Thursday, December 16, 2010

Irrelevant, Unsupportable, Inane

Apparently I'm not the only one calling out MABUSHI these days.  David Meerman Scott, of 'The New Rules of Marketing & PR' and Web Ink Now fame, eviscerated a company last week on their truly awful PR spam.  More power to you, David!

Continuing on that theme, I am highlighting the MABUSHI of this company, who are posting it in 10-foot high letters on the side of their building.

The first commenter who can correctly identify this company will get a $5 Starbucks gift card.

What's worse, just underneath this bit is yet another tag line which does a really good job of describing what they do and  for whom.

Let's break this MABUSHI down into its component parts:
Focused: On what? How do I know they are focused on the right thing?
Unwavering: Does that mean they won't listen to customers? Does that mean they won't change course even in light of overwhelming facts to the contrary?
Dedicated: To what?  Are they so focused, unwavering and dedicated to their business model that they will fail to pick up on significant changes in the industry or new market opportunities?

And then looking at this from the big picture: What does ANY of this have to do with telling someone about the value of their company or why anyone would care?  I strongly suspect that no one bothered talking to customers, prospects and other industry wags to develop this statement.  It reads more like something executive management put together to boost morale.

The following blogs aren't companies, per se, but their tag lines all do a beautifully effective job in quickly conveying their value and relevance to the reader:

Web Ink Now: Marketing and Leadership Strategies
Rocket Watcher: Product Marketing for Startups
Scoutmaster Musings: there's no tag line, just the name conveys everything it needs to convey.

Simple, clear and relevant.

That's how it should be done. Yes, it is hard.  No, it's not impossible.  Look at the core value of what your company does and just say it as simply as you can.  Please.

Next up: This offender revealed.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Leading Providers of MABUSHI

Full Disclosure: Head colds make me grumpy and I haven't completely shaken the one I got on Thanksgiving Day so this post is a rant of things to avoid rather than a helpful how-to discussion. And, no, The Cranky Product Manager did not write this post.

I was looking at the exhibitor list for the recent Enterprise 2.0 conference in Santa Clara and discovered a veritable goldmine of MABUSHI.  I read each company's description of themselves and was amazed at how many "leading providers" of the same thing there are.  I was also gobsmacked at how many other descriptions were so unintelligible that I had no idea what they did.

Here are just a few examples of how companies described themselves, along with my snarky response:
  • the leading provider of purpose-built innovation software connecting employees, customers and business partners for idea management and innovation discovery.
    • Did they use a gobbledygook generator to write this?
  • a global leader in Business Execution Software.
    • Why would I want to execute a business?
  • the leader in enterprise-class, software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions for managing global businesses, combining the lower cost of SaaS with a modern approach to applications. 
    • Try reading this one out loud - remember to breathe
  • the leading European provider of Enterprise Social Software.  
    • But I'm not European
  • gives your workforce a simple way share ideas and issues and seek feedback from the most qualified people in your organization
    • Isn't that called 'listening'?
  • leads the Social BI market, bridging the gap between traditional business intelligence and enterprise social network applications.
    •  I didn't know businesses were intelligent
  • the leading provider of social software, services, and analytics that improve business performance.
    • Didn't I just read that somewhere else?
  • the leading provider of Enterprise Activity Stream software.
    • Doesn't anyone follow?
  • a new mode of online communication.
    • First it was email, then IM, then blogging, then Twitter, I can't keep up with all these newfangled modes of online communication.
  • is an interactive design and solution integration firm delivering innovative solutions in the areas of Web-Based, Enterprise wide collaboration and Social Computing. 
    • You left out 'leading provider.'
  • provides the most comprehensive Social Media Platform (SMP) designed to help organizations socially enable their traditional business functions while enhancing their users experience online. 
    • Huh?
 I'm not making this stuff up.  All these phrases were cut and pasted directly from the Enterprise 2.0 web site. 

What's wrong with these people?  Go back to my post on Self-Selection or my post on MABUSHI testing.  Read (and take on board) ANYTHING that April Dunford has written,especially the first 20 minutes of this presentation on marketing.  Download the Pragmatic Marketing Effective Product Marketing materials and go through the exercises.  Something, anything that shows you understand what you do, who your customers are, why they should care.  Then write it in ONE SENTENCE and use language that real humans can understand. 

Just to show I'm not a complete grinch, one company, TriNet got it right. Hit it out of the park, actually.  Here's their self-description:
  • TriNet helps you, the small business entrepreneur, realize your ambitions by being your essential HR partner. 
Clean. Short. To the point. Describes exactly what they do, for whom and why. A thing of beauty.
Congratulations to TriNet for understanding how to talk to their customers and not talk about themselves!

