bigstock-Chair-3842724A recent McKinsey & Company analysis shows many business to business companies are “talking past” their prospects by stressing themes they don’t care about.

Specifically, it said B2B vendors talk a lot more about social responsibility, sustainability, and global reach than their customers care about. At the same time, two themes that are far more important to customers – the vendor’s effective supply chain management and specialist market knowledge—“were among those least mentioned by B2B suppliers.”

Maybe worst of all, “honest and open dialogue, which customers considered most important, was one of the three themes not emphasized at all” by the 90 companies studied. Maybe if the companies studied actually talked to their customers they’d understand what was important to them.

Tweedle-Dum, Tweedle-Dee

I was particularly struck, however, by the report’s finding of “a surprising similarity among the brand themes that leading B2B companies emphasized, suggesting a tendency to follow the herd rather than create strongly differentiated brand messages.

This is something I see all the time in the briefings I get from vendors. At a recent user conference, one IT pro shook his head at all the sales calls he gets from different vendors, “all saying the same thing.” McKinsey recommends that marketers talk to their salespeople (what a concept!) to understand “the degree to which customers see your products as differentiated or worth a premium… If you hear about consistent pushback on pricing or an inability to articulate a compelling argument for the value of your products, you’ve got a problem.”

It also said “Leading companies make extensive use of frontline interaction and market research to stay in tune with customer needs and perceptions. For example, Hilti, a maker of professional construction tools, has its salespeople do double duty as distributors and hands-on market researchers at customer construction sites.”

Three Potholes to Avoid

I can’t tell you how to get your marketing and sales people to share more insights about customers. But here are three mistakes I see technology vendors make in their me-too market messaging, and how not to repeat them.

  • The endless “solution” statement: Going on and on about the problems you solve rather than how you solve them. The customer knows they’re facing a flood of unstructured data, new security regulations or user-chosen mobile devices. Rather than repeat the problems they face, explain how you fix them more quickly, easily, cheaply or completely than your competitors. If you can’t quickly choose one of those adjectives, your messaging isn’t ready.
  • Hiding your secret sauce. Another good way to break out of the clutter is to describe specifically how you do what you do. For example: “Our patent-pending VPN technology moves mobile user sessions to the cloud. This lets you protect your data without tracking and managing every mobile device every user brings in.” Or: “Unlike other backup systems, we automatically test each backup as it is done, eliminating a chore you know you should be doing but never have time for.”
  • Relying on lazy buzzwords.  Is your “solution” “seamless,” “robust,” “end-to-end,” or “enterprise-class?” Are you “aligned with your customers’ needs?” “committed” to “customer service,” to “generating adding value” or to “understanding your customer’s needs?” So is everyone else these days. If you must use  these clichés, back them up with a feature and a benefit. Examples: “Our integration with all leading cloud providers lets you choose your deployment option.” “Our 24-hour help desk guarantees a response within 30 minutes to keep your business running” or an anecdote “Read how our storage appliances delivered 200% ROI for a leading online gaming site.”)

Even if you’re not boring your customers with feel-good tales corporate responsibility, you might unwittingly sound like every other “solution” out there. Check your messaging for these three flaws to lift yourself out of the clutter.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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