In this article we are going to cover the foundations for Pillar 1 of Product Marketing. We will look at the market landscape, how to identify & prioritize your target market, who are the buying personas in that market, and what is the buying behavior of your personas. There is a lot of information here and we will work to dive even deeper into each individual area over time.
The goal of this pillar is to analyze the world and then narrow it all down to a single person. We start with understanding the Market Landscape. It’s good to get a general understanding of this, regardless of your target market, so you can understand the way the market is moving, what the adjacent markets to your targets are going through, understanding similar pain points across segments, and how your competitors are answering your prospects.
When writing up the market landscape, here are a few areas to start with.
- Analysts: Look for reports written by analyst firms like Gartner, Forrester, and KuppingerCole. If you have the budget to spend, setup inquiries and get their take on the market landscape. You’ll want to focus in on the needs of companies today, but also ask about gaps in the market (a great informant for emerging technologies and roadmap influence).
- Customers: Never shy away from talking to your customers about what they are seeing. They’re in the trenches everyday, just be sure to capture the company firmographics as you’re taking notes.
- Industry Events: Look for conferences, tradeshows, webinars, and events that are geared towards the industry your company is in. Try to find impartial events whenever possible, that aren’t heavily influenced by your competition.
- Competitive Analysis: It’s great to be aware of what the competitors are doing, but that doesn’t mean you have to do what they’re doing. Your customers will ask about them, so be ready to answer.
- Online Forum Questions & Complaints: One of the best ways to get insight on the market is to look for questions and complaints posted online by potential buyers.
Identify and Prioritize your Market
Too often people say they sell their solution to everyone! And while very few companies will turn away a potential buyer, there is an ideal target. If your company does not have this precisely outlined, then it’s time to step up and help them out.
When identifying and prioritizing your market, you have to look at a few things:
- Geography: North America, EMEA, APAC, etc
- Segments: Enterprise, Mid-Market, SMB, etc
- Verticals: Healthcare, Financial, Legal, etc
- Department: HR, Security, Marketing, etc
- Buyer: CISO, DevOps Engineer, CMO, etc
You want to try and pick 1 primary target in each area, starting with where your strongest segmentation is. For example, if you only have operations in North America, then your first segmentation is Geography. If you truly do not differentiate or have offerings that target very specific verticals, feel free to leave that out. At the end, you should have a target that looks something like:
Primary Target: Healthcare, North America, Enterprise, Security, CISO
Secondary Target: Healthcare, North America, Mid-Market, Engineering, DevOps Engineer
By specifically outlining your target market, you can scope every piece of content against these targets. The important part is to get as granular as you possibly can while still remaining actionable. If you look at the examples above, the needs of a DevOps Engineer at a Mid-Market Healthcare company in North America are very different from a CISO at an Enterprise Healthcare company in North America.
Hurdles: In business there are going to be things you have no control over, like a Board of Directors demanding that your company move up market even if you don’t have the solution and selling motion to do so. It’s going to be on your shoulders to help keep the company realistic about who your primary target is and help come up with plans to expand into other segments, verticals, and geographic regions.
So how can you start identifying these markets???
Start With Your Happy Customers
The first place to start is with your happy customers. This is not the same as your highest paying customer, nor your longest customer. Start with the customers that actively engage with your business, supply happy NPS scores, create a low volume of support tickets, and renew/expand purchase with little resistance. Collect as much information on who these customers are and look for common threads. Then take everyone that’s extremely unhappy (lost customers, lots of support tickets, low NPS scores, etc) and find common data among them. Everyone else is your neutral battle ground.
For example, you may find that your happiest customers come from company sizes between 100–1000 employees, located in North America, and are primarily financial institutes. This gives you a GREAT place to start! Talk to the account managers and start a dialogue yourself with these customers. Once you have a common profile, mark this as your primary target.
The neutral battle ground: these are customers that are either secondary targets, or primary targets that are just on the edge of view. Look at the types of businesses that fall here as well.
Hurdles: You may struggle to find common threads at first, but I promise that they are there. When talking to customers that are both happy, and unhappy, find out what their expectation is of the product and what problem they were hoping it would solve. What you may find is that your target in the market is not based on anything above, and may be based on something completely different, such as “Software Development Methodology”. Take this information as a starting point, and try to work backwards into a segment that this target is most often found in. Again, talking to customers (who are the experts on their business type) is a great start. Analyst inquiries can also greatly help you here.
