Kim Ann King serves as the VP of Marketing for EiQ Networks, where she oversees the company’s global marketing efforts. King was previously the Chief Marketing Officer of SiteSpect. An award-winning marketer, King is also the author of The Complete Guide to B2B Marketing. She tweets @kimannking.
She spoke with us about best practices for marketing an emerging technology, the need for marketers to have first-hand knowledge of their products, and why tech know-how is no replacement for a well-crafted marketing strategy.
This interview has been edited lightly for length and clarity.
Q: You’ve worked in marketing in the technology realm for several different companies. From your experience, how can the marketing team work most effectively with the technology team to promote a product or service?
A: First and foremost, the marketing team needs to understand what the product does and what its benefits are. I still see marketers selling just features, not benefits. But marketing is the owner of communicating both features and benefits messaging. The more marketing can help engineering understand those messages, the better aligned your teams will be.
I’ve also realized how important it is to use the technology you market. This is something I discovered about seven years ago, when I first started working in the website optimization space, which marked the first time I had marketed a technology to B2B that I could actually use.
Most of my background is in marketing IT technology, but I’m not a network security person, I don’t do IT operations, I can’t look at traffic on content delivery networks. So it was really a revelation to be able to use a product that I was marketing and understand what difference it makes to our customers—how do those features translate into benefits and actual problems solved for the customer?
This experience makes you more honest about what your product really does. So instead of hiding behind marketing lingo, you understand what it can and cannot do. And that makes marketers a little more honest when they are well-versed in their products.
Bottom line: be as educated as possible about your product, how your customer uses it, and help the rest of your organization understand those things.
Q: What are best practices for marketers to introduce customers—whether they are businesses or direct consumers—to a new technology? How do you overcome hesitancy on the part of customers, whether B2C or B2B, to adopt a technology?
A: We had that challenge when I was at Akamai because content delivery networks didn’t really exist before then. You have to understand what category you are in and if you’re creating a new category, compare it to something your customers already know.
The example I love to use is my vet asked me if I wanted to microchip my cat. I asked, why would I want to do that? He explained that it was like Lojack for your cat, so if they ever get lost, we can trace them. I immediately understood the benefits because he had compared it to something I already knew.
So that’s one goal: making what is unknown knowable by comparing it to something familiar. The more you can use social proof for that, like total cost of ownership, ROI, and benefits that are both qualitative and quantitative, such as testimonials, the easier that is going to be.
Doing some beta testing is a great way to experiment with what works. For example, Akamai got in front of their potential customers with some awesome technology that they then used as customer case studies to get other people excited about. When you announce Yahoo as an early customer in the late 1990s, everyone was going to want to sign onboard.
Q: How tech-savvy do marketers need to be today?
A: Marketing technology has become such a big deal in the last five years. It really didn’t exist ten years ago. It was more of a capital expense, now it is more of an operating expense and so the ownership of the technology have moved from IT to marketing, which has made marketers more technical.
But I have to put my stake in the ground that becoming more technical has not made people more marketing savvy. It’s the same issue as any other consumer of technology. If you buy a graphic design package and you’re not artistic, it’s not going to make you a better designer. It’s the same in B2B.
Technology does not solve problems. Strategy solves problems.
You develop a strategy first, and then you can figure out how to use technology to support that.
I think a lot of the younger marketers today go straight to technology, but that’s an absolute trap.
For example, it’s easy to use technology to create personalized experiences on a website. But many people do that without determining their positioning first.
Are they “first, best, and only”? Are they “cheaper, faster, better”? How are they competing in the marketplace? Is it price, service, or product?
These fundamentals can be easily overlooked when you’re focused on new, cool, shiny technology. And I would really advise against that.
It sounds so obvious, but in practice it’s often not.
Q: What trends do you currently see in the technology marketing space? What’s working well for companies and what remains a challenge?
A: Attribution is still a challenge. It’s easy to attribute a lead source, but it’s not so easy to understand the triggers that led to a lead becoming a deal. I understand that there is lots of attribution software out there, but I feel that the models don’t really take into account the multi-touch, multi-channel, multi-offer “splinternet” world that we’re living in.
Also, it used to be that marketers could create a few pretty brochures and attend trade shows, and that’s obviously changed. While this is not a new change, what’s taking its place — the lead-to-revenue model — is obviously much more important. That helps marketing have a seat at the table and accountable for revenue. It’s not just about putting the company’s best foot forward, but also seeing how that relates to deal acquisition.
So lead-to-revenue models, revenue attribution, and tracking customer acquisition costs and lifetime value are important. It’s not enough to just track the cost of lead generation per channel anymore.
Rather, marketers are dealing with larger, more important metrics—metrics for the business, not just marketing—and metrics that make them accountable.
Q: It sounds like in order to have a seat at the table, marketers need to have a very strong grasp of the data behind their efforts.
A: Yes. That’s been a long time coming with the growth of the Internet and the drive towards data-driven marketing.
But it’s beyond web analytics and marketing analytics, and more about customer analytics and business analytics. This is particularly true in SaaS-based businesses.
The other important thing to note is that when you have a fluency with data, you have far more opportunities available to you.
Q: Do you think this movement towards data is changing the way marketing is viewed internally and externally?
A: Marketing measures what it costs—the bottom line—and what it contributes—the top line. What metrics don’t do very well is show you what happened in the middle, and about 90 percent of my day happens in the middle.
Metrics are wonderful at capturing value added, but they are not that great at showing what it took to create that value. And that’s where I think we still need awesome storytellers, we need excellent visual artists, we need people who understand human psychology, we need people who can be persuasive writers. These skills and talents are very difficult to measure, but they are truly the secret sauce for what makes those top line and bottom line metrics possible.