Ten Marketing Challenges that Can Make or Break Your Business

November 04, 2011

The first issue in this series identifies and allows you to assess your company’s current marketing effort.

The second issue discusses the pivotal role marketing plays in a successful technology company.

Each of the other 6 issues identifies key challenges and presents strategies to address.

1. Issue Identification and Assessment

As the President or Chief Marketing Officer of a small to medium-sized technology company, are one or more of the following "hot buttons" for you?:

    • We're having trouble planning the next product because we're so busy supporting the product we just launched.

    • Our marketing folks are spending so much time working with Development they don't have enough time to support Sales.

    • Our sales reps don't have enough qualified leads and spend too much time cold calling.

    • It takes us too long to close a deal. How can we speed up our sales process?

    • How do we decide on the features for the next product?

    • Should we delay launching the new product to get more features?

    • We've grown to a size that our old way of doing things just isn't working anymore.

    • How do we make our company more market- and customer-driven?

    • Are we getting the most out of our investment in marketing?

    • How should we organize our marketing group?

How far along is your company in each of these areas (Rate from 0 to 10, with 0 = no progress and 10 = outstanding progress)?

_____

We have a clearly defined sales model outlining the activities and time required for each selling step.

_____

We use our sales model to track each opportunity as it moves through the sales pipeline.

_____

Our Marketing group effectively supports Development, Sales, and the Executive Team.

_____

Our Marketing group does a great job of supporting our current products.

_____

Our Marketing group does a great job of planning enhanced and new products in a timely manner.

_____

We plan for and track the measurable results for all our marketing programs.

_____

Our Marketing group is organized in a way that works for our company.--“All the bases are covered.”

_____

We collect ample input from customers and prospects – including win/loss reports.

_____

We periodically review our Marketing function to determine where we should invest.

_____

We have a formal requirements database and product features are based on specific customer requirements.

 _____ Total Score


Evaluation

< 50 points: You are just at the starting line; lack of marketing is significantly impeding your results.

50 – 80 points: You have some marketing basics in place, but would greatly benefit from a more comprehensive approach.

> 80 points: Your marketing effort is stronger than most, and has the potential to be a major competitive advantage.

Download this worksheet (.xls)

2. The Role of Marketing

Marketing is the "man in the middle"--mediating between Customers, Prospects, Sales, Development, and the Executive Team. As such, Marketing is pulled in multiple directions.

Marketing is the critical intersection between Development, Sales, Customers, and the Executive Team.

How Marketing impacts your organization:

A
Marketing touches Customers, Prospects, and industry thought leaders via press releases, magazine articles, briefings, brochures, trade shows, customer councils, advisory boards, and lead generation programs. In addition to performing market research, Marketing also conducts or commissions win/loss interviews and gathers input from customers and prospects on feature requirements via interviews, surveys, and focus groups.

B
Drawing on the information gathered both externally and internally, Marketing supports the Executive Team in developing business strategy by identifying market opportunities and generating and executing marketing strategies and plans that support attainment of business objectives.

C
Marketing works with Development to define requirements, plan products, and bring products to market. Marketing must assure the delivery of a reliable and "complete" product that includes documentation, training, and support. If relevant, Marketing also addresses upgrade, migration and "end-of-life" planning.

D
Marketing trains the sales force on new products, manages the HQ visits of customers, prospects, and industry analysts, performs Win/Loss analyses, and gathers input on customer and prospect requirements.

3. The Classic Dilemma

Marketing has an obligation and need to support both Development and Sales. However, the simultaneous demand and contention for limited Marketing resources may cause one or the other to lose out. Creative thinking is required to assure that the needs of all parties are met.

Challenge #1: We're having trouble planning the next product because we're so busy supporting the product we just launched.

Issue: Let's face it, product launches are exciting. Months of energy have gone into creating a product that will (hopefully) enable Sales to make a breakthrough. Marketing is 120% absorbed in launch activities and training the sales force. The problem is that Development engineers are waiting to work on the next product and they need new product requirements NOW!

Strategy: The answer lies in having a requirements definition process that is on-going and produces an "evergreen" requirements database. You may also need to have one headcount dedicated at least half-time to key activities in product planning.

Challenge #2: Our Marketing team spends so much time working with Development they don't have enough time to support Sales.

Issue: This issue is a corollary #1 above. A close working relationship between Marketing and Development sometimes leaves little room for Marketing to support Sales.

Strategy: Again, the answer may come in structuring product planning as an on-going "evergreen" process. Often some marketing staff must have their roles and objectives defined to explicitly favor sales support.

