Content Marketing For IT Vendors Archives

Blockchain Will Be Huge. We Think.

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Blockchain – the distributed ledger system meant to handle financial and other transactions without the need for banks or other central authorities – will be huge.

Those is, if dozens of players with competing agendas can solve multiple complex technical problems, and convince regulators to overturn centuries of rules in everything from finance to utilities.

That was my takeaway from this week’s “Business of Blockchain” event, organized by MIT Technology Review and the MIT Media Lab. (Videos of the event here.) (Blockchain is a network (or chain) of encrypted ledgers, in which the node hosting each copy of the ledger automatically and continually assures the accuracy of all the data and transactions on the entire chain without the need for a central authority.)

Speakers at the conference speculated that blockchain could today be where the internet was in 1990, 1985 or even 1969 –- a seemingly arcane technology poised to fundamentally change economies and societies.

But getting there is by no means certain and will require a lot of work. This post is about where blockchain is today, based on buzz at the conference and my blockchain work with clients. Follow-up posts will describe 1) tactical themes for your blockchain marketing content, and 2) more strategic questions to tackle for blockchain thought leadership.

Blockchain is Real…

Among the proof points for blockchain are:

  • UK-based Everledger uses IBM’s blockchain to prove the authenticity of 1.2 million diamonds worldwide, assuring customers they’re getting the gems they paid for and reducing counterfeiting. “Smart contracts” on the blockchain check each diamond for compliance far more quickly than previous methods.
  • Global derivatives trader CME Group is testing a blockchain-based “digital record of ownership” for ownership of gold stored in the vaults of the Royal Mint in England. This will give buyers and sellers better visibility into pricing and availability in a market that’s “screaming for disruption,” said Sandra Ro, digitization lead at CME Group. (Video of her presentation here.)
  • The Moog Aircraft Group is combining blockchain with additive printing to transmit designs for parts (and the paperwork proving the part is up to spec) to 3D printers at, say, a local airport or aircraft carrier at sea. James Regenor, business unit director for Additive Manufacturing and Innovation at Moog, told the conference this will reduce not only inventory and shipping costs, but the time required to send the documentation without which parts cannot be used. (Watch his presentation here.)

Both Ro and Amber Baldet, executive director and blockchain program lead at J.P. Morgan, pointed out the potential of blockchain to reduce transaction costs in an industry under intense cost pressure in the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis. IBM, a co-sponsor with Deloitte, referenced a survey showing 14 percent of its global financial services customers expect to deploy production blockchain applications this year, and said more than 400 customers are using its own IBM Blockchain.

…But Still Very Young

But even those who believe blockchain could be as revolutionary as the Internet stressed how much work is yet to be done. One described blockchain, for example, as nowhere near the “tipping point” the Web reached when HTTP (the Hypertext Transfer Protocol) put a pretty graphical interface (in the form of Web pages) on the underlying technology in the mid-1990s.

Baldet noted that while there are more than $18 billion in bitcoins (a “cryptocurrency” and payment method based on blockchain) in circulation, this is dwarfed by the $97.4 in conventional currency in circulation globally. Although bitcoin is the most widely known use of blockchain, some speakers argued over whether such cryptocurrencies are even a necessary part of blockchains. (Ro can be seen on YouTube asking whether bitcoin is a currency, a commodity, or something else altogether.)

Blockchain Busters

Even on the technical level, there are serious questions over whether blockchain can deliver. Associate professor Emin Gün Sirer of Cornell University listed the three essential promises of blockchain. They are 1) that every transaction must be valid, 2) the history of each transaction must be immutable (impossible to change) and 3) all nodes must reach a consensus on which transactions are valid.) Production blockchains have failed all three tests, he said, with software bugs allowing the creation of fraudulent bitcoins and forcing the roll back of fraudulent transactions.

One vulnerability, he told the conference, is the consensus model by which blockchain nodes continually check the validity of entries in the distributed ledger. If a hacker can take over enough nodes to force a consensus, they can block a valid transaction, or commit a fraudulent transaction. This threat is heightened, he said, because in many blockchains, the same code is used to run all the nodes, making them vulnerable to the same hack.

Yet another challenge is proving that a participant in a blockchain (whether a person or an organization) are who they claim. This was a major sticking point for conference speakers, who had trouble agreeing how to define “identity,” much less how much identity a participant might need in various cases or how to assure it.

