IT Marketing Archives

Differentiate This!

product positioning Many of my small to medium size clients, such as regional IT service providers, struggle when I ask them what differentiates them from their competitors.  The best they can come up with is often:

  • “We really listen to our customers’ needs.”
  • “Our staff really cares about our customer’s success.”
  • “We take a consultative approach, rather than just trying to sell them stuff.”

Sound familiar? It should. These aren’t differentiators – they’re the minimum requirements to keep the doors open. To effectively explain what makes you better, you need to define and describe it from the customer’s perspective.

If you think your products or services are too much like commodities to stand out, check out this in-store display for a lowly cement screw, used to attach walls to concrete floors or hardware to blocks or bricks.

How My Screw Is Better Why The Customer Should Care
Stikfit T25 Bit For one-handed installation. (Speeds work, reduces effort.)
Serrated head Flush seating . (Improves appearance, makes painting easier.)
Serrated threads For quick install (speeds work).
Sharp point For immediate pickup. (Speeds work, reduces effort.)

In a few dozen words and an easy-to-understand picture, this screw manufacturer has given a harried contractor or do-it-yourselfer four reasons why their “commodity” product will make their life easier.  How can a regional IT services provider do the same for a busy prospect?

We’re Good, Just Like Everyone Else

The first step is the hardest: Identifying those subtle differences that set you apart from all your  “me-too” competitors. These differentiators do exist – the challenge is identifying them and explaining what they mean to the customer.  I’ll use some of the most common strengths I’ve seen in service providers and provide the customer benefits as an illustration.

How My IT Services Are Better Why The Customer Should Care
Platinum certification with leading hardware vendors. Faster and less expensive fixes for problems.
We care. Really. We work nights and weekends to keep you up and running in a jam.
We’re small and locally owned. You don’t have to chase multiple vendors in case of a problem. You can call our CEO’s cell 24/7 if you have an issue with our service.
We understand your industry. We stay on top of the latest technology and best practices in your industry so you don’t have to.

 Next: Do Your Homework

All these are obviously generic benefits for a generic regional IT services firm. But the same process can work for any hardware, software or services vendor. It even works in a new market like the Internet of Things or containers where multiple vendors make “me too” claims.

Whatever your offering, the lesson from this concrete screw holds true: Every product and service has some market differentiators. The hard work is identifying them and explaining in very clear terms how they help the customer.

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.

Four Email Marketing Sinkholes to Avoid

Tips creating email nurture campaignsI recently finished an email nurture campaign for a major software vendor. It included multiple emails across multiple streams for each step in the buyer’s journey (awareness, education, consideration and qualification.)

The writing was the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The 90 percent I didn’t see at first included defining the personas (hypothetical reader groups with various needs), deciding which personas should get which follow-on messages based on their reading behavior, defining the messaging for each stream, choosing everything from fonts to configuring the marketing automation system and entering the content into it.

If all this sounds a little overwhelming, it can be. It can also take attention from fine-tuning your emails so they generate interest, leads and sales. Here are the four sinkholes I found us falling into, with tips for avoiding them. Let me know which I missed and how you avoid such problems.

  1.  Oh, yeah. The content. Many of my colleagues were working overtime refining customer lists, designing email flows, building triggers for follow-up emails and fine-tuning personas. By the time I asked what they wanted in a specific email, their only direction might be “Oh, some thought leadership” or “A high-level overview focusing on our differentiators.” But they often hadn’t had time to think through what their thought leadership about a given topic might be, or which differentiators they wanted to highlight. Tips: Before diving into the detailed flow of a campaign, sit back and define what success would look like, and the three to five major points you want to stress across the email streams. Define, in two to three sentences, what your “thought leadership” is. Get sign-off on all this from the decision makers and communicate it to everyone who will edit or input the emails into your MA tool.
  2. Didn’t we change that font in the last version? If you’re running multiple email campaigns with multiple streams for multiple products, you’ve quickly got an awful lot of discrete emails to track. And they can all look pretty much the same as each subject line is, invariably, a variation of the same theme. Add in multiple feedback from multiple commenters and things can quickly get ugly. Tip: Institute a strong change control system – maybe with advice from your developers on how they manage multiple version of code – before you start handling the copy itself. We assigned a unique identifier to each email (such as “A3” for the third email in the first, or “education,” stream) and assigned a single person to keep everyone else on schedule.
  3. That’s not the headline, it’s the subject line! Nurture emails are made up of five or six elements, each with very specific functions and length requirements. The headline might be limited to 50 characters and meant to “Explain the main value prop” while the subhead might go up to 75 characters with the goal of “Expanding on the main value prop or describing a secondary value prop.” You want your writers, and editors, to focus on hitting these very specific targets, not trying to remember which component of the email they’re working on. Tip: Create very specific and clear templates with the required length and the purpose of each text blog, and make sure everyone from writers to editors to the admins who enter the text in your MA tool use the same template. Including any stock photos, illustrations or other graphical content will help the writer match their text to the tone of the illustrations.
  4. Wait. You want me to enter all this in the MA system, too? Every MA platform has its own user interface. None of them are rocket science but each takes time to learn. It might seem straightforward to have your writer not only draft the content but enter it in the system. But do you want to pay them to learn the system and do data entry rather than crafting great email copy? Tip: Consider hiring a dedicated staff to do the uploading so your content and strategy folks can concentrate on what they do best.

