IT’S ALL IN THE TELL. The power of vendor storytelling to brands.
This blog originally appeared on Only Influences. The World’s Leading Community for Email Marketing Professionals.
I’ve recently been working on two interesting projects which have put me either side of the brand and vendor perspective. Having worked agency, vendor and client side it’s a very useful juxtaposition from which to develop my own consultancy delivery experience.
Project 1. I’ve been working with a marketing platform solution provider, delivering training to their sales and success teams. They recognise the value of developing marketing savvy teams, who can converse with prospects and clients across marketing delivery & developing maturity, rather than be limited to simply listing the features of the platform.
Project 2. An ongoing project to help develop a 3-year digital transformation roadmap across direct marketing channels with personalisation at the core of the solution. This has involved a review of the tech stack and a fair few vendor proposal conversations. So as the ‘end customer’, I’ve had to absorb and asses the value of a fair few platform/solution propositions.
Two very separate projects, but that have both converged on the same need – the ability to effectively differentiate your offering through simply articulated solution stories.
From the brands perspective; how easily can I absorb the information a vendor is providing and understand and assess its value?
From a vendor’s perspective; how well and easily can I relay the benefits of the solution and where it will fit in driving positive change and make a real difference.
Why is there so often this mismatch between what a prospect vendor provides and what a brand needs?
Well to start with, very few marketeers and even less senior decision makers, are versed in the width of expertise needed to make these decisions:
- Technology: Platforms, Automation, 3rd Party, Architecture, Render
- Data (Legal Compliance)
- Planning & Delivery
- Creative & Content
- Segmentation & Targeting
- Reporting & Measurement
- Testing & Optimisation
From a distance every platforms journey builder canvas looks the same. All (segmentation /personalisation / AI fuelled) campaigns are kids play. Every build editor will allow you to almost create an email with your eyes shut. Just a vanilla demo of the platform and generic scenarios leaves the brand having to do all the work to unpick the difference and even more importantly the value to their business.
Amplify this with a lack of time within the brand and the need to make the offering easily understood becomes even more critical. The more work you give the brand to have to unpick where you add value, the less chance they will.
And one final thought on this is around the accountability of your main brand contact making a final decision. If I as an individual choose my home Wi-Fi and its rubbish, I’ll upset my family and have wasted a little money, but that’s the limit to the damage. If I choose the wrong marketing platform, then I’ve wasted considerable budget and worse my professional reputation is at risk. It’s worth all vendors recognising this barrier to deciding. Working in sponsorship mode (how can I make you look brilliant) is vital as it will help mitigate this risk on both sides.
From the vendors perspective – in truth most sales and success teams have never sat in the marketer’s chair and delivered across these same requirements. So walking in their shoes is tough. Success here is in the art of the story telling. Finding a few use cases that will make immediate impact. Showcasing how the technology will facilitate change. Providing easy to absorb reasons for the brand to have the confidence that the effort of change will be rewarded.
In working with the vendor sales and success teams, this lack of shared vision is shown in the common reasons given for unsuccessful conversion:
- Too difficult / too much to absorb
- Not a business priority (or high enough project priority)
- Difficulty of integration
- Time / head space
- Increased content implications
- Fear of change
- No budget / Need ROI justification / Cannot increase allowable marketing cost
The common foundation is a need to be able to show value through a clear articulation of small, simple and relevant stories. These define the need and position the solution in context.
Vendors need to show they understand your landscape, your challenges and customer paths by overlaying a clear, step stone journey from defined start to defined end point. This must be interwoven with why it will make a difference and help you pinpoint your ‘north star’ in a sea of martech landscape supergraphic.
Having sat in the brand seat, the immediate kudos given to a demo that tells the story to me, in context to our brand and our specific challenges is immense. Showing me how, through tangible manageable change steps, the solution will make a difference, gives me the confidence that successful on-boarding is possible (just telling me that its simple and only takes one line of code on the website, does not).
Conversely, if after a pitch I’m left asking what the vendor is actually going to do for me and my brand, then the story has not been told effectively. This immediately reduces credibility and trust.
The value of relationships in the B2B space are increasingly important. To borrow from the Trusted Advisor Model “A competitor can copy your product, spend more on advertising or offer a lower price, but the one thing a competitor can never do is copy your relationships.” Find out more here.
The question to ask as a vendor is perhaps, how easily could this story be re-told within the brands business. If it resonates it will always make sense and if the story has a clear narrative it will always be delivered with meaning and impact.
So, let me tell my own story to illustrate the point. Sitting in a well-known vendor presentation on the ‘Art of the Possible’ a dangerous premise that could easily lead to paralysing nirvana of options.
But rather than a dizzy volume of options and possibilities, we were taken on a single journey. A journey of how understanding multiple touchpoints and the right technology enables an increasingly detailed picture for one customer, from a ‘blurred’ outline at first contact (unknown unknown) to a laser sharp profile of this (known customer) over time.
The difference? Rather than present automated journey building based on possible data points and a set of options set around if’s and maybe’s, this very detailed look at one journey, created a simple to understand, relevant and exciting view of the future possible.
- A clear and real point of first contact (with backstory as to how the brand was found)
- The prospect buying a birthday gift for a family member, the excitement and social share
- How real life interweaves and interrupts the brand relationship and messaging
- How the chain of events from share and follow can lead to ever engaged customers and new prospects brought in via network get network.
All skilfully interwoven into this narrative; routes of first contact, the use of CDP to manage this, cross channel link up and optimisation through AI. A simple story, highlighting at its core the need to ‘know’ a customer through multiple touchpoints and clearly supporting the journey with the vendor solutions.
From the brand seat, a clear idea of how the technology would fit and enhance the current customer interactions (and where the blind spots where, so defining why this solution would make a difference)
My final consideration is that when I talk about simple stories it does not mean less complex. The true skill is an ability for vendors to take very complex scenarios and activity and create a simplicity of narrative to make the complicated easy to understand.
In the same way that for email content we suggest that less is most often more, it doesn’t mean simply used less words, but rather distil the message to its core element with a singular primary focus.
Working with both vendor and brand side it’s clear that success and failure of first engagement are routed in the same considerations. An understanding of the brand business challenges and an ability by the vendor to articulate simply, complex solutions in small use case based stories.
Vendors need to provide the width of experience and training to their sales and success teams to develop this. As with all B2B sales it’s the relationships created that now differentiate you in a competitive landscape. These relationships are built on trust and credibility. This is created from your ability to demonstrate the value and shared success you can bring to the brand.