Success Story: A software company in Palo Alto, CA assigned one of their four product managers to work primarily on product planning. This "product planner" supported the other product managers in planning activities while they continued to support the sales force. In this way Development had the input and direction they required, and Sales received needed support. Also, the Product Managers were less stressed and had greater job satisfaction.

4. The Selling Process

Identifying and understanding your target customer and documenting the selling process are critical success factors. Proceeding without this information is like taking a long road trip without having a map.

Challenge #3: Our sales reps don't have enough qualified leads and spend too much time cold calling.

Issue: Sales productivity is an issue for many companies.

Strategy: The first step is to identify your target customer--their characteristics and needs. This includes identifying the economic and technical decision makers as well as the influencers. At that point you can assess the key filtering questions. It may be possible to shift identifying and pre-qualifying "suspects" to lower level staff or outsourcing to a telemarketing company.

Challenge #4: It takes us too long to close a deal. How can we speed up our sales process?

Issue: Does this sound like your company? The sales cycle goes on and on. There are last minute problems and surprises. We waste time on prospects who just aren't that serious.

Strategy: To speed the sales process you need first to have thought through and documented your "sales model." What are the step-by-step actions required to bring this sale to a successful conclusion? How long should each step take? This will allow you to track each opportunity in the sales pipeline and will also help weed out the "lookers" from the "buyers" early on.

Success Story: An enterprise software company in Boston with a six month sales cycle analyzed their selling process and determined that getting a prospect to commit to a paid pilot project early in the sales cycle weeded out the "lookers" from the "buyers." Also, the time to close was reduced by a month.

5. Product Planning

As the saying goes, "Quality. Cost. Schedule. You can have any two of the three!" Defining a new offering and getting it out the door is an exciting and challenging balancing act. The key is to do your homework in advance and then make skillful trade-offs.

Challenge #5: How do we decide on the features for the next product?

Issue: So many requirements. So little time. Not enough dollars to invest. And, each product has a life and momentum of its own. Are we designing for ourselves or our customers?

Strategy: The features for future products ideally flow from a process. It begins with defining the overall objectives of the business, identifying market opportunities, and determining customer requirements. In the long-term, your company can succeed or fail to the degree that product planning supports a well-considered business strategy that truly meets customer needs. Maintaining an "evergreen" requirements database helps ease the burden at the beginning of the planning cycle.

Challenge #6: Should we delay launching the new product to get more features?

Issue: The promised delivery date gets closer. Commitments to customers have--rightly or wrongly--been made. Sales is screaming for the new product, but only if it has the feature(s) they require. Keeping the Developers and Test people tied up adds to the cost.

Strategy: Here is where "creativity" comes into play. In general it is better to keep the train on track. If necessary to meet customer commitments, look for options for an "early" or "pilot" release to selected customers. Also look for opportunities to schedule rapid follow-on releases to enable sales ahead of the delivery of the required functionality.

Success Story: A San Francisco software company analyzed which operating system was used the most by its customers. The company gave priority to delivering the new release on that platform. Releases for the other operating systems followed each month thereafter until the new release was available on all supported operating systems. The release was delivered on the promised schedule and customers were satisfied.

6. Growth and Change

Your company grows, the market changes, and you are challenged to turn the resulting process breakdowns into breakthroughs.

Challenge #7: We've grown to a size that our old way of doing things just isn't working anymore.

Issue: Everyone knows that a company's culture changes as a company grows. People are brought in who have worked at various other companies. Along with them come expectations about how things "should" be done. Communication and "checks and balances" become more structured and formal. What worked before doesn't anymore. People get stretched to the breaking point. And, the associated breakdowns in business process can be most unpleasant.

Strategy: Identify the breakdown in business process and treat it as a positive opportunity to mature the organization. Also, look for opportunities to leverage inexpensive Web-based knowledge sharing technologies to foster information exchange.

Challenge #8: How should we organize our Marketing group?

Issue: There are a variety of related questions. Should Product Planning be part of the Development function? Should Product Management be separate from Product Marketing? Should a Product Manager handle more than one Product? If so, how many products can a Product Manager handle? Should we have "cradle-to-grave" product management?

Strategy: There is no one "right" answer to such questions. Each organizational structure has advantages and challenges.

In general it is wise to remember that there are in-bound and out-bound aspects to Marketing. In-bound covers requirement definition and working with Development to bring a product into being. Out-bound covers the launch, training, and support activities required to bring a product out into the world. Balancing the demands of these functions is a challenge facing every Marketing organization.

Also, it is important to remember that Marketing is a multi-faceted function. Marketing comes in a variety of flavors--market research and analysis, product management, product marketing, field marketing, channel marketing, industry marketing, partner marketing, and marketing communications.

