Digital Identity Software: Detailed Analysis
What were the objectives of the project?
The company wanted to establish itself as a leader in a fast-growing new category of software. It was a new white space market that could help automate trillions of dollars’ worth of spend. The big software giants had built applications that automated many related business functions, but they had overlooked this niche business process. In the early days of the market there were lots of competitors each with a small slice of the pie, but no clear leaders had been established.
The CEO and CRO asked – How can we become the leader in this new market category of software?
The marketing organization with determining:
- What does it mean to be a category leader?
- What do leaders do differently than others?
- How do you know if you are on a leadership track?
- How do you know when you get there?
How did you achieve success?
We studied the business practices of category leaders in adjacent sectors. We focused on companies that had the qualities we wanted to achieve in future years such as attaining a $1B+ valuation, gaining a leading market share, and garnering recognition by analyst community. We started by identifying the SaaS application companies that most resembled our business. These were B2B companies that were selling into to the CFO’s organization at large and medium enterprises. We narrowed the list down to eight SaaS companies that were the leaders in their respective categories. We then reviewed their sales, marketing, product, partnership, and customer experience strategies. Some of the companies were public, which made the analysis easier as they disclosed more about their operations. However, others were private with fewer details published online. Our focus was on identifying the best practices of these organizations that differentiated them from the rest of the pack.
Overall, we identified 25 best practices that we grouped into four overall themes (see additional details below). We documented the concepts with lots of real-world examples then convened the management team to review the list. Not all of the best practices made sense for our company so we narrowed the list to the ones that would be most impactful for our organization then set out to build those programs.
Some of these best practices identified fell into the scope of the marketing team while others were led by other organizations such as product management or customer success. A few that marketing led were:
- Industry Summit – We launched an annual industry summit with our business partners with a line-up of thought leaders sharing best practices.
- Research Center – We created an in-house research function to perform benchmark studies and industry trend reports.
- Expert Guides – We created a portfolio of guides outlining a step-by-step approach for digitally transforming business processes.
- Education and Training – We built an educational microsite. In addition to static content, we added online training and certification programs.
- We created the largest event in our space, which became the de facto industry conference. Attendance grew from 30 registrants at the first event to over 200 registrants within the first 3 years.
- Our research center was the leading source of benchmarks and industry trends within the space. Our CEO was quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and CFO.com. We enjoyed 70% share of voice in the media.
- Our expert guides became the definitive guides for project leaders at enterprise accounts – whether they were using our technology or a competitor’s. Downloads from the guides consistently provided 20% of our sales pipeline.
- Our educational microsite performed well in search engine results pages, consistently ranking in the top 3 organic search results and being picked up in Google’s featured snippet. As a result, we were able to identify prospects earlier in the buyer’s journey.
What were the reasons behind the success?
Four reasons for our success:
1) The category strategy was not viewed as just a marketing program. We had sponsorship from the company CEO and founder, which enabled us to get time, attention, and resources from the other organizations to drive the initiatives.
2) We developed a set of metrics to track our progress. We could report quarterly to the board on KPIs such as market share in the Fortune 500, the percentage of business partners using our APIs, and the number of attendees registered for our annual summit.
3) We re-defined the scope of marketing programs to not just be aimed at trying to sell more subscriptions to our application, but to solving the overall problem in the industry. We didn’t worry about the competition reading our publications or attending our events. We focused on establishing thought leadership with the decision makers we were targeting.
4) We hired a different mix of talent. We didn’t just hire people with experience in traditional marketing disciplines like search, content, and public relations. We also recruited non-marketers from our customers that had real-world experience with the problems we were trying to solve. These practitioners helped to bring street cred and superior insights to the messages we were sending to the marketplace.
How long did it take?
I think of category development as a journey rather than a destination. The project to identify best practices and chart our own strategy took about six months.
How many people in total were also responsible for this?
Everyone in the 300-person company played a role, but the core team consisted of a handful of leaders in the marketing organization and a few outside agencies. A few that stand out are:
- Rock star events manager to help us define an amazing customer experience for our industry event.
- Killer public relations agency that knew the space to help us to “punch above our weight” with the media.
- Recent graduate from one of the top business schools to lead the quantitative research aspects of the industry benchmarks and studies.
- Independent consultant with thirty years of industry experience to help us understand the customer’s pain points and message our solution.
What were best practices?
The best practices we identified category leaders employing fell into four general areas:
#1) Reinventing the Technology Platform
Category Leaders don’t want to just plug-in to the customer’s existing ecosystem. They want to displace the existing tech stack and replace it with their own platform. Category leaders recognize that they cannot accomplish this alone, so they set out to build an ecosystem of partners that collectively can become a force in the market.
One of the common approaches that category leaders follow is to build a platform that enables everyone in their ecosystem to win. Instead of just focusing on getting patents around proprietary IP to enable their own growth, they build open APIs and marketplaces that the developer community can use to generate new revenue streams.
#2) Reimagining Business Processes
Category leaders don’t want to incrementally improve the current business processes. They want to fundamentally reinvent the way the work is done.
As a result, they approach content marketing differently. They don’t just write white papers to use for lead generation on their websites. They publish a book about their worldview and then have the CEO go on speaking tours sharing the vision on CNBC, at SXSW, and on TED Talks.
They don’t just limit evangelism to their own sales teams. Category leaders get the influencers like management consultants, systems influencers, and outsourcing firms to become advocates and help sell their vision as well.
#3) Redesigning the Org Chart
Category leaders don’t want to just get a lot of people trained on their technology. They want to create new job functions, new career paths, and entirely new organization structures to support their vision.
They start a grass roots movement with their target buyers, organizing local meetups and national events. These aren’t just user conferences, they are industry events that are open to anyone who wants to attend.
They help their users to be successful in their careers by creating online job portals, publishing salary benchmarks, and developing training programs to build a career path around their technology.
#4) Redefining Success
Category leaders don’t want to just help customers achieve their existing goals. They want to redefine their KPIs and what it means to be successful.
Category leaders define new measurement criteria and then publish reports stack ranking prospective customers performance against their metrics. By creating a buzz in the mainstream and social media they force a discussion at the board level about their new ideas.