B2B SOFTWARE MARKETING MACHINE
How to optimize Marketing to generate more pipeline and revenue
After 25 years as a SaaS marketing executive or founder/CEO, I've distilled software marketing down to a repeatable process for driving pipeline and revenue. I call that process the B2B Software Marketing Machine. Its purpose is to convert marketing dollars into sales dollars as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Here's the process in detail. Feel free to print and share.
Many people have a general idea of what marketing does — but lack a detailed view of the end-to-end process. They have a good understanding of the tactical execution phase of marketing. But they don't always appreciate the strategic foundation work — product positioning and messaging — that's the critical prerequisite for Marketing to generate high-quality pipeline and revenue.
With the holistic view presented here, it's easy to figure out where pipeline problems lie. They usually boil down to some combination of weak positioning and messaging and poor marketing program execution. My framework helps isolate software marketing issues so they can be fixed.
I've kept this overview as short and sweet as I can. I recommend you Google italicized words for more details on topics that interest you.
What is Marketing's job?
Before we discuss the Marketing process, we need to agree on Marketing's job. I believe that Marketing's primary job* is to drive pipeline (qualified sales opportunities) and revenue (new customers).
The most visible and recognizable face of Marketing is the Demand Generation programs that generate qualified sales opportunities, and the Sales Enablement training and tools that help Sales teams convert qualified opportunities into new customers. What's less visible is the strategic foundation that you must establish for your Demand Generation and Sales Enablement teams to work their magic. More on that in the next section.
* While not covered in this article, Marketing should, of course, also help Customer Success teams retain and grow existing customers. And help Product teams prioritize the product roadmap.
What are the two phases of the Marketing process?
At its highest level, Marketing is a two-phase process:
- Strategic Marketing Foundation = Targeting + Positioning + Messaging
- Tactical Marketing Execution = Demand Generation + Sales Enablement + Corporate Marketing
In the strategic foundation phase, you define your target customers and buyers, and develop clear and compelling product positioning and messaging that will compel ideal customers to try and buy your product.
During the tactical execution phase, you deliver your product positioning and messaging to your target customers via your Demand Generation, Sales Enablement, and Corporate Marketing functions. These latter functions are your Go-to-Market (GTM) functions.
Why is your strategic marketing foundation so important?
You must nail your strategic marketing foundation to nail tactical marketing execution. You want to run your execution programs on rocket fuel, not low-octane gas. If you don't, you'll waste time and money delivering the wrong story to the wrong people in the wrong places at the wrong time. And you won't get the superior pipeline and revenue you're looking for.
Put another way, marketing execution is a garbage-in, garbage-out process. Feed your execution programs with superior positioning and messaging, and you'll get more pipeline and revenue.
How should you organize your Marketing department?
To execute a marketing machine, a typical Marketing team requires the functions described below. In smaller Marketing teams, you might have one individual managing multiple functions. In larger teams, you'll find a function head (e.g. Head of Demand Generation) who manages one or more specialist managers (e.g. Paid Search Manager) who in turn might manage a team of specialist individual contributors.
Here are the five core marketing functions:
- Product Marketing — Researches markets, competitors, and customers. Owns audience targeting and product positioning and messaging.
- Content Marketing — Uses the product story (targeting, positioning, messaging) to create content for the Demand Generation, Sales Enablement, and Corporate Marketing teams. Content is the bridge between marketing strategy and marketing execution.
- Demand Generation — Manages marketing campaigns that convert raw leads (unaware of your product) into sales opportunities (aware of your product and seriously considering it for purchase). Campaigns include specific programs for email marketing, paid search, paid social, and SEO.
- Sales Enablement — Provides the Sales team with the training and tools they need to convert sales opportunities (pipeline) into customers (revenue).
- Corporate Marketing — Manages Press Relations, Industry Analyst Relations, and Corporate Events.
Let's dig into each function.
Product Marketing researches markets, competitors, and customers. Product Marketing also defines target customers (the companies that need your product) and buyers (the individuals that work at those companies who will purchase and/or use your product), and develops product positioning and messaging.
Product marketing is a data-driven function. It is informed by three types of research data:
- Market research
- Competitive research
- Customer research.
The goal of market research is to estimate the size of the available market for your product. One simple approach to market sizing is to estimate the number of potential customers in your addressable market multiplied by your average ARR (annual recurring revenue) per customer.
The goal of competitive research is to understand how your competitors are positioning and messaging their products. Be rigorous in your definition of a competitor. While you may have many potential competitors, in practice your actual competitors are the companies that your prospects say they compare you against in sales deals.
The goal of customer research is to understand what your best customers and buyers look like (aka Ideal Customer Profiles and Buyer Personas), their needs, wants, and fears, their buying triggers, where and how they research new products, and, most importantly, why they choose you over alternate solutions.
