Growth Marketing in a Technical Market
Your customers are looking for solutions to problems, they’re not Googling for your product or technology. Talking about solutions and problems helps you get discovered, and makes your message stronger by relating to an acute pain point; done right, this approach earns you the product and technology conversations that come later.
The last Communitech Marketing P2P of the year took a Lightning Talk format that featured two guest presenters: Alex McEachern (from Smile.io), and Tina Nguyen (from Nicoya Lifesciences).
This post is about Tina’s presentation: Growth Marketing – How to Accelerate Growth in a Technical Market; you can read about Alex’s presentation in The Ad is Dead; Long Live the Community.
Nicoya Lifesciences is a nanotechnology company developing sensor products with applications in biotechnology, lifesciences, and healthcare.
Tina is the Director of Growth Marketing, and has been with the company for a little over two years. Here’s something I learned today: Nicoya Lifesciences takes its name from the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, which is one of the world’s few blue zones.
Gettin’ Techie Wit It
When Tina joined Nicoya, she found herself asking a couple of questions, “How do you market technical things when you aren’t technical, yourself?”, and “How do you market complex technical products?”
For a bit of added context, Tina mentioned that she leads a non-technical team, so her advice is meant to be accessible to more ‘traditional’, non-technical marketing teams.
In this session, Tina’s aim was to share some practices and strategies that she’s learned and applied at Nicoya. I was curious what she had to say, and if it’d bear any resemblance to my own experiences marketing insanely technical telecommunications solutions for more than a decade.
Putting the ‘Fun’ in ‘Fundamentals’
If you want to avoid an inside-out mentality, then you need to get outside the building and really meet and mingle with your customers.
Tina advocates for something that I fear is being missed in today’s world of obsessive focus on marketing tactics: begin by understanding your customers; in particular, identify their pain points and how you solve them.
Practically, Tina suggested:
- Attending industry conferences and events
- Collaborating with customer-facing teams
- Defining target buyer personas
This advice is spot-on.
If you want to avoid an inside-out mentality, then you need to get outside the building and really meet and mingle with your customers. As they say in Pragmatic Marketing, “Nothing interesting happens in the office” (NIHITO).
Conferences, tradeshows, and other events are cost-effective ways to meet your customers on neutral ground and have meaningful conversations. They can be expensive, but the first-hand knowledge is invaluable. Even if you can’t afford to attend, you can still peruse the agendas and speaker lists to gain an appreciation for what topics and challenges warranted attention.
Going even further, once you have a few customers, ask if you can visit them in their own element: are they willing to let you shadow them as they do their jobs? Some might reject the request, but others might be happy to help you better understand their challenges.
Tina’s second point, about collaborating with customer-facing teams, is also crucial. One thing that made my global product marketing organization so effective was that we collaborated extensively with account teams (account managers and sales engineers), product management, support, professional services, proposal management (and more) – all of whom extended our eyes and ears to provide valuable information and to serve as sounding boards or test audiences for our ideas (we were also fortunate to have extensive first-hand customer exposure).
And moving onto Tina’s final point, understanding your buyers is critical. You need to understand their preferred buying process, the barriers that prevent them from moving forward, their motivations, their pressures, their biases, their goals, and so on. Whether you write these insights up in formal personas is really up to you.
I’d go a step further, though, and suggest that you need to go beyond buyers. Other folks will be involved in the purchase decision, so take care to consider users, non-technical evaluators, economic evaluators, etc. Depending on your markets, some of these roles might overlap into single individuals, but you’d do well to consider the motivations separately.
Other folks will be involved in the purchase decision, so take care to consider users, non-technical evaluators, economic evaluators, etc. Depending on your markets, some of these roles might overlap into single individuals, but you’d do well to consider the motivations separately.
Sell Solutions, Not Products or Technology
Tina’s next top-level piece of advice was to focus on solution selling, rather than the all-too-frequent approach of shouting about your products.
