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.

Is Open Source Branding Right For You?

I told you the database server was overloaded...

I told you the database server was overloaded…

Are you an old, enterprise software guy (or one of their marketing minions) who is tired of having sand kicked in your face at the beach by cool new open source competitors?

My reporting is telling me that open source software (whose source code can be tweaked by customers or anyone else) is often outpacing commercial offerings, even in large accounts. While cost is an advantage (much open source code is free) customers tell me the real reason they choose it is because it often provides the scalability and management capabilities commercial offerings can’t, at any price.

It’s tough to compete with free, especially when free stuff works better than what you charge for. As a marketing or PR person, you can’t control price or functionality. But you can argue for the kind of cute, oddball name that seems to be table stakes these days in the open-source world.

The rules of this new branding, as far as I can figure them out, include:

  • Keep it short and weird. Going random works (the Hadoop framework for managing distributed data is, according to Wikipedia, named after a toy elephant.) Riffing off a real word works, too (the mongoDB open source document database, is a play on the “humongous” amounts of data it can store. Work your name into it, as Linus Torvalds did with the Linux variation of the Unix operating system that made open-source mainstream.
  • Paint me a picture: The Puppet lets you manage servers and other IT components from afar, like a puppet on strings. Chef takes the metaphor further by letting you create “cookbooks” and “recipes” to automate infrastructure management. The Jenkins continuous integration server performs services for you, much like a butler would. NetFlix’ Chaos Monkey randomly shuts down servers to see how well your application can survive.
  • Get a mascot: Linux got this rolling with its penguin. Hadoop as its cute elephant, MySQL a dolphin and Netflix’ Simian Army of automated stress-testers…well, you can only imagine.
  • Make it sound like code, or Klingon: If it looks strange enough, you’ll care enough to learn that Nginx is a high-performance HTTP server and reverse proxy, Zoie is a real time search and indexing system, Bobo provides search for semi-structured and unstructured data and that Redis, of course, is a key-value store.
  • Make a vague popular culture reference: What came first, Django the Quentin Tarantino movie or the Web app development framework? No such questions about the Azkaban Hadoop job scheduler or Voldemort distributed key value system. Sensei is not only a Japanese word for teacher but a distributed, elastic, real time searchable database. In mythology, Cassandra unsuccessfully warned of the destruction of Troy. Since she also foresaw the Trojan Horse, I think she’d be a security scanner. Alas, she’s a database.
  • Misspell: The free Git open-source code repository and version control system is where you go to store code under development and “git” the latest version of what others have coded. GitHub (the “hub” where you look for such code) is the commercial version, combining the benefits of a misspelling and a single word. Git it?
  • Don’t take it too far: Why call a behavior driven development tool Cucumber? At least Gherkin makes sense as a spinoff that provides documentation and testing for Cucumber. But I’m not sure whether to smile or groan when I read on GitHub that “mitsuhiko/flask is a microframework based on Werkzeug, Jinja2 and good intentions,” while AFNetworking/AFNetworking is a “delightful iOS and OS X networking framework” (best served with fish or venison?)

In the open source world, maybe you’re not trying hard enough if a name doesn’t 1) make you smile, or 2) ask “Can we really do that?” On the other hand, maybe most open-source software (except for Linux or the Apache Web server) is chosen so far down in the technical hierarchy that names don’t matter.

Are you trying to get more Mongo in your naming, and if so, how’s that working for you?

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.

Got any  product road maps you'd care to share?

Wondering if buyers out there care what you have to say? Worry no more.

A recent ITSMA survey of technology buyers found that vendor Web sites, rather than their peers are their primary source of information at early stages in the buying process. In fact, 70% of buyers wanted to hear from a vendor salesperson before identifying their short list of potential purchases.

Their peers are still an important as a source of referrals, recommendations and references, the survey found, but not information. That’s’ not surprising. Most customers I interview for case studies don’t have product speeds, feeds and spec sheets at their fingertips. They can, though, tell you whether a product or service helped their business. They’re especially useful for issues a vendor might be less candid about. These include hidden compatibility issues, ease of use and the quality of customer support.

Every Vendor a Publisher

These findings mirror other content marketing studies I’ve seen. They show that vendors have done a surprisingly effective job taking over from IT trade publications as trustworthy sources of product information.

But reporting on product specs hasn’t been the main draw of trade pubs for years. Readers instead looked to them for “education” about new technologies and “new and provocative perspectives” on technology trends. That’s exactly what  ITSMA recommends sales staffs give to customers. It’s all part, the organization said, of providing thought leadership selling and acting as the `frontline’ subject matter experts.’”

Therein lies a challenge for many of the content marketing clients with whom I work. They struggle to find a way to educate their prospects and keep them involved without sounding too “salesy.” They also struggle to find appropriate topics to write about, and to find the “news” angles in marketing content that will drive readership and involvement.

