TriComB2B Blogger - Robin Miller

The Fifth “P” of B2B Marketing

Robin Miller

Your product isn’t as good as you think it is. And that’s old news. Almost 10 years ago, Simon Hayward, Gartner Fellow, declared:

“Most products are now good enough to serve the majority of users most of the time.”

For those in the B2B space who were paying attention, this pronouncement served as a wake-up call. The “my product is better than your product” days of selling were long gone.

Anyone who had spent time in front of customers selling equipment, software or services had already become painfully aware of the difficulties of creating competitive differentiation. Technical buyers had become well-trained to create parity and — uh oh — commoditization. Hayward’s pronouncement was just the formal articulation of the state of B2B.

Status Quo Marketing Leads to Product Parity

Unfortunately, the message still hasn’t filtered through the B2B marketing ranks. Many companies big and small still find themselves pursuing infinitesimal points of product differentiation in an effort to elevate their offering. But, to Hayward’s point, access to technologies has made it exceedingly hard to create substantive differentiation, whether for products, software or services. Not convinced? Test it for yourself:

  • The electric motor — the most manufactured product in the world. Go to three or four motor manufacturer websites and check out their energy-efficiency messaging. See if you can find a message or data point that truly stands out.
  • Managed services in IT — Check out the offerings and value propositions in this highly fragmented market. Notable differences are hard to come by.
  • Software — Wade through the CRM/Marketing Automation space and try to identify the company with a feature set that truly jumps out. Not easy.

Feature for feature, benefit for benefit, everyone has a pretty good story. And frankly, most products are getting the job done. But many companies and marketers continue to participate in this commodity slugfest, despite strong evidence there is a path to creating real separation and preference.

In B2B, Prowess Trumps Product

Many professional marketers still fall back on their marketing upbringing — Product, Place, Price and Promotion — with a lot of focus on Product. I propose that the resolution to the state of marketing status quo requires adding a fifth “P” to the mix: Prowess.

Here’s why.

valued b2b suppliers graph
Source: Sirius Decisions

Is your company really good at talking about your product and competitors? Table stakes. Yawn. Are you leading a discussion on the industry’s most pressing issues? Interesting. Compelling.

According to research from Sirius Decisions, business buyers’ most valued supplier characteristic is business and industry expertise — by a factor of four over product knowledge.

Research from Forrester provides further clarity. One of their studies noted that 74% of decision makers buy from the company that creates a buying vision — from companies able to make compelling connections between pressing, longer-term business issues and the offerings they deliver.

74% of decision makers buy from the company that creates a buying vision.

Forrester graph
Source: Forrester

In short, your Product may not matter as much as you think it does. You wouldn’t be in business if it wasn’t viable. Buyers are looking for knowledge, know-how, commitment and vision. They’re looking for demonstrated Prowess: the fifth “P” of marketing.

Changing the Dialogue — Thought Leadership in B2B

With at least 60% of the decision-making process completed before a buyer reaches out to a seller (source: B2B research by CEB), can you really afford to rely on product-oriented messaging to get the job done? Is that really the first impression you want to make?

Chances are your company has the intellectual capital to elevate the discussion and the impression of your business. It’s hard work, and this type of marketing evolution does not happen overnight. It takes leadership and a concerted effort by internal resources to define a content platform that compels potential customers to take notice. Not to mention the effort of devising a smart plan for compiling and disseminating this knowledge into the market. How is this done? Here are a couple of examples from our clients that might provide inspiration.



Integrating the fifth P — Prowess — into your marketing efforts isn’t easy. It requires a shift in thinking and commitment from resources who might not be part of your mix today. But given the crowded landscape of competitive products that are adequately getting the job done, can you really afford to do otherwise? 

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