The 42 Rules of Product Marketing: Be The Expert in How Customers Use Your Product

Several months ago, Phil Burton from The 280 Group asked me to contribute a rule to a book they were writing entitled The 42  Rules of Product Marketing.

The book is no theoretical tome.  It’s a quick set of practical rules from marketing practitioners on how to get things done.  I decided to focus my rule not on “understanding your products” (as I might have 20 years ago), but instead on “understanding how your customers use your products.”

Hence, Rule 38:  Be the Customer Usage Expert.

Here’s a draft of what went into the book.  To see the final version and/or to find out the other 41 rules, I suppose you’ll have to buy the book.

Rule 38:  Be The Expert in How Customers Use Your Product

Most product marketers understand their products.  That’s important.  But what will change your career is becoming THE expert in how your customers use your product.  What’s the difference?

Product Expert Usage Expert
Talks about technology Talks about applications
Justifies technology value Justifies business value
Understands how features work Understands why people need features
Knows current competitors Knows where the market is going
Seen internally as valuable resource Seen internally as organizational leader

There are plenty of people in your company’s engineering and product teams who are experts in how your products work.  Over time, those people are typically seen as valuable resources for the company (as in, “No one knows more about the optimizer than Joe”).

If, however, you’re looking to both impact revenues and be seen as an organizational leader, then you must become THE expert not on how your products work, but on how your customers use them.

Here are four ways to do that:

Engage Constantly with Customers

Thanks to social media, it’s never been easier to engage with your customers.  Use a blog, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to enable direct web-based customer communication.  Make yourself easy to find on the web and easy to contact. But don’t stop there.

Run periodic and topical surveys so you can not only watch the needles move over time, but also stay on top of the market pulse.  Attend industry conferences and user-group meetings.  Give presentations so people can find you. Most importantly, work with your sales channels to set up as many live customer meetings as possible.

Ask the Basic Questions

In customer meetings, learn to say:  “I don’t know.”  Once you start pretending to understand a customer’s business, you’re sunk.  Start with “I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about medical products distribution and it will help me greatly to have a basic understanding of your business.”  Then pepper the customer with why, how, and impact questions.

  • Why do you customers buy from you?
  • How does our product help you make money?
  • What’s the impact of failing to meet the service-level agreement?

When you later get into a product discussion, you’ll have an infinitely better understanding of their requirements.

Watch Your Language

Remember that you are delegated to the level at which you speak.  If you start talking bits/bytes or saying “orthogonal” too much, you’re likely to find yourself talking to someone in a cubicle outside the corner office.  Marketers must be bi-lingual:  speak tech to techies and business to businesspeople.  Mix the two at your peril.

Develop Legendary References

As you meet customers and learn the business impact of your products, invariably a few people and a few stories will stand out.  The stories will be easy to understand and impactful.  The people will have an unusual passion and willingness to tell them.  Embrace these few people and turn them into legendary references.  Feature them in case studies.  Invite them to speak at user groups.  Place them as industry conferences.  Connect them to the business and technology press.  Ensure they build relationships with your top executives.  Teach the entire company their stories and how your product affected their businesses.

My favorite legendary reference went from being an internally focused CIO to a repeat InformationWeek 500 award winner and right-hand to his CEO.  They’d cross the country on the corporate jet telling their customers how my product helped them provide the best service in his industry.

Do that.  And then watch what happens to your career when people say:  “Nobody knows more about our customers” than you.

The 42 Rules of Product Marketing is available here.

4 responses to “The 42 Rules of Product Marketing: Be The Expert in How Customers Use Your Product

  1. Pingback: Accombra | Suggested reading for week ending March 31, 2012

  2. Pingback: Software Marketing Tweetables - 2 April 2012 | Smart Software Marketing

  3. Good post and congrats on this new role for you, David. I wondered where you went when you left MarkLogic. Hope you are doing well.

    I also write a popular blog on B2B marketing = http://www.fearlesscompetitor.com I hope you can visit sometime.

    Jeff Ogden, President
    Find New Customers

  4. could that have been Owens & Minor. Still use that customer story today, 10 years after leaving Business Objects, when talking about how EBusinessIntelligence can impact your business.

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