ITSMA’s recommendations got me thinking about how we in the trade press tried to provide both education and “new and provocative perspectives” to readers. We always tried to focus on the reader, insist on a “news” angle for every story, and stay entertaining and interesting without descending into buffoonery.

The Basics   

As many experts suggest, lead with valuable information in your content marketing, not shameless self-promotion.

  • Tell the reader specifically what your “solution” is. One of my first questions as a reporter was always “What IS it you’re selling?” Is it a PaaS (platform as a service) optimized for the commercial real estate market? A combination mobile app and social platform for military families looking for financial advice? Software as a service or a physical or virtual appliance?
  • Tell the prospect what your solution does. Don’t get bogged down repeating cliché problems (“provides agility”) or gauzy platitudes (“Optimize your business.”) Good writing is specific.  “We combine the most complete and up-to-date database of commercial real estate listings with an auction site for development loans…”
  • Tell the prospect whether they’re a good fit for what you sell.  “We provide automated server provisioning tools for Windows environments…” “We’re the simplest, easiest to use /marketing automation platform for small to medium businesses…” “We provide Big Data analytics consulting and services for pharmaceutical commercial operations…”

If It Ain’t New Don’t Say It

A “new” perspective is – duh – something the reader hasn’t heard before. Tell them why the “conventional wisdom” about, say, the cloud, open source software or solid state storage is wrong. Make sure what you’re saying isn’t common knowledge on every other Website or blog. Back up your insights or arguments with proof or at least a good argument. And go easy on why your insight means the prospect should call you ASAP.

What is a “provocative’ perspective? It doesn’t have to be outrageous, but it has to make people think differently about what to do. “Everyone’s caching data on solid state drives, but how you can avoid all those reads and writes cutting short the life of the SSD? Or: “Everyone is rushing to automate every process in their data center. But how about all those function that should never be automated for security, compliance or quality control reasons?”

Be interesting at all costs; be entertaining if you can. Use short, direct sentences. Write clearly with everyday words, just like you would speak to a friend over a drink. Use everyday images and speak from the heart.

Don’t Blow It

Survey results like these are great news for vendors. Buyers trust you, at least for basic information about your products and services. They’re willing to stick around for education and insight. Now, don’t blow it. Stay focused on their needs, not yours, and keep it simple, clear and compelling.

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.

Survey Shows Big Data Pain Points


If you’re marketing hardware, software or services for “Big Data” – the analysis of very, very large datasets to uncover business opportunities – you should check out a recent column my colleague Larry Marion  wrote for Datamation.

In it, he wrote that “despite a decade of expensive deployments and a parade of innovative products” customers are complaining that Big Data tools are too backward-looking and not predictive enough, can’t handle unstructured data, and are too slow and hard to use by non-technical, business types.

Solving these technical problems is up to the engineers, not us marketers. But the concerns in this chart provide a handy list of “pain points” for you to highlight in your marketing content, and in your social media searches for prospects.

Beer and Diapers? Naaah!

This report comes on the heels of a recent post I wrote for CA Technologies’ Innovation Today blog warning that organizations “won’t do the tough work of cleansing and validating (their data) to make sure the insights they gather will actually be valid.”

And last summer I covered a panel discussion that talked not only about data quality, but the very human factor that companies often don’t trust Big Data insights because they don’t fit their preconceptions. (Remember the oft-quoted Big Data insight that customers who buy beer often also buy diapers? Professor Tom Davenport of Babson College told the panel the convenience store chain never stocked the two together because it didn’t believe the sales data.)

While the database, analytics and hardware folks tackle things like speed, data quality, data access and usability, vendors can tap their internal subject matter experts to write about process issues such as:

  • How does IT convince the business users of Big Data of the need to properly cleanse data, and then find the most cost-effective way of doing so?
  • How can IT forge closer bonds with business units so it can help understand what are the Big Data questions most worth asking – and spending money to solve?
  • Where are the hot new technologies in predictive analytics, which ones can be trusted, and what are cost-effective ways to try them out before putting big bets on their predictions?

Real or Hype?

All these are areas the sales force and Big Data consultants are probably already tackling, and have insights on, even if the engineering folks haven’t solved all the technical issues.

But all this is for naught if, despite all our marketing and posturing, Big Data is just not working for the vast majority of customers. Are concerns like those highlighted in this survey preventing, or just slowing, the insights promised by Big Data?

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.

Using Follow-Up Questions To Drive Great Content


In journalism school they teach that the best reporters ask the dumbest questions.  That’s because the dumbest-sounding, most obvious questions are often the ones everyone else is dying to ask but are afraid to because they think they’ll look dumb themselves.

This is just as true when you, as the marketing or product manager, are asking a subject matter expert to explain the value of a new product or service. When you get a curt or obvious answer to your first question, asking the right follow-up can uncover the “news” you need to drive a compelling content marketing program using blog post, Webinars, white papers and more.

Here are some recent follow-up questions I’ve asked subject matter experts, with explanations of how they uncovered the hidden content marketing “news” potential in their original answers:

 I asked: “When you talk about the ‘risk’ if companies don’t use your software, I assume you mean business risks like      system downtime as well as legal and compliance issues?

SME clarified: “Yes, but even more important to our clients these days is the risk of spending money on security where they don’t have to when budgets are so tight.” The news: Customers are thinking more about the risks of misinvesting these days along with traditional risks like business continuity and compliance.”

I asked: “When you talk about storage virtualization, I assume you mean creating virtual storage pools, just as in server virtualization. Right?”

SME clarified: “Yes, we create virtual pools of storage. But we also virtualize associated storage applications such as backup and replication, eliminating those areas as potential bottlenecks.” The news:  There’s a new concept out there called storage application virtualization, it’s different than server virtualization and solves different problems.”

I asked: You say that as an outside agile development consultant, you serve as the “gate keeper” who ensures quality execution throughout a project from start to finish. What exactly does that mean?”

SME clarified: “With our years of experience, we know which common mistakes to look for, like not holding everyone properly accountable at each stage in an agile development process.” The news: Many customers may think they’re doing agile development right when they’re not, and the weak point is holding all the players accountable.”

I asked: “You’re announcing your first channel program for `IT consultants.’ What do you mean by an `IT consultant’ and how is it different from a traditional reseller?”

SME clarified: “An IT consultant doesn’t resell hardware or software, and only provides services. This is the first time we’ve offered a program specifically for these technology influencers. The news:  Even if they don’t resell products, folks who sell customers technical services can, for the first time, earn revenue by recommending this vendor’s hardware.

In each of these cases, asking even obvious-sounding follow-ups (“What do you mean by an `IT consultant?’” revealed an actionable, specific piece of information the target audience would find useful and that will keep them interacting with your brand. In each case, it’s easy to see how you could build out blog posts, case studies, Webinars, podcasts or videos building off the answer to even one question.

Bottom Line: If you’re not getting the actionable, interesting information you need for content marketing from your subject matter experts, ask!

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 best reporters and editors are those who can step outside what they think is important and focus on what their readers care about most.

It’s a basic lesson but one that’s frightfully hard to keep in mind, whether you’re doing content marketing or covering Hurricane Sandy, the supposed “Frankenstorm” hitting the East Coast today (October 29, 2012.) As of 11:12 AM, an hour after my local paper said the “most damaging winds” were supposed to hit, I’m seeing only light rain and mild breezes out my window.

What happened to the storm, besides a healthy dose of hype? A look at a weather map (above, which I had to drill into the New York Times site to find) shows the storm took a sharp left turn and, it seems, will pass to the west of Boston.

Whoever was updating the Globe Web site could have looked out the window at the calm scene, realized, “Gee, it doesn’t look so bad,” and written a lead something like:

“With Hurricane Sandy taking a sharp left turn inland, Greater Boston should miss the heaviest winds and rains, with the storm hitting 12 hours later than originally thought, forecasters said Monday. The area is expected to still get winds gusts as high as 75 M.P.H., but not until late Monday or early Tuesday, forecasters said.”

Your customers and prospects are caught in a hurricane of their own: Wind-driven hype and torrents of blog posts, white papers, Tweets and news stories about the technology they need to do their jobs. Just like a homeowner wondering if they should bring in the lawn furniture, all they care about is the latest news and how it affects them.

That means your content marketing efforts should tell them:

  • What just happened: New regulations hit small businesses; the iPad gets traction among business users; a critical flaw is found in software that controls many industrial systems. Each of these stories passes the “Gee, I didn’t know that!” and tells the reader what steps they should take as a result.
  • What it all means: Explain what a news event means to your customers or prospects and the resulting action they should take. A great example was a pitch from way back in 2007 explained the implications of Microsoft’s release of Windows Vista for its Network Access Control. Here, the pitch told me as an editor something I didn’t know and what it meant, at least according to one vendor.
  • And not just what you care about! “Jambo Software today announced an OEM agreement with MegaSystems under which Jambo’s IP-Sec enablement module will be integrated with MegaSystems Wasteful ERP solution. `We are pleased and honored to be included in MegaSystems’ industry-leading scalable, robust platform.” Explain instead what a Mega Systems customer can do as a result of this integration and you have a story.

Before posting that content on your blog, promoting it on Twitter or teasing it an email, look up from your screen and out the window at the world your customers are seeing. Make sure everything you do in text, video, podcast or Webinar is not only new, but most relevant to their immediate needs.

And, no, as of 11:51 AM the winds still haven’t picked up.

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.

Goodbye Marketing Funnel; Hello Marketing Tornado


B2B buying patterns are getting more chaotic and unpredictable – even to the buyers. That makes it more important than ever to track what prospects do, rather than what they tell you, so you can find those who suddenly need your products or services.

Four out of ten B2B buyers had little advance notice of when they would need what they bought, according to a recent survey by the Demand Gen Report and sponsored by marketing automation vendor Act-On Software. It found that 43 percent of the buyers it surveyed who made purchases had no budgets for those purchases at the start of the year.  Thirty percent said they set a budget only after soliciting multiple bids. That makes the question “What is your budget?” one a buyer may not even be able to answer.

The obvious conclusion is that B2B customers are making purchase decisions much more quickly. A customer who tells you they’re not ready to buy – however sincerely – might be a hot prospect months or weeks later. This is especially true for small to medium-sized businesses,” says Act-On Chief Marketing Officer Atri Chatterjee. “Don’t assume that just because they’re not buying now, that decision is fixed.”

To reach and grab prospects caught in this new world:

  • Give them more help than ever making the business case to buy from you. Along with case studies and ROI calculators, spend the time to understand their needs and make a bulletproof purchase case.
  • Prospects themselves often don’t know when they’ll need to buy. Monitor their reading habits to learn when their purchase needs and timetables have changed. (Read how an IT services provider found a latent need in an existing prospect.)
  • If in doubt, share more information with prospects, rather than less – especially when it comes to pricing. Many “may not pick up the phone to call you to find out about your pricing,” says Chatterjee. When they do, they don’t want any surprises.

We all talk about the marketing funnel, an upside down triangle in which buyers enter at the “awareness” stage, with prospects drop out through the education, consideration and evaluation stages before a select few make a purchase at the “bottom” of the funnel.

But in today’s uncertain world the funnel is like a tornado. Prospects spin unpredictably from awareness to evaluation, then back to the awareness if they can’t make the business case or get distracted. The CIO may then fling the organization back into the evaluation or conversion stages overnight if the business suddenly needs (or panics into thinking it needs) a new capability.

Consumer companies know this unpredictable, event-driven process is how we buy everything from junk food to iPads. That’s why they’re always keeping their brand names in front of us. With prospects caught in the marketing tornado, B2B vendors must do the same.

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.

Editorial CalendarLet’s say you followed my recent advice on how to create, and execute, an editorial calendar for marketing content. Here’s how to use that content for lead generation.

If all went well, your subject matter experts have created (or are creating) posts describing:

  • Common problems your customers or prospects should know about;
  • Industry trends that could affect their sales or profits, and
  • Innovative things done by really smart customers their peers should copy.

Now, how do you use this content to generate leads? By mapping the topics they came up with to the needs of your most desirable prospects. Those are the pieces of content that, when read, signal to you which readers are a better, rather than a worse, fit for what you’re selling.

So how do you track who read what?

If you’re promoting this current to current customers or prospects, through an email newsletter, use an email distribution tool or marketing automation platform to track who read what and score them accordingly for lead generation purposes. You can then offer them follow-up content to further gauge their interest and how close they are to buying, forwarding their names to sales staff when you judge they’re ready for a call.

To capture contact information from anonymous readers (who find you through a Web search or social media) offer them something of value to capture at least their email address, such as an ebook, a “how to buy” guide or a subscription to your email newsletter.

Here are some examples of how content from your editor calendar can be used for lead generation.

  • A software vendor needs resellers to boost sales of the software it developed to enhances the performance of a popular database. Because they were asked to share common customer problems, tech support offers tips on how to configure the database to boost performance.  Resellers specializing in that database read the post, find it useful and provide their contact information in return for a subscription to the vendor’s newsletter.  (Check out my two-minute video on using custom content to also troubleshoot channel issues.)
  • A local network installation consultant is looking for new clients in the health care space. Because they were asked what smart customers are doing, someone in marketing describes how one customer took advantage of a little-known provision in Obamacare that provides tax breaks for implementing electronic health care records. The resulting post explains what those breaks are and how to get them. This attracts prospects who would consider such an upgrade if those tax breaks could help pay for it.
  • A global service provider needs to identify new prospects for its ERP implementation services. Because its consultants were asked about problems customers are facing, they identified five areas where shortcomings with ERP software increase the time and effort required to go live. The resulting “five things to consider” post links to a gated white paper with details on each of the five issues. Tracking which readers register for which of the five white papers give sales a detailed idea of what to discuss in the follow-up call.

An edit calendar requires too much effort not to put it to work generating leads. Subscribe here for more tips on content marketing and lead generation for IT providers, or contact me to discuss an immediate need.  Editorial Calendar

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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