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?

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!

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.

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.

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

Are You Ready to Hire a Copywriter?

What the heck is it we do so well?

The other day, a prospective client realized he wasn’t ready to hire me – or any — content marketing copywriter.

He realized as we spoke that before asking a copywriter to present his message, he and his subject matter experts needed to agree on what their message was. He asked if I had any “documentation” of what questions he and his team needed to answer before hiring a copywriter.

Here are the questions I came up with. Let me know what I missed.

Messaging Questions:

  •  What is our “elevator pitch” – the 30 second description of what we do, why we do it better than our competitors, and why it matters to customers?
  •  What is our specific differentiator vs. our top three competitors? Lower cost? Higher      quality? Better customer service? Proprietary technology? In-depth knowledge of our customers’ industries?
  •  What’s special about how we deliver our specific value? Our bonus system for sales reps tied to long-term customer satisfaction?  Our proprietary testing framework for mobile apps? The fact our CEO is a former customer?
  •  Who are the two or three customer types we need more of? How big are they, what industries are they in, what pain points do they face, what systems are they now running, what competitors are they dissatisfied with?
  •  What tone do we want each piece of content to take? i.e., very technical for lower-level influencers and users, more business-oriented for C-level execs who pay the bills?
  •  What stories can we tell about our success – either customer case studies or internal stories of lessons learned and how we improved processes internally?
  •  What similar products do we not compete with, and what markets do we not want to tackle? (This is great for cutting time, effort and cost out of the process.)

Strategy Questions:

  • What is the goal of this content marketing campaign? How many new customers, how much revenue, how many quality leads?
  • How will we use this content in our sales and marketing activity? Will we direct customers to “landing pages” teased by emails or Tweets? Which of our prospect lists will each piece of content be sent to?
  • What “call to actions” do we want each piece of content to encourage? Signing up for a newsletter, following us on Twitter, downloading a new piece of content or agreeing to a sales call?
  • How will we “score” the leads this program generates? What actions will trigger different scores (i.e., downloading “Introduction to widgets” gives them one point, “How to choose the right widget for you” gives them two points, “Three questions to ask before signing your widget contract” gets them three points.)=
  • Have we asked sales what they need from this campaign, how they would score prospects, and in what form (alerts through our CRM system) they would like to get updates on prospects and their behavior?
  • What marketing automation tools (such as email marketing services or Web site monitoring) do we have, do we need and what new skills would we need to use them more effectively?

You don’t need the final answers to all these questions. But do get enough agreement to move forward with a measurable plan and refine it from there. Let me know which questions worked, or didn’t, for you and which questions I missed.

What’s the Right Length for Marketing Copy?

“How long should this (white paper, Web page, case study, etc.) be is a question I still get surprisingly often from content marketing clients. The answer an editor would give is: As long as it needs to be, and not a word longer.

We all know the conventional wisdom that a case study shouldn’t be more than two to three pages, a blog post no more than 500-700 words and a white paper no more than four to five pages. But how do you decide specifically how long to make each piece of content to get the most buzz with prospects and on social media?

When I edit marketing copy I make sure it is long enough to:

  •  Say everything important and new you have to say about the subject. If the piece is getting too long, refocus on one idea more closely.
  •  Explain things clearly enough that everyone can understand. If I doubt, overexplain. Spell out acronyms; explain jargon with short explainers. Remember to explain why the reader should care.
  •  Include enough “gold coins” to keep prospects involved. These might be great quotes, fun statistics, videos – whatever.

But short enough to:

  • Contain no extra words.  Trim redundancies such as “first began,” “joined together,” “split up,” and overlong long introductions like “CEO John Smith comments on the product launch…”
  • Hold no unnecessary quotes: Your CEO’s exact words describing how thrilled and honored he is about his latest OEM agreement is snoozeville. Use those precious words to instead describe the impact on customers.
  • Say everything only once. I recently edited a product brochure that made the same point, in different words, in three different places. Decide where it makes sense to say something and say it — once!

Follow these rules and you’ll be “close enough” to the right length. What’s more important than the number of words (or minutes of podcast or video) is that you make every word or second count.

Editorial CalendarAn editorial calendar (like this one for Computerworld, for whom I still write) is simply a list of content ideas, with a schedule for when each will be published.

This keeps everyone on schedule about what they need to produce, and when. To make an edit calendar really effective in content marketing, build it around the most important challenges facing your prospects, and the information that will keep them engaged.

When I needed editorial calendar ideas as a trade press editor, I asked myself and my other reporters:

  •  In our recent conversations with customers, what common problems have they mentioned?
  • In our recent conversations with vendors, what buzzword have they thrown around we don’t understand or believe in?
  • In our recent customer visits, what’s impressed us as so smart that our readers could learn from it?

Your sales, customer support and marketing staff aren’t paid to be reporters. But they are talking to customers and analysts and are (or should be!) following the competition. Here’s how to get them to share ideas that you can turn into great marketing content.

  • Tell them how many ideas you expect from them, and when.
  • Be specific about the type of ideas you want. “From support reps, we want two examples per month of smart workarounds customers have developed for common problems. From analyst relations, we want two of the newest/most insightful things you’ve heard this month. From sales, we want the objections you’ve heard most often during a close, and how you overcame them.”
  • Give them examples of “news” or trends you want. From a customer support rep: “A lot of mobile developers are asking for better Python documentation.” A sales rep might notice “Suddenly realtors are returning my calls. The market’s picked up and they’re willing to spend.” From analyst relations: “Analysts are really picking up on the `agile data’ theme but we think they should also be talking about the `orchestration’ layer we provide…” All of these are great grist for blog posts, white papers, videos and other content.

And a few final suggestions

  • Have your “requests” for editorial calendar ideas come from the top of the company to “encourage” cooperation.
  • Make the sharing of ideas part of employees’ evaluation and compensation.
  • Aim for a mix of topics, from the tactical (bug fixes and effective sales tactics) to the strategic (big trends in technology, how macro-economic trends are affecting sales) to the fun and off-beat (video of a well-known entertainer opening a big tradeshow.)
  • Use the “water-cooler” test. If it’s worth talking about around the office, it’s worth considering for the editorial calendar.

Let me know how these trade press tips work in corporate marketing and what challenges you’re still facing.

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