Hey, psst Buddy! I can make you rich. I’ll have all the review sites say your product is the best. I’ll increase your web traffic by a gazillion percent. I’ll do this for cheap. Really, really cheap!
Have you ever heard this pitch before from a digital marketing agency? Maybe not said in such creepy words but the essence was the same. I really hope you ran the other way. Otherwise you don’t need to read this post. You have already shot yourself in the foot and know the pain.
Such agencies or marketers offer black hat or shady marketing tactics. They most often offer results that are too good to be true. They will even offer you proof which consist of short term results or big web metrics that will blow your socks off but, in the end, bring no or negative results for your business.
What is black hat marketing?
Black hat marketing tactics are those that are clearly against the law or search engine rules. They can also be legal marketing tactics that are meant to deceive the buyer in order to increase your sales.
The Competition Bureau of Canada and the US Federal Trade Commissioner (FTC) have regulations regarding deceitful marketing tactics. As a company, if you are caught not respecting these regulations it can cost you…a lot.
The Competition Bureau handed down a fine of $1.25 million dollars to Bell Canada in October of 2015 for suggesting to their Bell Mobility employees to post glowing reviews of their services on social medias.
Bell Canada was found guilty of astroturfing; the practice of posting, yourself or via a third party who is not a customer, a fake review of your product or service on the web.
The term comes from the Astroturf product or fake grass. Online reviews are considered grass root marketing, hence the reference to fake grass.
Given current studies show that anywhere from 70-90% of consumers’ purchase decisions are somehow influenced by online reviews, astroturfing can seem like a harmless and a great idea to promote your business. In the long term, it really isn’t.
The reasons are quite simple. First it will incite your competitors to do the same thing. When most of the reviews are faked, customers begin to notice and discard them. The second reason carries a much greater risk. If you get caught either by the competition bureau or FTC you will be fined, which is bad enough, but your name will also be everywhere in the medias. Your company will be identified as a cheat and the trust relationship, necessary for potential customers to become customers, broken.
Asking your legitimate customers to post online reviews, if they appreciated your product or service, however is not considered astroturfing.
The grey zone begins when a business would somehow remunerate their customers to post favorable online reviews or, as it’s been observed, threaten retribution for unfavorable reviews.
Flogging simply means fake blogging.
Fake blogging entails you, or a third party you hired, ask a blog to write and or publish a post on your product or service, against remuneration. In order for it to be flogging, the site’s sole purpose must be to publish such posts. This is prohibited by the FTC (hopefully the competition bureau will follow suit) if the financial arrangement is not disclosed to the readers.
This same FTC restriction applies to advertorials (advertising disguised as a blog post) on legitimate blogs that do not disclose the commercial relationship between the sponsor and the blogger.
Undisclosed flogging or advertorials is subject to stiff fines in the US or a reprimand in Canada. Both of which are also published on their websites. This not only hurts the product or service but also the reputation of the blog that uses such tactics.
You are certainly familiar with this tactic as you have been a victim of it. Spamming is the act of sending unwanted promotional emails in very large quantities to mailing lists you have somehow acquired. Unwanted email means that the recipient did not willfully sign up or accept to receive emails from your business.
Spamming is prohibited under the Canadian anti-spam legislation (C-28 law) and the CAN-SPAM act in the US.
There are numerous other black hat marketing tactics which could fill multiple books, including black hat SEO tactics which are aimed at fooling search engines. Most of them have not yet been categorized as illegal. Using black hat SEO tactics can however get you delisted from a search engine which will kill your web traffic for up to a year.
Shady marketing tactics
Not all deceitful marketing tactics are aimed at your customers. Some are designed to fool you.
Rigging SEO metrics (not the same as black hat SEO) and click-through rates are two methods of choice that dishonest marketers will use to fleece their customers.
Surfing on the fact that most small business owners do not understand how to interpret their website metrics, SEO consultants will use various tactics to inflate the numbers. These tactics include not removing dark traffic from their numbers, making it appear as though visitors are spending more time than they actually are on your site or showing bloated goal conversion rates.
Cyber-rigging of click-through rates
If you or your agency are using a programmatics company to do web advertising you (or sometimes your agency if it’s not on top of things) can fall prey to tactics which are used to inflate the number of clicks on your ads.