Non-technical governance, regulatory and legal questions loomed as large, if not larger. If hackers steal a digital currency but don’t cash it in for “official” currency, has a crime been committed? Would regulators, or customers, accept a financial system where 51% of blockchain nodes could “vote” to roll back a transaction? What will it take to convince regulators that blockchains are safe replacements for today’s “middlemen” such as banks and electric utilities?

Marketing Blockchain? First Steps

All this makes an unusual challenge if you want to play in the blockchain space, but don’t have a finished product, service or business model to talk about in your marketing content.

To start, be sure you have answers to (or at least a feasible approach for) dealing with the security and other limits of blockchain, and the regulatory or governance hurdles it faces in your specific industry.

Second, as several speakers warned, don’t just use “blockchain” as a way to sell your current offerings. One example that surfaced repeatedly was database vendors disguising their wares as distributed ledgers, whether they meet the unique needs of blockchain or not. The blockchain community prides itself on being “disruptive” of existing technologies and businesses, and the true believers will be all too happy to trash tacky marketing ploys.

Finally, broaden your content marketing mindset – as many of my clients are — beyond getting leads to generating interest and involvement from potential partners, investors, regulators and governments. Getting blockchain right will take a lot of bright minds, and content that attracts them may be just what you need at this point.

How does this square with your view of blockchain acceptance in the marketplace? Are you or your clients even thinking of marketing your blockchain chops or still trying to get your mind around the concept?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

DevOps Hits A “WTF?” Snag

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DevOps marketing It’s hard to get where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re going.

Consider DevOps, the merger of development and operations processes to speed applications to market. If the buyer and seller have different definitions of what it is, they’ll expect different results. Which is a recipe for wasted time and money, not to mention unhappy customers.

You Say “DevOps,” I Say…”?????”

For dreary confirmation of the confusion, look no further than a recent report from B2B ratings and review firm Clutch. Clutch surveyed 247 IT professionals about their use of, and views about, DevOps, starting with a question about what DevOps is. The four leading choices, with the percent choosing each:

  • 35%: “… a culture, movement or practice that emphasizes the collaboration and communication of both software developers and other [IT] professionals while automating the process of software delivery and infrastructure changes.” (from Wikipedia.)
  • 24%: “…an approach to operations … uniting development and operations teams to automate and standardize processes for infrastructure deployment…” (From Rackspace.)
  • 21%: “…a philosophy or ideology [with] many of the underlying principles and language … grounded in a combination of agile software development plus Kaizen, Lean Manufacturing, and Six Sigma methodologies.” (from Hewlett Packard Enterprise.)
  • 20% “…the combination of cultural philosophies, practices, and tools that increases an organization’s ability to deliver applications and services at high velocity.” (From Amazon Web Services.)

What is This, Religion?

Culture? Philosophy? Ideology? This spread of answers, with no definition getting support from more than about a third of the respondents, shows an alarming fuzziness around what customers expect from DevOps, and thus how providers should sell it.

Before you all start shouting that you can’t “sell” DevOps like a network router or a software testing project, I get it. But there is “stuff” you definitely do sell around DevOps, whether it’s cloud infrastructure, code repositories, training or consulting.

So to sell those DevOps-related products and services, how about focusing on the consistent themes across the definitions of 1) collaboration, 2) communication 3) automation and 4) standardization, all of which deliver the holy grail of faster time to market for new software and services.

DevOps Positioning

In developing marketing content around DevOps products and services, then, avoid the religious wars around jargon and definition and focus on the key features and the benefits.  For example:

  • How our new chat software, code repository or staff training enable collaboration. 
  • How our workflow management, service monitoring or performance analytics software, or our best practices frameworks, improve communication.
  • How our scripting tools, automation server or support for Puppet and Chef enable automation and
  • How our development, orchestration or monitoring platforms increase standardization and thus improved reliability, performance and security.

And don’t forget, of course, examples from actual customers about how your products and services not boosted agility and sped new applications to market, but reduced costs or increased sales – the real bottom line.

If you’re looking for DevOps tools, by the way, check out this great list of 50 top DevOps tools, which does a great job of explaining the benefits of each. You’re also free to use, adapt or steal my sample drip campaign for DevOps products or services.

Do your customers, or clients, agree on what DevOps means and when they’ve achieved it? And does the confusion get in the way of effective marketing and customer success?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Want some serverless BS with your FUD?