 Next time: More Grumpiness - in 10-foot letters.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


As this is a short week in the US, this will be a short post.

Self-selection - helping prospects easily select into your lead process - is a great way to improve funnel efficiency and sales velocity.  A good way to do this on your web site is to be right up front.  Put your segments right there for people to click on as soon as they come to your page organically.  Don't make them work for it. (they won't)  Nothing frustrates me more, or makes me bounce off a site faster, than having to figure out if the product or solution relates to me.

ServiceMax has a site that does a good job of helping you self-select.  (Full disclosure: I don't know ServiceMax from Adam, I just found their site one day and liked how it's organized)  Their catch phrase makes it obvious that if you aren't about field services, this company is not for you.  The Solutions option right in the middle is the perfect next step.  You click on your industry to learn more how this can help you and your particular problems.  VERY easy to figure out and click to the next step.  The segments are also unambiguous.  There's no possibility that a Residential Services prospect will accidentally go to the Life Sciences Manufacturing section.

Contrast that with McAfee.  They are okay on helping you self-select based on company size, but after that, you are on your own. Clicking on the Products link for each segment gives you a withering array (all different) of products to choose.  Company size may be how McAfee segments its sales channels but is a poor way to segment its web site.  A prospect has to know what they are looking for BEFORE they hit the site in order to find a solution.  Segmenting the site by job function or problem-being-experienced would be two options to help prospects navigate quicker.

You still need resonant, well-written messages once your prospects reach the right part of your web site but your prospects will be more likely to stick around if you let them quickly find what they need.

This also translates directly for your sales team, too.  If they understand the segments, they will spend less time finding prospects and less time talking to non-prospects.

Key take-away: Make it easy for your customer segments to figure out if your stuff is for them - on your web site and in all your marketing materials.

Next up: PLEASE put some rational thought into your company descriptions!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

For Want of A Nail

Last time I talked about a buyer-oriented "translation" tool that helped "IT align with the business" - or more appropriately, helped your sales team align all the stakeholders in the process.  The tool can be very effective if you have access to everyone involved to build out the pain points, language and logic flow. But how to do that, especially if this is a new market for you or your sales people?

The danger of selling technical products to IT people is believing that your solution only improves their little corner of the world.  Yes, you're going to lower their total cost of ownership, enhance their customer experience, maximize scalability or whatever MABUSHI you think sounds impressive.  But what about the users who depend on those systems?  Have you talked to them?  Do you understand how their world is affected?  Do you understand their influence on the decision?  What role do those users play in the company and what happens if they can't do their jobs?

If you don't know the answer to these questions, your sales people are vulnerable to a competitor who does know or, worse, to a price war that sets their sales strategy forever after.

The next time you are talking to your IT persona, be sure to include these types of questions if you want to be able to build that complete picture:
  • How do you know you have a problem with x?
  • When you have the problem, how does that impact your operations? 
  • Does that impact your performance metrics?  How?  (You DID ask them about their metrics already, didn't you?)
  • Who else is impacted when you have this problem?  Who calls you when things go pear-shaped?  How does it affect their jobs?
This last set of questions is your ticket to go talk to stakeholders outside IT.  You will discover who else is in the buying chain, how much visibility the problem has internally (and potential budget contributors), and how the problem is affecting THEIR operations and their performance metrics.

You ask those business or operations users the same set of questions, especially about who else is impacted by the problem.  Keep going until you've explored the furthest reaches of the value chain.  Then and only then can you build a tool that helps you and your sales team understand the complete picture, with all the requisite stakeholders, language, metrics and pain points.

It can be a complex picture but an old English rhyme puts it all in perspective:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

 You may be talking to the IT equivalent of a farrier but you need to understand their significance to the battle and the kingdom to build better sales tools and be more competitive.

Next Up: Self-Selection and Getting to No

Monday, October 18, 2010

Aligning IT with the Business - A Buyer-Oriented Translation Tool

"We've got to align IT with the business."

How many times have you seen THAT phrase in the IT press or heard it from the mouths of CIOs?  Usually followed by terms like, "leverage", "core competencies", "shareholder value" and other MABUSHI phrases that no one understands or believes.

I've heard it said that a lot of problems are caused by business people who don't understand technology asking technologists who don't understand the business to fix their problems.  It's kind of like speaking Klingon to a Ferengi when your universal translator is broken.

Is it your job as a product marketer to jump in and magically align IT with the business?  No.  And please don't try.  Your family and career will thank you.

