innovation management: marketing vs product marketing vs sales communications

Many professionals working on B2B innovation projects lump together a broad range of the promotional activities necessary to launch their innovation under the generic concept of “MARKETING” – which creates tremendous confusion when trying to properly derisk and scope the investment associated with bringing a new idea to market.

There are really 3 distinct promotional areas that need to be planned out when launching an innovation:

  1. Marketing (with a capital “M”!)
  2. Product Marketing
  3. Sales Communications

A good structure from which to understand the difference between these three areas can be found in the excellent book “The Win Without Pitching Manifesto” from Blair Enns. In the book Enns breaks down the B2B sales process as having 3 distinct steps:

Proper selling can be distilled into three steps, based on the client’s place in the buying cycle. These three steps replace the art of persuasion. To sell is to:

1. Help the unaware

2. Inspire the interested

3. Reassure those who have formed intent

The first thing we must understand if we are to approach selling properly and respectfully is that the client’s motivation, and by necessity, our role as salesperson, evolves as he progresses through the buying cycle. He moves from unaware of his problem or opportunity, to being interested in considering the opportunity, and finally, to intent on acting on it. As he progresses in this manner, our role must change from one of helping, to inspiring, and ultimately to reassuring.

Enns, Blair. The Win Without Pitching Manifesto (pp. 33-34). Gegen Press. Kindle Edition.

With that helpful sales process structure in place, we can diagram the 3 promotional arenas that come together to constitute a new innovation’s “branding”:

It is helpful to think of each area separately when setting the ambition for the launch. For example, if your ambitions are grand, perhaps you challenge your organization to ask:

What is world-class Marketing for our concept? How do we make a bold statement that cuts through the noise and meaningfully reaches potential customers?”

What is world-class Product Marketing? How do we innovate beyond stagnant old brochures? Can our product marketing address the real issues our customers face?”

What is world-class Sales/Partner training? How do we inspire and train our own staff to take on the risk of innovation? How do we inspire our channel partners to take on that risk?”

Or instead of thinking grand, another approach is the popular concept of “MVP” or minimal viable product – the “minimal” requirements for promotion really need to be specifically divided and considered in each of the 3 areas:

“What is the most minimal Marketing we need – who exactly do we need to reach?”

“What is the most minimal Product Marketing that we need? What are our bare-bones legal or sales process requirements?”

“Who specifically in Sales needs to be trained? Can we do it in person or do we need scalable materials?”

In such small, focused MVP launches, you can challenge the team to pick very specific target personas (ideally even just one target person), geographic limitations, or other ways to restrict the resources involve and progressively derisk the idea. Think realistically about the needs of that persona throughout the buying cycle. For example, an MVP might demand a formal spec sheet to be included in a bid/PO process (Product Marketing), but no vision or fluffy brand pieces (no Marketing) and no channel training efforts if sales are done directly by the innovation team (no Sales Communications).

The confusion amongst these three promotional arenas has become even greater with the profusion of digital marketing and blurred communications channels. Take the example of a Sales leader sharing a product feature on social media – what is that exactly??? Sales Communications, Marketing or Product Marketing??? To solve this problem, everyone in the organization should have access to a consistent set of tools, and then be trained and empowered to know which tool to use, and when. Organic social media reach is waning, as every “platform” cranks up their monetization and ad sales, but it still an effective tool in the mix.

If you liked this piece, check out my longer post on innovation management: What’s the value of innovation management?