Common customer research questions
- Where and how do you use our product?
- What are the top 3 problems we solve for you?
- What are the top 3 business benefits we provide for you?
- What was your old solution?
- What prompted you to find a new solution?
- How did you hear about us?
- Where did you research us?
- Why did you choose us?
- Why do you stay with us?
- What do you like best about our product?
- What do you like best about our company?
- How could we make our product more valuable to you?
- How would you rate our product's features 1-5 stars?
- How would you rate our product's ease of use 1-5 stars?
- How would you rate our product's integrations 1-5 stars?
- How would you rate our pricing and value for money 1-5 stars?
- How would you rate our customer support 1-5 stars?
The answers to these questions let you replace guesswork with data when choosing your marketing channels (where you engage your prospects), your positioning (your category and differentiation), and your messaging.
During your customer research process, you'll find it helpful to map your target customer's buying journey through three major stages:
- Awareness = They know you exist and know you can help them address a pressing need.
- Consideration = You're on their shortlist as a solution provider.
- Selection = They've chosen you over all alternate solutions as their solution provider.
In the marketing execution phase, most marketing teams will develop different types of content designed to engage target customers at each stage of their buying journey. You'll find it helpful to track leads as they pass through these three stages (or more stages if you want to be more granular in your lead tracking and content targeting).
Most Marketing and Sales teams use the concept of a funnel to visualize and report leads as they pass through the three stages of their buying journey. With funnels come funnel metrics, an important tool for optimizing the customer acquisition process. These metrics include stage-to-stage conversion rates and velocities (days to convert).
Some people say that funnels are dead. But, since awareness, consideration, and selection can only happen linearly for each prospect, I continue to use the funnel to describe the buying journey. That said, I do agree that prospects are increasingly driving themselves through the awareness, consideration, and selection process by consuming content and word-of-mouth recommendations that they find through the so-called dark social channels.
Defining target customers involves identifying company attributes that include geographic locations, verticals, employee count, annual revenue, and deployed technology. Defining target buyers involves identifying company contact attributes that include, department, function, role, and seniority.
Defining your target customers and buyers in this way allows you to build lists for email and Account-Based Marketing (ABM) demand generation campaigns, and to create custom audiences for paid social and paid search ad campaigns.
Beyond these basic targeting attributes, you of course want to track answers to all the customer research problems listed earlier. These include their primary job to be done, the primary business metric by which managers measure their job performance, and the challenges that prevent them from crushing this metric. Knowing how you can help them move the needle on their primary business metric better than anyone else is core to your positioning.
A quick note on "existential" metrics
In B2B as in B2C, people buy on emotion. Your goal in positioning is to tie your product to the business metric used by your target buyer's managers to decide if your target buyer keeps their job, earns their bonus, and wins them a promotion. I call this metric your target buyer's existential metric. Show them how they can do their job better, earn their bonus, and get promoted, and you'll gain and hold their attention. This is sometimes referred to as WIFM — aka What's In It For Me?
Positioning requires you to answer four key questions for your prospects:
- What do you do? — I.e. your product category.
- Who do you help? — I.e. your target customers.
- How do you help? — I.e. your product's primary business benefits.
- Why choose you? — I.e. your advantage over alternate solutions.
You can think of the how you help question in several ways. First, it identifies the primary business impact you'll deliver for your customers. You can also think of it as the why change question. Meaning why should they change what they're doing today — the status quo? To convince them they need to change how they work today, you must provide a compelling vision of a desirable business transformation that only you and your product can facilitate. Some people refer to this why change question as a "strategic narrative."
The why choose you question is critical. You must give your target customers one primary reason why they should pick you over your competition in your chosen category. Think about the most pressing problems your target customers need to solve and stack rank them. Then think about the most unique benefits of your product and stack rank them. Your position will be the intersection of the most pressing problems they need to solve and the benefits that only your product can deliver.
As you develop your positioning, remember that above all else it should be:
- Simple — So your prospects remember it and can effortlessly share it with others.
- Compelling — So it drives prospect purchase decisions in your favor.
- Credible — So your prospects believe you can deliver on your promise.
Example: We offer the first intelligent product adoption platform (category and differentiation) for SaaS Customer Success teams (target customers) who want to reduce churn (primary benefit) by guiding their customers to the specific product experiences that drive upgrades and renewals (primary benefit driver).
Messaging involves developing a list of feature-benefit-impact statements that support your positioning plus a list of your counters to common questions and objections. Collectively, targeting, positioning, and messaging create your customer story. Your customer story feeds your Content Marketing function which, in turn, feeds your Go-to-Marketing (GTM) functions.
