We got together with Andrea Bailiff-Gush, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Morningstar, and discussed her ideas on how to make product your new sales and marketing advantage, plus her views on determining a product’s position in the market, product launches, her biggest lessons learned, top tips for others, and more.

Full transcript:

Emma Bilardi - PMA  0:00

Hi everyone and welcome to the Product Marketing Life podcast brought to you by Product Marketing Alliance. My name's Emma Bilardi and I'm a content marketer here at PMA. This week we're joined by Andrea Bailiff-Gush and we'll be discussing how to make products your new sales and marketing advantage. Welcome to the show, Andrea.

Andrea Bailiff-Gush  0:17

Thanks so much, Emma. Thanks for having me.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  0:19

Could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and your role at Morningstar?

Andrea Bailiff-Gush  0:23

Sure, I'd be happy to. I've been a marketer my entire career, product marketing for the last 10 years. During my career, I've helped launch product marketing programs at companies of all sizes from startups to SMBs to most recently enterprise companies. I brought products and services to market in a variety of industries and through a variety of distribution models, both B2B and B2C to solve a wide range of challenges. Most recently, I am leading product marketing for Morningstar data and research, Morningstar's primary IP.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  0:59

Awesome, can you talk us through determining your product's position in the market and where you personally would start with that?

Andrea Bailiff-Gush  1:06

Sure, I think determining a product's position in the market really starts with talking to customers. What I like to do when I'm starting to go to market, or repositioning a solution in the market is to conduct several customer interviews. Personally, I just try to talk to a member of Morningstar's target audience once a week.

But essentially through interviews or a survey, just asking questions just to assess their general knowledge, what their challenges are, what some features or positioning that we're considering for a product, and just to see if there are gaps or if it meets a need. In addition to these customer conversations, I like to listen in on sales calls just as a fly on the wall.

What that means is during maybe a discovery conversation, or a weekly touch base that a rep may have with a prospect, or a customer success manager may have with a client I like just to listen in so I can understand what their challenges are, the words that they use to describe their problems, and maybe a solution that they may describe if that fits what we're thinking of building and launching as well.

In addition to these conversations with the target audience, there's so much great research available through third party databases that just give you more information on the market. In addition to that, there's also a lot of great information on competitors. I think that both of those sources are great to supplement.

Going to conferences is also great. So literally walking around an expo room floor, and attending sessions and just looking at how other products position their offering in the market, looking at competitors, seeing how maybe the challenges are positioned at sessions is also really good for Intel. And finally, I think just talking to sales and customer success, and having a really strong line of communication is important just to get those insights from the field. So it really is a very kind of well-rounded approach, I think to determine a product's position in the market.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  3:07

Okay, so going back to launches, what should a product marketer consider before anything else when launching a new product?

Andrea Bailiff-Gush  3:15

I think the first things that they need to consider are their customers and their challenges. It really goes back to that. If you don't know your customers, what their day to day is like at work, how they're measured, what are their jobs that they need to get done, what they care about professionally and personally, then I really think you're not ready to launch a product, you're not ready to have that position and that messaging. And so I think it really comes down to empathy and having that understanding.  

I think secondly, I think it's just understanding that there's willingness to pay. And what I like to do traditionally is conduct another survey or interview. And it's really tight around describing a product and seeing if based on that description the member of the target audience really is willing to pay, and if there's demand. If there's willingness to pay, and there's demand, then that can really aid in your pricing strategy. If there's not willingness to pay, but there's demand, that can really aid in your distribution. strategies. I think that's another really good source you can use to determine if you should launch a product and how.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  4:22

And what are the biggest lessons you've learned driving product launches?

Andrea Bailiff-Gush  4:26

Oh, there are so many and every product launch is different. I think there's always something to take away from it. I think the first is just investing in really strong relationships with product, sales, and customer success. That is your broader, that's your team. And if you don't have that understanding and that trust with those teams, then I think you won't have as strong of a product launch. I think it really comes down to having those relationships and that level of trust between those teams. I think also always come up with the launch goal first, and then put together the strategy to help you meet that goal.

There's been, at least very early on in my career, putting together product launches that didn't have the goal in mind, and just kind of grabbing at tactics and just doing what we think needs to be done. I think you get away from what are we trying to achieve? So I think always creating that goal first, and having alignment from leadership, and then from your other stakeholders on what that goal is, is really important.

Also, again, talking to customers, surveying them is really important. I think creativity always wins in a product launch,, obviously thinking about your target audience and having that in mind, but as creative as you can get to break through that noise, there's always a benefit to that.

And finally, this is the biggest thing I've learned in product launches is you can always move the day of the launch back. So if you feel like your team in the front line, like your sales reps and your customer success teams are not ready to talk about the product, they just don't feel confident, then you can always always, always move the date of the launch back until they're ready.

What I like to do is conduct a readiness survey. So that's simply just sending that survey internally to these teams and just basically asking, do you feel like you're ready to talk about this product, this new product to your book of business to the clients that you support? And if they say yes, then it is go time. But if they say no, then you can always pull back and push the launch back a week or two.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  6:35

Yeah, absolutely. So our topic today is how to make product your new sales and marketing advantage. Can you walk us through that theory?

Andrea Bailiff-Gush  6:44

Sure. So the whole idea between making a product your new sales and marketing advantage is really building that marketing and sales strategy into the product. So not saying that you wouldn't need marketing and sales support, but the product, essentially markets and sells itself.