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selling serverless architecturesI hadn’t heard of serverless computing until I saw this post by storage maven Greg Schulz. Put simply, “serverless” reduces the need for conventional servers by off-loading functions such as authentication onto other systems, such as those in the cloud.

Even though he’s deeply technical, Greg cuts through the hype and provides a great road map for differentiating a technical solution by describing it clearly and focusing on the value your solution provides.  This is reprinted by kind permission of Greg’s Server and Storage IO Blog where you can find the full version with illustrations.

By Greg Schulz

A few years ago a popular industry buzzword term theme included server less and hardware less.

It turns out, serverless BS (SLBS) and hardware less are still trendy, and while some might view the cloud or software-defined data center (SDDC) virtualization, or IoT folks as the culprits, it is more widespread with plenty of bandwagon riders. SLBS can span from IoT to mobile, VDI and workspace clients (zero or similar), workstations, server, storage, networks. To me what’s ironic is that many purveyors of of SLBS also like to talk about hardware.

What’s the issue with SLBS?

Simple, on the one hand, there is no such thing as software that does not need hardware somewhere in the stack. Second, many purveyors of SLBS are solutions that in the past would have been called shrink-wrap. Thirdly IMHO SLBS tends to take away from the real benefit or story of some solutions that can also prompt questions or thoughts of if there are other FUD (fear uncertainty doubt) or MUD (marketing uncertainty doubt). Dare to be different, give some context about what your server less means as opposed to being lumped in with other SLBS followers.

Data Infrastructures (hardware, software, services, servers, storage, I/O and networks)

Moving beyond SLBS

Can we move beyond the SLBS and focus on what the software or solution does, enables, its value proposition vs. how it is dressed, packaged or wrapped?

IMHO it does not matter who or why SLBS appeared or even that it exists, rather clarifying what it means and what it does not mean, adding some context. For example, you can acquire (buy, rent, subscribe) software without a server (or hardware). Likewise, you can get the software that comes bundled prepackaged with hardware (e.g. tin-wrapped), or via a cloud or other service.

The software can be shrink wrapped, virtual wrapped or download to run on a bare metal physical machine, cloud, container or VMs. Key is the context of does the software come with, or without hardware. This is an important point in that the software can be serverless (e.g. does not come with, or depend on specific hardware), or, it can be bundled, converged (CI), hyper-converged (HCI) among other package options.

Software needs hardware, hardware need software, both get defined and wrapped

All software requires some hardware somewhere in the stack. Even virtual, container, cloud and yes, software-defined anything requires hardware. What’s different is how much hardware is needed, where it is located, how is it is used, consumed, paid for as well as what the software that it enables.

What’s the point?

There are applications, solutions and various software that use fewer servers, less hardware, or runs somewhere else where the hardware including servers are in the stack. Until the next truly industry revolutionary technology occurs, which IMHO will be software that no longer requires any hardware (or marketing-ware) in the stack, and hardware that no longer needs any software in the stack, hardware will continue to need software and vice versa.

This is where the marketing-ware (not to be confused with valueware) comes into play with a response along the lines of clouds and virtual servers or containers eliminate the need for hardware. That would be correct with some context in that clouds, virtual machines, containers and other software-defined entities still need some hardware somewhere in the stack. Sure there can be less hardware including servers at a given place. Hardware still news software, the software still needs hardware somewhere in the stack.

Show me some software that does not need any hardware anywhere in the stack, and I will either show you something truly industry unique, or, something that may be an addition to the SLBS list.

Add some context to what you are saying; some examples include that your software:

  • works with your existing hardware (or software)
  • does not need you to buy new or extra hardware
  • can run on the cloud, virtual, container or physical
  • requires fewer servers, less hardware, less cloud, container or virtual resources
  • is the focus being compatible with various data infrastructure resources
  • can be deployed and packaged as shrink-wrap, tin-wrapped or download
  • is packaged and marketed with less fud, or, fudless if you prefer

In other words, dare to be different, stand out, articulate your value proposition, and add some context instead of following behind the SLBS crowd.

Watch out for getting hung up on, or pulled into myths about serverless or hardware less, at least until hardware no longer needs software, and software no longer needs hardware somewhere in the stack. The other point is to look for solutions that enable more effective (not just efficient or utilization) use of hardware (as well as software license) resources. Effective meaning more productive, getting more value and benefit without introducing bottlenecks, errors or rework.

