In marketing cloud solutions and technical products, content and other inbound professionals face myriad obstacles in understanding and communicating their value propositions. Many times as generalists they have training in best practices for educating and persuading customers about products but without any specialized knowledge of the underlying engineering.

However, to confidently accomplish their goals, marketers must become informed about the products themselves as well as to become trusted advisers to sales—if not make sales love marketing. Leveraging subject matter experts (SMEs) and different knowledge acquisition methods will help marketers do this.

Leveraging Subject Matter Expertise

In taking SaaS and other IP business cases to market, inbound professionals generally begin by reading all the sales collateral and other forms of content marketing about their IT applications. While a standard by-the-book learning protocol, many web specialists and product technicians feel that this cannot comprise the entire answer.

SMEs must remain engaged in the process of marketing knowledge acquisition. But SMEs exist in a perpetual state of innovation and can barely take time to deal with corporate policies much less help educate non-technical personnel. How to solve this dilemma? Cloud solutions themselves can help alleviate the burden.

“I use Google Sheets extensively for this purpose to open lines of communication with SMEs over targets, ongoing work streams and implementation processes that can be kept in real time,” says Luke Bastin, SEO specialist, TinderPoint, a digital marketing agency. “And they can act as an effective audit trail for regular meetings.”

Also, TinderPoint uses Slack, the real-time intra-company messaging app, if the nature of the product or implementation workflow involves frequently updated or sizeable files, according to Bastin.

‘Why’ Remains More Important Than ‘How’ for Product Knowledge

While Silicon Valley types stress the importance of how a tech product works and achievements for feeds and speeds—who can forget the landmark “Intel Inside” campaign of ever faster processors—cloud marketers believe that why customers should use the product has more importance. After all, if you cannot say why a higher metric matters it does not make any difference how it happens. So it’s a nice-to-have if marketers know how but not a must if they know why.

“We work with many SaaS/tech firms that have very niche and technical products, and after years with them, we’re still not expert on all technical ins-and-outs of our clients’ products and services,” says Jarrett Fleagle, director, business development, WebMechanix, a B2B digital marketing agency. “What we do know is the unique value proposition that our client brings to customers—the reason why they buy. Once we know that, we can create content that addresses buyer pain points and reasons for purchasing.”

What WebMechanix does not gather on its own it gains by working directly with cloud sales engineers. According to Fleagle, it will conduct interviews with SMEs who can break down the language needed for addressing technical buyers. If SMEs are unavailable, pre-recorded sales calls that sales engineers hold with customers exist as a go-to knowledgebase. WebMechanix taps into that for learning.

“This has a number of hidden benefits: not only do we get valuable language from hearing how sales presents its product to customers but also objections they bring up during the sales process,” Fleagle says. “These objections are a goldmine for middle and bottom-of-funnel content that provides compelling answers to those objections. Sales can then leverage that content in the sales process to rapidly overcome—or even preempt—those objections.”

The result? More sales at a greater opportunity value with a much faster sales cycle, according to Fleagle.

Eat the Dog Food You Sell

While it seems intuitive that MSPs and other technology companies would use their own products—even Salesforce internally uses its Trailhead training platform—eating your own dog food, or dogfooding, might have become too obvious with many quick ramps to launch nowadays. However, not all cloud companies have abandoned this once steady pillar of product knowledge generation. For example, Leadpages, a landing page and lead generation software provider, uses its own SaaS offering to nurture customer relationships.

“We pride ourselves being biggest users of our own technology,” says Ryan Kopperud, educational content creator, Leadpages. “As a SaaS company, we’ve found the very best way to truly learn about the products we create, market and sell is to actually use them. Not just a few times, not just in a demo account, but in a real live account, multiple times a week. Only by getting our hands dirty and learning ins-and-outs of every nook-and-cranny can we properly market and sell the products we create.”

In addition, at Leadpages Kopperud says that every member of the marketing staff (e.g., CMO) spends at least an hour per week in a conversational commerce application chatting to prospects who come to the website to learn directly about the customer experience on the buyer journey. Other companies take it a step further, like Drift, which coincidentally makes a messaging app, and have the entire staff—not just marketing—complete some customer support and sales activities to obtain product knowledge and unfiltered customer feedback.

“To really understand what our customers want, we need to hear their pain, see their frustrations and understand their challenges firsthand,” says Dave Gerhardt, director of marketing, Drift. “Reading that feedback in a wiki cannot compare to having a real-time, one-to-one conversation with a new customer who’s lost inside our app—while she’s lost inside our app. Talking to customers should be part of everyone’s job today.”

In fact, some say it would greatly benefit a tech company if everyone for real—from salespeople and CEOs to corporate lawyers to finance department CFOs—spent time in customer service.

“These interactions bring us closer to the customer,” Kopperud says. “And tell us what they want to know, what they’re missing on the website and what information will take them from prospect to customer.”

‘Close to You’ Mr. Customer

When customers think about the proximity of marketing, you can forgive them if they instantly recall 1970s tactics for selling cars—remember the Mustang II. Back then the dichotomy of David Bowie singing on FM about the duplicitous President Nixon on Young Americans and The Carpenters longing to be “Close to You” on AM made many wary of anyone approaching—much less marketing or sales. What a challenge for modern B2B. However, literal closeness remains the best kind of customer contact, according to leading experts.

“For content marketers to be knowledgeable about their markets, interaction with customers is an absolute must,” says David Johnson, director, product marketing, Oracle Marketing Cloud. “In-person sales visits are most valuable as you experience firsthand what resonates with a customer in the moment. This can provide insight into what a successful content marketing strategy needs to reach the end you are trying to achieve.”

In addition, all the interactions marketers have with customers—whether at a conference, on a web meeting or in-person, i.e., the omnichannel customer experience—creates significant familiarity with the language, mood and feelings associated with the challenges customers face, according to Johnson. This awareness provides an advantage as marketers strategize a precise content funnel to engage customer interest sales stage by sales stage, according to Johnson.

Other veteran content experts concur on customer contact. For example, talking to actual customers remains one of the best sources of insight a content marketer can have, according to Beth Carter, chief strategist, Clariant Creative Agency, an inbound marketing agency with multiple technology clients.

“You gain a very tangible understanding of the pain points, obstacles, questions and concerns that your content needs to address,” Carter says. “Ideally, be physically present during a sales meeting. Next best option: listen in on a phone call. Worst option—but better than nothing—communicate with customers by email.”