There are a variety of options: In some companies some Product Management activities are handled in Development or some Field Marketing Activities are handled in Sales. Or Partner marketing may be handled in Business Development. Some companies form product or product line teams. A flexible distribution of responsibilities is fine as long as all the bases are covered and it works for your organization.

Success Story: The Marketing group of a start-up company was totally overloaded with product delivery. There were no Marketing resources to devote to lead generation. So the Sales department generated prospect lists based on criteria formulated jointly with Marketing, and then implemented a telemarketing program to pre-qualify prospects. Leads were generated, and the prospects? current and projected buying plans were documented in the summary report--providing valuable input to Marketing.

7. Marketing ROI

You are likely to miss the target if your marketing programs are not aimed at identifying and addressing the true needs of customers and prospects in a manner that produces measurable results.

Challenge #9: Are we getting the most out of our investment in marketing?

Issue: Investment in marketing is sometimes viewed as "discretionary"--at least more discretionary than other line items on the budget. Yet there are core marketing activities that must be performed or a company won't survive. Beyond this minimum, however, there are any number of worthwhile possibilities. How do you choose?

Strategy: In any given year, marketing programs should directly reflect the overall business objectives for that year. Make sure marketing programs are targeted to achieve measurable results. It is also useful to conduct an annual 360 degree "marketing audit" to systematically evaluate how well you are doing in various areas of marketing and where there would be the "biggest bang for the buck" of investment.

Challenge #10: How do we make our company more market- and customer-driven?

Issue: Many technology companies tend to be engineering- or sales-driven based on their history and the expertise of their founders. In one extreme, the company may only pay lip service to customer input, feeling that they know best and must "lead" their customers. In the other extreme, the company may impulsively react to customer input in a knee jerk response. Both extremes are counter-productive.

Strategy: Customer contact needs to be built into the planning process at all levels. Executives, Development, Marketing, and Sales need ongoing customer contact. Ideally requirements should be linked to the expressed needs of prospects and customers. Win/loss reports can provide highly valuable customer/prospect feedback.

Success Story: A software firm was being "spun out" from its corporate parent. It was critical to reassure and retain existing customers. The company sponsored 500 subscriptions to Fortune Magazine for the senior executives of its customers. Four times in the course of the year the magazine was delivered with a special outer cover carrying the company's message. A relatively small software company that could never afford to advertise in Fortune appeared to be doing just that. An end-of-year survey showed a high degree of recipient recognition and awareness, and customers remained loyal.

8. Summary of Challenges and Strategies

We have discussed some of the most common (and critical) challenges in software product marketing--and proposed strategies to address them. The key is to be pragmatic and remain focused on identifying and addressing the true needs of customers and prospects.

Challenge Strategy
1. We're having trouble planning the next product because we're so busy supporting the product we just launched

Maintain an "evergreen" requirements database to support on-going requirements definition.

Dedicate headcount to product planning--at least one person half-time.

 

2. Our marketing team spends so much time working with Development they don't have enough time to support Sales.

 

Again, maintain an "evergreen" requirements database to support on-going requirements definition.

Dedicate some headcount to supporting the sales force.

 

3. Our sales reps don't have enough qualified leads and spend too much time cold calling.

 

Analyze your target prospects.

Identify key qualifying questions.

Transfer pre-qualification to lower-level staff or outsource it.

 

4. It takes us too long to close a deal. How can we speed up our sales process?

 

Define and document sales model.

Track sales pipeline by stage in sales model.

 

5. How do we decide on the features for the next product?

 

Have Marketing support the strategic business planning process.

Focus on "outside-in" product planning--based on the requirements of customers and prospect.

Draw on "evergreen" requirements database.

 

6. Should we delay launching the new product to get more features? Keep the "train on the track" using launch phasing and pilot programs if necessary.
7. We've grown to a size that our old way of doing things just isn't working anymore.

 

Identify and treat problems as business process breakdowns rather than problems with people.

Leverage technology for knowledge sharing.

 

8. How should we organize our marketing group? Consider trade-offs for various structures; determine what fits for your company and is the "lesser of evils".
9. Are we getting the most out of our investment in marketing?

 

Conduct annual marketing audit.

Ensure that there are success metrics for every marketing program.

 

10. How do we make our company more market- and customer-driven?

 

Conduct or commission mandatory win/loss Reports.

Support customer councils, advisory boards, and user groups.

Link new feature requirements back to specific customers and prospects.

Conduct or commission customer satisfaction surveys and focus groups.

Looking for the latest in product management news, articles, webinars, podcasts and more?