Some of these tactics include pushing your ads on sites that are only visited by bots or by audiences that you did not specify (different age brackets or even different countries). It can also take the form of having bots and/or people click on your ads against remuneration. The lattter will usually be undertaken by website owners who get paid to run ads. If done in moderation, it is undetectable. Programmatics and web agencies do (or should) have standards or industry data however to validate whether the click through rates they are getting are legitimate.
This is why it is a safer option to pay your SEO or advertising agencies based on sales results, despite this being a more expensive option.
Campaigns aimed at other types of goals should, as much as possible, be done internally or with the help of a highly trusted consultant.
If you are undertaking a web campaign yourself and have little experiment, ask other similar businesses what type of results they are getting. Educate yourself on how to recognize anomalies in your metrics.
If you are dealing with a consultants or agency ask them to give you a detailed report of their results and explain them to you. If they refuse or tell you it would be too expensive then look for another supplier.
As in every other aspect of life and business, if the results you are getting with your marketing and advertising tactics are too good to be true, then they most likely are.
When I first heard the term growth hacking, about 5 years ago, I thought Great! Some unscrupulous marketer is at it again. In my head hacking meant doing something either illegal or unethical. Either way, it wasn’t going to be good for business in the long run and whoever was doing it would figure it out sooner or later. Hence I dismissed it.
During the following couple of years, I stumbled upon an increasing number of posts and web articles on growth hacking. The authors described tactics they had used and stated the impressive results they had achieved in attracting users to an application or a website while spending very little money. Many of these tactics were creative and the vast majority of them were neither illegal nor unethical. I had to know more, so I researched growth hacking thoroughly.
I started by going to Sean Ellis’s first post on the topic where he coined the term. That honestly didn’t give me much to go on. Since I’m a firm believer in the need to understand the context in order to truly understand the problem, my second step was to study who Sean Ellis was. What was the road that led him to create the growth hacking concept?
Sean’s professional journey led him first to a commission only sales job in Budapest, in a pretty cut-throat environment, selling advertising for publications. The guy did brilliantly. In order to do so however, he had to get very creative. Then he headed to Silicon Valley for short stints (less than a year) at Dropbox and Eventbrite where he was hired specifically to grow their user base. At that time he was also active in multiple technological start-ups in the valley, helping them not only with their marketing but also often acting as an angel investor. He went on to become a serial entrepreneur. Hence his business culture is soaked with the Silicon Valley culture where fast growth and big numbers (where the money comes from is secondary) are what counts most.
Understanding the creator’s journey and the environment in which it was created can help you understand where growth hacking shines and where it doesn’t.
Like any other business concept, growth hacking is not a panacea. It isn’t applicable in all situations, in all companies, at all times.
Growth hacking can be described as creative digital marketing tactics, aimed specifically at web user base growth, that are best suited for web based products/services during the start-up phase, immediately after product/market fit stage. This is when scaling the business goes from back burner to front of mind.owth hacking can be described as creative digital marketing tactics, aimed specifically at web user base growth, that are best suited for IT products/services during the start-up phase immediately after product/market fit stage.GG
Are you confused yet? I didn’t think so. When applied the way it was intended to, a good business concept usually isn’t confusing.
It gets confusing when the concept starts being applied when it shouldn’t or in situations it isn’t intended for. This isn’t to say that a concept shouldn’t evolve and be adapted to new situations and contexts. The message here is, when it is, it must be done carefully in order to preserve the concept’s value.
A good example of an evolved application of growth hacking is when it is used by large corporations to grow their user base of a new (or even an existing) product. Only a few years back an active social media presence, cross promotions, webinars, Facebook contests and selling their apps through the iStore or Google app store could all be have been considered growth hacks in large corporations. Today, these same marketers would need to be more creative in their tactics to be counted as growth hackers. The tactics, whatever form they take, are a part of an overall marketing plan and, when well executed, give fast and excellent results in growing the user/customer base.
Here are a couple of situations that I was exposed to in recent months which confused the heck out of me. They also show that comprehension and application of a good business concept can get distorted to the point of being harmful.
The first one was an 18 month old start-up that was a B2B reseller (of non IT products). It used the web as one of its distribution channel. When I asked the owner who was doing his marketing strategy he proudly said to me; We don’t waste time with marketing, we only do growth hacking and sales. I asked him what growth hacking entailed for his company. He went on to describe various digital marketing tactics, some aimed at finding new customers and others aimed at brand recognition (hence not growth hacking). The web developer who he had employed as his growth hacker did use analytics but wasn’t familiar with cohort analysis or the sales funnel. Aside from transferring email addresses, his growth hacking tactics would generate, to the person responsible for sales in non web channels, there was no other coordination between the two. When I asked the head of sales how useful these email addresses were he rolled his eyes and let out an exasperated sigh. In the end, growth hacking was costly and had little to no impact on revenues in this situation.
Growth hacking is NOT a replacement for marketing. It is one of the categories of digital marketing tactics that can be used in specific situations to generate users, members, contributors and/or email lists (amongst others). Growth hacking has little or no value if it isn’t part of an overall marketing strategy.
The second situation, and I have seen it more than once, is when a founder or co-founder tags him or herself as Chief Growth Hacker. From day one, their focus is on growing their potential user (fan) base. The product is nowhere near being ready, the target customers still change every other week and product/market fit is nowhere in sight. Growing your user/customer base is a valid concern, even on day one, but growth hack tactics should not be how you find your first customers. Even if you have a web only based business, your first customers should be people you first approach and meet face to face. People you can observe in various situations. People who have no restrictions (or constraints) in telling you what they like and don’t like about your product idea. People you get to know inside out. Most of the users generated by growth hacking tactics before you achieve product/market fit will not convert into paying customers.
When you have not yet achieved product/market fit, you are better off having only a few customers (willing to pay you), that you know inside out, than having a large base of potential non-paying customers that you know only superficially. Once you know your various customer segments intimately and have found the product that they can’t live without, then will be the time to put massive efforts into growth hacking.
Yes, showing a large number of potential customers early can make potential investors notice your start-up. However, unless you can convert a large proportion of these potential customers into paying customers soon, which won’t happen if you haven’t reached product/market fit, the investors will disappear faster than you can snap your fingers.
If you are a founder, and thinking about using growth hacking, the takeaways are:
- Make sure the timing and contexts are right for it
- Growth hacking is not a substitute for marketing. It is but one of its components
- Growth hacking requires skills in analytics. Ensure you have those skills in your company before attempting it
- Growth hacking is not a magic bullet. It will not ensure your start-up’s success by itself.
If this post has raised any questions in your mind about growth hacking, feel free to contact Baker Marketing. We’ll be happy to help you answer them if we can.
Si vous avez déjà été exposant lors d’un salon commercial, je suis certaine que vous êtes familier avec des dizaines d’astuce lues dans des ouvrages ou articles.
Les probabilités sont par contre faibles que vous soyez familier avec les trois prochaines astuces.
Mes nombreuses lectures sur le sujet n’ont révélé aucune de ces astuces. Elles proviennent de mon expérience tant à titre de planificatrice, d’exposante que de participante à des douzaines de salons d’affaires au cours de ma carrière.
Portez attention aux autres exposants
Dès que la liste des exposants est publiée, étudiez-la avec attention. Recherchez-y non seulement des clients, mais des fournisseurs ou des partenaires potentiels qui pourront référer vos produits ou services à leurs clients.
Pendant les périodes tranquilles du salon, visiter leur kiosque et obtenez les informations ou rendez-vous qui vous permettront de poursuivre la discussion après l’événement (ou pendant s’il s’agit d’un exposant étranger).
Prévoyez une activité d’hameçonnage
Si vous croyez que le simple fait d’avoir un kiosque vous amènera des visiteurs vous vous trompez…en partie. Le kiosque attirera principalement des gens qui connaissent déjà votre entreprise.
La majorité des participants passeront devant votre kiosque sans s’y attarder.
Il vous faut donc un hameçon afin de les accrocher au passage.
La métaphore est un peu boiteuse je l’avoue. On ne veut surtout pas irriter le participant en tentant d’attirer son attention. L’hameçonnage doit donc être agréable.
L’activité d’hameçonnage peut être aussi simple que de lancer une balle en mousse à un participant qui passe devant nous. Ayez une question à lui poser lorsqu’il vous remet la balle. Voilà la discussion est amorcée. À vous de jouer maintenant.
