As we transition to a new year, marketers and executives like to review where we’ve been in B2B growth and predict where we’re going. There are countless surveys and blogs on marketing trends, but this year CMOs seem to be focusing on a few popular leftover topics from 2021. It’s hard to miss the obsession with demand generation, brand building, ABM tactics and technology, community building, category design, and “dark funnel” attribution.
In other words, nothing new, nothing different.
The problem with concentrating on marketing tactics is that they may increase KPIs for a while but rarely do they drive sustained authentic growth. For example, in demand generation, we push content, messaging, and ads out to our target market with the goal of increasing awareness and capturing leads and the hope of adding both pipeline and revenue. We keep tweaking ads and channels, but we see the same up-and-down performance campaign after campaign. Unfortunately, this tactic is difficult to scale without more budget, LTV:CAC continually decreases, we achieve low win rates, and we are stuck with siloed teams.
A wise man once said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Despite the fact that many, if not most, SaaS companies beyond the initial startup stage are experiencing stagnant growth, marketing leaders are apparently prepared to double down on the same old tactics that got them there. What marketing leaders fail to realize is that tactics alone will not drive sustained growth. What’s needed is a marketing strategy that aligns with the four growth levers: market, message, channel, and product.
Why Product-Market Fit Isn’t Enough
Why is it that for some companies growth comes easy, while for most of us, growth feels hard?
There is an informal formula in B2B SaaS marketing that if you nail your product-market fit and execute marketing best practices, growth will come easily. In fact, most SaaS companies think that all they need is product-market fit. Execution is simply a matter of plugging your product features and benefits into well-worn channels and filling your funnel with existing demand. What’s missing here is the customer. We’re assuming that customers have pain points that we can solve with our products, and they will be all too happy to buy from us if we get the word out. That’s how we commonly define product-market fit.
Unfortunately, most of our potential buyers don’t know that they have pain points, and we aren’t alone in the fight for their attention. We depend on demand generation campaigns to wake buyers up and convert them into leads. As we’ve seen, that strategy tends to fail quickly and absorb an ever-growing advertising budget. Even if we succeed in defining a unique new category, that isn’t enough either. Most categories are already saturated, and new categories don't take long to fill.
None of that marketing playbook appeals to our buyers. What’s needed to scale growth starts with defining your company’s strategic advantage through messaging.
This is what we call Market-Message Fit.
What is Market-Message Fit?
You get market-message fit when the story and value of your brand hit home with your market, i.e. your customers.
Your messaging resonates when it joins the conversation already happening in your customer's head. We tend to worry more about how to get into their heads than we do about what they are thinking or feeling. We try to convince them to buy without even considering what they really need or want. That sounds like noise to our customers, and noise is something they prefer to avoid.
Instead, we need to understand their real needs and aspirations and tap into something deeper. What if…? What if you could climb that mountain without killing yourself? Your message inspires and provokes a response. It's kind of like falling in love - you just know when it’s happened, and you have to do something about it.
Let’s break Market-Message Fit into its primary components.
The Three Pillars of B2B Markets
Who typically buys from you and becomes a long-lasting, high-LTV customer? Why do they buy from you, and what do you have to do to get them there?
To create a competitive advantage you first have to know where you're going to market.
Pillar 1: Identifying Your Market Competitive Advantage
Most B2B companies sit within noisy markets and categories that are becoming overly saturated. This causes too many companies to become too similar—they state their value proposition as if they were the only company doing what they’re doing.
To win your market you need to compete less—to compete less you need to educate the market on a new way with a new product.
The journey starts with understanding the problem you want to solve.
Same Category: For mature categories—you’ll want to focus on key differentiators—and branding. This works with slower-moving categories or where competitors are old and broken.
New Narrative: This is where you have a new story within an existing category—an underserved or unseen problem that no one else has identified. Most B2B brands need to be here to effectively differentiate and make customer acquisition their competitive advantage.
New Category: While most B2B companies want to be here the reality is you’ll rarely pull it off. Think Drift with Conversational Marketing or Gong and Revenue Intelligence. When working with Elevate Demand through a new brand narrative we’ll often find opportunities to potentially create a new category and ultimately an entirely unexplored market.
Pillar 2: Identify Best-Fit Customers, Buyers, and Influencers
When you construct your ideal customer profile (ICP), what criteria do you use? Are the companies, roles, and people on your list qualified to buy from you? Are they a good “fit” for your products and services? When you evaluate your current customer base and identify these qualified, high-fit companies, what do they have in common that you can use to identify and engage with new ICP companies? A little humility is also helpful. Are you punching above your weight class? Or is your ICP realistic?
Now expand your ICP to include the people who will actually become your customers. What roles do they have in the buying process and post-sale? What are their responsibilities and concerns? What will they ask about when evaluating your solution? Who are their stakeholders and customers, and what do they want? What do they have at stake in using your product?
The next question to ask is why should they buy from you? You need to understand their Beliefs, Pains, and the Benefits you provide.
Pillar 3: Map Beliefs, Pains, and Benefits
What beliefs do your customers have that stand in the way of making a change? An example might be, “if we’re growing fast enough, churn doesn’t matter” or “our brand is strong, we’re not worried about our competitors”. How can you persuade them that there is a better way to operate and disabuse them of these beliefs? How can you replace their status quo with a better reality? What’s in it for them if you do?