You can, however, as the buyer expert, be the translator so your sales people know what language to speak when they talk to the different buyers.  Again, it puts your team in the position of talking about impact to the organization rather than the efficiency of your dilithium crystals. 

Here's how you can lay out a sales tool that shows the logic and language flow.  I do it in a spreadsheet for flexibility and readability.
  • Business Owner
    Their title and name of division, if appropriate.  This is going to be the VP of Sales, Supply Chain Director, VP of Customer Services, etc.
  • Business Problem
    This is how they see their issues, their bonus being impacted, their business being disrupted.  It's going to say things like, "Customer shipments are not arriving as planned and this results in our paying fines to them for being wrong." Or "My sales people aren't closing as many deals because they aren't getting the right data at the right time."  Include sales or other operational metrics like, "Profitability is down 4% this quarter."
  • IT Owner
    CIO, IT Director, whoever has the responsibility for the part of the stack that has the problem.
  • IT Problem
    Description of what is going wrong in IT to cause the problem the business owner is having.  Name the systems or processes that are failing.  Say things like, "When jobs take too long to complete or the database gets corrupted, it takes too long to recover those jobs.  We have to manually roll back the database and manually restart the job."  Be specific.  If the IT owner isn't making his bonus, either, include that in the description, too.
  • How IT Deals With the Problem Now
    Describe the stone knives and bear skins they are using now.  Include man hours and other information.  "We allocate 3 people full time to handle the problem.  It occupies 30% of their time each week."
  • Wouldn't It Be Nice If...
    You could automate this manual process so that X, Y, and Z. Use general terms that just so happen to describe how your product works.  Avoid specific features unless that particular feature is the key to the solution.
  • Solution
    Your product(s), highlighting the features that address this particular problem. 
  • Metric
    This is absolutely KEY.  Part of the metric will be for the business owner: Profitability will rise by x%.  Sales will increase by # per year, etc.  Use the business owner's language and metrics.  He will have told you what they are when you built your persona.  The other part will be for the IT owner.  Use language and metrics that are for them: Half a person instead of 3 to do this function, saving X dollars per year.  Operating costs will drop by this percent. System outages that currently cost $thousand each will be eliminated because...
The Easy Reference Guide I talked about last time is product oriented.  You should have one for every product in your portfolio.  This tool is buyer oriented.  Create one for every business buyer you have. You can have many problems for each business owner - solved by a particular combination of your products.  You can have multiple business owners with different problems in an organization.  You can have multiple business owners with different problems solved by one of your products but with different success metrics in each application. 

At the end of the day, your sales people will show they understand the problems each buyer has by using the language and metrics of those buyers.  Your competitor who just wants to talk about his neural pathway technology will look pretty silly in comparison.

Next up: Getting to the Business Owner

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Why Your Salespeople Don't Read Your Brochures

Simple - Because they don't help your sales force sell your stuff.

Your brochures are for telling your target buyers (there's those personas, again) why your stuff is the best thing since pockets on a shirt - presuming that your target buyer has a burning need to transport small items on the front of their clothing.

But your buyers are not your sellers.  Your sellers need something that helps them remember all that info you stuffed into their heads at the sales training session you did two quarters ago.  The brochure your customer reads won't help.

The cure: Make a brochure for the sales people.

Remember your sales force is another buyer - create a persona for them and what they need to solve their problems:
  • They have to choose from a myriad of products to sell, especially at bigger companies
  • They have to learn how speak to your customers using the right language
  • They have to know how to handle common objections
  • They need to know what landmines their competitors are going to lay for them
  • They need to know how to get to quota faster (or at all)
  • They need to get to 'No' faster so they have time to get to quota, etc.

Call it whatever you please: Battle Card, Cheat Sheet, Shower Card, Easy Reference Guide, Quick Reference Guide, etc.  Just make sure it addresses their needs, in their language. 

 Ones that I've created and had sales teams use in the past have had the following structure:

  • One physical piece of paper. 
    It's okay to use both sides but try to keep it to one sheet.
  • Printed in 10 or 12 point type
    Mouse type won't get read
  • What Does It Do?
    25 & 50-word product descriptions for those mythical elevator rides.
  • What Problems Does It Solve?
    Top 3-5 real business problems in one sentence bullets
  • How Does It Work?
    Short section on key features and components.  This is a good place for the architecture graphic.  You can also add on what the offering includes.
  • Who Is It For?
    Subtitled: Who makes a good prospect?  A product for everyone will get sold to no one.
  • What are the key differentiators for the offering?
    Be honest.  No MABUSHI here.
  • General Pricing Summary
  • Top 3 Objections
    Include the suggested response to each.
  • Top 3 Probing Questions
    To help get the conversation started and explore the problems listed in the first section. 
Like car mileage and parenting, your results may vary.  You may want to include a section on customer testimonials or drop the pricing section to suit your needs.  The idea is always to give your sales staff tools they can and will use. It should NOT be a comprehensive regurgitation of all your training materials.  Limit it to the highest value points - your sales people can review the other training materials if they need a refresher or more details. 

