George Stenitzer: You get only a seven-second sound bite to
make a point. The same holds true for elevator pitches,
headlines and email subject lines
The scarcest commodity today is your customers’
attention. Customers make their first critical decision in
seven seconds: whether to listen, start a conversation or shut
For vendors, these seven seconds mark the first moment of
truth. You have seven seconds to gain customers’
attention and answer their key question, "What’s
in it for me?"
In news media, your spokesperson gets only a seven-second sound
bite to make a point. The same holds true for elevator pitches,
headlines and email subject lines.
Address what customers care about most. Unpack the benefits
they will receive through these questions:
• Which problems will your solution fix, today and
• How much more revenue can customers generate?
• How much capital and operating expense can be saved?
• How will this improve users’ quality of
• How hard or easy is the solution to implement?
• What’s the proof?
Brevity is key. Customers get thousands of messages daily from
others and from you. Very few messages break through this
For decades, the buying ritual between telecom vendors and
operator customers stayed much the same. Operators would
recognise needs, then take time to discuss them with vendors,
each of which presented competing approaches and claims. That
buying process has been upended. Operators are pressed for
time, so vendors get few precious opportunities to educate them
in person. Meetings are harder to schedule. Only a handful of
operator decision-makers attend trade shows, and their
calendars fill with pre-scheduled meetings well before the show
Now, the rules of engagement are changing. So vendors must be
strategic about how they appear in the online marketplace. How
can you deliver your marketing message more effectively?
The buying process is now two-thirds online, one-third sales.
About 67% of the buying process takes place digitally, says
Rather than spend time with sales, operators research solutions
online and consult peers. They glean content from many websites
— including trade media, standards bodies, analysts,
vendors and social media.
In this hunt, genuinely useful content wins. Customers decide
which content makes the most sense and delivers the greatest
value, which leads them to specific vendors.
Most vendors employ content marketing, but few do so
strategically. While 88% of UK marketers use content marketing,
only 42% have a documented content strategy, says a Content
Marketing Institute survey.
To win at content marketing, you need a well-defined content
strategy, a consistent message, and a team that develops and
deploys content in a timely way. Strategic content provides
ready answers to customers’ problems, questions
and pain points – as identified by sales. All vendor
content needs to align around one key message
that’s delivered consistently through marketing
First help, then sell. Good content starts with
customers’ key questions and your
solution’s relevant benefits. Vendors may offer
content through websites, email newsletters, magazines, news
releases, blogs, white papers, videos, social media and more.
To deploy content strategically, analyse the buying process and
offer what customers need during each step.
Telecom operators usually buy through large teams. A buying
decision-maker drives the process, overseen by executives and
supported by buying influencers in affected departments such as
technology, operations, procurement and finance. Provide the
content that each member of the team needs for each of the four
steps in the buying journey. 1. During pre-sales, customers
analyse the problem
First, operators recognize a problem and calculate how serious
it is. They decide whether there’s a compelling
need to change, or whether to stick with the status quo.
Vendors have their biggest opportunity to stand out during
pre-sales. At this point, vendors can shape and challenge
buyers’ thinking about the problem. They can
identify additional requirements and plant key questions in the
minds of the buying team.
Armed with the right marketing messages, sales can educate
operators on why the status quo is not acceptable, in light of
current technology, user and industry trends. Sales also can
provide customers insight into the approaches that other
operators are taking.
New research about business-to-business technology buyers by
Eccolo Media sheds light on what content is needed at each step
in the buying journey. Content preferences vary by operator
size, and the findings below reflect what large companies
During pre-sales, decision-makers exhibit a preference for
blogs (used by 37%) over infographics (27%), videos (26%) and
white papers (26%). Regularly published blogs can generate
thousands of followers, translating into one-quarter or more of
a vendor’s website traffic.
The information habits of buying influencers differ from those
of buying decision-makers. During pre-sales, they also prefer
blogs (33%), but they place a greater emphasis on white papers
(31%), and less on infographics (22%) and case studies (20%).
When customers click on a white paper, they expect to find
thought leadership to address a specific problem, including an
objective comparison of alternative approaches. They reject
thinly veiled advertising. 2. During initial sales, customers
Having discovered many options, customers now consider which
solution performs better, which is cheaper and who provides
better service. For vendors, the job is to differentiate
credibly from competitors’ offerings.
