July 23, 2015 Last Updated 3:36 pm

Guest column: How to be problem solvers, not product sellers

Guest columnist Johanna Pesso, VP of Product at CPXi discusses the four steps salespeople can take to become problem solvers

Walking down the exhibit halls of an ad tech trade show can feel like navigating a densely populated bazaar, with hundreds of companies and flashy salespeople hocking their wares. Complex technology solutions are reduced to sales tactics better suited for trinkets and key chains, with vendors enticing unsuspecting passers-by into their stalls with promise of high quality and steep discounts. There is a constant race for attention, with ad tech companies clamoring over one another for share of wallet.

JP-300After acquiring an impressive collection of corporate swag in exchange for impatiently listening to impeccably-practiced corporate elevator pitches, it becomes clear that many ad tech companies are selling highly commoditized products and services. The industry is focused on being product sellers, making a grab for market share without truly innovating.

In B2B industries like ours, differentiation can seem more difficult to achieve than for those who market direct to consumer. Unless you build an impressive new tech stack or are truly first to market with a never-before-seen solution, you will be pitted head to head against the competition in a race to the bottom. Product and marketing teams need to drive the corporate shift from product selling to problem solving to achieve market success.

4 Steps to Become a Problem Solver:

  1. Understand Your Target Audience
    The customer needs to be the starting point for developing a market-driven product strategy. When asking sales and account teams to describe their audience, I have heard time and again “publishers” or “advertisers.” Such a broad definition does not allow for the creation of a strategic product direction. Think back to the bazaar vendor who is calling out to anyone and everyone who walks by and therefore relates to no one. Product managers and product marketers need to get more specific and understand the precise target audience of each product or service.
  2. Ask Questions
    Once the customer profile is defined, the next step is to gather information. It is imperative that you gain an understanding of your customers’ pain points and workflows, as well as your potential competitive advantages. Ask your sales teams, ask your developers, and most importantly ask your customers. Plus, train the teams in your company who are on the frontlines to ask the right questions and build internal feedback loops so their answers (and needs) are efficiently captured.
  3. Include Customers In The Development Process
    Inviting customers to participate in the prototyping phase of product development can be instrumental to ensuring that the development process remains focused on the solving the painpoints identified in step 2. Not only will your product and tech teams know early on whether they are building the right things and iterate faster, but it will also help you refine your product positioning so your market message hits the right notes upon launch.
  4. Monitor Usage Trends and Adapt
    As we all know, our jobs are not done when a product is brought to market. In the ever-evolving ad tech industry, our clients’ needs are continually changing. The marketing mix shifts towards newer ad formats, technological advances change workflows, and the competition can alter the entire landscape in the blink of an eye. The most effective product teams keep an ear to the ground of the industry and identify opportunities in these changes, creating new ways to develop innovative solutions for their customers.

By building problem-solving product strategies, you no longer have to strain your company’s voice to be heard above the clutter in the ad tech bazaar. Through continued conversation with your customers and an ultimate product portfolio that speaks directly to their needs, the products will speak for themselves and the sales dollars will inevitably follow.

Johanna Pesso is VP of Product at CPXi, a digital media holding company providing
technologies, services and processes to marketers and content providers.

  • Jeff Hirsch 1 year ago

    I agree with your points Johanna . Understanding customer needs and speaking to solving their problems is critical in the sales process. “Pitching” is the wrong approach.