Une autre idée d’activité serait un concours annoncé de façon bien visible à votre kiosque. L’objectif est de forcer le participant à amorcer la discussion afin de pouvoir participer et non seulement de mettre sa carte d’affaires dans une boîte.. On lui demande de nous poser la bonne question ou de choisir un sujet (relié à notre produit ou service bien sûr) sur lequel il désire répondre à une question.
Les 4 paniers de cartes
C’est la fin de votre première journée à titre d’exposant au salon. Le kiosque est rangé. Vous êtes de retour au bercail. Le travail n’est pas terminé. Il faut nourrir votre application CRM des informations de ces quelques dizaines, voir même centaines de cartes d’affaires recueillies.
Mais si vous êtes comme moi, vous avez déjà oublié la majorité des conversations avec les participants que vous avez rencontrés au cours de la journée. Plutôt ennuyeux quand vient le temps de faire un suivi avec ce chaud prospect qui, vous le sentez, sera votre prochain client
Peut-être êtes-vous parmi les plus allumés et utilisez-vous une application qui vous permet de prendre une photo des cartes et d’y joindre une note vocale.
Je vous parie que même si vous utilisez ce petit bijoux d’application (qui soit dit en passant ne fonctionne pas toujours et draine votre pile de cellulaire à la vitesse de l’éclair) elle ne vous sera pas très utile en période de pointe.
Vous savez ces périodes où vous avez 3-4 participants qui écoutent religieusement votre présentation autour de votre portable. Tous posent des questions alors que d’autres participants arrivent entre temps. Un vous laisse sa carte vous disant qu’il aime votre solution et voudrait vous rencontrer. L’autre dame qui évalue différentes options et un fournisseur potentiel qui vous parle d’un intrant qui vous intéresse. Tous vous remettent leur carte alors qu’un autre participant qui vient d’arriver à votre kiosque vous demande plus d’information et un autre attend poliment d’avoir votre attention.
Trente minutes plus tard, la foule à votre kiosque se dissipe et vous avez une vingtaine de cartes d’affaires dans les mains et n’arrivez déjà plus à les associer aux conversations que vous avez eues.
C’est pour ces moments que je me suis développé le système des 4 paniers.
À chaque événement où j’étais exposante je m’assurais d’avoir au kiosque 4 paniers (d’environ 3’’X5’’ et de 2’’-3’’, de hauteur) de couleur différentes. Chaque couleur représentait une (ou quelques) catégories de contacts dans mon CRM.Je m’assurais également de constamment avoir un stylo en main afin d’inscrire un code d’un caractère sur chacune des cartes (ça se fait
facilement pendant la conversation sans que l’interlocuteur s’en aperçoive). Si le temps le permet j’ajoute aussi parfois une note supplémentaire sur la carte pour m’aider à me souvenir d’un détail de la conversation. Pendant la conversation, je code la carte et la pose dans le panier approprié. Voilà, une bonne partie de mon classement de mes contacts est faite avant même que la discussion ne soit terminée. Le tout sans briser le rythme de la conversation.
Je vous donne mes catégories et sous-catégories en exemple. Adaptez-les à vos besoins. L’important est de vous faire une codification dont vous vous souviendrez facilement même lorsque vous serez vanné en fin de journée.
Panier 1 (rouge) : Clients prêts à l’achat
- A – À contacter dès que possible
- B – À contacter dans les 5 prochains jours
- C – À contacter dans les 10 prochains jours
Panier 2 (jaune): Client en processus de décision d’achat
- – Prêt à l’achat sous peu
- – Prêt à l’achat dans les 3 prochains mois
- – Prêt à l’achat dans les 6-12 prochains mois
Panier 3 (vert): Non-clients
Panier 4 (blanc ou transparent) : On ne sait jamais
Panier où je garde les cartes de gens qui pourraient soit devenir clients éventuellement ou soit me référer à des clients. Je mets également dans ce panier les cartes de gens qui peuvent être utiles à certains de mes contacts. Je m’assure alors d’écrire le nom du contact sur la carte.
Toutes les autres cartes prennent le chemin du cinquième panier soit la poubelle (je ne classe pas ces cartes pendant la conversation).