Those are my tips for staying out of the muck and mire of email marketing. What  hidden problems – or clever fixes — have I missed?

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.

Three Ways to Lose a SaaS Customer

driving SaaS renewals A recent hack of my Web site led me to sign up with a security as a service (SaaS) vendor to monitor my site. A month in, they emailed to ask if I was pleased.

I don’t know, and that is bad. The updates they give me are so unclear, and their service so hard to navigate, I’m less sure about my security status than before.

When it comes time to renew my subscription, I’ll either cancel or find another SaaS provider whose value I can assess. If you’re a SaaS vendor, are you alienating your customers like this?

Dumb SaaS Mistakes

This provider seems to lack any understanding of my business. I make money by talking to clients, marketing myself, interviewing experts, and writing and revising marketing content. I lose money every hour I spend deciphering cryptic security messages, reading FAQ’s on arcane security topics or fiddling with complex WordPress files.

Whatever application or service you’re providing over the Web, your customers pay you to handle the IT plumbing so they can make money. Here’s what this vendor got it wrong, and what you should avoid with your customers.

Failed to properly set my expectations. Their Web site promised to “clean your site of malware with one click.” They may or may not have done this. But even after my site was supposedly clear of malware, it didn’t look and run right. It took many, many more hours and a lot of money with a designer fixing what the malware broke. A “one click” fix implies I’ll be good as new after that one click. If that isn’t so (and a customer will need other help beside yours to get back to business) tell them up front.

Bombarded me with jargon. This security provider tries to tell me what they’re doing, but fail miserably. Their weekly security alerts are full of techno-babble (see below) and provide “alerts” which turn out to be routine notifications I don’t need to take action on. This is a waste of my time and of theirs.

Error message one

Are hard to work with: Rather than ask questions or get help via email, I have to log into this provider’s Web site to create my own trouble ticket. The site is crammed with tiny type and technical jargon. The “trouble ticket” option is hidden under other buttons, and requires me to submit my FTP log-in info to proceed. (You do have your FTP log-in credentials on the tip of your tongue, right?)

How to Get My Business 

  • Build your service around on my needs, not your technical specialty. In the case of a security monitoring service, I’d love it if they partnered with WordPress experts to take ownership not just for cleaning my site, but returning it to its original look and feel.
  • Communicate effectively.  Only contact me when I need to take action. Don’t tell me about routine security updates or “alerts” about which I don’t need to or don’t know how to respond to. (One exception would be a clear weekly or monthly report telling me how many infections/attacks you stopped, and the effect they would have had on my business, to help me measure your value.)
  • Make everything easy. Large type, attractive icons and plain English terminology on Web sites, please. I work in email, not trouble tickets – let me ask questions and get help without logging into your site. And give me one or two click access to information about the most recent issue, without forcing me to go through a list of service requests. This is user interface 101.

I know security is devilishly complicated and requires safeguards and extra steps to work through customers’ Internet Service Providers and WordPress sites. But it’s comparatively easy to:

  • Not promise a “one click” fix if you can’t provide it.
  • Make it easy for me to understand what you’re doing, and most importantly…
  • Remember the problem I’m paying you to fix isn’t fixed until I’m back earning money.

Need more help selling cloud services? Check out this sample content plan you can adapt to your own needs.

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.

Does This Pop-Up Make Me Look Fat?

Or, should say, does this pop-up below try to make the reader look stupid?

dont value technology

Or, how about this one:

I DONT NEED TODAYS MOST IMPORTNT NEWS

Or (I can’t resist):

 

It’s Not Me, It’s You. Really.