The focus does not have to be eliminating hardware (or software), rather, how to get more value out of hardware costs (up front and recurring Maintenance) as well as software licenses (and their Maintenance among other fees). This also applies to cloud and service providers, how to get more value and benefit, removing complexity (and costs will follow) as opposed to simply cutting and compromising.

Next time somebody says serverless or hardware less, ask them if they mean fewer servers, less hardware, making more effective (and efficient) use of those resources, or if they mean no hardware or servers. If the latter, then ask them where their software will run. If they say cloud, virtual or container, no worries, at least then you know where the servers and hardware are located. Oh, and by the way, just for fun, watch for vendors who like to talk serverless or hardware less yet like to talk about hardware.

Ok, nuff said for now…

Greg Schulz – Microsoft MVP Cloud and Data Center Management, vSAN and VMware vExpert. Author Cloud and Virtual Data Storage Networking (CRC Press), The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC Press) and Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier) and twitter @storageio. Watch for the spring 2017 release of his new book “Software-Defined Data Infrastructure Essentials” (CRC Press).

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.
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finding ideas for marketing contentAre your pitches, blogs, videos, podcasts and white papers rehashes of vague buzzwords like transformation and digital?

To avoid pumping out “me-too” messaging, push yourself (and your in-house subject matter experts) to dig deeper and come up with specific, actionable advice for your potential customers.

One great example comes from a story about data analytics on the TechTarget publishing and marketing site. Don’t let the fact it is old (December 2013) stop you from reading it carefully. The subject (data as a corporate asset) is as fresh as ever. More importantly, this story shows how to take a common, even overhyped, topic and bring fresh, compelling insight to it.

The secret: Asking tough questions based on real-world experience with customers — the kind your sales, support and marketing staff get every day.

Five Meaty Questions

After describing the new (as of 2013) trend of older industries such as manufacturing using Big Data, the piece gets to the good stuff – a five question quiz one vendor asks CIOs to see if they’re serious about treating data as a corporate asset.  The questions include “Are you allocating funding to data, just as you would for other corporate assets?” “Do you measure the cost of poor, missing or inaccurate data?” and “Do you understand the “opportunity cost” of not delivering timely and relevant data to your business?”

While each question has a “marketing spin” (a “yes” answer makes them a better prospect) each is also valuable because they help a prospect understand the real-life challenges of implementing new technology.  Note that each question:

  • Drills beneath good intentions to coldly measure how committed a customer really is. (How much are you willing to spend on this new technology?”)
  • Talks about the non-technical issues that often derail IT projects. (Does this initiative have its own budget?)
  • And describes specific processes (such as measuring the cost of poor quality data and the “opportunity cost” of not delivering high quality data) that can improve how a customer implements the new technology.

Providing detailed insights like this helps establish you as a trustworthy, experienced technology provider and makes it more likely customers will listen when you come to them with a more product-specific pitch.

Finding the Nuggets

Now, how do you wring such insights from your sales, marketing or product support staffs? Whether the subject is Big Data, security, containers or any other buzzword of the week, ask them questions like:

  • How do you know a prospect is serious about our product or service rather than just going through the motions?
  • What are the non-technical factors (such as budget, corporate culture, office politics or management processes) that make implementation of our product succeed or fail?
  • What words, phrases or questions do you hear from a customer or prospect that tell you working with them will be a nightmare, or a pleasure?

The answers to these questions are your “raw material.”  Your next steps are to decide which of the answers are most valuable and relevant, flesh them out with real-world examples and follow up questions from your SMEs, and don’t publish until you can provide detailed, specific and actionable recommendations.

Do all that, and you’re not just another echo chamber in the IT hype factory. You’ll deliver usable, actionable content that will keep your prospects reading — and buying.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Tuning Content for Account-Based Marketing

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content account based marketing David McGuire from UK-based copywriting agency Radix did a great post recently on account based marketing (ABM.) I won’t repeat his excellent explanation. But suffice it to say it’s all about focusing your marketing efforts on the very specific subset of prospects who have a genuine need (and budget) for what you’re selling.

It’s the most expensive way to sell, but can be useful for big ticket products that a relatively few customers need. It’s not, as Radix points out, a new idea. But, as Radix points out, it requires content that is far more focused on each specific customer than the customary, “one size fits all” content many marketers produce.