Si vous vous demandez pourquoi je représente mes sous-catégories par des caractères différents (lettres, chiffres, formes), c’est pour la raison suivante. Il m’est arrivé de renverser le contenu de plus d’un panier soit sur le sol ou dans le sac dans lequel je les transportais. En effet, lorsque j’ai dû remettre les cartes dans leur panier respectif et que les sous-catégories de tous mes paniers étaient 1, 2 ou 3…j’ai sacré…à profusion.
J’espère que votre prochain salon d’affaires sera un succès et que ces quelques astuces vous aideront à atteindre les objectifs que vous vous serez fixés.
After observing and talking with customers and business contacts, scouring the web, listening to interviews with the CMOs of B2B companies in 2015, I compiled over a dozen trends that will stand out in B2B marketing in 2016.
Among those trends, three of them will have the most impact on businesses serving the needs of other businesses.
Their impact will be highest because they all share these same characteristics.
- Their execution is within the reach of most companies
- They will have an important impact on how marketing is done on a daily basis
- They will mostly help fill the top of the sales funnel and strengthen customer relationships rather than close deals.
These goals will be the best alternatives to converting customers given the economic outlook for 2016 will make the latter significantly more difficult.
Customer centric/account based marketing
This is by far the main trend which many other trends will feed. I can hear many if not most of you saying that this is what your company has been doing for the last decade and it’s not a new trend.
The part that will be new this year is the integration of customer specific information collected from sales and marketing with the information of other departments. This will be achieved mostly with using the data which comes from the integration of CRM and ERP databases that have been happening in the last few years. A by-product of using CRM and ERP systems is the increase of corporate memory. Customer specific data is no longer lost when sales rep. leave.
The use of personas to understand micro-segments which has been prevalent in the B2C IT industry for almost a decade is gaining traction in the B2B environment. Personas are used not only by marketing but in every department, that has a customer touch point, to better understand their needs.
Mapping of customer journeys (or experience) are becoming more prevalent. The competition, in most sectors, is now such that B2B companies cannot compete with their products alone. They must also differentiate themselves with stellar experiences for their customers.
Embracing data (big and not so big)
Smaller B2B companies will most likely not experience this trend as much in 2016 as they are still struggling to find and afford the expertise required.
For mid-size and larger businesses data will increasingly drive ROI based marketing.
New data gathering, compiling and crunching applications are coming to market at an increasing rate. They are also becoming more affordable. The pool of expertise to work with these applications is also getting bigger and deeper, hence more affordable.
An increasing number of companies are now using data from connected objects used by their customers (their own or that of a third party) to feed not only their product development but also their marketing strategies and tactics.
Focus on content
Content has been king in B2C for a couple of years now. Specifically since Google and other search engines have modified their algorithms to prioritise pertinent, high quality content. Thanks to the growing personalised knowledge B2B companies are now acquiring on their customers, companies are now realising that their customers’ influencers and decision makers react like consumers in many ways. Their attention will be highest when they are served pertinent, high quality content. They are also more easily convinced when their emotions get invoked.
This will translate in significantly more resources being allotted to developing better and more varied content. The responsibility for content management will be taken higher up the marketing hierarchy as content strategy will become more important. Ensuring that all web content is responsive is a trend that will persist in 2016.
These trends have already taken hold in some B2B sectors where the environment has been more fiercely competitive and pro-active. Highly regulated sectors or less competitive ones may not see these trends set in for a few years still.
There is a fourth trend that I didn’t include because, for most B2B companies, it may turn out to only be a fad. That is the development of mobile applications. Although many B2B companies have started developing mobile applications aimed at their customers or potential customers, few have seen any ROI on them. Very specific conditions, seldom found, need to be present for a mobile application to make sense in the B2B environment. Unfortunately, like many B2B companies who were sold large ubiquitous social media packages last year (which showed negative returns), they may also be caught in the mobile application wave this year.
If your company is starting on any of these activities this year and needs help to make sure they are done in a profitable way, contact Baker Marketing. Highly experienced and knowledgeable marketing consultants will be happy to speak with you to understand your needs.