I usually just look for the “X” so I can close pop-up ads as quickly as I can and get on with what I was reading. But in these cases, and others I’ve seen recently, the “opt-out” line was so insulting I had to do a screen grab.

Assuming these aren’t intentional efforts to grab the reader’s attention, the common message is “Our site is so great there’s no rational reason you wouldn’t want to visit it. You must be stupid, uninformed or irrelevant yourself if you don’t click `yes.’”

Before trying this on your site, ask how you would respond if a sales or marketing person took the same approach with you:

  • Car shopping: Can I put you in this $100,000 Tesla right now, or do you not care about being on the cutting edge of style and technology?
  • In a restaurant: Do you want to try the pickled eel with curried aioli, or do you note like new, intriguing foods?
  • On a date: Do you want to see me again, or are you not interesting in being with the hottest, most fascinating person in the world?

Turn you on, or turn you off? Thought so.

Opting Out Without Put Downs

Seeing how content marketing is supposed to be about nurturing customers who aren’t ready to buy (rather than turning them off), here are some alternative approaches to “opt out” messages.

Don’t want to subscribe now? You can always check out our past posts here. )

               Getting too many newsletters? You can bookmark our site instead…

              Tech news not your thing? Check out our blog on business management…

Respect

Each of these alternative “opt out” lines:

  • Don’t insult the reader for daring to say “no” to your content.
  • Offer the reader other ways to get your content, or
  • Offer other content that better meets their needs.

And isn’t that a better way to nurture and engage prospects who aren’t ready to buy (or even subscribe) than giving them the back of our hand?

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.

Selling the Five Waves of “Transformation”

How to sell transformation IBM, Dell, Capgemini and Accenture all claim they can deliver it.  McKinsey & Co. claims the entire nation of China is doing it.

“It” is  digital transformation. Personally, I don’t get it, because:

  • If “digital” means “computerized,” we’ve all been “digitally transformed” a bunch of times since the 1960s. (Think mainframe, minicomputer, client-server, Web, and now mobile, social, cloud and Big Data.)
  • And as for transformation, as I’ve argued  repeatedly, this is meaningless jargon unless you say what you’re transforming yourself from and to. Much of the time, “transformation” is just a fancy word for saying “better” or “cheaper.”

Go With the Flow, Bob

Rather than fight the tide, maybe I should accept that “digital transformation” is popular because it speaks to what my clients are trying to tell their prospects. Let’s try riding the wave instead, based on several of the definitions floating around out there:
[table id=1 /]

Note that, while there are common themes across definitions, how much room there is for differentiation based on each specific definition, and the specific strengths you bring to the market.

Breakthrough! Transformation Defined

By making its definition very specific (“The realignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital customers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle” the Altimeter Group was able to craft a customer survey that uncovered specific, rather than vague, implementation issues.

The “process,” rather than technical issues, uncovered (below) seem to make digital transformation an easier pitch for consultants than hardware or software-centric players, unless they can describe specifically how their skills in areas such as Big Data or business intelligence help organizations better understand today’s mobile and socially-connected customers.

Even One Word Can Help

All this is well and good if you and your prospect agree on a definition for digital transformation.  If you don’t bother defining it, or define it only vaguely, you’re inviting your customers to misunderstand what you’re offering.

nJust changing one word – “digital transformation” to “IT transformation” – means you’re talking about, as Accenture puts it, the need to “…identify which IT capabilities are most critical to the success of the overall enterprise, and shape an IT organization and capability that supports the business cost-effectively.”

That’s what most of my clients mean by “transformation” and it usually boils down to reducing costs through things like virtualization, data center consolidation, and training lower-level or lower-cost offshore staff to handle more complex support requests. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t deliver the unified customer experience and universal market insights “digital” transformation implies.

Does any of this clear up all this transformation talk or just make it confusing in a new way?

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.

Content Cookbook #2: Selling Security Response

(One in an ongoing series of sample IT drip content marketing campaigns. Feel free to steal this sequence or, if you’d like Content marketing security response sequence help customizing one for your needs, email or call at 781 599-3262.)

Antivirus products are “doomed to failure.” So says, of all people, Symantec, even though it gets 40% of its revenue from AV.

What’s up? For one thing, AV not a huge money maker. Second, hackers have moved on from endpoint attacks using viruses. The most serious threats now come from “zero day” network intrusion and denial of service attacks that target the core of the IT infrastructure and are too new to be caught by AV scans. As a result, Symantec and other vendors are trying to sell software and services that help customers limit the damage from attack.