And one last suggestion: Laminate it for them so they can keep it in their briefcases for quick review or pinned to their cube wall.

Next Up: Another type of sales staff brochure for enterprise or complex sales

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

MABUSHI Before, Good Marketing After

A quick definition of 'Good Marketing' before I begin.  Your marketing, bullet points, collaterals, etc. are good when your sales team uses them, customers understand them by asking for more or buying your stuff, your sales cycle shortens, you win more competitive deals, your funnel is more efficient.  There's a measurable improvement over what you did previously.  Passing the four tests (and the additional one @productmarketer suggested) is just the first step.  Market validation is the real measure of good over bad.
So let's review the MABUSHI phrases from last time and look at some ways to improve them:
Fourth Generation Data Cloud
To be honest, I have NO idea what the product manager wanted to say with this.  If you do, please let me know.  Instead of focusing on some nebulous feature that sounds impressive, think how that feature is going to either impact your target persona's business or how it differentiates from your competitors.  If your use of the cloud gives you real time threat updates, say that in a way that is meaningful and why. 
Here's a suggested alternative:
Real-time threat detection protects your users from harmful sites immediately and automatically
Of course, your buyer persona document tells you that he doesn't want to spend time ensuring his web filtering database is current.  He hates disinfecting users’ computers that are infected by compromised web sites because it takes too much time away from more important tasks.  Protecting his users and cutting his administrivia/fire-fighting time is what is important, not the cloud.  The cloud is HOW you do it, not the WHAT you do.  How you do something is interesting.  What you do impacts his day, bonus, operations.
Here's another doozie.  Try saying this in one breath:
Innovation Leader in providing Mission Critical Software Solutions to the Global Alternative Asset Community since 1993
Here's what's wrong: a) EVERYONE is a leading innovator in their segment - just check every software vendors About Us page, they'll tell you, b) Is Innovation what your persona values the most?, c) EVERYONE delivers mission-critical solutions, and d) unless you already knew you were part of the Alternative Asset Community, you'd have no idea if this company was for you. I didn't - I had to look it up.  It's software for managing the operations of private equity and venture capital firms. 
I don't know much about this space so I am going to guess at some persona characteristics: reliability, low IT requirements, flexibility, strong reporting, excellent support and vendor longevity are going to be more important than innovation. As they are stewards for other people's money, they probably don't want to be the first one into the pool for stuff like this.
Instead, an alternative could be:
Proven Private Equity and Venture Capital Management Solutions Since 1993
Yes, 'proven' has to be defended but if reliability is the top value item for your persona you at least have a shot at them asking you to prove it.  You could be really bold and not even say 'proven'.  Also, telling your segment you are for them by using language they use makes it easier for prospects to select IN and non-prospects to select OUT.  'Since 1993' shows you've sold to enough people to know what you're doing.  Newer vendors have to rely on other factors like industry experience elsewhere to prove their worth.
Is this the best phrase for them?  I'd have to validate it with sales, existing customers and prospects first but at least it passes the Huh?, Spouse and Who Cares? tests.
And finally, there's this gem:
Maximum Operational Flexibility
Gack!  Did they use a buzzword generator to create that one?  If your buyer will be integrating your stuff into a number of platforms and has memory constraints to contend with and your stuff addresses that, SAY SO.  Don't make them guess what it means - they won't.
Here's another way to say this:
Tiny footprint integrates with all major platforms
It hits the personas pain points in common language and opens the discussion for "how tiny?", "how quickly does it integrate?", or, "even on Linux 2.6.35 for Cavium MIPS?"  Then you have a discussion on your hands.  Remember, your goal is to engage your prospects, not stupefy them. 
A final note on modifiers.  Modifiers like 'quickly' or 'easily' need to be defended, especially in print, so I tend to reserve their use for verbal discussions.  And I support them through testimonials from other customers.
Next up: Why sales people don’t read brochures

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

MABUSHI Spotting

Rohan raised a great question about resolving a dispute over what constitutes MABUSHI.  Who's right and how do you support or refute the claim?  To answer that, I'll first go deeper into how to recognize and test for MABUSHI.  My next blog will take the examples below and provide alternatives and how you would derive them.