It is this time of the year. The time when we reflect on what we accomplished during last 12 months. What we did well and what we need to improve upon. It is also the time to consolidate our learnings for the year. One of the ways I circle back on my learnings for the year is to make a compilation of the books I read throughout the year and my best business reads list for the year.
I consider myself very lucky. My work requires me to not only keep up with what is going on in my field but keep ahead of the curve. Hence I need to read an average of probably 20-25 hours a week and I love it.
The one thing I noticed this year is that the marketing books I read were not my best sources of information to keep ahead of the marketing curve. Marketing is moving at the speed of light these days and the published book format is not well suited to keep you abreast of what is on and ahead of the curve. It is still however a great format to do a deep dive on a given topic.
Hence most of the marketing information I used to write my blog posts came from blogs or webzines. Therefore I will focus on my favorite cutting edge marketing information web sources for this year’s review.
As they are an inherent part of the services I offer to my customers I must also keep up on innovation and Lean Startup literature. I read many really great books on these two topics this year. It was hard to pick just a few for this review. Here are my best business reads for 2015.
This site is designed to draw in affiliates. Hence the information is tailored for marketing consultants. Hubspot picks up quickly on new trends and is therefore an excellent source of information to keep on top of the curve marketing-wise.
eMarketer is a great source of market data. It also has some excellent white papers that draw a very clear picture of digital marketing, media and commerce. I especially like that they have extensive data on Canada and even some on Quebec.
The articles in the Chief Content Officer magazine are dedicated to content marketing which is an ever inclusive field. The articles are often in-depth and of excellent quality.
Honorable mention goes to the Harvard Business Review (HBR). Although it isn’t specifically a marketing magazine, their marketing articles are truly well researched and written by some of the most brilliant American marketing minds.
Many of my blog posts, including 3 Digital Makreting Hurdles, Me Inc, Influencer marketing, retargeting, community marketing and co-marketing were all inspired and researched using at least one of these sources.
The very best book on innovation I read this year, hands down, is How to Fly a Horse by Kevin Ashton. Using examples of true disruptive innovations over the last century, Ashton explains not only the process of creating a disruptive innovation but its required environment as well. It inspired me to write an entire series of post on creativity and innovation, creativity stimuli, creativity killers and how to foster innovation in large corporations. The posts on this blog are in French but I translated the first one on Medium. The others will follow in the New Year.
Although not on innovation per se, Mindset: The new psychology of success written by psychologist Carol Dweck is a fantastic book that will help marketers, innovators and entrepreneurs foster an attitude that will, along with hard work, lead them to success. It was recommended to me by a colleague and I since recommended the book to a few friends and acquaintances. Most of them said it was one of, or the best, and most useful book they read in a long time.
Dozens of Lean Startup related books covering topics from management, finance, marketing, corporate culture, analytics, product management and others came out in 2015. There were too many to read. Amazon’s list of Lean Startup related books to be published in 2016 makes me think that all the Lean Startup related books written in 2015 will only amount to a fraction of what is coming next year. Erie Ries himself (Lean Startup author) will be publishing a second book called The Leaders’ Guide, in 2016.
I was even inspired myself this year to create some Lean Startup content. I shared with my readers the Marketing Minimum Viable Plan (Marketing MVP) in a series of 3 posts (part 1, part 2 and part 3).
Three of the books based on Lean Startup principles that stood out from the others for me were the following.
The Lean Product Playbook: How to innovate with Minimum Viable Products and Rapid Customer Feedback from Dan Olsen is one of them. It will help anyone developing a new product figure out how to apply Lean Startup principles and minimize commercialisation risks for their specific situation. It is well written and has loads of pertinent examples to facilitate comprehension of various concepts. It inspired me to write a post on product/market fit.
Lean Enterprise: How corporations can innovate like start-ups by Trevor Owen is another book that stood out. Based in large part on Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma, it clearly shows the barriers to innovation in large corporations. It also talks about the concept of innovation colonies and many of the practical aspects of setting up innovation friendly environments in large businesses.
Finally Lean B2B: Build Products Businesses Want by Etienne Garbugli is a comprehensive look at developing B2B products using Lean Startup principles. It takes a practical, hands-on approach which shows you step by step how Lean Startup product management is done in a B2B environment. It is the only book on Lean Startup I read that uses a layout and techniques one usually finds in textbooks to facilitate comprehension.