If you’re selling security response services what sequence of marketing content can help you to identify and rate prospects for those services?

Story One: This captures prospects early in the sales cycle by clearly explaining the limits of AV, the nature of the new threats AV cannot stop and how security response, rather than prevention, can help limit the damage. Be honest about whether antivirus is really “dead” or is just not sufficient, in and of itself, to provide security. Get specific with recommendations without touting your product. Should customers, for example, just get basic free AV for end points and focus the rest of their efforts on hardening the core and on security response? If they shift more security spending to the network, specifically where should they invest? And what is the ROI of security response versus prevention?

Offer this content free and promote the heck out of it via emails and social networks. Repurpose it for videos, ebooks, blog posts, contributed op-ed pieces and Webinars. This is your chance to become the trusted voice of reason on this topic. The call to action (CTA) is a link to the more detailed stories 2 and 3 which are aimed at more specific market segments.

Story 2: Focuses on one subset of your target market with specialized content. To find SMB prospects, for example, produce a checklist they can use to determine whether this shift from prevention to response is true for them as well as for large companies. If basic AV is still necessary, what are the “must-have” features an SMB in particular should focus on? And if SMBs should start thinking “response” rather than just prevention, what are the basic “response” steps an SMB should take themselves, given their limited budgets, and what can best be done by an outside vendor?

Gate this content with two to three basic contact/qualification questions, such as name, business email and top security challenge they are facing. The CTA is a link to story three, pulling prospects further through the sales funnel to the product/vendor evaluation.

Story 3: To capture prospects that are in the “consideration” stage of the purchase process, offer tips for evaluating the security response services that are flooding the marketplace. Which of the services they are selling, such as centralized real-time monitoring or documentation and forensics of past attacks are most valuable? What of the incident response workflows they are offering will help limit the damage from each type of attack most effectively? What security response steps should a customer take themselves, and which should they leave to a service provider? What are some of the “gotchas” that could hurt a customer by choosing the wrong provider, and how can they avoid these mistakes?

Gate this content with two or three further progressive profiling questions, such as whether they have (or plan to) create a security response plan and their time frame for action. If you can combine this with third-party data to further qualify them, all the better. If they plan to act soon, the call to action could be a sales call to further discuss their response needs. If they’re months away from action, offer them a subscription to your email newsletter of security response tips, tracking their readership to determine if and when they might be open to a call.

Note: In place of each “story” in this sequence feel free to replace with “webinar”, “video”, “podcast”, “white paper”, or other format.) And if you have a product or service for which you’d like to see a sample, drop me a line or call at 781 599-3262.

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.

Content Cookbook #1: Selling Cloud Services

sales campaign cloud services(One in an ongoing series of sample drip content marketing campaigns for IT vendors. Feel free to steal this sequence or, if you’d like help customizing one for your needs, email or call at 781 599-3262.)

Despite (or because of) all the hype, many customers are still confused about the different types of cloud services, fearful over security and regulatory compliance and uncertain about their ability to manage data, applications and users in the cloud.

This content sequence is designed to capture contact and qualifying information for prospects that are interested in cloud services but concerned about security and management.

Story 1: To capture “top of funnel” prospects in the awareness stage, clearly explain the differences between the major cloud platforms (infrastructure, platform and software as a service) with examples of why actual customers adopted each. Describe pros and cons of the various models, and suggest which are best for various types of customers. Briefly summarize the state of the art in cloud security and management to tease interest in follow-up stories 2 and 3 below.

 Offer this content ungated (no registration required) to establish yourself as a trusted and knowledgeable advisor. Promote via your Web site, email newsletters, content syndication, social media, etc. Call to action is an invitation o read gated stories 2 and 3 on, respectively, security and management.

Story 2: To identify prospects who are most concerned about security, offer a checklist of which security features a cloud provider should offer, and challenge the reader to examine if they have those same required safeguards in-house. Alternatively, create a checklist for assessing how much security a customer needs based on their size, industry, application types, etc.

Gate with a two to three field form (for example, name, email address, company name) that captures basic tracking information without scaring off too many readers.  Call to action is a link to story 4, a “how to buy” piece for those closer to a purchase.

Story 3: To identify prospects most concerns about cloud management, create a 1,500-2,000 word feature on the state of cloud management tools. What are the most critical cloud management requirements, which of those needs can vendors meet now, what’s coming in the future? Keep it honest and impartial, with only a brief “message from our sponsor” about yourself at the end.

