Engineering-driven firms may need to rethink their pitch.

A large technology consultancy client observed that within their customer organisations the CMO often controls more IT budget than the CIO. This is worth restating — marketing sometimes controls more IT budget than IT. Not surprisingly, this is shaking up the traditional sales and marketing approach for technical products and services. This is not only true for software firms, but other technical product manufacturers as well.

Fresh priorities are emerging for these new decision makers, and they are speaking a different language. For example, marketing officers are concerned with their brand and customer experience, while transformation officers focus on organizational change, and innovation officers work on commercialising new ideas. Gatekeepers are now less concerned about how technology works and more interested in how it will achieve their goals.

The remedy might sound like solutions selling, but that doesn’t go far enough. If you’re a technology marketer, you need to learn your customer’s needs and speak in their language or risk being overlooked without understanding why. Too often we’ve observed businesses responding by doubling down on their technology messaging, trying to better explain what’s under the hood. We also see misguided product branding, like positioning around the tech rather than the benefits.

Consider Apple’s approach — no one knows what’s inside their iPhone, but they know all about what it does for them. Focus on what your product does, not how it does it. The technology usually delivers the proof statement, not the customer benefit.

We suggest two related strategies. First, focus your value proposition and messaging on what your buyer is accountable for. If in doubt, talk to them — they know what they’re on the hook for. It could be growth, efficiency, competitive advantage, risk management, or something more specific. Demonstrate how you help them achieve their mandate.

Second, and our preferred approach, position your products to help buyers create value for their customers. Understanding your customer’s customer usually requires some investigation but pays off in the end. In our experience, there is no replacement for speaking with end-customers directly. This approach is especially effective if your buyer is responsible for customer experience, think CMO or similar.

Coming full circle, for large technical purchases, engineers will always be involved in decision making, so your experts will have their day in the sun. And, if your direct contacts happen to be the technical folks, you’ll be doing them a service by equipping them to advocate to their non-technical colleagues.

Remember, even in the high tech business-to-business space, you’re ultimately selling to  human beings who will make decisions to fulfill their needs. Build your value proposition around these rather than showcasing your technology.

If you have a complex, technical value proposition you need to resonate with non-technical buyers, contact us for an assessment.

Coupland & Company Ltd. is a boutique business-to-business brand consultancy specializing in commercial, industrial, and professional service firms. We assist leaders charged with business transformation, growth, and the integration of newly-acquired companies. Our clients are private-sector businesses that strengthen Canada’s economy and global competitiveness.

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