Bottle the Love: Selling Customer Satisfaction vs. Vision

A funny thing can happen with startups. Sometimes, the reasons customers love the product end up not being the same reasons that the founder wants them to love the product. This may sound bad or scary, but it’s not. It’s actually an opportunity, provided you recognize it, understand it, and take advantage of it.

I’ve blogged previously on the difference between selling solutions and selling product and on the difference between selling product and selling vision. In today’s post, the distinction [1] we’ll draw is between selling the reasons customers actually love the product and selling the reasons founders want them to.

Can such a gap develop? Absolutely. The founder is usually thinking about the future, implementing exciting new features that align with a vision of not only what the product should be but, more importantly (to them), how it should properly be used. Meanwhile, back in the trenches of reality, overworked directors and VPs are buying the product to solve practical problems that make their bosses happy and let them live to fight another day.

So when a new head of product marketing — chartered with a revised messaging exercise — shows up and asks, “why do people buy our product, anyway?” they’re likely to hear some pretty inconsistent answers.

Let me demonstrate this with two examples:

  • A data intelligence founder might answer, “because we help them build a culture of data-driven decision making.” A dataops director might say, “because it helps our pricey data scientists find data faster, so they can spend their time analyzing data instead of looking for it.” A data scientist might say, “because it helps me find clean data quickly, so I can train my models correctly the first time.” [2]
  • A conversation intelligence founder might answer, “because we help them do data-driven coaching to unleash each seller’s potential.” A salesops director might say, “because it’s cheaper than the big guys and offers all the functionality I care about.” A sales VP might say, “because it’s really well designed and my sellers actually love to use it.” A seller might say, “because it keeps me honest about how I’m doing on sales calls and ultimately will make me more money.” [3]

That revised messaging exercise now looks a lot harder than it did a minute ago, not because different buyer personas are giving different answers, but because none of them echo the founder.

What’s happening here? What should we do about it?

Two things are happening:

  • You’re hearing the point of view of different buyer personas on product benefits. This is great. Once we talk to enough of each to be reasonably sure we have the representative persona viewpoint, we can burn that into our messaging architecture, put it on the solutions-by-role section of the website, and give it to sales for customizing presentations.
  • No one is echoing the founder because the founder is messaging on another plane. A chief data officer might exactly echo the data culture claim. A chief revenue officer might see their job as unleashing the potential of their salesforce. But those are very high-level reasons, so high level, that we need to classify them as vision.

The founder is serving dessert before sales can serve the entree. They’re delivering an important message. That message will likely resonate with high-level, executive buyers. But it’s not a substitute for the actual reasons why customers buy and love the product.

In this situation, product marketing’s job is to do two things:

  • Identify the problem, and frame it properly. We should not be arguing over which is the “right” message for sales. These are two different types of messaging. Sales should talk about why customers actually buy the product. Founders should talk about their vision for the product and the market. [4]
  • Bottle the love. Bottle up — capture, distill, and structure — the key reasons that customers love the product [5], and build those into the messaging architecture, teach them in sales training, and drive them through campaigns. Those reasons — the ones that effectively came from the customer’s own peer group — will tend to resonate best. [6]

We can’t sell software on vision alone. We need to market the sizzle and sell the steak. To do that requires knowing the difference between the two, and then capturing, distilling, and structuring the actual reasons customers buy and love your product.

That’s what I mean by bottle the love.

# # #


[1] As NYU’s Jay Rosen has said, when in doubt, draw a distinction. He demoed this most recently in an MSNBC interview that shows both the power of framing and excellence in practicing-what-you-preach when he ignores an odds-framed question in favor of a stakes-framed one.

[2] I pick spaces I understand because it makes my examples better. That said, readers should be aware that I’m in angel investor, former director, and informal advisor to Alation, a leading data intelligence provider. That said, this is just my take on their messaging, and probably a somewhat dated one.

[3] I love conversation intelligence (CI) as a category and have put in and/or recommended CI at many companies, all this well before I joined the board of UK-based Jiminny which inspired this example. See prior footnote and understand this is my take on what they do, not their latest and greatest messaging.

[4] While this will be controversial, I’m actually not a big fan of sales talking about the vision. It devalues the message, scoops the user conference keynote, and generally doesn’t come off well. It also has the potential opportunity cost of forgetting to sell the actual reasons customers buy and love the product. For these reasons, I recommend that companies who product formal vision decks restrict who can deliver them. Keep it special.

[5] Speaking broadly here. They may love the product because of the company that builds it, so I’m not presupposing that these are all strictly product feature/benefit messages.

[6] They can also help the founder bottle the vision messaging as well, for example, by helping structure the founder’s keynote presentation at the annual user conference. But don’t confuse that messaging with the standard one for new sales opportunities.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.