Are you messaging to threshold conditions?
B2B buyers will not purchase solutions that do not meet threshold conditions. However, these same buyers do not find messaging focused on threshold conditions compelling. At the early stages of the buying process, buyers assume that the solutions they consider meet their sector’s minimum requirements; if they didn’t, how could the provider be in business? As B2B buyers move through the buying process, these threshold conditions will be evaluated and checked off. Therefore, they are critical to understand from a product development standpoint but not useful for gaining attention or interest.
Consider the following example. Almost any SaaS solution must meet a minimum threshold level of security requirements (which will vary by industry). But the CISO isn’t the buyer who champions adopting a new CRM system; the VP of Marketing is. The VP of Marketing cares about the benefits, features, and how a new solution will improve their ability to cultivate and grow the customer base. They are a functional buyer. They aren’t concerned with threshold conditions around security, auditability, etc. Those are high-level checkboxes at the early stages of the buying process (funnel).
And even if specific security requirements are on the Marketing VP’s radar, exceeding the threshold adds little value to them as a functional buyer. This is because the solution providers either meet the criteria or do not. When the CISO asks for the solutions security credentials at later stages in the evaluating process, they’d better be in order. But from a messaging standpoint, these threshold conditions are irrelevant.
The pressure B2B marketers feel to include threshold conditions in messaging stems from the knowledge that threshold conditions are deal-breakers. It’s natural to want to get them on the table preemptively. But in most cases, B2B providers would be better off messaging to the benefits their solutions provide and highlighting their competitive differentiation.
Ways to identify threshold conditions
If you have a sales team, the simplest way to get a read on threshold conditions is to ask them what prospects ask about when and by whom. Using the example of the CRM solution from above, the security requirements are asked about by the security team well into the buying process.
Another approach is to conduct surveys or interviews with customers and prospects. In a qualitative interview (like the customer interviews many product marketers conduct), pay attention to two dimensions: 1. what surfaces when customers talk about their decision criteria, and 2. how much time they spend talking about the various criteria. In many instances, customers often don’t even mention threshold conditions. If they do, they typically note the requirements but don’t elucidate them further. For example, customers will almost always immediately say price and security and then move on and speak in detail about other factors most important to them. You can go a step further by using structured questions or exercises that have people sort elements into groups: Critical but not differentiating, differentiating factor, nice to have, etc.
Going through this process, either informally with the sales team or formally through customer interviews, will help you identify which factors to focus on in messaging and which are better suited to later stages in the process.
If you have questions about identifying threshold conditions, we’d be happy to provide our perspective.
For more information on our perspective on messaging check out one of these posts.
4 Elements of effective B2B messaging
Speaking to trust in B2B marketing
How to discover the personal and emotional drivers for a B2B audience