Real differentiation calls for more than copycat products and
flashy brand names. Truly differentiated solutions offer a new
architecture, a novel combination of capabilities, or
disruptive new technology.
"If you have lightning in a bottle, we want to know it,"
observes one operator veteran. Still, the onus is on vendors to
get their message through.
In this step, decision-makers consult blogs (30%), videos
(30%), white papers (30%) and case studies (29%). Buying
influencers prefer a mix of videos (47%), case studies (42%),
blogs (36%) and infographics (36%). 3. During mid-sales,
customers resolve concerns and reduce risks
Customers seek third-party support via site visits,
testimonials and peers. Vendors can best bolster their
credibility through third parties — including
reference customers, trade media and industry analysts.
In this step, decision-makers gravitate to case studies (32%),
followed by detailed technology guides (30%), white papers
(28%) and videos (27%). Influencers seek detailed technology
guides first (36%), followed by infographics (31%), white
papers (27%) and case studies (27%). 4. Finally, customers
choose a vendor or two
Operators generally prefer multiple sources for network
equipment. But they may choose a single vendor if one has a
clearly superior solution or if they are in a hurry.
In this step, operators finalise vendor selections, negotiate
terms and sign contracts. Content marketing needs to reinforce
buying decisions with infographics (22%) and detailed
technology guides (22%). Buying influencers back away during
this stage; only a few seek detailed technology guides (18%) or
blogs, infographics and case studies (tied at 11%).
State benefits clearly, without jargon. Express benefits in a
way that each member of the buying team cares about. For
example, the exact same solution may deliver different benefits
to each department:
• CTO: gain ease of integration with future network
• Operations: simplify processes through automation, so
fewer technicians need to be dispatched.
• Marketing: increase quality of experience for users and
reduce customer churn.
• Finance: improve profitability with lower capital or
As you educate customers, take pains to avoid jargon that means
different things in different departments. Use language
that’s well understood in all the departments that
have some say in the purchase. For example, during internal
meetings at one mobile operator, marketing objected to
operations’ plans to add "carriers" to its cell
sites. To network operations, adding a carrier meant adding
radio capacity at a cell site. To marketing, adding a carrier
meant allowing a competitor to use the cell site.
The two departments talked past each other for weeks, until
they figured out that the real problem was just jargon,
misunderstood on both sides.
Within the global telecoms industry, most customers speak
English today. But many customers know English only as a second
language. To maximise their understanding, it’s
crucial to address customers with simplified global English.
Keep words, sentences and paragraphs short, so more customers
can absorb your message. Choose easy words such as those in the
1,500-word Voice of America vocabulary.
Challenge customer thinking with commercial insights.
Challenger marketing supports your best sales people, who work
in the challenger style – proven the most successful
selling style in good times and bad.
Customers hunger for content that educates them about trends in
technology, users and the industry over the next three to five
years. This kind of thought-provoking content challenges
customers’ thinking, and it’s often
the best read content on a vendor website.
That’s why strategic content marketing goes beyond
immediate problems and products to tackle longer-term trends
and issues. Buyers especially value vendors who can bring
forward unique commercial insights.
While thought leadership demonstrates your knowledge about a
topic, commercial insight describes unique, compelling content
that customers don’t want to miss since they have
so much at stake.
Generating genuine commercial insight takes some investment.
For example, vendor-commissioned studies by industry analysts
have proven highly effective in cutting through the marketing
clutter. One industry analyst study commissioned by a vendor
still generates calls to the vendor from top operators, years
after its release.
What unique commercial insight can you bring forward to
customers? In simpler times, vendor salespeople could drive the
customer’s buying process. But as buying
behaviours change, vendors need to become much more strategic
about content marketing.
Through strategic content marketing, vendors can address
customers’ questions and problems, highlight the
benefits and differentiation of their solution, and offer
commercial insights for the future. Content marketing built
around a solid strategy leads vendors to more customers, sales
After working for operators, George Stenitzer was until
recently vice president of communications at Tellabs but he has
now founded Crystal Clear Communications