Five Tips on Hiring Messaging Help

Having written last on the “5 DIY B2B Messaging Mistakes” I’ve decided to address another challenge, hiring “Messaging Help”, that consultant, agency or firm that’s gonna help you get it right. And while I admit I have a biased view here, in the sense that I am a provider of this, I wanted to step back and talk about how to find the “contractor” that works for you. Since there is no Angie for B2B messaging, here’s a starting point to help you on your decision path.

Here in no particular order, and my top 5 tips on hiring Messaging Help…

  1. Beware the Generalist – everyone can “do this”
  2. Beware the Specialist – too much speciality can kill
  3. Beware the Low Cost Provider – price can be the signal of value
  4. Beware the High Price Provider – are you paying for overhead or quality
  5. Messaging or Domain Expertise – yes, you need a lot of one, but some of another

Let’s go a bit deeper on each of these tips:

#1 Beware the Generalist– Often an individual who has a great track record as a CMO or VP, they can do it all. But when’s the last time they did this? Think of it like hiring a retired QB whose now a head coach to be your Quarterback on the field. Or a general contractor, who hasn’t touched a pipe for 20 yrs to fix your leaky toilet. Can they still do it? Are they in synch with the current products, codes and tools? You get the picture. Messaging is a skill, and like any skill, it degrades if not practiced.

#2 Beware the Specialist – You hire these firms to do a job, because they are specialist at it. Then you discover that your web, your PR, your demand gen agency probably all have “messaging” offerings. That’s great if you want press coverage, or web or ad copy, but that’s what you will get. If your project is to build CORE MESSAGING, the blueprint or “bible” for your business, product line or service offering, beware of getting a great message for one of them, and thinking you are getting it all. Maybe a specialist messaging firm is a better answer!

#3 – Beware the Low Cost Provider -With messaging, there is NO barrier to entry. Just say you do it, tell a story or two, and then go to town. And do a bunch of other stuff too. (see tips 1 and 2 ;)). And do it cheap and fast. Well, you know the old adage, you can have good, cheap and fast, but you can’t get all 3. When a “messaging provider” is 1/3 the cost of the going market rate, then you should slow very much down before hiring them. Let’s say you were going to tile a bathroom in your home, and you get 3 quotes, one for $500, one for $1800 and one for $5000. Well, for me, if I want a good job that lasts, my first choice to dive deep into references, etc, is the $1800 one, unless of course I want it cheap because I am selling my house next week. There’s a reason why specialized skill like messaging aren’t cheap, because they are valuable and strategic. If it isn’t worth investing in, maybe you should be doing DIY!

#4 – Beware the High Cost Provider – On the other end of the spectrum is the high price provider. These usually show up as larger agencies with a very dynamic leader/founder who does most of the selling. Then they have a small to large army of “consultants” who do the work. This usually translates into more overhead for the provider, and bigger prices. This is OK, but the biggest risk is that the consultant or team of consultants will not be near as skilled and capable as the founder. Of course, the founder will promise you that they will be :involved: and that you are getting their best team. Is that worth the bet and the price tag?

#5 –Messaging or Domain Expertise – Yes, it depends. Obviously I am biased that messaging expertise is critical. That’s obvious already from tips 1-4. But do you need domain expertise too. My answer is yes but. I would NOT hire a provider to do the work if they had no knowledge of my space, though I would define space pretty liberally. If I was a marketing automation vendor, I’d hire someone who did a lot of sales automation but maybe not so much marketing, but I probably wouldn’t hire someone who’s closed connection to marketing automation was something like Support automation. Surprisingly, I would not hire someone who ONLY did marketing automation work. Why? Cross domain expertise is CRITICAL to creativity and out of the box idea generation. It’s invaluable in this line of work. Don’t over-focus on Domain expertise, if you don’t already have that in spades, you have a bigger problem then messaging!

So if you’ve decided to “get help”, I sure hope these tips drive you to a great decision and you hire the right person or agency to best serve your needs, and hopefully for just a few of you, that person will be me!


Five DIY Messaging Mistakes Start-ups Make

Messaging, after product and funding, is arguably the third key thing to get right for early stage B2B start-up success. Yet just the other day, a friend of mine who is a well respected Venture Capitalist said to me, “You know Ken, most of our early stage company think they can do messaging as a DIY project, but the truth is, they are just not good at it”.

This got me thinking watching all of the DIY home improvement shows, especially the ones where the pros come in and rescue the homeowners. Then I realized just how bad I am at even the simplest home improvement project, but that I am pretty good at B2B Messaging, so maybe I could share some common mistakes I’ve had to come in and “rescue” founders from. So here, in no particular order, and my top 5…

  1. They focus too much on how, and not enough on what and why
  2. They focus too much on themselves, and just how awesome they are
  3. The don’t have a well articulated problem statement they are working from
  4. They think a website is a messaging framework
  5. Their value is not well articulated, unique or meaningful

Let’s do a quick peek into the messiness of these mistakes:

#1 Too much how – We mistakenly think that all of our uniqueness comes from our amazing how. The innovation in our code, our science or our other “special sauce”. But without the what and the why, the how is meaningless. Instead, ask yourself what is my unique approach, why did I build it in the first place. Why should anyone care. Thinking different and taking a different approach is often the uniqueness that matters MUCH more than the how. No one really cares how things work near as much as what it does for me and what the value of that is.

