Seven Common Problems with Tech Marketing and What to Do Instead
I spoke with a CMO recently who claimed that he and his team were experts at the new way technology is marketed. I was taken aback by the assertion. It’s not that I doubted him. But what matters is how prospects are buying. We necessarily must market to their needs and behavior.
If prospects’ behavior has changed, or if there are additional resources in the decision process, or if some new need has emerged, then of course, we should adapt and evolve. But the core marketing objectives remain: create awareness, establish value and build preference, drive an efficient decision and purchase. The only reason to adapt is when the target customer gives us reason to change.
What also surprised me about the assertion is that there are so many common problems with tech marketing, I wondered if the CMO had solved them. I wondered if that is the “new way technology is marketed”.
Let’s work our way through the list and consider all that could be improved if we addressed these issues:
7. Insider Speak
The marketer speaks to the prospect as if they were an insider: someone with perfect knowledge who spends their days consumed by the product they may purchase.
The marketer makes one of two assumptions; both carry tremendous risk:
1. “Prospects already know my products and so I don’t need to support their decision process.”
By the way, this assumption negates the need for marketing entirely. Just saying.
2. “Prospects are willing to spend their valuable time sifting through incongruous detail to assemble cogent understanding—instead of becoming frustrated and going to my competitor.”
Technology, no matter how impressive, still must serve the master: business benefit.”
Further, marketers don’t recognize their own self-interest: by squandering opportunity they created, they have also squandered their marketing budget. For every dollar invested in outbound or inbound marketing, they have only created opportunity for their competitor if they don’t guide their prospect. This assumption also affects their performance metrics: marketers increase the cost per lead (CPL), and cost to acquire (CTA), and negatively impact revenue.
Prospects are doing the marketer’s job when they must dig through insider speak to extract product value.
6. Empty Phrases and Jargon
A marketer has fewer than 59 seconds on their website to capture prospects’ attention. There is a lot to be accomplished in that scant time: make the product relevant, instill its value, motivate the prospect to learn more.
I have noticed the empty phrase offense on more than a few websites recently. Here are some examples:
- “We take digital transformation to the next level!” Unless this company can tell me what that next level is, I don’t want to go there.
- “Our product is easy to use!” This is an empty claim. No benefit is imparted in this statement. “Ease of use” should be a given, not a differentiator. If this is among the pronounced significant benefits the marketer can list, I question the soundness of the product.
- “Our technology saves you money!” The voiceover from an insurance commercial comes to mind. It says, “Of course, we’ll save you money….” Savings is assured. They check the box quickly and move on to describe their true value.
The tech savings promise has no meaning because it doesn’t tell us how much money, how it is saved, by when, or under what conditions.
And here’s the bigger challenge: no purchase is already a savings to the prospect.
- “Blah blah blah blah on-prem.” Jargon-filled content is empty because it often has no meaning to the prospect. It does not establish expertise; it alienates. If the prospect chooses to engage, they must translate jargon to their language. That requires a lot of effort.
The marketer should speak in the prospects’ language, not their own.
How dare you speak to me like that?!?”
Full disclosure: a few years ago, I was given feedback that I occasionally rely on jargon. I trust the source and I accepted the guidance but to be honest, I didn’t understand why it was worth comment. That was until recently when I found myself in a meeting with someone whose conversation was relentlessly littered with jargon. My thought bubble read: “How dare you speak to me like that???” This person’s jargon separated me and as a result, I was not interested in our next communication. Marketers cannot have that effect on their prospects.
Using empty words and jargon is an extension of the prior example: they require the prospect to fill in great big gaps. And the marketer cannot expect that the result will be positive.
5. Marketing as Point Solution
Marketing is a continuum: done correctly it guides prospects and customers through purchase decisions. However, too often it’s approached as a disjointed point solution.
I was recently asked by a software company why I hadn’t recommended demand generation programs as the initial phase to support their needed revenue growth. They saw the solution as an endpoint only: drive prospects now.
They didn’t see the continuum. The larger issue was that there was no planned progressive activity. They had not defined the buyer’s journey, there was no smooth transition from marketing to sales, and from sales to customer success, and content did not support understanding.
They simply did not have a success strategy.
Chief among the issues was the state of their website: it was repellent. It presented a long unrelenting list of products in unreadable blocks with the repeated stock graphic of software-screenshot-on-90’s-computer-monitor. And the screenshot angle was off.
