By Michael Cannon
It’s odd. There seems to be general agreement on the definition of high-quality messaging, yet the quality of most B2B messaging is still quite low. Why the disconnect exists and what the marketing profession can do to close the gap are both critical to understand and resolve, in order to grow revenue and market share more profitably. It’s also critical if Marketing wants more relevance, more budget, and more influence!
Most B2B marketers agree that messaging is contained in the words we use, both written and verbal, along with the supporting pictures, to convince someone to do business with us. They also agree that great messaging must articulate how their company and products help prospects solve meaningful problems. Furthermore, the messaging must be clear, differentiated, segmented by markets and tailored to the primary buyer roles in the sales process — such as the technical buyer in IT and the economic buyer who owns the budget — a.k.a. the stakeholders.
Contrast the above definition of high-quality messaging to what is produced by many marketing departments today, which is mainly descriptive messaging. It’s most often a description of the company, its capabilities, and the products and services offered, along with the products’ associated features and specifications. Sprinkled along the way or usually at the end of these descriptions is a short sentence about benefits and/or value. The capability advantages and how those advantages help prospects better solve their problems and generate greater value are generally not clearly articulated, differentiated, or provable.
Validation of the gap between the agreed-upon definition of great messaging and what is delivered to customers and channel sales teams is highlighted by the Customer Communications Index (CCI), which summarizes more than a decade of 3rd-party research:
- Less than 50% of your marketing and sales communications are relevant to your customers
- Less than 30% of your marketing content is relevant to your customer-facing teams
The Primary Reasons for the Disconnect
There appear to be at least six reasons for the disconnect between what is said and what is done:
Disconnect #1: Lack of visibility to the true cost of low-quality messaging. As an example, when a few people in the marketing team work for a few weeks to create great messaging, that work can then be leveraged over most of the marketing deliverables and across the entire sales channel. But, when marketing is not willing to prioritize or is unable to produce high-quality messaging, then each person in the sales channel is forced to figure it out on his or her own. For each product, reps have to first determine what the true capability advantages are and then determine how these advantages translate into getting prospects to a) meet with them, b) change from the status quo to a new solution, and c) buy this solution from them and not the competition. This substantial inefficiency and ineffectiveness does not show up directly on a financial statement. It’s hidden in the current business model and/or accepted as the way business is done. Research conducted by the Silver Bullet Group indicates that low-quality messaging costs U.S. companies over $100 billion every year.
Disconnect #2: Lack of objective criteria to evaluate messaging quality prior to testing or launch. Most B2B messaging is agreed to in meetings. Each participant touches the proverbial messaging elephant from a different perspective, convinced that his or her opinion or view of the elephant is the most accurate. Vigorous “discussion” ensues and the approved messaging is either watered down to gain consensus or driven by the person with the most political power.
Disconnect #3: Lack of a methodology or process for how to create high-quality messaging. This is not to imply that there is no process for creating messaging. It’s often developed through positioning workshops, market research, customer interviews, competitive analysis, etc. The point is that all these activities are not a holistic process and do not seem to consistently produce high-quality messaging. The process is decidedly sub-optimal.
Disconnect #4: Lack of the needed skills to create high-quality messaging. Even when provided with objective evaluation criteria and a methodology, marketing teams often struggle to create high-quality messaging. It’s hard work. It takes time. It requires a new set of skills that are not currently taught in business schools or by training companies that service the marketing profession. These courses tell participants what to do, i.e., create value-based messaging, but they do not tell them exactly how to translate product features into differentiated value.
As one client recently stated, if we, the product experts, find this difficult to do, imagine how hard this is for the channel sales force to do, which has multiple products to sell.
Disconnect #5: Lack of appropriate priority setting. Messaging is typically not seen as a separate deliverable, or it’s seen as one of many marketing deliverables that needs to be produced. It’s not seen as the only item that has the greatest impact on the quality and success of all the other marketing content. High-quality messaging is not seen as the primary fuel that powers a company’s sales and marketing engines.
Disconnect #6: Lack of a new product introduction process that defines the messaging categories, styles and types needed to more successfully launch and sustain a product or service. The lion’s share of messaging, via content creation, is developed in the months and weeks before a product launch. This is when the product website, the brochure, the sales tools, the channel training, and the demand-generation programs are created. The timelines are tight. The pressure is intense. Filling in the white space with words and pictures is the priority. If high-quality messaging is not created earlier in the launch process, there simply is not enough time to create it in the weeks just before launch.
The sales and marketing professions must understand and work cohesively to resolve these disconnects in order to more profitably grow revenue and market share. Marketing must do this to gain more relevance, budget, and influence! One proven path forward is to use the concept of persuasive messaging as a tool to improve messaging quality.
Resources to Implement the Most Influential Customer Communications
Michael Cannon is an internationally renowned marketing and sales effectiveness expert, best-selling author, speaker and an authority on enabling B2B companies to engage customers with the most influential communications. For more information visit www.silverbulletgroup.com.