Selling the Five Waves of “Transformation”

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

Should Everyone Be a Writer?

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finding marketing writersThe insightful Ann Handley recently created ten ways to create a “culture of writing” to get more of your experts creating content for demand generation, inbound marketing, and social media marketing campaigns.

Some of them are useful, others I’m less sure about.

But is the whole idea of getting every subject matter expert (SME) in your organization to write even worthwhile?

Publish or Perish, Guys

On the “yes” side:

  • It can get expensive to hire an outside writer to churn out enough content to fill your blog posts, SlideShare and YouTube channels, not to mention your gated white papers and email newsletters. Why not save money by tapping your smart in-house people to feed the content beast?
  • Even more importantly, these in-house experts have too much great experience, insight and anecdotes from the marketplace not to tap.
  • Finally, it’s hard to find a good writer, and to train them about the fine points of your industry and your differentiation in it. Why not instead tap the skills of our own staff, who we know and trust?

Not My Job, Sucka

On the “no” side:

  • Not everyone has enough writing talent to turn our quality content quickly and easily. For some of your SMEs, using the active tense, understandable language, creating a catchy opener and even spelling out acronyms are second nature. For others, it’s unrelenting hard work. Sure, you can teach them a lot of these skills, but might their time be better spent on vetting ideas and fine-tuning technical content?
  • Language/cultural differences. My hat’s off to the offshore product and project managers who give me the raw material for case studies and white papers. Their English is 12 times better than my grasp of any foreign language, and they run circles around me in technical and project management skills. But there’s an inevitable gap between their use of English and its use for business purposes in the U.S. Their writing is (for good reason) full of in-house jargon and abbreviations rather than the high-level business benefits readers want.
  • Writing isn’t just – or even mainly – writing. It’s reporting, asking the tough questions an outsider will think to ask that that ensure your content meets your prospects’ needs. For example, how does your product or service compare with your competitor’s? How do your fancy features reduce a customer’s costs or increase their sales? It’s often easier and less expensive to have an outside writer do the tooth-pulling than ask the SMEs to do it themselves.

Divide and Conquer

If you have SMEs who can write and like to write, you’re lucky. But even then, I would follow Ann’s tip number seven of hiring a dedicated editor. And not just a copy editor who checks facts and fixes minor grammar errors, but “…someone who can give a piece of writing a higher-level read to help improve, expand, condense, or rewrite.”

Unless your organization has a journalistic culture, does outsourcing (or hiring a full-time pro) to do some of the reporting, writing and editing mean higher quality with less total cost and effort?

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.

What? You Skipped These In Your Case Study?

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content marketing think like publisherWhile revising a series of case studies for a global IT services company, I found myself asking them over and over:

  • What did you do for your client that was different or better than what either the client or your competitors could have done?
  • How did your work help your client’s bottom line?

These two seemingly obvious questions were often very hard for the “in the trenches” account and project managers to answer. But without that context, any case study is just a “so what?” list of tasks you accomplished. Here’s what’s worked for me in making these case studies matter to prospects.

Why We’re Better

Account and project managers are stuck in the weeds because they’re paid to meet internal processes and delivery goals. To them, implementing an application upgrade, server refresh or shift to an offshore location are successes in and of themselves. The business-level benefits (such as cutting software licensing costs, speeding problem resolution or reducing support costs) are often hammered out several layers above them and long before they started work.
As a result, when I ask “Why are you better?” I hear things like:

  • “Global delivery of seamless service for database, compute, storage, network and applications…”
  • “Performed on-time and on-budget migration of Microsoft Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2010, VPN upgrades, XP to Windows 7 and self-service password reset…”
  • “In Q! completed offshoring of Level 1 and Level 2 services to Mumbai, Prague and the Philippines for 24/7 help desk coverage…

By repeatedly asking a) specifically what they did differently than others and b) the specific process-level benefits of their work, I can often drive them to cough up more useful details. For example:

  • “Using our proprietary transition methodology, we provided global delivery of seamless service for database, compute, storage, network and applications…” in half the time competitors had promised in their proposal.
  • Using our custom configuration scripts and customized server imaging tools, we “performed on-time and on-budget migration of Microsoft Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2010,
    VPN upgrades, XP to Windows 7 and self-service password reset…” without interruptions to applications or employee productivity.
  • The intensive pre-engagement training of our staff in the client’s systems allowed us, in half the time the customer expected, to “complete offshoring of Level 1 and Level 2 services to Mumbai, Prague and the Philippines for 24/7 help desk coverage…”

How It Helped

It’s also important to dig for quantifiable details about how the service engagement paid off to the business. The first time through, I’ll often hear vague descriptions such as:

  • “Transformation of server, network and application pillars increased agility and optimized operational costs.”
  • “Moving from siloed SLAs to a scalable business services model aligned IT and the business.”
  • “Automation-related efficiencies led to reduced demand, greater performance and improved agility.”