Worse, this company was marketing to marketers. I could drive demand all day, but those respondents would have exited in well under 59 seconds. The software company did not understand or respect their customer. And the software company did not recognize that they were only beginning the dialogue. They were myopically focused on a sale.
By focusing franticly on immediately driving revenue, and the demand generation point solution they believed to be the answer, the company risked compounding their revenue problem. Investing in demand generation alone would indeed drive prospects—to their competition.
4. Too Much Too Soon
I have noticed this practice with a lot of tech companies: the first time a prospect provides contact detail, they receive a phone call from sales. This is like bringing a ring on the first date.
Really, this practice is glorified cold-calling. I submitted my contact details recently as I was interested in a white paper. If the company had asked, my answer about purchase intention would have been “unlikely”. But the company had my email and phone number and so the next day I received both an email solicitation and a phone call.
I explained that I was conducting research for a client, and the sales rep persisted. But here’s the thing: I don’t have purchase authority, the budget isn’t mine, I am simply collecting information well upstream of a decision. And if the tech company had solicited those insights, I would have happily shared. It would have saved us both a phone call.
What this first date proposal really reflects is no understanding of the decision cycle. There is no appreciation for what prospects need to learn in advance of purchasing their product. Nor is there understanding of purchasing signals which I am certain would be evident following appropriate analysis. In my example, does simply downloading (they didn’t even know if I’d read it) a white paper = purchase intention? No.
Selecting a technology is more complex—and expensive—than gum at the register. Reaching a decision takes time. But that time can become predictable and manageable with an understanding of the decision cycle.
3. Outrageous (or Invalid) Claims
Years ago, I was waiting for a train and noticed my client’s ad across the platform. It claimed that their new dial-up service saved customers “1,000%!”. Reading the fine print, the savings was based on a calculation of delivering every email by messenger instead. Yipes.
The client did have a lot of benefits to cite with their new service. But by presenting such an exaggerated, outrageous claim, they diminished the value of the product to anyone noting the details.
I have seen similar approaches with other tech companies. Recently, I was pitched a product that extrapolated meaning from a company’s website content. The example offered was that the technology would detect the presence of a job listing for a data scientist, for example. From that detection, the technology would “project” (used incorrectly) that the company was in a data-related field.
The same can be concluded from that company’s NAICS code. No needless machinations required.
The larger point is that the claim was outrageous: the technology may be terrific at detecting activity. That data alone could be applied to generate value. Instead, they twisted a story so preposterous that anyone with appropriate experience would walk away with the impression that they could be neither believed nor trusted.
2. Making it a Tech Play
I follow with great interest a company that markets agile databases. The benefit is tremendous and yet their marketing relies heavily on schematics and tech specs. They assume that if they disclose to those who appreciate their technology and can conclude that they’re clever, that their product will sell.
Again, there are so many assumptions at work here:
- That tech teams are the decision-makers
- That those teams will and can effectively evangelize the product to non-tech decision-makers
- The benefits are purely technical
What this company has overlooked is how their product will be applied to business. Minimally they haven’t communicated it.
And yet that is where the true value lies. Unless a real and necessary value can be established, that technology will not find support among those non-techs with decision authority. The ugly truth is that there is always competition for budget. And unless a real business benefit can be defined, the technology will only be seen as a frivolous development team indulgence.
It’s really not about technology. Technology no matter how impressive still must serve the master: business benefit.
1. Ignore the Only Thing That Matters: The Customer
Every other issue cited above can be distilled down to knowing the customer. Communication that assumes perfect knowledge, making incredible claims that spoil trust, mistimed tactics that support the company’s needs (revenue) and not the prospect’s (understanding), marketing sparkly technology not business benefit, all confirm the common issues shared by many tech companies: they have lost sight of the customer.
Here’s What to Do Instead:
To be fair, tremendous effort must be invested to know the customer. To get started, a tech company should:
- Understand needs and value drivers: What problems are you solving for the individual and/or the organization?
- Learn the progression of the decision process. Keep in mind that it may not be the same across resources and/or products.
- Establish credibility: Illustrate, don’t tell.
- Speak to prospects’ needs, not yours.
- Reflect that prospects’ time has value: make every communication additive, relevant, compelling, and—
- Speak their language and they will engage.
- Link your technology to their business and how it will benefit.
Knowing the customer really is the chief objective because marketing to a prospect establishes a relationship. Managed correctly, that relationship will be fruitful for years—through subscription renewals, in product re-investment, and growing revenue from each customer.
While there may be new ways of marketing technology, there is only one success strategy: know the customer and exploit that knowledge.