As with story 2, gate with a two to three field form (for example, name, email address, company name). Call to action is link to story 4, the “how to buy” piece for those closer to a purchase. 

Story 4: To capture more information about those in the consideration or purchase stages, go deep, long (2,000 words or more) and very specific with a guide for preparing a request for proposal for a cloud provider. This should be a template for assessing a provider, complete with suggested wording for terms and conditions, specific requirements for recovering data in case of failure of the provider and questions to ask about who within the provider is responsible for security and reporting on outages.

This most valuable and expensive content can be further gated with two to three more detailed questions, such as which security standards the reader must meet, the number of servers/storage they have under management or their expected time to purchase. Call to action can be a request for a sales meeting or demo.

Those who make it to story 4 are at least somewhat serious about considering the cloud and have told you, by their story choices and qualification forms, something about their needs and concerns. For those who stopped at stories 2 or 3, continue to marinate them in other useful content until they’re ready for further engagement.

Note: In place of “story” in this sequence feel free to replace with “webinar,” “video”, “podcast,” “white paper,” or other format.) And if you have a product or service you’d like to see a sample sequence for, drop me a line or call at 781 599-3262.

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.

Eight Votes for Telling IT Prospects the Truth

Bigstock_48447038 (2)A month or so ago I suggested a daring concept: The IT vendors tell prospects the truth about the shortcomings, as well as the strengths, of their offerings.

My rationale: Customers will find out anyway, and telling them first strengthens your credibility, and also helps filter those who aren’t a good fit anyway.

Turns out at least eight marketers in the Spiceworks Tech Marketing community agreed. “If you don’t position your solution with a customer candidly, all you’ll end up with is a dissatisfied customer that is not referenceable and who will eventually leave you,” wrote “JBarnet” from Promys, a vendor of professional services automation software. But first they’ll tell other prospects how badly it all turned out.”

Disqualify Early

“I’ve trained many salespeople over the years, the ones (who have) killed quota consistently sell exclusively to ideal customer prospects and quickly weed out poor fit prospects,” he continued. “The reps who struggle try and turn weak fit prospects into customers,” and being honest is a great way to qualify prospects

“Within the first five minutes I state the OSes we support,” wrote “Josh” from cloud VPN vendor Pertino. “There are some variables that we can’t always uncover in the process, but I’d rather disqualify (the prospect) early and know that we may have a shot with them later than have them try it out and be disappointed.”

“If you’re not going to be honest, someone else online will be and those reading your content are going to call it out,” wrote Angela Cope with hardware and services provider softchoice.  “…there are pros and cons to everything, but if you outline which tech is best for (the customer) based on his/her needs, then the customer is going to start to build a deeper relationship with you that is based on trust. Getting your boss to think that way may be a challenge, but will be worth it in the end.”

The MessageOps team from the migration consulting services firm of the same name asked not only that vendors admit their weaknesses, but offer a fix. “I would certainly value a vendor telling me that `xyz’ isn’t something they believe they are the best at but I would appreciate it more if it came with a solution,” they wrote.

Let the Customer Decide

“…as a small company, we have to make sure that we establish our identity early on as not just another product, but a platform to partner with,” wrote “Josh” from Pertino. “We want to know that our customer is going to be 100% happy with deploying Pertino, and thus, we almost try to disqualify prospects.”

One example of a potential shortcoming: Pertino offers no command-line interface for admins to write their own commands. “…some ITers actually like the power of knowing CLI commands. So does that make it a weakness? We think no…” but their strategy is to “…Lay it all on the table and let the customer decide which are strengths and which are weaknesses.”

A similar vote came from Matt Stephenson, who manages Symantec’s presence on on-line communities such as SpiceWorks. “There are times when the facts are going to be batting practice fastballs about what makes our products shine,” he wrote. “Other times…the facts are 100 mph fastballs that blaze right past our strengths to our biggest faults. Owning those faults and admitting them….even…dare I say…pointing out where a competitor might be a better fit…establishes each of us someone who can be trusted.”

Honesty for the Rest of Us?

I’m wondering if my responses were skewed because the SpiceWorks community is, admittedly, all about blunt feedback to vendors and its members.

But how does how approach work out in the wide world, especially with more conservative management or with vendors who are in a downturn and struggling for survival with every sale? Have you proposed this and succeeded, or been laughed out of the room?

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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