She explained that they no longer say, “We sell an instrument to help researchers”; instead, they try to focus on outcomes and solutions to problems that their customers encounter while conducting research.
But how can you really talk about technical solutions if your marketing team isn’t technical? Here are Tina’s suggestions:
- Use the product
- Weekly meetings with product management
- Sell a solution to a problem (we no longer say, “We sell an instrument to help researchers”)
- Source technical writers internally: support, engineering, etc.
Let’s run through those points…
Everyone on Tina’s team, regardless of background, has to run an experiment using the Nicoya Lifesciences OpenSPR product. Wherever it’s feasible to adopt this approach, I think it’s a good one. And even if it’s not feasible to use the whole product or service in your company, ask yourself if there’s a set of features, or a simulation, or some other way that your team can get some hands-on experience.
Next, weekly meetings with product management help Tina’s team to gain a more complete understanding of what customers are looking for in the product, what new updates are coming, and so on. This advice is right in line with my experience: having a trusted, productive relationship with product management is crucial for managing launches, contributing marketing insights, performing competitive analysis, and much more.
Moving on to brand strategy, Tina emphasized the importance of solution-selling. She explained that they no longer say, “We sell an instrument to help researchers”; instead, they try to focus on outcomes and solutions to problems that their customers encounter while conducting research. Again, this advice is salient. Your customers are looking for solutions to problems, they’re not Googling for your product or technology. Talking about solutions and problems helps you get discovered, and makes your message stronger by relating to an acute pain point; done right, this approach earns you the product and technology conversations that come later.
Finally, Tina mentioned how her team looks for and works with other Nicoya Lifesciences employees who have technical writing skills, regardless of role. These folks can help to produce technical content that stands up to scrutiny, while the marketing team can make sure that the content serves a real purpose. Once again, solid advice – not many people can write cogent, coherent technical content, so if you can tap into an existing team member, then do it!
Tina’s final major point was the importance of aiming high, taking chances, and learning as much from failures as from successes (or, build-measure-learn for you Lean Startup fans).
Two successes she shared with us were how they learned to use swag effectively at conferences/tradeshows, and a referral program.
The marketing team realized that many of their customers were of the slightly geeky/nerdy persuasion, so the team created some geeky/nerdy shirts as giveaways. The shirts were a huge hit (“Our customers like to be part of a community.”), and a very small investment in shirts contributed to a 300% increase in year-over-year marketing qualified leads (MQLs) for a particular show.
For the referral program, the company provides discounts on the consumables, and the ROI so far has been several orders of magnitude.
I enjoyed hearing about Tina’s experience marketing technical products; some of them echoed my own, but in many respects Tina and her team are really only getting started – there is just so much to technical marketing, and it takes strategy and execution to maximize the returns.
One point that I shared in the open discussion that followed Tina’s session was how the right piece of technical content can be vital to winning a deal, blocking off a competitor, moving deals through the funnel faster, or even creating awareness and demand (consider that while researching a technical solution, a prospect might come across your bottom-of-funnel technical content).
When I was running a global product marketing team, we invested in creating our industry’s largest and, frankly, best library of technical content. The two most important content/artifact types within that library were:
- Whitepapers: material that explores a problem or subject in general, in a very academic and objective manner, usually to build awareness and credibility in a domain
- Technical Showcases: material that explores your technological solution in detail, ideally relating it to considerations or requirements exposited in a related whitepaper
In addition to enjoying remarkable organic search relevance, we drove additional attention to these papers by leveraging a comprehensive integrated content library (see Tackling Technical Topics for an example).
These papers literally won us millions of dollars by overcoming buying barriers, protecting our value, and unequivocally demonstrating our differentiation.
They also contributed meaningfully to awareness and demand: one year, I was at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and a guy came up to me, introduced himself, and said, “I’ve read all your whitepapers and technical papers, and I want to buy your solution – who should I speak with?” In a wonderful coincidence, my boss was standing next to me at the time!
Header/Featured image credit: Nicoya Lifesciences