Producing that content requires specific skills on the part of a writer. McGuire says that to turn out highly-focused ABM content a copywriter must:

  • Do enough research to understand the specific issues facing each targeted account
  • Write well enough to capture the imagination of each account, with…
  • …the understanding to deliver the most relevant information without wasting their time…
  • …and the soft skills to push back on marketers that want to use overly technical language or marketing the account won’t care about.

Let’s assume you’re launching an ABM campaign and are looking for content, and writers, to populate it. Here are some tips for ensuring either your internal writers or outside contractors meet the content bar for ABM.

Research

A good writer will ask questions like:

  • What’s the concrete business benefit? How will your solution increase sales or reduce costs?
  • What existing applications and platforms is this customer running, and how does that affect whether your solution is right for them?
  • What are the strategic challenges this customer is facing? (Customer retention, chronically low margins, competition from disruptive competitors?) And, again, how might your solution help this specific customer?
  • What is their corporate culture – aggressive and risk taking, or conservative and hemmed in by regulations? How does our solution fit with this culture?
  • Who are the critical decision makers? How many of them are there, and how do their priorities agree or conflict? Which of them needs to be convinced first before moving the buying decision up the command chain?

Writing

Besides the “sniff” test (do you like their writing) some objective criteria include:

  • Is the content based on the specific client’s needs, or just a superficial tweak of generic content?
  • Does it read like an objective story in a trade publication or an analyst report (good) or a piece of marketing fluff (bad)?
  • Is the content useful and/or interesting enough that you would pass it on to a colleague?
  • Is it clear enough that your parent/partner/friend who is not in the IT industry could understand the value proposition?

Efficient Delivery 

  • Does it include a three paragraph “elevator pitch” a reader can absorb in 30 seconds or less?
  • Does the opening paragraph grab this specific customer’s attention with compelling new information designed for them, or bog down in the same messaging you use with all your customers?
  • Does it reinforce the relevance for each prospect by repeatedly explaining how what you’re telling them helps them with their specific challenges?

No Techno-Jargon

  • Does the writer insist on spelling out and explaining acronyms, even if you think the prospect understands them? (You’ll be amazed how many people around the decision making table have nowhere near the understanding of technology you have as a seller.)
  • Once the writer has asked you to explain something, do you feel like you yourself understand it better? (If you do, the customer will as well.)
  • If the writer challenges wording as too technical or confusing, can they offer replacement text that is both clearer and accurate?

Now, how is account-based marketing changing the type of copywriting you need and how you work with writers? Is it best to bring the writer in after you’ve decided what you want to say, or give them a say in honing the value proposition and messaging? And do you feel comfortable with letting mere writers push back on your messaging? Let me know how we writers can do a better job at ABM.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

The Dead Fish Test for Customer Surveys

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pitching customer surveys Conducting a survey to prove the need for your product or service is a popular content marketing tool, and with good reason.  Done right, it provides proof your product or service is needed, and a news hook for reporters or editors.

But all too often pitches for such surveys arrive in my inbox with a dull thud like a dead fish. That’s a waste of all the time and effort the sponsor put into them. It’s the worst of the three levels of survey pitches I’ve seen. Which one are you using?

The Dead Fish Approach

The least effective approach, which I see all the time, is an email blast throwing the survey on my doorstep in hopes I’ll be interested. For example:

 Hacking Heaven Systems just released the results of a survey on cloud security.  Any interest in checking out the press release on embargo? Let me know…

Why should I be interested? All you’ve told me is that you did a survey. Even if I covered cloud security exclusively and continually you’ve given me no compelling reason to follow up. The email doesn’t even have a link to the release itself, meaning I have to ask for it and wait for your rely.  Even if it was a really slow news hour or day or week, there are faster, easier ways to find stuff to write about.

And, what’s with the embargo? In these days of social media and instant news, an embargo signals you don’t have a clue. If you want to give your story a chance, offer it without preconditions.

The Live Fish Approach

This at least makes the pitch shimmy around and look interesting. And it ain’t complicated. You probably have an internal summary report describing the top three findings. Feature those prominently in your email so the editor can quickly decide if they’re interested and click through. For example:

While eight out of ten enterprises are putting more apps and data on the cloud, seven out of ten corporate decision makers say cloud security is getting worse, not better. Six out of ten say cost pressures are forcing them into security risks they’re not comfortable with, and half say it’s only a matter of time before cloud security harms their organizations. Contact Hacking Heaven Systems for details of the study and our analysis of the implications.

