April 15th, 2019

Unlocking Growth by Learning How to Message to the Value Chain

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By Scott Gillum

“Who invited marketing to the sales pitch?” It was said in passing, and intended as a joke, but the marketing team got the point.

The comment was made in a recent messaging workshop. The head of sales expressed his frustration at the messaging being developed by marketing. His point — there was nothing different. It sounded like the same sales pitch they had been giving customers for years.

He was right, and it got worse. Marketers were sending the message to the same audience, creating even more reason for buyers to tune them out. Good marketing, as we all know, should help open doors for reps, not close them in their faces, which is what was happening.

The Situation

The company was in the ingredient business. Similar to an OEM, their ingredient went into a part that was a component of a product bought by customers. Their additive had been on the market for 10 years and as an “ingredient” had few unique selling features. Its value was defined by how it was used further down the value chain. Keep this in mind while as you continue reading.

As a regulated additive, sales reps spend much of their time helping parts manufacturers understand how, and when, to use the ingredient. Despite this knowledge, parts manufacturers were reluctant to increase its use…growing share in existing customers was difficult and converting new buyers to use it was challenging. They had “pigeon-holed” the ingredient for only certain uses.

Unlocking Value to Create Demand

Making things even more difficult, the company relied on the part manufacturer to convince the product maker to add their ingredient. The reality was, the part maker only used the ingredient when it was required by the product manufacturer. In other words, the part maker was taken orders from the product company and building to specific requirements. Once that was defined no amount of sales or marketing was going to change that fact.

This reality became the tipping point for turning our interest to the product maker and the end customer. The “ah-ha moment” struck on day two when, using the Challenger Marketing approach, the team discovered that end customers were not aware of a potential risk that could impact their business, as much, or more, than the risk they were currently addressing.

Messaging the “Value” to the Value Chain

By getting into the heads of the end customer we were able to determine that their existing mindset exposed their business to a much bigger risk than what they realized. Using secondary research, the team put together a compelling data backed story that was built on insight (the unknown risk). That insight would then be messaged in different ways depending on where the story was being told in the value chain.  

For the end customer, the story and message highlighted the value of protecting their customers and employees. The product manufacturer message to customers emphasized (with research and data) the risks and the potential business impact of inaction. The parts manufacturers received a message about the potential opportunity to double their business based on the new use of the product at the customer location.  

Shifting from “Push” to “Push and Pull”

The biggest impact was the organization shifting its strategy from “pushing” their product through the part manufacturer to creating “pull” from the demand side. Marketing shifted its research efforts to the end customer to build a “use case” highlighting how to address the formerally unknown risk. Sales, backed with a solid business case of how to double revenue, realigned its focus from the part maker to the product manufacturer.

How to Apply this Approach to Your Organization

  • Schedule a two-day working session with representatives from sales, marketing, and the product group.
  • Prep everyone to leave their “company hat” at the door. The session is intended to have you think like the end customer. (e.g. How they think about their business, customers, competitors…not your product, service or brand).
  • Map in detail the go-to-market model.
  • List the reasons why the end customer buys the product or service. What “job does it do” for their business. This will require some research about the customer’s business. Do this in the session or have it ready ahead of time. Try to understand the customers mindset. This isn’t about why they should buy it from your partner or organization.
  • List the reasons why resellers or distributors buy the product from your organization (assuming you’re the manufacturer), and so forth back through the chain. Be brutally honest, for example, if it’s because it’s the “cheapest” then call it out.
  • Define the value added in the GTM model at each step starting with the customer working back from right to left in the model. Typically this is done from left to right.
  • Ask what are buyers missing at each step in the value chain? What should they know but don’t? This is the opportunity to develop a new insight and messaging.

Unlocking good insight isn’t easy. Coming out of the meeting you will have to continue to refine it. If you haven’t asked, and answered, “so what” at least five times you haven’t gotten to the core. If that doesn’t work, give me a call.


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