The Art of Selling Space was presented at HostingCon2014 as part of the Sales and Marketing Stream for the hosting industry conference. We received a lot of positive response from attendees, so I will be hosting The Art of Selling Space Redux on Thursday, July 24th. The webinar will have additional helpful content and new examples for you to take back and incorporate into your own marketing strategy.
This post is a highlight of some of the key points of why you need to speak to the emotional benefits of your product and company to better reach your target market.
The hosting industry has seen an explosion in growth over the last decade, where many companies have been able to grow organically without putting a lot of resources into their marketing. But over the last few years, there has been a marked plateauing of the market and hosting providers aren’t seeing the growth they used to experience. As a result, many companies are looking towards sharpening their brand, message and offerings, and thinking a bit more about marketing as a part of their strategic plan. But the exercise of differentiating and targeting can feel daunting when one steps back and looks at this very crowded market and the lack of resources and budget that most small and medium service providers face.
The relationship between a business and hosting providers
- Reactive NOT Proactive – Hosting is like air. We expect it to be there. It should perform as advertised, and once we have chosen our provider, we hope to never have to think about it again. If something changes within the business that requires a change in the IT infrastructure, then the discussion is opened about the hosting provider.
- There’s Amazon, GoDaddy, Rackspace and then everyone else… right? – The average consumer can’t differentiate between the many providers, and as a result all providers start to look the same.
- Difficult to quantify and measure the functional differences – After you line up a few service providers and list their functional offerings, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of functional differences. So as a consumer, we rely more on subjective cues such as visuals, tone of content, and general appeal of the company.
All the effort you put into spelling out the specs in up-time, bandwidth, storage, speed, capacity and such, may actually be lost on the average consumer; even a B2B buyer. You do need to be competitive in your offerings, but unless your functionality is truly remarkable. In most cases the functionality you offer on its own isn’t remarkable, unless you’re Amazon. Their focus is purely on functionality. They excel at functionality. They set the bar on functionality. Their functionality is indeed remarkable.
Remarkable means that you are top 1% at what you do. Something that makes people say, “Holy smokes!” If not functionally remarkable, then economically remarkable. That’s GoDaddy and BlueHost in their space. “Holy smokes! $3.49 for a month of shared hosting!” I don’t know what I’m getting but what have I got to lose! So what’s left?
There was a consumer experience survey which surveyed 3,000 purchasers of 36 different B2B brands. One of the critical questions they hoped to answer was,
What is the best way to use B2B branding to boost preference and willingness to pay?
In the survey they asked the participants, “Do you see a real difference between suppliers and value the difference enough to pay for it?” The answer was a resounding “No” with 86% of the people responding that they could not see a difference enough to pay for it. So what does this mean?
The worst thing we can do is focus too much on functionality!
Knowing what the Buyer experience is, will allow us to market to our prospects better. Sell the emotional benefits of your product. Trust, security, competition, belonging, control, freedom, leadership, assurance, and even fear. B2B buyers innately have a fear of making the wrong decision. How you do that is through visuals, the tone of your copy, and through affirming the buyers decision that you are the right vendor for them. Now, I realize that there is a segment of the market that is focused on functionality, but let’s not lead with functionality. Mohanbir Sawhney, a Professor of Technology at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management stated that,
B2B decision making is largely irrational, so consider the consumer’s needs before your offerings.
That is a strong statement and may be a hard pill to swallow for many in the technology industry. He states that there are 3 values that a company must convey in their marketing: functional, economic and emotional. We figure that for the average technology company, more than 90% of the resources (time, money and energy) are put into the functionality. Then just under 10% goes in to the economics, and 1% or less goes into the emotional benefits. Despite what seems logical, the B2B buyer makes irrational decisions based on objective opinions and personal emotional connections with a brand. So why aren’t we focusing more on emotions?
Think about the time you were shopping for vendors for your business. Maintenance contracts, equipment, software, printers, couriers, professional services…whatever it may have been. How much of your decision was based on a gut feeling?
If you still aren’t convinced, here is another statistic from a study conducted by the Social Media app maker, Buffer. 1400 advertising campaigns were sorted based on 3 standards of emotion. Those that were rational (targeting the left side of the brain), emotional (targeting the right side of the brain) and those that were a combination of the two (combined). After the campaigns went out, the vendors were asked whether the campaigns were very profitable. 16% of those with the rational campaigns said that their campaigns were profitable. But nearly double that at 31% of the vendors with the emotional campaigns said they were profitable.
What do we need to do?
Focus on Emotional Benefits
Answer the question of what emotional benefits will your product bring to the buyer. Positive emotions that provoke action are trust, excitement, humor, joy, pleasure, awe, sympathy, and even physical exertion. Some negative emotions can also provoke action like, anger, fear, disgust, and distrust. Employ these emotions into visuals and language to create an environment of action.
Be Unique and Tout Your Specialization
How does your specialization help a specific buyer and their business? One way to make the decision easier is to quickly bring attention to what is important . Be best of breed and relate to your buyer.
Be creative in approaching your product in a different way. Don’t follow the pack. Let the customer experience and needs drive marketing decisions and use your limited marketing dollars wisely.
Create the Anticipation of Professional and Personal Rewards
What rewards can the buyer gain personally and professionally by choosing you as a provider? B2B buyers are more likely to make a decision when praise for their purchase decision, and pride and confidence in their decision are evident. The decision to take action or make a purchase by a B2B buyer is highly personal.
The hosting industry is still a very young industry. Most hosting and cloud companies were started by engineers who had a couple servers and a dream. After attending HostingCon this year, I still felt the energy and excitement surrounding the industry and it is a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit that grew this industry and will continue to drive it in the years to come. That being said, Engineers focus on functionality. Most technology companies in fact focus too much on functionality. By listening to your customers and appealing to the emotional benefits your product will bring, you will have a more engaged audience and a more committed buyer based on shared values. And isn’t that what we all want in any relationship?