Am I interested? Quite possibly yes – at least enough to reply to the email and ask a few questions, like how large the survey is, whether any respondents are available to talk, and whether you asked any of them what they’re doing about this state of affairs.

The Great Fish Approach

This takes the most effort but maximizes the chances I’ll call. It does this by personalizing the email to reflect what I’ve already written about the subject or an editorial calendar where I’ve advertised what I’m writing about.

I notice you’ve recently done several stories quoting analysts and vendors about how concerns about cloud security are easing. Well, not according to the 500 corporate decision makers Hacking Heaven Systems surveyed recently. Yes, eight out of ten say they’re putting more apps and data on the cloud. But more than half say this is due to cost pressures, and seven think cloud security is actually getting worse. A full half of them say it’s only a matter of time before cloud security harms their organizations. Contact us for comment on what accounts for these findings, and names of survey respondents willing to talk.

This last approach obviously takes more work. It also assumes:

  • Your target reporter or editor covers this field often enough to have an opportunity to do a follow up, or is willing to develop a story to pitch on spec.
  • That you did a good enough job crafting your questions to develop these compelling angles.
  • That you thought the results through completely enough to offer a take on it that is more than a marketing pitch, and
  • That you actually have survey respondents willing to talk to the press.

If this was a beat I was covering regularly, I’d be hard-pressed not to follow up on this third pitch just to be sure I wasn’t missing a good story.

Or maybe I’m completely wrong, and in this age of SEO-driven marketing some content development bot would pick up even the dullest press release and promote it. If so, do you do one version for the bots and another for the humans you want to call for a full discussion?  

 

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

My Kingdom for a Better Sales Pitch

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bigstock-Man-Standing-On-Street-Is-Aski-132268082A political fund-raising call I got the other day ended very badly. No, not because I wound up screaming at the caller, or even because I didn’t contribute.

It ended badly because the organization almost lost my contribution by boring me with a bland, “one size fits all” script and forcing me to go on-line afterwards to contribute, rather than letting the caller easily send me a follow up email.

The same happens all the time with B2B sales campaigns. Here’s what went wrong and how voters, and customers, could more easily vote with their wallets.

The Rigid Sales Script

I got the political fund-raising call when I was 1) busy working and 2) out of the country and thus charged mega-bucks for every minute of phone time. I tried to tell the caller I was interested but couldn’t take the call, and even offered my email address as a sincere expression of interest.

But the telemarketer sounded completely confused and continued with what was obviously a pre-programmed spiel. I wound up, unfortunately, hanging up on him. The script from which he was working, and his call center system, probably wouldn’t let him easily grab my email and send a follow up note with an easy link to contribute.

I wound up finding the organization’s Web site and contributing, but someone less motivated wouldn’t have. In addition, my call will be recorded as a “hang up” (and a failure) rather than a success (by reminding me of an organization I chose to contribute to.) That makes it harder for this political organization to track the effectiveness of its call banks vs. email or other communication channels, or to link my contribution to the call.

The One Size Fits All Script

The second mistake was that the “sales pitch” began with a general, high-level reference to themes from the previous night’s convention coverage. But just as product pitches need to tell me exactly how the product will help me, this call never got specific. What would have been even more compelling would be something like this:

As you know, funding for the endangered sea turtle will be a critical issue in the next Congress.  Rep. Joe Kelp in Maine’s 2nd congressional district is head of the natural resources subcommittee that will vote on such funding early next year, and is in a tight race with his challenger, Harriet Treecutter. We need only another $125,000 to fund a targeted direct-mail campaign to the 30,000 swing voters who can keep Kelp in this important chairmanship and move this funding forward next year. We’re currently $78,000 of the way there. Will you move us forward with another $50 contribution? If so, we’ll update you in three weeks with the results of the campaign.

And how would the organization know I care about the sea turtle? That’s where all the Big Data, micro-segmentation of voters we keep hearing about comes in. If you know what I care about (as a voter or a tech buyer) tell me very specifically what my contribution (or purchase) will do based on my specific desires.

The Turn-Off Follow-Up

Since contributing, I get almost daily emails form this group with subject lines like “BRUTAL loss,” “DANGEROUSLY behind,” and (which I love) “you haven’t answered.” Even in this election year, the sky can’t be calling every day – and it’s not my job to answer unsolicited emails.

