Do Your Marketing, Sales, and Product Materials Tell the Same Continuous Story?

From a users’ perspective, the value in having the messages they experience from your website and other places in the marketing and sales process aligned to what they experience when they use your product is self-evidently valuable. It’s one of the most powerful ways to encourage usage and adoption.

But as a business builder, thinking through the long arc of the story and making sure you are using the best ideas from each step throughout will help you organize your team’s thinking around a consistent direction.

In my current company, we built our marketing and sales materials early on. We iterated through them many times and got a version that worked well. Our marketing materials got us a first meeting and our sales materials typically won over the room and got us a follow-up meeting.

But sometimes when we presented to a room full of potential users, people were skeptical.
Users sometimes said, “this sounds too much like a problem to solve the administration’s needs. Isn’t it just one more thing I need to do?”

We debated for a long time internally whether we should tell our story from the buyers’ or users’ point of view. It was an unanswerable question until we thought about how the marketing and sales messages transitioned the customer into our client services team and their onboarding process.

And then the answer became obvious: keep the user as the constant focus.

It’s natural to want to tell two different stories

In our early sales pitches, we told both stories but started with the buyer. Why not? We were often in front of the buyer and wanted to get to how we solved their problem.

A few months later, as we brought clients on to the product, we built out an onboarding function inside the product itself (such as popup boxes that greet new users to our website showing how to use it) and the client services messages we would use when reaching out. We invested in those materials because we knew adoption and utilization of our product was the most important metric that we would judge our own success by. As discussed in earlier articles, those materials were built based on the latest thinking we could find from companies like Zillow and LinkedIn and others.

Those materials were all about the user. We started reminding them of their buyer’s goal and giving them a couple of options to choose from for their personal goal as a user.

Our product could do a lot and we knew trying to teach them how to do everything right away wouldn’t work; users can’t take a complete career journey in a 45-minute training session. We wanted them to tell us how we could help them best and work with them to adopt our product to do that task.

Those options we gave users to choose from were the major use cases we solved for them. That was how we picked up from the sales process and led our users through product onboarding. For us it was an “Aha! moment” when we realized that was the story we should have been anchoring on all along through the buying process. Why would they want to see any different message when they visited our marketing website, for example? Everything should be reinforcing and consistent.

That doesn’t mean we decided not to address the value proposition to the buyer and the ROI. Just that we always led with the user and the use cases we support them on. The buyer would then have immediate confidence that users would be engaged and we could then share how usage drives the outcomes and ROI they needed to see.

Customer Success’s main role is threading the needle

For example, improving employee engagement in hospitals is always a top priority for HR leaders. But every few months, the specific forces and challenges change. In one year, the hospital may be extremely busy or navigating a pandemic, in which case, their focus is on alleviating burnout of their team members. That ultimately rolls up under the category of employee engagement, but it is a specific theme, a specific message, and a specific focus. In other years, it may be an increase in new hire turnover that is causing them to re-imagine their new employee onboarding program and the focus may then be more on a specific demographic of employee.

…And individual users’ goals
Our Customer Success team also spends a lot of time talking to our users. What are they trying to accomplish? What are their goals? What does our product help them with? What are the top use cases that they would recommend to their colleagues that they use our product for? Listening to them explain those things, in their own words, allows us to sharpen the way our teams talk to other users.

The connection between the users’ and executives’ goals may appear different on the surface, but they are often just different levels of abstraction. Users may be focused on finding an “easy button” solution to completing the new hire check-in processes given to them by the executive team. Or they may see the symptoms of burnout (e.g. employees increasing their sick leave) and talking to them about how we can solve that may get their attention much faster than talking about how to solve the issue using more abstract terminology.

Focus on the user, their concrete needs, and the story that works with them. Then take that story and abstract it up to as examples to executives about how you’re supporting in specific ways, their more abstract objectives.

Also published on strategist.blog, where I share thoughts on building analytics-based products and businesses (“product strategy”). Any books or other resources mentioned or referenced in this article are listed here.

I’ve spent the last 15 years building new products and companies using a combination of data/analytics/AI and strategy.