#2 Too much me – I had one client when I went to their homepage it was literally all about them. We have amazing customers, we’ve won all these awards, we’ve been featured on this show, our team is the smartest in the world. Many early stage customers are super proud of themselves. They are literally BRILLIANT. They have track records of success. They have PHDs from amazing places. They ran top secret projects for governments. AND, investors LOVE to invest in super smart people. Customers on the other hand, sadly don’t give a crap. They care about your insight, not your degree, they care about this product, not the one you built and sold for $1B dollars, they care about what you can do for them, not what you did yourself. So, put your ego aside, and focus on them, not you. Besides, if the battle always goes to the smartest, which it doesn’t, I’ve got bad news for you there is probably a competitor with better credentials than you have, let her brag, not you!

#3 – The Problem with Problems – I’ve ranted about this one before and it hasn’t gotten any better. C- is still the best grade I see from DIY messaging teams. And if you can’t build your message around a big, relevant and meaningful problem you are lost! Obsess about two things, who are you helping and what are you helping them fix. Once you know that, everything else is (relatively) easy. Problem is the foundation of your messaging and if you’ve ever seen a home on a bad foundation…well enough said.

#4 – Your Website Does Not a Messaging Framework Make – The best analogy I can come up with a trailer does not make a movie script. Your website is the OUTPUT of a great messaging framework. As is your sales presentation, your PR boilerplate, your product brochure. Making a website without a messaging framework will result in, well, crap. Don’t do it. Find a framework and use it. I am quite partial to mine, which is the topic of much of my book Launching to Leading, and can be downloaded here (but you’ll want to read the book to make sense of it).

#5 – Where’s the Value – DIY messaging doesn’t focus near enough if at all on value. Marketing and sales is all about a conversation with buyers about the exchange of value. You want their time, attention and dollars, and they want what in exchange? Something they need that solves a problem (see #3) and the benefits they get from doing so. After you’re done obsessing on problem, obsess on value. What value can I deliver that my competitors can’t that customers CARE to trade time and money for, not just think it’s cool. A messaging framework should help here too. And if you’d like more of my thoughts on both problem and value, you can check out my LinkedIn Learning Course here.

So to put a wrap on this DIY project, if you do DIY Messaging; remember lower the heat on the how and you, obsess about problem and value, and don’t confuse your website for a messaging framework…now back to all those pesky home improvement projects for me, nah, I’ll just hire a pro!!!

Instead of a Top 10 List, How about a Marketing Festivus…

or My 3 Top Marketing Grievances for the Year

I’m actually feeling quite optimistic for the year 2020 for B2B Marketers…but I guess I’ve gotten overwhelmed with Top 10 lists and feel like I have to get a few things off of my proverbial chest before settling into my lounge chair for a mid-week break of more football, champagne and chili! So, in no particular order…

Grievance #1 – “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated, ” said Mark Twain the CMO

A mere seven years ago, I blogged in disagreement about a then popular post by Andrew Chen entitled, Growth Hacker is the New VP of Marketing. Well, as Andy Johns of Unusual Ventures points out in his Jan of 2019 post entitled, a post mortem on growth hacking, Growth Hacking is in decline, and fundamentals of product, product market fit, and positioning still matter in B2C and I’d add in B2B organizations.

Now in 2019, the siren call of the Death of the CMO is summarized in this 2018 post by Edwin Abl, entitled Chief Revenue Officers: Why They Are Replacing CMO’s.

I will save a point by point rebuttal on this latter claim for another blog. Suffice it to say, organizations that eliminate CMOs run the risk of not only short term thinking and loss of vision, but also greatly underrate the value of the right CMO as the balancing point between sales, product and strategy.

Grievance #2 – King Me? – Category is Not Always the Winning Marketing Strategy

After the CRO, the next hottest trend is being a Category King, popularized by the book Play Bigger, and now the siren call sung by investors to all B2B CMOs.

I don’t argue with the data presented that “Category Kings” get far better returns and you should strive to be one. But my grievance is in the timing (always now) and the process (pick the category then build around it). Category building is NOT for everyone all the time. Sometimes we are sadly not the first mover, and sometimes the market isn’t ready for a new category.

But my biggest gripe here, is the idea that category is some amazing short cut to success. We have to start with our story, what makes us unique, and the transformational value we have to our customers. Until you understand those, you can’t create message market fit, let alone become a “category king”. As my one client so succinctly said to me, “I thought the strategy should drive the story, but now after our work together I understand the story should drive the strategy.” So just like the CRO is not a silver bullet, neither is the “self-declaration” of Category.

Grievance #3 – “Not All Wine Turns to Vinegar” – Endemic Age Discrimination in The Valley?

Last month, a well know executive recruited made a post on LinkedIn that really got under my skin (It appears it’s now been deleted, so all of this is from memory.) Essentially, the post said, ‘don’t hire an experienced CMO, hire an up and comer’. It went on to imply that experience will stifle innovation and those experienced folks can’t be up to date on the latest in marketing, harkening back to Grievance 1 :). The not so subtle message I saw implied (whether intended or not) was don’t hire anyone over 35 to be your CMO. In my response, I pointed out that some of the most innovative marketers I know are “experienced”, and that there is a LOT to the job beyond knowing the latest and greatest tech.

But beyond this post, I see age discrimination as a significant problem in the valley. With people’s careers stretching well into their sixties, and with older parents the new norm around here, more and more “older” workers are going to be around. And they can add so much to even small start ups. We should hire to the job, NOT to some pre-supposed profile, be it age, sex, race, religion or sexual orientation. In my mentoring and advising of later career folks, I see them struggling with this issue consistently. The valley might be seen as funding young 20-somethings to find the next Zuck hiding in his or her dorm room, but folks in their 40s, 50s and even 60s can be key contributors to every firm at every stage. Find the right person at the right time for the right job, and if it’s a 28 year old from another start up and you are ready to take a chance on them, great, but be open to all!

Well, I had fun airing some of my grievances, join me below in my Festivus celebration by adding a few of yours!