It’s the B2B marketer’s worst nightmare: customers come to your website but leave shortly after. Or they stay but don’t convert. Or they convert but don’t buy. Or they buy but their employees don’t use your product. Inevitably, some will churn. In the world of B2B tech, there are many reasons for a poor customer experience, but confusion—at any point in the journey—is the silent killer.

It makes sense—B2B technology products are complex and constantly evolving. They operate in intricate and often unpredictable environments. They have multiple stakeholders. And, unlike physical products, B2B tech is intangible, which means that it can strain under the pressure of trying to be all things to all people.

All of this can confuse prospects and customers who are looking at your product. Is it cloud or on-premise? A capital or recurring expense? Product or solution? Who buys it, who uses it, who supports it and where does it fit in the organization and tech stack? In a world increasingly powered by digital technology, clarity is everything.

Here are five ways you may be unintentionally confusing your prospects and customers—and what to do about it:

#1. Is it In the Cloud? On Premise?

During the past 15 years, we’ve seen an evolution from on-premise to cloud-based technology. But B2B tech companies aren’t always clear about what parts of their products live where. This leads to a host of questions: how the product fits into or connects to the existing technology stack, what skills are required to maintain it, how it’s priced, and, of course, who the buyers are.

#2. The M&A Tower of Babel

While the longer-term impact has yet to be felt from the COVID-19 pandemic, M&A among B2B technology companies will always be a boon to technology roadmaps and a challenge for marketers who have to contend with multiple and conflicting stakeholders in siloed organizations. Does the existing name have brand equity? Who uses the product, and will that change over time? How does the pricing model align with or challenge the way we go to market? How do we articulate the value without introducing more concepts to an already complex product family? How can we serve developers without alienating sales and marketing buyers, and vice versa? And a bonus—this may be just one of a string of acquisitions you’ll do this year.

#3. Overhyped or Inconsistent Naming

“Creative” naming—assigning names that overstate or obscure the product’s relationship to the current hot technology—is endemic in B2B tech. This is especially common in the world of artificial intelligence, in two ways. One is an ongoing industry debate about what exactly meets a minimum threshold to be considered AI. The more common issue is overreach—products that call themselves AI or cloud but, well, aren’t.

The effects of misnaming products go far beyond customer confusion, however, in both strategic and tactical ways. Inconsistent naming squanders or misplaces brand equity. Cloud products have different security requirements and require different technical expertise. Products that call themselves AI may perform better in SEO, play better in board rooms and reap higher multiples. They may also demand an additional level of governance around data, data models and use cases that rules-based products do not. And while today there are few laws that govern the use of AI and algorithms in commercial enterprises, pending legislation may change governance requirements in the not-too-distant future, which will affect compliance and legal teams.

#4. Category Confusion: Are You a Product or a Solution?

Another common pitfall is category confusion among products and solutions. Generally speaking, products are goods and services, while solutions solve specific business problems, but a “solution” is in the eye of the beholder. This can be tricky to negotiate in an M&A scenario, given that a product company acquired by a platform or solutions company is now part of a larger offering. The trick is to protect the value of the asset while positioning it in the context of the greater set of customer problems it solves.

Conflating terms, or using them loosely, creates additional friction for buyers, simply because they have to jump through multiple hoops to understand what it is they’re buying, whether it’s what they actually need, what the alternatives are, what kind of pricing model to expect, how to recognize revenue from it and how to measure its value over time.

#5. Traveling Without a (Road) Map

Perhaps the most universal source of confusion is the lack of a clear naming vision or roadmap to guide strategic decisions. This can have a massive impact on product roadmap and investment decisions, marketing priorities, and internal dynamics around stakeholder alignment. Sometimes this happens because the organization focuses on technology development and engineering roadmaps but doesn’t extend that work to how it is presented to customers.  Sometimes it’s because there’s a lot of energy around product names, and different stakeholders with different audiences and agendas battle it out in a conference room until there is a compromise.

Now for the good news: none of this is inevitable.

Replacing Confusion With Clarity

Product naming architecture can be a powerful strategic advantage. It can help organizations align against a common set of objectives, unify disparate elements and reduce a great deal of the friction that delays or stalls customer decision-making. Here are three specific steps you can take:

  1. Develop an architecture strategy, including defining the number of brands that you need to serve the market and the relationship between them.  This also includes defining not only what constitutes a product vs a solution, but also establishing a clear and compelling taxonomy that brings clarity to the portfolio.
  2. Update the brand strategy. This requires that you position the products and solutions according to the roles they play in the portfolio and support them through a portfolio-wide nomenclature system.
  3. Re-imagine experience and activation. This includes re-thinking the customer experience both during customer acquisition and in-product. This doesn’t only mean solving for user experience (UX) on the screen but addressing the larger customer experience (CX) as well: understanding needs and opportunities, framing potential solutions, co-design and planning, on-boarding, and ongoing service.

Most importantly, however, product naming architecture is a way to replace confusion with clarity and show customers and prospects—in words and in action—how much you value and are willing to earn their business.

If you’d like to learn more, or speak with one of our experts, please connect with us today.