What might get more contributions out of me would be an update on the results of the previous voter turnout campaign I helped fund. Tell me how the polls have turned, how many committed voters you have registered, and exactly how you would use my next contribution to make more progress.

In the B2B world, effective follow up means finding out if the customer is using the product, getting value from it, and is aware of how specific add-ons or upgrades could make them more money. For solutions sold in the cloud, sellers can track usage patterns, social media comments and other feedback to tailor their follow-up to each customer, suggesting products and services geared to their specific needs.

But as both an IT customer, and an involved voter, I keep seeing clumsy, unfocused and just plain irrelevant offers. In these days of Big Data and personalized messaging, why can’t we do better?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

When to Stop Nagging and Other PR Questions

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how to pitch editors and bloggersWhat is the best way to pitch a writer – by phone or email? When should I stop calling to ask if you’ve seen my pitch? How much editorial control do vendors exercise over custom content sites?

Those were among the questions I got at a recent lunchtime talk at a Boston-area PR firm. I was invited to describe how I operate, as a blogger and free-lance writer, and how PR pros can work most effectively with folks like me.

For all of you who weren’t there for the pizza and my presentation (which you can download here,  complete with samples of PR pitches done right and wrong), here’s a synopsis:

Q: When is the best time to contact you with a pitch?

Q: There are no good or bad times, as my work schedule is completely unpredictable. Since I don’t cover a beat for a trade publication, or have a regular story submission schedule, there are no regular “deadlines” to work around. On the other hand, I often go from calm to overbooked within hours. What’s more important than the timing is the form of a pitch. (See question below.)

Q: What is the best way to contact you – email or phone?

A: Email. Phone calls are an intrusive interruption, no matter what I’m working on. Given the low likelihood a pitch will turn into an interview or, much less, a story the interruption usually isn’t worth my time, or, frankly, that of the PR person.

Q: What kind of story idea pitches are you interested in?

A: Right now, none. When I write for trade publications (click here to subscribe to my email update on such stories) it’s always based on an assignment from them. Pitching stories isn’t something I typically do, as it requires a lot of up-front work with an uncertain likelihood of a return. For other writers, though, that might not be the case. A quick email asking if they’re open to such story idea pitches, and what areas they’re most interested in, could be worthwhile.

Having said that, some vendor-sponsored sites such as TechBeacon (sponsored by HP Enterprise) ask writers to come up with a steady stream of story pitches in a specific area such as security or DevOps. The difference here is that the Web site promises a regular stream of work, as long as the writer does a good enough job pitching. To get your sources exposure on these sites, treat them like a trade pub: Monitor what your target editor and others are writing about on the site and pitch accordingly. If these sites offer a handy “trending” or “what’s popular” list all the better, as that shows you the topics the editors will want more coverage of.

Q: How much editorial control does the vendor have over a site they sponsor?

A: This varies based on the site and whether the aim is to generate high-level visibility and thought leadership or to generate short-term leads. In my experience, most vendors downplay their sponsorship and hire IT trade press veterans to run the site. They want the site to look and feel more like a trade pub than a marketing site, tracking what stories visitors read to generate profiles and score them as leads.

Q: How do we pitch ideas or sources to editors of such sites?

A: First, make sure your idea or source can provide information that is original, detailed and timely (download my content quality control check list here). Then, make sure your source isn’t a direct competitor of the site sponsor, or that their messaging doesn’t contradict that of the vendor. You wouldn’t want to, for example, pitch a story about the continued value of tape storage to a vendor that just dumped their tape business.

The good news: Some complementary vendors are featured regularly in such sites (see one example here.) If in doubt, this is one time where a detailed, specific query to the site editor is worthwhile and shows you’re doing your homework.

Q:  I emailed you a pitch and you didn’t respond. How often should I call to check for a response?

A: This was the toughest question and one where I was caught in a lie. My immediate response was “Don’t call or email me again – if I’m interested I’ll call you.”  But one of the PR pros reminded me that sometimes such nudges have reminded me of a good idea I overlooked at first glance, or of a source I didn’t need when first pitched but can use as my deadline looms.

Bottom line advice: If you really think your idea or source is strong, limit the nudging to one email per week, focusing specifically on why you think it’s a good fit and asking what, if anything, could make it stronger. Then it’s in the editor’s hands to be courteous enough to at least respond.

Even if we can’t do lunch, email me your questions about best PR practices (or anything else) and I’ll answer them in a future post.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.
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