This rounds up my list of best business reads for 2015.
Thank you for having taken the time to read the TechnoMarketing blog this year.
I would like to wish you and yours happy holidays and a healthy and fruitful 2016.
In the middle of product development at this moment? Thinking about how well the market will receive it? Worried the realistic sales forecast in your initial feasibility study won’t materialise? Given the dismal success rates of new products in the market, you are right to worry.
I have spent the better part of my career in product development, mostly B2B technological products. With no modesty at all, I am proud to say that the vast majority of the products I was responsible to launch achieved success in the market.
There were many factors that explained the higher success rates I achieved. The teams I was lucky enough to work with are definitely a major one. Another one is my obsession with talking to potential customers (external and internal) constantly to validate ideas, even before starting the feasibility study on the future product. I am also convinced that an important piece of market knowledge I happened upon, at the beginning of my product management career, and applied throughout the years, also played a very significant role in launching profitable products.
About 15 years ago, while working at a major telco, I had access to the results of three very large studies which, combined, covered all segments of Canadian businesses. The studies were conducted with the employees or owners (who held the purchasing decision power) of over 5000 businesses of all sizes, in all sectors. One of the objectives was to figure out what the folks who had purchasing responsibilities in Canadian businesses wanted most.
Each of these studies, conducted in a different size segment, came to somewhat different conclusions. When I put the dozens of answer trends (groupings of multiple answers with a similar pattern) of all three studies together however, I eventually picked up on three mega-trends. These mega-trends were the same across all business segments. They also seem to hold true across time. Most of the highly profitable business products in the market today still follow them.
These mega-trends became my acid test that every single product I ever created had to pass before I sent it out in the market. I also call them my 3 golden rules. These rules are not mutually exclusive. They can also be applied to B2C products which are purchased based on rational (vs. emotional) decisions.
So what are these three golden rules that will woo your B2B customers?
Efficiency, Simplicity and Control
Before I explain each of these rules, I want to point out that I define a product not only as being the product or service itself but also the entire purchasing, usage, maintenance and support experience that surround it. I refer to this package as the solution.
Efficiency refers to your customers being able to do the same amount of work with fewer resources, or more work with the same amount or fewer resources. In B2B, efficiency can be approximated by the total cost of ownership (TCO). As a provider, if you can show that your solution’s (not your product) TCO is lower than all of your competitors, you are almost assured of a sale.
Let’s face it; we are all swamped at work. Complicated or complex solutions require more of our time than simple ones. Not to mention, that some folks just don’t want or can’t extend the brain power to wrap their heads around complicated or complex solutions. Making things simple for everyone at your customers’ involved in your purchasing, usage, maintenance and support chain will become some of your most powerful sales arguments. These arguments won’t require any of your sales reps uttering even a single word.
This criterion can be straight forward but often is not. It can be an indirect effect of a solution characteristic. When designing your solution (again, not just your product), be mindful of giving more control to your buyer over the work he/she is paid to do. An example of this would be the power tool manufacturers who started offering leasing as an option to their customers. When contractors responsible for planning large projects were not sure how many tools they would need, or when they would need them, their only option was to buy them ‘’in case’’ or risk delaying the project if they didn’t buy them. Leasing, aside from lowering their costs, helped the contractors feel like they had more control over their planning.
Unlike giving control at the purchasing stage, extending control throughout usage, maintenance and support of your solution will not increase your initial sales. It will however increase your customer satisfaction rates and repeat purchasing rates greatly.
Here you have them, my three golden rules for product development that ensure new product success in the market.
All three rules do not have to be followed for a solution to be successful. The more of these three rules are followed by a solution, the higher the probability of success it will have in the market.
Sales of new products are not the only ones that will benefit from following these three rules. Fixing your existing solutions so they follow them will also yield better sales (new and/or repeat). Existing solutions that don’t follow the three golden rules usually don’t present problems at the product level. Most often it’s one or several processes which include a customer touch point that is flawed. It could be your invoicing, contract, provisioning, customer service or other process that is not following one of the three golden rules.
Put your own solutions to the test. See which ones follow any of my three golden rules. I bet you’ll also be pointing to your most successful products.