The product “black hole”
Once upon a time, software companies had little to no visibility into post-sales use of their products. In those days, software would arrive as a slickly packaged physical product. In many cases, parts of it would be used, while other parts would get permanently stuck on a shelf — becoming known as “shelfware.”
Information wasn’t available to know how — or if — a product was being used, beyond anecdotal feedback from customers and asset management software (which was mostly used in a punitive way to make sure customers were complying with license requirements).
Usage data reveals new insights
The ascent of the subscription model and cloud drastically changed all this. There are still plenty of products that technology companies sell to big enterprises that never get used or even implemented, but the difference today is that companies like Salesforce, Amazon, VMware, Microsoft, and others have something they didn’t have before: usage data.
They get a very accurate read on user activity and know which customers are — or aren’t — using what they’ve purchased as part of larger enterprise agreements.
This gives product marketers invaluable new insights about their customers. Unfortunately, that data may show that the products they deemed strategic and high-priority internally are actually not so for some of their customers.
We’re learning that usage is critical in a world where CFOs and others charged with driving down operating costs are taking a hard look at the value of software and can easily put products on the chopping block if they aren’t proving their worth. And usage is also a factor in a frenetic enterprise environment, where it’s easier for IT admins and employees to just keep using the same old point solutions they’ve gotten comfortable with.
The never-ending sale
The big reveal here is that marketing and sales folks today commonly operate in a way that made sense in the shelfware era. They’re focused on the initial transaction and not the ongoing usage of products. And sales models are often encouraging this—it doesn’t help that many tech companies disproportionately reward salespeople for their upfront efforts and not how their customers are using what they’ve purchased.
The reality is that pre- and post-sales efforts can no longer be viewed as two separate things, no matter how sales people are compensated. The “sale is never done” mindset is what tech product marketers will have to adopt if they want their organizations to thrive.
This means taking a longer view and thinking ahead on questions such as “What everyday problems are we actually helping our customers to solve?” and “Do they have current solutions, and if so, why is ours better for them?” Then, integrating the answers into pre-sales strategies.
Product marketers don’t have to start from scratch. They can optimize existing resources and materials with a new focus on helping customers experience the maximum benefits of a product once it’s purchased. When this is done right, it results in highly satisfied customers who will not only keep coming back but create even more business.
Bridging the gaps
Recently, we were working with a major business unit at Microsoft. There were two separate product marketing teams focused on the same product suite but positioned at different points along the product lifecycle.
Over the course of the engagement, our cross-organizational point of view gave us insight into some unintentional gaps between those whose job it is to get customers to buy, and those whose job it is to get customers to use what they’ve bought.
We focused on viewing the marketing and sales process from the perspective of the customer and their product experience.
We brought together stakeholders from the initial sale and usage groups to map out the steps needed to unify their efforts and make the most of the materials they already had. We then developed resources and best practices for each step.
The result was a cohesive, united effort between marketing, sales, and account management and a much clearer view of internal processes, as well as the customer’s obstacles. This framework will make it much easier for Microsoft product marketers and sales folks to communicate, and to target their efforts appropriately.
Growing sales by cultivating customers
Ultimately, looking at product marketing through the lens of a never-ending sales cycle is a new spin on a time-tested central concept: focusing on the customer. You can continue to captivate customers well after the sale by preparing them from the beginning with information and support that provides them real value and aligning pre- and post-sales efforts.
At the end of the day, this offers a clear competitive advantage, because the truth is, product parity in the enterprise tech world means that customers are increasingly choosing products based on the level of service rather than the product itself.
So, when you give customers the consistent information, implementation, and training they need and take care of them before AND after the sale, they will keep coming back.