problem and solution together.
The often-quoted marketing funnel is a tool to look at the message from the top down and what we might call the marketing to sales progression. It’s important to note that there is not a single agreed upon version of the funnel; some have many “stages” while others have few, with different names and actions.
Value propositions refer to the value a company promises to deliver to a potential buyer of their products or services. My own definition of value is something someone is willing to pay for but at any rate it is a critical part of a company’s overall marketing strategy.
The value proposition introduces a company’s brand and products or services by telling buyers what the company stands for, how it operates, and the reasons why it deserves their business. It can be presented as a business or marketing statement, but the overall objective is to succinctly summarize why a consumer should buy a product or use a service or as noted above, do anything at all.
This statement is intended to convince a potential buyer that a company’s product or service provides more value or solve a problem more effectively than other similar offerings. A successful value proposition should be persuasive and help turn a prospect into a paying customer.
Understanding a Value Proposition
A value proposition should be an easy-to-understand reason why a customer should buy a product or service from that particular business. It should clearly explain how a product fills a need and solves a problem for that customer. It should communicate any added benefits and state the reason why it’s better than similar products.
The ideal value proposition is direct and to-the-point and appeals to a customer’s strongest decision-making drivers.
Companies should research and target customers who will benefit most from using the company’s products. Famed investor Warren Buffett speaks about the creation of what he calls an “economic moat”. An economic moat is a competitive advantage building an ever-increasing targeted base. He states that “the wider the moat, the bigger and more resilient the firm is to competition”.
Requirements of a Value Proposition
Value propositions should clearly and succinctly communicate the main reasons why a product or service is best suited for a customer segment. It should always be displayed prominently on a company’s website and in all forms of a company’s customer facing outreach. It should be intuitive, so that a customer can quickly read (or hear) the value proposition and understand the delivered message and value without needing further explanation.
Value propositions that resonate with buyers tend to follow a common structure.
- They employ a strong, clear headline in a single sentence or tagline that communicates the delivered benefit to the consumer. At best it may end up as a catchy slogan that becomes part of successful advertising campaigns.
- Often a short sub-headline (two or three sentences long) will amplify the main message and give a specific example of why the product or service is superior to others that might be considered. Often it is a way to highlight the key features or benefits of the products using bullet points as another means of highlighting standout details.
In this day and age of data overload, this kind of simplistic but powerful structure allows consumers to scan the value proposition quickly and pick up on key features and benefits. In order to create strong value propositions, companies will often conduct market research and employ focus groups to determine which messages resonate the best with their customers.
Value propositions can follow different formats as long as they are unique to the company and focus on the targeted buyers the company serves or hope to serve.
- Effective value propositions are easy to understand and demonstrate specific results that a buyer can expect.
- They avoid overused buzzwords, and communicate value within a short period of time.
- They differentiate a product or service from the competition.
- They answer the question as to why do anything at all.
As one marketing guru noted, “For a value proposition to effectively turn a prospect into a paying customer, it should clearly identify who the customers are, what their main problems are, and how the company’s product or service is the ideal solution to help them solve their problem.”
Your unique value proposition and USP are at the core of your competitive advantage. It clearly states why a potential customer would want to buy from your company instead of a competitor. The following are but a few of the best practices in writing a value proposition:
What makes a good value proposition that will resonate with a targeted customer?
1. Make it easy and quick to understand and be read in under 5 seconds.
2. Communicate specific benefits a buyer will receive.
3. Describe what makes these benefits valuable and connect this to your buyer’s problem.
4. Differentiate yourself as the preferred provider of this value.
5. Explains your differentiation and how you and your product is better than the competition.
In a business the proverbial devil is in the details. The price of entry is products and/or services, and this is a given. Sans this nothing else really matters. Unless it is a truly disruptive technology it is all about marketing followed by sales, support, and operations. The role of marketing is to tee the ball up for sales but doing so involves a lot of hard work and frankly many will attempt (at their peril) to short circuit the process.
The due diligence requirement is comprehensive. The process is alike a business GPS where you plug in the destination (outcomes and objectives) and figure out a route to get there. The stops along the way are critical. Yes, a company does need to conduct a comprehensive SWOT and include stakeholders form across the company. This will be the foundation for all that follows from a business, marketing, and sales perspective.
· You will need to know (not just know of) the competitors.
· You will need to know and understand the influencers and buyers.
· You will need to have a marketing strategy and create a plan and process.
· You will need to create value propositions that resonate.
· You will need some level of martech to help you manage it all.
The bottom line is as Gartner shows, good marketing produces positive results. As Roger Penske of Indy 500 fame opines, “the harder I work the luckier I get”. I suggest if you want to get lucky, plan to go to work.