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share of voice

When Share of Voice Starts to Matter

August 10, 2017 - Share of voice -
By: Chris Riley

The three days before your upcoming board meeting, your entire marketing team is pandering to PowerPoint. Your objective is to give numbers and graphs that are clear enough to demonstrate activity for the last quarter, but that won’t incriminate. On the day of the meeting, Sales and Marketing have passive aggressive conversations about what constitutes a lead and what doesn’t. Sales gets beat up for conversions, and Marketing gets beat up on quality of leads and volume. It’s not likely this formula will change for early- and growth-stage business. But if the conversation shifted to include share of voice (SOV), the outcome might be completely different.

The traditional way to measure sales and marketing team success is to put a single metric on the various types of campaigns they run. The problem is that a single metric looks at a single activity, and does not reflect the true picture of the company’s market presence as a whole. Share of voice does not reduce sales, marketing, and corporate communication to a single campaign type. It is a metric that, when added to lead generation, provides information, such as how and why your leads are finding you, not just that they exist.

SOV measures the outcome of all campaigns, including the company’s culture, product, and reputation into one simple concept. It measures what portion of the conversations you should be showing up in, if you show up at all. It is our opinion that share of voice is just one more metric that should be included in all your slides—but the conversation around how to increase it should be holistic. In this post I will explain where to apply share of voice, and how to assimilate it into your organization.

Who should use SOV, and when does it matter?

SOV is for nearly every SaaS-based business. The exceptions are those companies so large and entrenched that their primary concern is churn—like Oracle, Cisco, and IBM. Yet even these companies are acquiring technologies where SOV matters.

Examples include Oracle’s acquisition of Wercker or Ravello, and companies re-inventing their product line with net new offerings, such as IBM’s Bluemix. The other exception is the size of the market. If you are the first to bring a solution to market, the only way to measure is against yourself. But even then the technology is competing with another approach or habits, and so you likely need to show up in those conversations as well.

So, chances are SOV applies to you. But when should you start to worry when you have an SOV of 1% in a key conversation? Should you cheer an SOV of 80% in another (which by the way is hard, no matter who you are)? The answer, again, depends on your market conditions.

Let’s imagine that your offering’s market fit can be described by two dimensions. Dimension X characterizes the uniqueness of your solution. It is either one-of-a-kind (i.e. niche), or there are many similar solutions or alternative approaches (i.e. fragmented). Dimension Y characterizes the market pull for your solution. At one extreme, you are selling a solution that solves a critical problem for your market, and thus it is unavoidable. On the other extreme, you are selling a solution that is neat, and helpful, but your customers could live without it. Let’s look at these dimensions in a famous grid format (I’m sure you have one of these on a board slide or two).

selling a solution

The important part of this is that you don’t measure it for measurement’s sake. You measure with the intent to respond. In order of priority, SOV is for:

  1. Fragmented, nice to have. You’re selling something nice to have, but there are a lot of options.
  2. Fragmented, need it. You’re selling something people need, but there are a lot of options.
  3. Niche, nice to have. You’re selling something nice to have, but you are one of the only solutions.
  4. Niche, need it. You’re selling something people need, but you are one of the only solutions.

Your corner of the quadrant is not static. It can change. Your solution can become more necessary as markets mature, and the market can and likely will become more fragmented. SOV can be a leading indicator. As its importance to your business development efforts waxes and wanes, it can point to where on the quadrant your company lives.

How you make SOV a part of the team

The easy way to make SOV part of your organization is to start including it in your slide deck. But chances are, if it’s just a pretty pie chart with no correlation to everything else (or at least quarterly comparisons), it’s not going to go far. While Marketing most likely will be the producers of and communicators of SOV, they do not own it. They are the stewards. Because SOV impacts leads, conversions, support, and churn, the sales and marketing teams—and everyone invested in customer success—all care about and own its impact. SOV is an organization-wide metric.

This means that Marketing, as the steward, is responsible for educating everyone in the company about the role of SOV. This is done by regularly sharing its meaning, demonstrating wins when SOV increases, or highlighting interesting outcomes. Often, recent news will impact SOV in any conversation, and is a fantastic conversation trigger.

For example, when the Dyn DNS 2016 DDoS attack occurred, they dominated the SOV in cloud computing and application development for all of October and November. This diminished the chatter from other vendors in these conversations. The irony is that typically, Dyn would not show up at all. The big story here is that vendors in that conversation probably should have produced content in November and December about Dyn, DDoS, and cloud security. The point is to make SOV part of the vernacular. When you get past the education aspect of on-boarding it, SOV should sustain itself as a regular and important figure in the organization.

The next step is to make the results of the calculation actionable. SOV should be compared on a quarterly basis, and should:

  1. Impact what you talk about
  2. Where you should or should not focus your conversation
  3. Validate or invalidate your assumptions about your offering or target persona.

Make that board meeting your b______

How many quality leads you get is important. And it directly correlates to your bottom line. But how does the lead find you? Do they think you’re credible? What is their opinion of your culture? Are they going to feel misled when they become a customer?

SOV impacts lead volume, lead quality, churn, and brand awareness. It’s an overarching metric that is owned by the entire organization. Winning in fragmented markets is a popularity contest. It means you show up in the right conversations, and that what you say has legs and amplification. Chances are SOV is for you, but how you use it and whether you benefit from it depends upon how it’s leveraged.


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Chris Riley (@HoardingInfo) is a technologist who has spent 12 years helping organizations transition from traditional development practices to a modern set of culture, processes and tooling. In addition to being a research analyst, he is an O’Reilly author, regular speaker, and subject matter expert in the areas of DevOps strategy and culture. Chris believes the biggest challenges faced in the tech market are not tools, but rather people and planning.