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Customers care about features but also capabilities

I was reading some articles that I had tagged and saved over the holidays. Several of them were case studies that went into some detail on successful implementations.

What struck me, and maybe it is not new news, was how every one of the customers talked about some key technical capabilities that made the difference for them, both in selection and implementation.

Sure these customers cared about outcomes, but the technology mattered.

Yes, features matter. You can’t just promise increased revenues or reduced costs or any other business outcome. You have to connect it to how those outcomes are achieved. You need to talk about your capabilities.

But is there a better way to talk about them than just to, er, talk about them. I think so.

Here is the path:

  1. Use competitive analysis and customer interviews to understand unique, or important, capabilities
  2. Explore the customer situations where those capabilities are most important
  3. Present the capabilities by starting with those situations and then leading to the capabilities that address the needs

For example, you may determine that one of your unique capabilities is the ability to easily exchange data between multiple sites.

In looking at your customers, you recognise that the ones that care about that capability are those that have multiple manufacturing plants.

With that info, you don’t simply say “Feature:  Data Exchange.”  Instead, you present the scenario “For customers with multiple plants that need to exchange data to improve quality, we offer “an easily configurable data exchange mechanism that can be tuned by plant managers without IT involvement.”

Sure it is more wordy.  And this is just one feature example (you could describe a situation and then several features that are designed to support it).

But it puts the capability in context. It provides clarity over the best fit situations. And it is more engaging than a feature list, that looks like everyone else. Best of all, you can back it up with customer stories.

Let’s be clear. Outcomes matter. But outcomes are only achieved with technical capabilities that make that possible.

Customers care about features, they care about capabilities. Be sure your messaging creates stories that covers both sides of the coin (outcomes and capabilities).

This article is updated from work originally posted on the Gartner Blog Network. You can find the original post here.

Hank Barnes is a distinguished analyst at Gartner, providing research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies for technology providers.