How to make your sales messaging more effective
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This week’s post is about how to make your go-to-market messaging more effective.
Your messaging is a last-mile problem in your broader prospecting motion, spanning everything from your ads to your website copy, to your emails and talk tracks, to your sales enablement materials, to the interviews you give to journalists.
The goal of your messaging is to communicate your value proposition in a way that provokes interest and engagement with your target customers, so getting it right can have a huge impact on your ability to generate leads and opportunities.
Your messaging also needs to be consistent across all touch points, because buyers are humans and humans generally need to hear the same thing several times before taking action. There’s nothing worse than a website that says it one way, a salesperson that says it another and a CEO that says a third way in the press.
Your messaging also needs to be simple, because buyers are humans and humans are bombarded by messages all day long. Nobody buys stuff because of jargon and buzzwords. Simple messages are also more likely to provoke interest and are easier to keep consistent.
Messaging generally falls into one of the following 3 categories:
Every company starts out with seller-centric messaging because as a noob you always get asked “who are you and what do you do?” to which you always end up describing the detailed mechanics of your fledgling product or service.
Companies with seller-centric messaging have websites with tabs like “Who we are”, “What we do”, “Our Clients”, “Our Work”. Early stage tech companies that are pre PMF will often have a tab that says “Our Technology”. They’re easy to spot.
The language of seller-centric messaging is littered with jargon and buzzwords like “next-gen”, “seamless”, “advanced”, “real-time”, “integrated”. You think it elevates yourself above your competition but the reality is a) it’s just confusing and b) 99% of your prospects haven’t heard of you or your competition. I’ve made this mistake.
Seller-centric messaging often includes references to what the company is not e.g. “we’re not an agency, we’re a collaborative partner”. You think it separates you from the status quo solutions but it actually just makes it harder for buyers to figure out how to evaluate you. If you’re an agency, be an agency.
The root problem with seller-centric messaging is that it is exactly what it says it is; seller-centric. The seller is the hero, which means the buyer has to do all the work to figure out what you can do for them—which is what they really mean when they ask “who are you and what do you do”.
A company that has found product-market fit in a segment will typically evolve from seller-centric to product-centric messaging. The key change is that the product becomes the hero. “What we do” becomes “How it works” becomes “Product” becomes “Features”.
While product-centric messaging usually suffers the same jargonification of seller-centric messaging, with added gems like “extensible”, “flexible” and “asynchronous”, it is a lot more effective for two types of buyers:
Early adopters/early majority—who are aware they have a problem, have spent time thinking through possible solutions and are in the process of making their own internal build vs buy decisions. They can map your product features to their own idea of the solution, be wowed that you had a few things they didn’t think of and reach a decision fairly quickly.
Individuals and small teams—who feel the pain your product solves and can expense the cost of it to get going now, rather than going through a formal procurement cycle. Examples of this are self-serve ad platforms and bottoms-up or product-led growth SaaS products.
However, at some point companies either run out of early adopters or realize they need to move upmarket in order to continue growing. I’ve seen this happen in SaaS as soon as $5M ARR and as late as $60M ARR. In media and adtech the revenue thresholds can be even higher. It totally depends on the market. But either way, you reach the point where your product-centric messaging becomes less effective.
When you start to go after the late majority or upmarket to execs at larger companies, you need to do more buyer education on the problem and the impact of solving the problem. However, educating buyers is expensive because its time-consuming, resource-intensive and extends your sales cycle. One of the keys to overcoming this is to make the customer the hero of your messaging.
To evolve from product-centric messaging to customer-centric messaging you have to evolve from talking about features and benefits to talking about business outcomes. Senior execs won’t sign off on an enterprise-wide deal that benefits individual contributors’ day-to-day productivity without being able to tie it to a business outcome. Neither will late majority buyers commit to upgrading a legacy system or replacing a manual process, or trying out a new media partner.
The shift to customer-centric messaging gets harder the longer you leave it, because you get entrenched into a product-centric way of messaging spanning not only the aspects of your prospecting motion mentioned at the top of this post but extending into hiring salespeople who are product experts rather than customer experts. It’s also common to get pushback from your team as many misinterpret customer-centric messaging as meaning custom-messaging, which is antithetical to a product-driven culture.
However, there are two strategies that I’ve found work very well for making this shift: