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The Recovery Starts…Here?

Guarded hopefulness was the theme at last week’s XSITE (XconomySummit on Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship) at Boston University. The theme of the one-day event showcasing Boston-area startups and VCs was “The Recovery Starts Here.” But the talk in the hallways was instead of a long, slow slog back to anything resembling normal business conditions. Initial results of a survey done by the Xconomy Web publication showed only 24 percent of attendees felt the US gross national product would increase by the fourth quarter. But, as someone told me the other day, in today’s economy “’Flat’ is the new ‘up”.”

The day was nothing if not eclectic: Presentations by start-ups promising everything from a cure for Alzheimer’s to a “roadable airplane” (not a “flying car” but an airplane that can hit the road if the weather is bad or the pilot needs ground transportation.) Perhaps the biggest “innovation” in view, though, was a new model of fund-raising in which corporations such as EMC fund or direct research at the area’s colleges that otherwise might have been done by privately-funded startups. The vendors get low-cost research; the universities get much-needed revenue. Whatever works, especially in a funding environment one venture-capitalist called “horrific.”

Collaboration with federal and state governments was also a major theme. oMohamad Ali, Massachusetts Senior State Executive for IBM, told the conference IBM is working with New York State to seek funding to develop interoperable standards for medical health records. He said Massachusetts companies need to get on the standards bandwagon, as companies seeking to cash in on the federal government’s drive to digitize medical records will only locate in, and bring jobs to, areas that have health records standards on which they can build.

While there was plenty of evidence of a tough economy, there were also glimmers of hope, especially for Massachusetts companies. One speaker said that Massachusetts still has a number of small manufacturing firms geared to producing very high-quality, small-volume production runs of specialized components for military systems – production capacity that is well-geared to biomedical devices. And panelists at a session on health care said the federal push to records digitization could spur demand for everything from security to data mining to cloud-based storage and data analysis. Another possible growth area: Consultants to help small medical practices make the jump from paper to digital records.

The highlight of the show was inventor DEKA founder Dean Kamen, of Segue fame (infamy?), who slouched on stage muttering he was speaking “under protest” but wound up getting a standing ovation for a call for technologists to support his F.I.R.S.T. nonprofit, aimed at making science and engineering as exciting to young people (especially women and minorities) as “the NBA, NFL or Hollywood.” A Brandeis University study shows students who took part in the program were more than three times as likely to major in engineering than those who did not, and more than twice as likely to expect to pursue a career in science and technology. Kamen’s message is that, with our exploding national debt and increasing competition from other countries, we need to draw far more people into engineering and the sciences than we now are. If even one of them builds something like the robotic arm Kamen built for injured veterans it will all have been worth it.  

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.

Economist Delivers Numbers to Prove Strategy

Quick follow-up: We recently showed you what
you can learn
from the Economist’s success in an otherwise dying market for
print publications. The lessons: That print isn’t dead, that people always want
in-depth analysis, and that strong, consistent marketing can differentiate you
even in a commodity market. Today’s proof: The Economist Group (that includes
The Economist and CFO) reported a 26%
boost
in operating profit for the fiscal year ended March 31st.
The firm attributed the increase to “strong circulation growth” for The
Economist (to record levels). Not bad when everyone from the Boston Globe to
Time and Newsweek are busy shrinking and re-thinking themselves enough just to
keep the lights on.  

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.

As a former ink-stained wretch (reporter) I've followed the deaths of not only daily newspapers, but newsweeklies such as Time and Newsweek with despair. I, for one, looked forward to Newsweek giving me a once-a-week in-depth review of the stories and trends daily papers could only touch on.

Now, alas, both Newsweek and Time (struggling under a free-fall in ad revenues) have abandoned the weekly "summarize and explain" model and have redesigned themselves as a cross between The Atlantic Monthly/Harper's (long format, deep dive stories into important or offbeat topics) and The Economist, the upscale British-based pub which purports to tell you all you need to know about the entire world.

A story in this month's Atlantic does a splendid job of describing how the print version of The Economist isthriving while its competitors gasp for breath, by marketing itself as "a true global digest for an age when the amount of undigested, undigestible information online continues to metastasize." With virtually no online strategy, the story says, the Economist's circulation and ad revenues are rising while its rivals virtually implode.

How did they do this, and what on earth does this have to do with B2B marketing? This:

    People will always value well-written content that analyzes (or convincingly purports to analyze)
    complex trends, .

    Print media that readers can enjoy without a screen and power cord is not obsolete, but may even         stand out in an age of everywhere, all-the-time information overload and finally

    Strong, consistent positioning in a market niche (the niche being readers who think they're smart and     exclusive by reading The Economist) can sustain premium sales and profit margins even in a                 commoditized market. 

Before you try to out-blog, out-Tweet, out-YouTube and out mobile-market your competition, make sure you have your market position down cold, focus your messaging like a laser on your target market, and execute flawlessly on the content front. And don't be afraid to offer readers old-fashioned ink on paper to show your stuff is worth sitting down and focusing on.

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.

An excellent commentary from Kara Trivunovic, senior director of strategic services at StrongMail

Systems, highlights the need to not be "creepy" when using behavioral tracking (what a prospect clicks on or downloads) to decide what follow-up offers or info to send to them.

Among other things, Kara recommends being careful about being too literal around interpeting clickstream data at a very granular level, such as blindly spamming a prospect with information on a line of shirts just because they looked at one shirt. However, he says, "if you are able to piece together some
inference around a categorical interest,
you have more footing and can
then send an offer supporting that category."

Has anyone out there build such inferences for B2B sales (especially in the IT space)? If so, what "chain of content" has worked for you, and what tools did you use to build the inferences?

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.

Pardon the cliché, but the ex-chief marketing officer of telecommunications vendor Avaya did a good job recently describing the “perfect storm” facing marketers. At the recent IDC Sales & Marketing Effectiveness Summit in New York, Jocelyn Attal described increased pressure to deliver sales, prospects taking longer to get off the dime, and sellers who can’t afford to keep creating and managing individual marketing campaigns.

To what I would add the fact that generic information of any kind seems to be less effective by the day. Media Analyst Screen Digest predicts that online ad spending will decline by 5 percent this year. (We won’t even talk about the outright collapse of print advertising.) Another data point: The editor of a Web –only IT trade publication recently told me that “how-to” stories (“10 Ways to Secure Your Virtual Servers”) don’t get the hits they need to justify their existence. The reason? There’s so much other free advice on such topics already on the Web, much of it from vendors in the form of white papers or Webinars.

Against this backdrop, Attal — a veteran of IBM and Novell, among other major tech players – announced JAgency which will create “Always On Lead Engines” combining social media with interactive websites, contact centers and live chat to keep prospects involved and, hopefully, buying. An IT vendor, for example, would design Web sites with personalized content, and automatically route emails from the prospect to the proper contact, and eventually to a live agent or executive. Key to the approach is continuous monitoring of the Web site, and measurement of the effectiveness of the various offers and collateral.

 

Fair ‘nuff. But as their Web site itself says, “Everything is in the basics” and I wonder how much and how well this “engine” will customize content for each prospect. Will the “personalization” consist of only generic content or be truly tailored to prospects at different stages in the buying cycle, in different verticals, or facing different pain points?

 

From my own experience I’d vote for the latter. Whoever was smart enough to give me valuable info at each point in the buying cycle would certainly get me to stick around for a sales pitch, especially for a big-ticket item. It’ll be interesting to see how JAgency provides this customization at a low-enough cost to keep it profitable.  

 

 

 

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.

Like most of the rest of the planet, I finally succumbed to the mania and began using the Twitter micro-blogging service last month. If nothing else, I figured I’d learn whether posting 140-character messages on the Web could help me make money in a downturn.

After several weeks of “tweeting” (or posting) an average of once a day, I’m impressed. My objective is to raise awareness of my lead-generation services and to find customers and/or partners to for them. First, I used TwitterSearch (think Google for Twitter) to find others whose posts included terms that describe my offerings, such as  “B2B,” “lead generation” “email marketing” and “prospect scoring.” By “following” them (I now see their updates) I get a real-time feel for what others in my interest area are thinking, hearing, seeing. Through them I see links to new articles, real-time reports from industry conferences and even updates on conversations they just had. The benefit: Real-time, free, market intelligence.

Next, where appropriate, I began responding to their Tweets, offering questions, observations, follow-on thoughts, etc. The benefit: Some of these other thought leaders began following me, listening to what I had to say, giving me at the least the potential ear of customers, partners, etc. I would never have otherwise found.

Finally, I began posting my own Tweets, but only when I had something worthwhile to offer. If I see an interesting article/blog post, or have what I think is an insight, I post it (wherever possible, with a link to an article, story, etc.) Whenever I blog on these issues, I post a short summary on Twitter with a link to my blog. The more I “tweet” the more like it has anyone searching for the things I’m writing about will find me and possibly follow me. The benefit: With a small amount of effort, I’m creating relationships and a reputation among potential customers and partners I would never have otherwise found.

Dollars generated to date through Twitter?  Zero. But like any marketing effort this is a long-term game. What impresses me is that within only a few weeks the quality of networking and education is close to as good as what I would get from a trade show, at far less cost in time and money.  Furthermore, the conversation is ongoing and ever-expanding, both in number of contacts and topics of conversation.

A few final tips:  1) If you haven’t already, download TweetDeck, an application that makes it far easier to track updates and condense links to fit Twitter’s 140-character limit. 2) If you’re in it for money and not fun, limit “fun” Tweets like ““Go Tarheels” to one in every five or ten Tweets. 2) I limit who I follow fairly rigorously, to those who Tweet about what I care about. Trying to follow too-many “social” Tweets quickly gets overwhelming for me. 4) Give, give, give (good content, helpful advice, insights from an interview, a report from a trade show) before you take (in the form of a sales pitch, however muted.) Twitter is all about relationship building, and the spammers and self-promoters stick out like a sore thumb.

Look for further reports as I move beyond the neophyte stage and you can, in the meantime, follow me at #BobScheier. Happy Tweeting!

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.

Even in a recession, B2B customers are still buying everything from servers to CRM and business intelligence software, either to just keep the lights on or to better adapt to rapidly changing markets.  But the constant drumbeat of scary economic news and the flood of information from the Web have left B2B buyers with a “scarcity of attention.”

To make sales with these shell-shocked folks, B2B marketers should keep their pitches simple and easy to understand; modularize their products to make them easy, fast and inexpensive to install, and “nurture” leads over the long periods if often takes to close a sale.

Those were among the key points of a Webinar co-sponsored by Tippit, an online media and consulting firm, and marketing automation software vendor Marketo. According to a buyer survey done in February, customers are still replacing broken hardware, as well as investing in software such as business intelligence that “gives them forward-looking visibility” into changing markets, says Tippit Founder and CEO Scott Albro.

Buyers also seem to be attracted, says Albro, to “lightweight, modular applications, especially in the software space,” rather than expensive, long-term, “big-bang” application suites.  They’re leery of not only the up-front “sticker shock” of big software packages, he says, but of the time and effort it would take to integrate them with existing systems and train users on them.

Finally, it takes longer to close a sale in today’s risk-averse environment – as many as 30 interactions over nine months to close a CRM deal. Rather than risk losing prospects with a lengthy qual form up-front, for example, he recommends finding cost-efficient ways to “nurture” them with continuing contacts until they’re ready to buy. One possibility I suggest: Using readership tracking to supplement or even replace manual qual forms.

While the Webinar was done in February, its well worth spending ten minutes on, as it looks like this recession – and the effects on B2B purchase patterns – won’t be ending soon.

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.

Get Thee Online in ’09

Even in a recession, somebody’s got to be spending money on tech marketing, and a fascinating Webcast from B2B Magazine showed where at least some of the money will be spent. Among the hottest spots: Demand generation and lead qualification done on-line.

First, for the overall damage: The most recent research from IDC’s Richard Vancil shows overall drops of 7-10 percent in tech marketing budgets this year, with the biggest drops occurring among the largest vendors. While tech vendors usually split marketing budgets about 50/50 between brand awareness and lead generation, he says, the downturn has tipped the pendulum to 41 to 25 percent in favor of lead gen.

He also found that marketing activities closest to the top of what he called the “customer generation” funnel (branding, advertising, “big tent” events) will be cut the most, with moderate cuts in activities in the middle of the funnel such as market strategy and research. Interesting, his survey also shows spending on content for marketing campaigns, and demand generation marketing campaigns will be flat.

Budgets will actually rise moderately, he predicts, for those activities that occur closest to the purchase event. These include lead management and qualification, sales enablement and training (getting the right information to the right salesperson at the right time) and, of course, the sales process itself.

He also predicted this downturn will be “transformative” and that all the dollars draining out of print publications will never come back, and that by next year digital marketing will be the largest piece of the marketing budget for hardware, software and services companies. Looks like we all better get savvy in all things online (from video marketing to social media) with a heavy focus on getting prospects qualified and keyed up for the all-important close.

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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