Testing and validation
Before you pass your new product positioning and messaging to your GTM functions, you must test and validate it with customers and prospects that match your ICP (Ideal Customer Profile). As discussed earlier, your marketing execution programs will only attract and engage your target customers if you have nailed your customer story. An excellent way to test your new positioning and messaging is to create a test landing page that presents your story with these key elements:
- Product/explainer graphic/video
- How it works (3 easy steps)
- How you help (your top 3 business benefits)
- Why choose you section (the top 3 reasons to choose you over competitors)
Your positioning and messaging are only validated if the ICP customers and prospects who review your test landing page overwhelming agree that your product positioning and messaging are:
- Clear — They understand what you do, where you fit in their tech stack, and how you can help.
- Compelling — They see how it will help them address an urgent need or desire, and want to learn more asap.
- Unique — They believe your product is unique and unavailable elsewhere.
If your new story fails this test, rinse and repeat until you get it right. Never forget that marketing execution is a garbage-in-garbage-out process — so you must get your positioning and messaging right before you start your Demand Generation and Sales Enablement programs.
Content Marketing provides the bridge from your strategic marketing team (Product Marketing) to your tactical execution teams (Demand Generation, Sales Enablement, and Corporate Marketing). The Content team creates content (copy plus images) that delivers your positioning and messaging in ways that are easy for your target customers to digest and remember. Typical marketing content includes:
- Website content — Including your home page, solution pages, landing pages, blog posts, explainer videos, customer testimonial videos, etc.
- Social content — Such as social media profile pages and posts.
- Demand generation content — Such as email and ad copy.
- Marketing collateral — Such as product data sheets and brochures.
- Sales tools — Such as sales decks and product demo videos.
- Marcom content — Such as press releases, event booth signage, etc.
Content Marketing teams typically include copywriters and graphic designers. Copywriters turn pragmatic and factually accurate messages into simple language that is easy for prospects to digest and remember. Graphic designers use images and illustrations to bring your copy to life and add visual interest.
The key difference between product messaging and marketing copy
People often confuse messaging and copy. Here's the difference: Messaging is what you say about your product. Copywriting is how you say it — meaning the words you use to deliver your messaging in ways that delight and engage your prospects while reinforcing your brand. Messaging is factual but dry. Copy makes messaging entertaining and memorable without losing anything in translation.
- Messaging = "New collaboration tool that combines numbers and words in a single document. Think: Google Sheets meets Google Docs."
- Copy headline = "Enough of this sheet!"
- Messaging = "Affordable flights to over 83 Asia destinations."
- Copy headline = "Cheap enough to say Phuket, I'll go!"
The Demand Generation team manages marketing campaigns that deliver your positioning and messaging to target customers across multiple marketing channels. Each campaign focuses on a specific combination of an audience (e.g. a customer segment) and an offer (a year-end discount, a competitor replacement discount, an event, a case study, etc.). Common marketing channels include:
- Website (SEO)
- Paid search ads (e.g. Google)
- Paid social ads (e.g. LinkedIn)
- Product review sites (e.g. G2, Capterra)
- Social posts
- Webinars and fireside chats
Each campaign aims to attract and engage target customers to advance them through your marketing and sales funnel. One campaign might focus on building awareness with a particular target customer segment while another might focus on driving consideration. Larger Demand Generation teams will often include specialist teams for each marketing channel. So, for example, dedicated teams for Email Marketing, Paid Search, Paid Social, SEO, etc.
Key performance metrics for each campaign and channel include:
- Lead quantity and lead quality (see conversion rates below)
- Cost per qualified sales opportunity (pipeline) and cost per customer acquisition (revenue)
- Conversion rates and conversion velocities (days to convert) as prospects move through your funnel from awareness to consideration (shortlist) to selection (sale).
The Sales Enablement team uses your product positioning and messaging to build sales training and sales tools that help Sales convert pipeline (qualified opportunities) into revenue (new customers). Typical sales tools include:
- Sales decks
- Case studies
- Customer testimonial videos
- ROI calculators
- Competitor battle cards
- Product explainer videos
- Product demo videos
The Corporate Marketing team uses your positioning and messaging to educate key influencers, including press journalists, industry analysts (Gartner, IDC, Forrester, etc.), and, for public companies, financial analysts. Larger Corporate Marketing teams will include specialist teams for each influencer channel.
Software Marketing can be broken down into a simple, repeatable process. The process has two phases. The strategic foundation phase establishes your product targeting, positioning, and messaging. The tactical execution phase delivers your optimized positioning and messaging to target customers via Demand Generation programs, Sales Enablement training and tools, and Marketing Communications programs. Marketing's goal is to drive pipeline (qualified sales opportunities) and revenue (closed-won deals). You must nail your product targeting, positioning, and messaging to drive superior pipeline and revenue from your tactical execution teams.