What specific problems are you solving for your customers and how well do you solve them? This may vary from group to group and person to person, but it’s important to understand the scope and complexity of the solutions your customers need. The better the fit to each person, group, and challenge, the more likely you are to sell to the company, retain an account and expand in the future.
What impact will your product have on your customer? How will they achieve the goals that they set for purchasing your product? What specific gains will they see in the near term and in the future? How will your product do this in ways that your competitors can not fulfill?
High-growth companies gather this information by regularly talking to their customers throughout their journey, asking them why and how they made their decisions, and observing how they use your products to make positive change and reach their goals. In addition to categorizing customers by fit, you can also discover their intent to buy.
How important is finding the right solution, and how soon do they need it? What happens if they fail to take action or choose the wrong solution? How do they see their future state with your product in place? This kind of information can be harder to come by than demographic or firmographic data used in “fit” criteria, but it’s essential in identifying high-intent buyers among your ICP candidates.
By understanding your market in detail, you can reach them more effectively, resonate with them, build trust, sell to them, and create long-standing customer relationships. Let’s turn our attention to how we can do that with aligned messaging.
The Three Components of Message to Win Your Market
We’ve answered the “who” and the “why” questions. Now let’s answer the “how” question.
The truth is, the vast majority of potential buyers don’t intend to buy anything from you any time soon. They don’t necessarily have “pain points”, or at least none that they are currently aware of. They are happy with their systems and processes and prefer to avoid change unless it’s absolutely necessary. Change may be good, but it’s often tough to justify and even tougher to implement. In short, our market often believes that things are good the way they are. As marketers, changing this belief is our biggest challenge.
To change buyer beliefs, we must help them see that things could be better for them personally and for their companies. We must strive to make them aware of the better world that awaits them if only they would take the time to take a look and make a change. To do this, we must understand our buyers thoroughly. What motivates them? What frustrates them at times? Are there problems lurking over the horizon that they can’t see yet? Could they be reaching important growth goals faster and more efficiently? Could they be saving time and money by leveraging new processes and/or technology? We must create and deliver a message that reaches our market, challenges their status quo, and replaces it with a better outcome.
We need to communicate to our market three primary components of our message:
- A Compelling Brand Narrative - this is where we spell out our customer’s “why” by challenging their beliefs and showing them what the future holds if they are prepared to make a change. A Brand Narrative helps them see clearly where their obstacles to success really lie and how to overcome them. How can our solutions help to transform our customers from a current state that fails to meet their goals to the desired state that reaches or exceeds their goals? We may also need to dispel certain myths that may be holding them back from making positive changes to their growth strategy or operations.
- A Differentiated Product Message - this is where we help them understand how our product gets them to that future state and how it works, but in ways that are unique to the marketplace and the best fit to our customer’s precise needs.
- Provable Competitive Advantage - this is how we show that we are the right choice through live (not staged) demonstrations, customer reviews, case studies, independent reports, and verifiable data summaries. When customers compare us to our competitors, they will reference this information in their evaluation and choice.
The Importance of Market-Message Fit
If anything has changed in recent years, it’s B2B buyers. Our buyers are more sophisticated than ever, and they require instant gratification when it comes to the information they seek. They are bombarded with sales and marketing ads and content, i.e. tactics, and they have learned to ignore it or filter it out of their streams with high efficiency. In the past two years alone, buyers have had to adjust to a new world of pandemic-induced isolation and increased dependence on technology. Yet marketers persist in categorizing potential buyers with generic personas and “pain points” to guide their marketing campaigns and content strategies as if actual business people behave according to their rules and follow their funnels. Problem is, they don’t.
With market-message fit, the intersection between market and message, we know who our buyers are and what they need to know to become aware of the problems they really have right now and to make the best decisions for solving those problems. A marketing strategy that drives growth is about aligning market and message. Once we have that alignment and a valid, tested process for reaching our market with the right message, we have a much better chance of connecting with ICP buyers and teaching them how to buy from us.
If we develop and execute a process to deploy an aligned message across our entire market, appropriate channels, and product line, we can make much better use of marketing tactics to drive growth that scales in an authentic, sustainable way, for example:
- Content marketing and SEO that attracts and engages with qualified, high-intent buyers
- Account-based marketing to a well-defined ICP list with a high rate of engagement
- Paid media advertising and retargeting directly to engaged ICP contacts, not personas
- Product-led architecture that accelerates customer journeys and eliminates friction
- Highly engaged communities of like-minded users with common problems and goals
- Demand marketing that incorporates all of these advantages to drive sustained growth, instead of the erratic ups-and-downs of most tactic-driven marketing programs
How to Get Market-Message Fit and Put it to Work
All growth is not created equal.
Instead of resorting to recycled best practices and the latest marketing tactics that purport to drive growth, make 2022 the year that you start building a growth process based on market-message fit to discover the unique combinations of market and message that work for you. Want to find the right market-message fit and process for your company? Start here.
We’ve also published a guide on how to create an effective B2B marketing strategy that helps you plan for sustained, authentic growth.
Next up: How to build a growth process, based on principles and market-message fit.