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Differentiate and Grow: How Procurement Marketers Can Stand Out in a Crowded, Copycat Market

05/25/2018 By


Spend Matters welcomes this guest contribution from Greg Hakim, vice president at Corporate Ink.

Increase transparency. Drive savings. Reduce risk.

If you are a supply chain or procurement provider, these three messages are likely baked into your sales and marketing pitch. Which makes sense — they represent critical representations of the value you deliver. There’s just one problem: Your competitors are saying the same thing.

Your company’s communication and positioning strategy, of course, changes with the market. The latest and greatest conversation starters today: Blockchain. Digitization. Artificial intelligence. Machine learning. And did I say blockchain?

The procurement technology industry is a copycat league, and as much as the market evolves, it stays the same. Consider the supply chain industry trends you hear about today: traceability, digitization, AI, sustainability, blockchain. Yet in a 2018 Deloitte survey of chief procurement officers (CPOs), the primary procurement priority was nothing new or flashy: it was cost reduction.

How can procurement marketers cut through this sea of sameness? How do you stand out from the crowd and sell to CPOs without being so different that your approach is pushed aside? And in an industry that’s been historically slow to evolve, how do you push the envelope and bring new approaches to market, without scaring away buyers?

While there’s no easy button, here are five tested strategies that will put you on the path to differentiation and growth.

1. Solve Problems First

As mentioned above, every vendor claims to reduce risk and improve savings. That’s table stakes — if your target buyer isn’t aware that you can accomplish these things, you won’t be invited to the party. The bigger messaging priority is speaking to how you will help the end user solve problems easier and faster than the rest. How will you make their lives easier? What pressure points do they face every day — and how do you solve them?

2. Get to Know Your Buyer Intimately — and Target Accordingly 

To accomplish No. 1 above, you need to truly understand your buyer. What motivates them to take action? What keeps them up at night? What type of resources do they need? What stands in their way of success? These answers vary by title, company size and vertical — and your marketing and PR needs to do the same. Understanding the differences, and communicating the right message to the right buyer, at the tight time, makes all the difference in the world. Just put yourself in their shoes: Are CMOs measured on the same KPIs as marketing coordinators? Do consumer-product PR strategies work the same for source-to-pay solution suites? The differences are distinct, and if you can’t target and message appropriately, it’s hard to break through.

3. Hold the Sales Pitch 

There are many ways to describe the procurement and supply chain technology sales cycle, but one sticks out: long. For anyone that’s found a way to sign a major deal simply by sending sales collateral and a click-to-buy button — stop reading now and keep the secret to yourself. For the rest of us (which we’ll assume is everybody), the focus needs to be on educating the market and driving awareness.

With such a long sales cycle, it’s the marketer’s job — not the salesperson’s — to make prospects think differently, and question whether there’s a better, easier or more effective way to do business at every stage of the sales journey. If you wait until the prospect is ready to buy to introduce your brand and unique approach, you’ve likely already lost.

Content marketing plays a critical role in pipeline nurturing. The key is to make sure you’re adding value and educating your prospects — not pumping sales collateral and bombarding prospects with promotional messaging. Offering real, persona- and industry-specific value and education — and not a product sheet on your latest upgrades — is how you will win targets over in the long run.

4. Once Engaged, Let Your Differences Shine 

Marketing to your competitive differentiators is always important, but so is the timing. To communicate effectively, you need to understand where your prospects are in the sales cycle. Going back to point number three, the first step is to educate and add value. Once the prospect is ready to buy, that’s the time to showcase your unique approach to the market. But remember the first point: Focus on how your approach solves problems — not the end benefit (cost savings, risk, etc.) with which all your competitors lead.

5. Invest in an Integrated Marketing Strategy 

Once your messaging is baked, use the full arsenal of marketing tactics to get in front of the right people. Traditional approaches — such as driving awareness in the media and with key online influencers (like a Spend Matters!), analyst relations (Gartner MQs and Spend Matters SolutionMaps remain valuable sales tools, for example), sponsorships, outbound email campaigns and industry events — are all still incredibly valuable. The most effective programs complement those strategies with a more holistic approach, including paid targeting on social, persona-based demand generation campaigns, ABM, video, and paid and organic search marketing, including SEO.

Demand for procurement and supply chain technology and expertise continues to grow at a rapid pace. According to Gartner, the supply chain management market is on pace to exceed $19 billion by 2021. Despite the intense competition, the opportunity for technology and services vendors to stand out and take a larger share of the market is immense — you just need the right message and strategy.