Marketers are obsessed with the buying process—and rightly so. From branding to lead-generation to sales enablement, we are always seeking to cover every part of the process in our programs. In it’s simplest form, here’s how marketers typically view the buying process:
The process can be broken down more granularly (in my career I’ve seen as many as eleven stages), and one could easily quibble with the definition of each target. But the point is this: the marketer’s typical way to ensure market coverage is a buying-process approach.
And here’s the catch, or at least the irony of this method. Despite its thorough breakdown, the buying-process approach can miss critical market coverage from both a targeting and a message perspective.
This happens for two reasons. Firstly, it treats the purchase as a single action, albeit one reached through a series of stages. In truth, there are multiple actions, each with its own primary actor—and two of those roles are not actually buyers. Second, the focus on stages implies that all buyers progress similarly—and linearly—in their journey from awareness to purchase decision. However, individuals participating in a business buying journey usually do not make (or need to make) the entire journey in order to influence the purchase. This is because they differ in roles. A business leader may need no more than awareness in order to direct a team to plan and budget for the opportunities a new product brings.
The challenge for marketing: we need our marketing frameworks to be simple. Using roles in addition to buying stages is very helpful, but two dimensions to a marketing framework can make it unwieldy. (The simple stages outlined above, if combined with five roles for example, creates 20 combinations to address in a marketing plan.)
So how do you recognize all of the actors in every purchase and their varying but key roles without creating something so cumbersome it’s unusable? Answering this somewhat thorny question is what led to my development of the Value Chain. It has a product development angle to it, but for this marketing discussion, I will focus on the message side: the Message Value Chain. Despite its name, the Message Value Chain addresses targeting as much as message; but its effective use focuses on the message. The Message Value Chain breaks open the single-action view of the buyer and adds the missing non-buyer roles in a simple, methodical way.
The Message Value Chain is a very useful substitute to ensure market coverage because the simple buying-process approach accidentally looks at only one or two links in the chain of actions that must occur for a purchase to happen. With the Message Value Chain, a marketer can identify and address all links that support pipeline and sales without having to resort to any multi-dimensional grids.
Here are the actions recognized by the Message Value Chain:
- Salespeople advocating for the product to prospects and/or partners
- Partners adding the product to their plans, programs, and sales
- Business decision-makers (BDMs) setting goals that the product can help achieve
- Strategic decision-makers (SDMs) defining how to specify, incorporate, and use such a product
- Technical decision-makers (TDMs) judging which specific product measures up
- Financial decision-makers (FDMs) determining and applying procurement policies to decide what cost is acceptable for the expected value from the product
It is a chain, not a list, because each action depends on the one before it. However, it’s not necessarily linear nor is it perfectly clean—and of course, depending on the customer one person might be responsible for more than one of the actions—but it’s close enough for you to answer this fundamental question about your message: Does your message motivate every role in a purchase? Are you providing a reason, at each step, for each actor in the chain to become aware of, prefer, consider, and take action on behalf of your product?
Frequently the answer is “no,” because most messages only focus on the value the customer gets from the product. But sellers and partners get value too, beyond purely monetary ones (commission or margin)—a common misconception. To give a blunt example, an affordably priced, valuable product with a sales commission bonus may nonetheless be downplayed by sales reps if they think the sales process will be long and complicated. They will instead focus on unbonused products that they are very familiar with how to sell, even if they are more expensive or older. If you don’t pitch the seller and the partner, a product, however high-value otherwise, could fail.
But you do pitch the seller, you protest! That’s what sales enablement is for. A fair point; a good product, sales training, executive champions, and other similar efforts all move the needle. But if your message does not cover non-monetary benefits to sellers and partners—benefits like strengthening account relationships, post-purchase sales opportunities, or “drag” of add-on products or services into sales deals—your sales enablement could be stronger. Back on the customer side, it’s equally important to recognize how helpful it is to provide the information all buyer roles need to take action. Appealing only to business leaders (BDMs) or product evaluators (TDMs), for example, risks putting your sellers into margin-sapping battles over price because the customer wasn’t informed by you about the strategic or financial value of the product.
If you’re not already convinced, consider the implications of this last statement. Regardless of whether or not you are addressing the full Value Chain, gaps in your message always get filled. The Value Chain always exists regardless of the marketer’s use of it, so for each role and action missing a message, someone will fill the gap. Who? Why, non-marketers, of course. The partner development manager, for example. Or customers themselves, such as SDMs defining on their own, because you haven’t told them in your message, how your product supports or accelerates customer strategies. With consistency being so critical to successful marketing and sales efforts, the mixed results that can come from “fill-in-the-blank” messaging are not helpful to your bottom line.
We’ve developed an infographic to describe the Message Value Chain and to help you assess whether you’ve got any broken links in your own messaging. It’s free to get and free to share (with proper attribution), so check it out. And if you’re interested in talking more about this important topic, I’d love to chat—just set up time on my calendar.