Personas: Know the Buyers, Champions, & Users
In B2B sales it is common for the users, champions, and buyers of your solution to be different people; sometimes even different departments. Your success relies on identifying these different groups. I will cover Buyer Persona work in a follow up article. When identifying your target markets, drill down to the departments and people involved in the entire buying process.
There are three primary persona types you will have to create messaging for:
- Buyers: These are the final decision makers in the company, typically executive level people for larger purchases.
- Champions: Your best friend during the sale! They are the one tasked with solving a problem that the Buyer uncovered, and must present back to the buyer their analysis and recommendations.
- Users: The actual people using or benefiting from your solution. They are often involved in the evaluation process and provide their head nod to your company
Depending on the size of your deals and your target market, will determine whether these are all the same person, different people, or entirely different departments. Ensuring that you account for each of them in your messaging will help accelerate the sales cycle. There are other buyer persona types that are involved, but they’re tertiary at best and rarely have a big influence in many deals.
Hurdles: I have seen a lot of weak buyer personas at companies that tend to be extremely surface level. However, if you go too deep you could end up spending too much time and not delivering value back to the business. Try to have a healthy mix of qualitative research from customer interviews and quantitative research from surveys. Start with some interviews, validate the information with surveys, and then follow up with more interviews to dig deeper in questionable areas. Repeat this cycle. Your buyers’ needs will change as the market changes and they won’t wait for you to “update your Personas” so treat these as living documents.
Mapping out Buyer Personas takes a lot of time and effort when done right.You will often have to create different messaging for these persona types, as they are interested in different things and enter/exit the buying process at different stages. Speaking of which…
Obsess With How Your Target Makes Purchases
Now that you’ve started with the market landscape, found your target market, and identifying the people involved in the purchase of your solution, now you must document how they purchase solutions like yours. Luckily your business has a lot of information for this from your CRM system, to your marketing platform. And if your company isn’t capturing any information about how prospects interact with your business, then propose a project to start capturing this. Reference your own data and interview customers on who is involved in the purchase process.
In B2B sales there are three main phases that every buyer goes through:
- Awareness: The goal here is to get a potential buyer to realize that they have a problem, and that it is a big enough problem to solve. Here the buyer is not even interested in your solution.
- Investigation: Once the buyer realizes they have a big enough problem, they now need to start figuring out how to solve it. If you were the one that uncovered the problem for them, you’re already the front runner for solving it.
- Justification: Now that the buyer has looked into all of the different ways to solve their problem, they will now shortlist the potential solutions. We must work to show the customer, out of everyone, why should they go with us as their answer. This is less about your solution, and more about your company.
The key to this successful work is understanding which of the personas are involved at each stage, what questions do they ask at each stage, and how quickly do they progress through them. Sometimes people will arrive at your company having fully progressed past the Awareness stage, so make sure they have a direct path to the Investigation stage. Additionally, buyer needs and your messaging, will change based on the type of buyer entering into this process. For example, does the buyer already have an incumbent solution? Or are they completely unaware of the problem all together. Getting to this granularity will ensure that your ability to go after this market will be far more successful.
When we craft messaging & narrative, we must align it to these buying stages. Additionally, work with sales to align their sales cycle to the buying stages.
This is one of my favorite pillars of Product Marketing because it’s honestly the hardest, but it is the foundation from which everything else is built on top of (maybe I should call it 6 pillars and foundation of PMM). It’s the part that inefficient PMMs will gloss over, that not every company realizes is part of PMM, a huge miss for other departments to not take advantage of, and the reason why good PMMs can be hard to find. With all of this knowledge Sales can be hyper efficient in their cycles, marketing can pinpoint exactly who to target and when, and your entire business can align their strategy against.
As I add deeper insights, walkthroughs, and templates for each section I will update them with links to those articles.
If you want to talk to me directly, join me on the Product Strategy slack. It’s a brand new slack channel for both PMs & PMMs to come together and elevate our crafts.
Good Luck out there!