If you produce a product or service which really exceeds your customers’ expectations, you've done that upfront research, you looked at competitors, you've been talking to your customers to really understand the need, and how they would describe this solution, then you can essentially build that sales and marketing advantage into your product, while obviously fulfilling their needs and wants.

I think also investing in product development is really important. So if you're building something, again, that meets the customer demand, it's part of those first few stages of the product lifecycle, you're making the product really sticky, then it can obviously sell and market itself on its own. I think finally just thinking about the adoption cycle. So if you think of early adopters, innovators, laggards, obviously, as consumers, we adopt products at different points of the cycle. But if you consider the adoption cycle in your strategy that can also help you make product, your marketing and sales advantage.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  8:01

Okay, and can we talk a little bit about aligning product marketing and sales? What does that process look like for you? And do you have any best practices or tips that you can share with our listeners?

Andrea Bailiff-Gush  8:11

Yes, I think it comes down to communication and having those really strong lines of communication. For a product launch, I think aligning on goals and responsibility is really important. So if you looked at the adoption cycle, and you build out a strategy, and you understand what segment of your target audience you really want to target as part of a product launch, then aligning on that goal and making specific sellers and service members understanding of what their responsibility is as part of a product launch, is really important. Also giving them a sense of ownership.

So including them and members of their team and brainstorming on positioning and the launch goals is really important. And then owning the outcome, so if they've got certain objectives for the product launch, make sure that that's included, that their voices heard. And then as a product marketing team, you need to own the outcome. And then obviously talking to them after the product launch to see if the outcome really met their objectives. I think giving them a seat at the table, essentially, is really important.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  9:20

So when we were initially discussing topics you mentioned this really great idea of making your product your new marketing advantage. Can you talk us through that process, that sort of ideology?

Andrea Bailiff-Gush  9:31

Sure, so the goal is to get a product to market itself essentially. So some products market themselves through just luck, right? For unplanned and unintended reasons, a product can become really popular, organic growth kicks in etc. These can be trendy products that maybe only fit a need for a short time, but they won't become sticky. So we really need to go back to that product adoption cycle. If you think about those early adopters, those first users, if we target them, then it will move through the popularity into the last group - the laggards, the late adopters finally realize that they're missing out.

So if you think of the innovators, they're really where we should be targeting. A new product must tap into this innovator audience so that the product's use in the public really creates marketing buzz. And I think you can use this for both B2B and B2C, it'll just obviously look very different. So that buzz will move sales up the curve, if you think of the adoption lifecycle being a bell curve, it will really move sales up towards that highest point in then the bell curve.

The term innovators is usually associated with tech products, but I think it could be anything. Either way, it's important to create cohorts for your audience. And it's an initial cohort you target that will obviously like your product, and will use it, provide feedback, and spread the word. If it's consumers, they may use specific channels. If it's more business professionals, then they're more likely to write a review about the product, or provide a testimonial, and most importantly, tell their peers in the network.

Targeting the cohort with the strategic intent of turning them into advocates, because that's really what you want to build, is a vital marketing strategy that a lot of businesses just miss out on. If you don't use the strategy in the first place, and you're designing the product, and you're positioning it, it's really an extra step but it's really important to do. You want to create a product that this group of innovators will talk about, and then plant a seed that is going to grow into big sales and you can just see the sales flow through the adoption cycle.

Not every product or service will be engineered to be worth talking about. But if your product's marketing strategy will benefit from its own usage, you can build this marketing and sales strategy really into the cycle. On a positive note, when you plant the seed into those innovators, a great deal of the marketing and sales will start to happen for you at no cost at all. So there's no marketing investment, there's no budget and in the best case business growth is explosive and self-sustaining.

So it's not just why your customers like your product that's important - that's really great feedback - but it's the reason they feel really compelled to share their experience with their network that's really marketing gold. So if you can get them to like your product, it becomes sticky, part of their day-to-day, but also willing to share with their peers, then that is your marketing and sales advantage.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  13:05

Absolutely. So we usually like to end the show with a few words of wisdom, could you give our listeners your top three product marketing tips?

Andrea Bailiff-Gush  13:13

I'd love to. I think the first one comes back to understanding customers and having empathy, taking that willingness and that time to understand your customers, what their challenges are, what their day to day is like, will make you a better marketer. It'll make you a better product marketer.

I think that's probably the most rewarding part of being in product marketing is just understanding customers and having that empathy. I think another word of wisdom that I've learned in my career is doing that upfront market research, competitive research, persona research, it's funny in product marketing there just never seems to be the time in a given day to do that.

But carving out, even if it's an hour a week, where you say, 'I'm going to use this time, no questions asked to do research for my own understanding' - that is going to move your product marketing forward so much. I think that's another word of wisdom. Finally, always iterate. We may think if we invest the time into product positioning, competitive research, persona research, that we've gone through this great effort, we've launched this great messaging, it's in use throughout our company, but you always have to iterate.

What I like to do is every year I like to evaluate what I know about personas, competitors, and our current product positioning, do some internal surveys, talk to our target audience. If the needle's moved, if there's been a big shift, then I think it's time to go back to the beginning and reevaluate the status quo and I think especially this year, if think about how much marketing has changed and being a business professional has changed, and even being a consumer has changed, I think even when there are big, timely events, that's another reason to go back and consider iterating and what you know. But those would be my three biggest tips. My words of wisdom.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  15:22

Excellent. Thank you so much for joining us today, Andrea.

Andrea Bailiff-Gush  15:25

Thank you so much, Emma.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  15:26

It was a real pleasure talking to you.

Andrea Bailiff-Gush  15:28

Same. Great to meet you.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  15:30

You too. Take care