To quote the infamous Dee Snyder from Twisted Sister, “We’re not gonna take it, no we ain’t gonna take it, oh we’re not gonna take it anymore.” I’m speaking to you, B2B tech marketers, on behalf of myself and business buyers everywhere. Stop wasting our time with the aspirational, kumbaya BS you’re passing off as your companies’ value proposition and marketing messages.
In the last decade, I’ve watched tech marketing disintegrate into an indistinguishable mush of lofty-sounding jargon that no one can understand. Tech marketing today is a bunch of shitty clichés that all sound alike, look alike and mean nothing.
As you go in search of your WHY, you’ve left buyers wandering from website to website in search of a concrete concept. Give us something, anything to move the buyer’s journey forward!
You’re wasting our time and disrespecting the very customers you hope to attract.
I’m a Simon Cynic
I know that’s harsh. But as the CEO of a tech company with a long career in sales and marketing as well as a B2B decision maker and buyer, I’ve got skin in this game. I can see the problem from both sides, and I am calling out patient zero…the one that has infected B2B and tech marketing for the last several years.
It all started in September 2009 when Simon Sinek addressed a small crowd at the TEDxPugetSound event and explained How Great Leaders Inspire Action…18 minutes better known as Start with WHY.
Sinek’s presentation went viral on YouTube. To date it’s been watched more than 38 million times, and according to TED, it’s the third most popular talk of all time. It’s also catapulted Sinek into the upper echelon of leadership and motivational speakers. Unfortunately, those 18 minutes have done more to destroy tech sales and marketing messaging than anything else I can think of in my lifetime.
As CMOs and marketing VPs strive to come up with inspirational messaging that earns them respect in the C-suite, mere buyers have been left in the dark. Your message is up in the stratosphere somewhere trying to connect with our lizard brains to give us a gut feeling that we should buy. Meanwhile, all we want are solutions to business problems explained in terms we can understand, share with our colleagues and justify to management.
I’m not exaggerating, and I’ll prove it. Here is a random sampling of five of the top websites in the marketing automation space. Look at their homepages. I defy you to give me a simple explanation of what each is selling, how it works and how it differs from the other marketing automation products and/or services when the big bold headlines read like this:
- All Systems Grow
- Build your brand. Sell more stuff.
- Smart Marketing Automation on the World’s #1 CRM Platform
- World leader in Marketing Automation for companies of any size.
- Drive Dynamic Journeys
LET ME BE CLEAR. I’m not criticizing any of these products, services or companies. I’m simply pointing out the catastrophic problem in our industry that we’re all guilty of to one degree or another. And the results are no better when you look at CRM, AI platforms, Forecasting Applications, BDR tools, Big Data, ABM solutions, …you name it.
Let this be our call to arms: to fix our marketing messages by getting back to a clear explanation of WHAT we do and HOW we do it.
“…people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it…” And that’s the crux of the problem.
Using his Golden Circle model—three concentric circles starting in the center with WHY and moving out to HOW and WHAT—Sinek argues that leaders who inspire start with WHY. As humans, we connect emotionally with WHY. It drives our gut feelings and our behavior to buy. WHAT and HOW are the facts…the features and benefits we use to justify our emotional response.
His proof? Dr. Martin Luther King, the Wright brothers and Apple Computer. Three inspirational leaders that articulated their beliefs, their passion, their reason for getting up in the morning so clearly and effectively that:
- Decades before Facebook, 100s of 1,000s appeared in DC on a hot, humid August day to hear Dr. King deliver his now famous “I Have a Dream Speech”.
- Orville and Wilbur prevailed over many smarter, better financed minds to be the first in flight.
- Fanboys and girls will stand in line for hours (days even) to be among the first to have the latest products coming out of that funky spaceship of Cupertino.
But Sinek doesn’t stop with three exceptionally inspirational leaders. He extrapolates to the rest of us. All we must do is find our WHY.
And that’s why I am…
Calling BS on SS
I’ll grant you that the most inspired leaders and organizations in the world think, act and operate from the inside out. But that’s called a MISSON STATEMENT, not a marketing strategy. And defining one’s mission (or WHY) is a valuable process. It’s also an internal process.
As for articulating your raison d’etre to the world…for every leader with the dream of a Dr. King, the passion of the Wright brothers and the vision of a Steve Jobs, there are millions, of Tom, Dick and Marys who will never captivate the market with their WHY. Our businesses, therefore, are best served with messaging that speaks clearly, honestly and lays out WHAT we do and HOW we do it.
That goes double when marketing to business buyers. Can you imagine going to your boss and saying, “We just spent $20,000 on X because I had a gut feeling. I really believe in them.” That’s nuts and a surefire way to lose your job
As consumers in our personal lives, we may sometimes buy on emotion. We may want to show our support for a company’s position on a social issue, the environment or whatever. We may even want to showcase our own prestige and status. But as B2B buyers, we’re not looking for a guru. We need the best solution to our problems. We need to understand what a product or service is going to do to solve our problem and how it’s going to work. We need to be able to explain that reasoning to our colleagues and justify our purchasing decision. My point is…Sinek’s Golden Circle probably makes sense in a B2C setting and maybe works for inspiring colleagues at a company but has zero place in B2B marketers speaking to prospective clients.
Here’s how that opinion lays out in a four-square:
Go Back to Outside In
As I explained at the beginning of this post (ok, rant), I have a lot of skin in this game—as a tech executive with experience in sales and marketing as well as a business buyer. But regardless what hat I’m wearing, I believe that the role of sales and marketing is not to sell but to help prospects reach an educated buying decision. It’s what I’ve always done…and it’s what I expect as a buyer.
And to help someone buy, B2B tech marketers need to shift their prioritization back to WHAT and HOW in their messaging. Simon Sinek’s idea of ‘starting with WHY’ might have worked when a few among many adopted it close to a decade ago, but with now over 5,000 sales and martech companies leading with vague, soulless platitudes, Sinek’s appeal to inspire has collapsed in on itself.
Sorry Sinek zealots – I don’t care about your WHY and I don’t even need your inspiration. I know what problem I’m trying to solve, and I just need you to help me understand what you do and how it’s different than your competitors. Anything more than that information in your messaging and you’re wasting my time and your budget.
No doubt that Sinek’s talk is intriguing and entertaining. But it’s also just plain wrong in some cases and it’s adaptation as the leading method of tech marketing has been devastating for B2B buyers.
Sinek shares his Top 25 TEDTalk ranking with some fascinating folks and presentations. How to Spot a Liar, Making Stress your Friend, a neuroscientist describing her experience having a stroke, Mary Roach on sex, Why Introverts Rule and Secrets to Happiness are all presentations I’ve found interesting. And I encourage you to also view them too. Just please don’t change your marketing approach from respecting and educating business buyers after you’ve done so.