Here are some examples of MABUSHI I've seen recently on web sites and at trade shows.  I'm not making this stuff up (anymore).

Fourth Generation Data Cloud

Innovation Leader in providing Mission Critical Software Solutions to the Global Alternative Asset Community since 1993

Maximum Operational Flexibility

The above have failed one or more of the following tests:
  1. Huh?
    If you have to follow what you said with the statement, "And what I mean by that is..." chances are pretty high that your message will not resonate with your audience - if they even bother sticking around.  Gobbledygook is an insult to most prospects and the fastest way to have them leave your web site forever.  Even if you have a technical product, talk to the value in straightforward language.  Don't force them to ask for definitions - they won't bother.
  2. The Spouse Test
    My wife is smarter than I am but isn't close to hi-tech.  If she can't understand what I've said, then it's not going to fly with customers and prospects.  If your spouse is "in the business," find a friend or more distant relative who isn't and try your message out on them.  Even if they aren't your target buyer persona, they should at least be able to understand what you said and know if it is relevant for them.  The language of value is universal.

    (Note To Self for future blog: getting prospects to select OUT is as important as selecting IN.)
  3. Who cares?/So what?
    Value is not communicated by using fancy phrases or impenetrable jargon.  Value is communicated through relevance and clear language. If your ideal buyer persona doesn't understand how it could benefit them, then you've missed the mark.  And don't let them connect the dots on their own.  State your feature and its inherent benefit in one phrase.  (See Note To Self, above)
  4. Crickets
    If your message is relevant and understandable, then you will have an engaged audience.  They will request more information, ask questions, make corollary comments, suggest other uses, etc.  If you get blank stares, quizzical looks or the sound of crickets booming through the silence in response to a presentation or conversation, then what you have said either totally confused your audience or had no relevance to them whatsoever.
It's easy and fun to do these tests on other people's marketing efforts.  I do it all the time at trade shows or when I'm surfing the web.  It takes bravery and honesty to apply them to your own or your own company's work.  I got into an argument with a product manager over one of the phrases above and he stopped talking to me.  He eventually dropped the phrase when enough customers told him they had no idea what it meant.

At the end of the day it goes back to grokking what your buyer persona needs, how they think and what is important to them.   Spend your time developing and understanding your personas and MABUSHI will become a thing of the past.

Next up: MABUSHI Before, Good Marketing After

Friday, September 10, 2010



After a couple guest blog posts here and here on (Thanks, April, for letting me sit in), it's time to start my own product marketing blog.  That's me in the mauve shirt when I was doing product marketing at Google if you want to know what I sound like.

I like talking to customers and asking questions that get to the heart of the matter - to what the REAL value is.  Understanding what's important - how the customer is materially impacted - is what will set your product marketing, sales training and web site apart from all the MABUSHI that's out there.  I'll focus on how to get to that value with tips, hints, tricks and more than a few stories.   

By now you are probably wondering what MABUSHI is.  I first heard the term when I started working at an Israeli company in the late 90's.  (I'm at my third now).  The Israelis often used it in training classes, marketing meetings, strategy sessions, etc. Us Americans thought it was some derogatory Hebrew word or slang term, based on context and the tone of their voice.  They would dismiss something as, "That's just MABUSHI."  Finally, someone screwed up enough courage to ask what it meant, really.  They replied, "It's an acronym for MArketing BUllSHI@."

Talk about an eye-opener.  Israelis tend to be fairly pragmatic and quickly grow impatient when they think you're wasting their time.  And they're not shy about letting you know, either.  It was a great test bed for every piece of collateral we created.  If we got the "MABUSHI" label, it was back to the drawing board.  If not, we knew our technical buyers would at least read what we produced.

If you think about it, 'No MABUSHI' is also what's behind the Pragmatic Marketing paradigm, buyer personas and the discipline of viscerally understanding your audience and what's important to them.  Seth Godin is all about 'No MABUSHI' though I don't think he's ever thought of it that way.  Ask yourself, "Is this MABUSHI?" every time you produce something, edit someone else's work or read a website.  You'll be glad you did and you (and your customers) will notice the difference.

Maybe I'm starting a crusade (not the first) but if just one person stops screaming about their shiny new red thingy and starts talking about how red resolves their customer's core problem and thus reduces the amount of MABUSHI in the world, then I will be happy.  Juding from all the MABUSHI I see on web sites these days, it's either a no-brainer or an unattainable task.