Product Marketing Creates Value! And Bridges The Gap Between Sales & Engineering!

Did you know there's a secret to selling software?

A secret that is all too often overlooked? 

Take those two words: "software" and "sales". There are few modern occupations aside from sales and software engineering that have as high regard for themselves as these two demanding and hard-driving careers. 

But sales people and software engineers aren't successful in a vacuum.  For starters, they have to talk to each other!  The successful software vendor must be an organization where software engineering and sales are effective as part of a team.

That's the topic of this blog post: How software engineering and software sales talk to each other. 

Interestingly that dialogue between sales and software engineering doesn't work very well if it is attempted directly.  The worlds of software engineering and sales are too far apart to bridge face-to-face.  But there is a catalyst that will support dialogue between software engineering and sales.

That catalyst between engineering and sales is an activity called "product marketing" and the output of that activity is "productization".  To specialize in product marketing can be considered an occupation in itself.  Little heralded beside its better known full marketing departments of traditional B2C, or the flavour-of-the-day social marketing mavens, product marketing is about the structured and disciplined definition of exactly what an organization will sell.

It would be tempting to belittle the importance of productization and product marketing.  But that would be a costly mistake, because "product marketing is real".  This is to say that all that productization between software engineering and sales is not merely "stateless messaging", but a place where real value is created.  It is a difficult thing to be able to bridge the needs of sales and the constraints of technology.  And defining a value chain that stretches from a data store to a customer business problem has too many contingencies and fractals of complexity to be conducted directly.   (And if you want evidence, note that the most successful technology vendors in the world have powerful product marketing functions.)

Mostly we don't think about it, but all software development is extremely arbitrary.  Software can be made to do just about anything, and what is included or excluded in a build can change anytime.  Software itself is just the nuts and bolts of an information age.  And like the nuts and bolts of the first railway steam engines or cotton gins, there are many alternatives and few winners.  The winners in the software sweepstakes are effective at defining a viable business model, constructing the software that can be used by customers in service of their own needs, and productizing that engineering effort into a saleable product.

What is that saleable product?  Let's think of software code as the gene map of a product, just like the genes encoded in a kernel of wheat are the gene map of a full stalk of wheat.  But the full realization of the kernel of wheat requires a delivery vehicle, including the ability to sprout, a protective shell, receptive ground, the act of seeding, nourishment, etc. etc.  In the same way, software code require productization, and productization includes module definition, tooling, training, contract and legal support, sales tools, scripted demonstration, inventories of capabilities, use cases, competitive analyses, development roadmaps, documentation, support systems, SLAs, channels programs and more.  All these business and technical capabilities must be in place in order for sales to succeed.

Certainly all the productization listed in the previous paragraph do not have to be in place from day one -- and in fact the most successful productization is achieved incrementally, whether you call it "fail fast" or "agile", the engagement with real customers with skin in the game provides the basis of a successful feedback loop.  It's interesting to observe the role of sales and product marketing in software startups.  A number of gurus have noted the danger of "ramping up too soon for sales".  Too soon for sales means the product marketing has not been done, or in the larger sense, the business model of the startup has not been defined and validated.  Product marketing really is that day-to-day work of validating and constantly refining a viable business model, from the raw material of technological achievement.

Selling software is selling change.  If your customer was happy about how they did things now, there'd be no reason to go through the hassle and expense of buying your software -- and that change is a risk all in itself.  Your sales people need the best possible tools to help them help the customer over the hump of change.  As this website has pointed out several times, generic blather about "faster-time-to-market" and "ROI" doesn't generate any sustainable advantage.  Sales people are only successful when they can lever your unique and compelling advantages.  Any vendor lacking unique and compelling advantages will not be long for a competitive marketplace.  Those unique and compelling advantages and messages are generated and maintained by your product marketing team, whether that's just you two days a week or you have a team of a half dozen, somehow the work must be done.

And what wonderful work it is!  Productization is hard work which then in retrospect seems like magic.  You take that arbitrary heap of code and turn it into something that can be bought, supported, learned, and used by paying customers!  That makes everyone happy!

The sister posting to this blog entry (Domain Specific Business Model With Biz Process Technology Leverage) is an excerpt of a live webinar in which your host participated.  The focus of your host's presentation is the use of business process management software in the specialized market of mobile workforce management.  The intention of the presentation is to show viewers considering mobile workforce management software from our channel partner a positive context for their decision.  Market development and technology developments conspire together with the partnership between the two vendors to create a compelling value proposition for managers of mobile workforces.

The beginning of this post includes the claim that product marketing is "often overlooked".  While many B2B technology vendors have "marketing departments", in your host's direct and indirect experience, the full realization of the promise of product marketing is often missing.  And that's a pity, because the ROI is enormous.

Can you define your product value chain?   Can you list your entire inventory of low-level features, up through data sheet features, to business benefits, then business advantages, and show how these are all relevant in the context of your target customer's business models?  Does your value chain make sense in the context of your business model?  How are you evolving?

What's your product marketing story?