By pushing for a) definitions of these terms and b) quantification of the business benefits we can come closer to something like:

  • “Virtualizing the client’s servers, networks and applications allowed the client to scale their servers 2,000 percent to meet the holiday crunch. Our timely completion of a mobile app generated $2.5 million in additional revenue. Reducing the number of physical devices saved $125,000 in one time equipment upgrade fees and $50,000 a year in heating, cooling, space and management costs.”
  • “Rather than siloed SLAs that track the performance of only part of the IT infrastructure, our business services model lets senior executives track how essential business services (such as order tracking and customer support) are operating. This lets them focus IT spending on the areas most critical to the business.”
  • “Automation in areas ranging from password reset to server monitoring reduced the number of trouble tickets by 46%, increased availability from 97.6 to 99.99 percent, and made it easier to roll out upgrades to their CRM system.”

The earlier in the content production process you can get detailed answers like this, the sooner your internal, or external, writer can turn out compelling case studies. If you can’t get this quality of answer, ask yourself if it’s worth doing the case study at all.

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.

Should We Really “Think Like Publishers?”

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Just when we all got used to the idea that “every vendor should be a publisher” comes word that, indeed, they shouldn’t. They instead need to be marketers who publish content to achieve specific business objectives.

It’s one of a number of good points in a very useful presentation “Yeah, it’s content, but is it marketing?”  from the PJA Advertising + Marketing agency.  It’s aimed at marketers who aren’t getting the return they need by content marketing efforts that cost too much or deliver too few leads.

Maintaining, promoting and monitoring an ongoing stream of great content takes too much effort not to tie it to concrete business goals, they point out. I like their advice to shift from a focus on “What (content) will we produce?” to “What are we trying to achieve?”

 Doing It Better

Among their specific tips:

  •  Tie branded content to business value by “understanding a conversation your buyer is interested in—and defining a valuable role for your brand to play in it. “ At each stage in the buying process, the role you play as content provider should change. (See next tip.)
  •  Make “the buyer journey your roadmap” In the awareness/education stage, teach them about why they might need a product or service. As they move into consideration, start talking about what features to look for in such offerings. As they move closer to product selection, start offering detailed implementation tips.
  • Think as hard about promoting content as creating the content. By simply using the scheduling feature in Hootsuite to schedule a series of promotional Tweets for each new post (instead of just at the original post) has boosted retweets of my posts, and my Twitter followers. Even simple steps to promote and target readers can pay off big.
  • Add a specific call to action to each piece of content, and track the uptake on them to measure the ROI of the hard work that went into it. Consider asking for something more specific than a generic “click here for more information” by asking for something that drives further engagement, such as subscribing to a newsletter, providing contact information, filling out a brief survey or registering for a Webinar.
  • Be flexible about formats. Coming from the long-form journalism world, it’s easy to think that every question needs a long, text answer. I’m finding that shorter Q&As, checklists, videos or podcast sometimes work better. An edgier format that’s more fun to produce is also likely to generate more interest.
  • Finally, and not surprisingly, the agency suggested to “grab a partner” that can handle some of the content marketing load better than you can. This isn’t as self-serving as it sounds. There’s a lot of moving parts involved in marketing automation and they’re changing quickly. By outsourcing what you don’t excel at, you can spend more time making sure you have a solid business goal for your content marketing.

Getting Started

Check out my sample content sequences for selling cloud services, security response and DevOps. And let me know what other IT products or services you’d like to see a sample sequence for.

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.

Overusing “Transformation”

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transformation marketing

Transformation, or just flabby marketing?

Everywhere from interior decorating to education to healthcare, everyone’s claiming they deliver “transformation.”

But when it comes to  selling information technology and services, is the “T” word an effective value promise, or a vague buzzword that sets both the buyer and seller up for trouble?

I’m curious to hear from other marketers about how your customers respond to the term, and whether it helps deliver more and better prospects.

Definition, Please

According to the Oxford English dictionary, the primary definition of “transform” is “to change the form of; to change into another shape or form; to metamorphose,” with a secondary definition of “to change in character or condition; to alter in function or nature.” (Emphasis added.)

It is this second definition I think most people assume, and that gets marketers into trouble. It implies not incremental improvement but a fundamental, wide-ranging improvement that lasts.

Consider the idea of a “transformational” president. Franklin Roosevelt made the cut in the 1930s, some argue, by changing “the basic assumptions of national politics for a generation or more” in favor of a greater role for the federal government. You could argue Ronald Reagan was “transformational” in the opposite direction. Whatever your politics, both changes met the “transformational” criteria of being fundamental, wide ranging and lasting.

In a totally different vein, “Transformational Weight Loss” implies (and it seems the author tries to deliver) lasting improvement loss through fundamental, wide-ranging changes in lifestyle and attitude, not just in diet.

Transformation that doesn’t make the cut, I’d argue, is the South Carolina Department of Public Education’s “Office of School Transformation” whose goal is “to change the structure of schools to better serve students.” Their Web site seems to promise only tweaks to improve existing processes. Useful and valuable perhaps, but not transformation.

Are We Overselling “Transformation?”

In my own IT field, respected researcher Gartner advised outsourcing firms to ban the use of both  “transformation” and “innovation” because “they will only lead to misaligned expectations.”  For example, Gartner said, an outsourcer might lose money trying to solve problems it never agreed to tackle, while the customer wastes time and effort without achieving their goals. Or, “a customer might choose the lowest-priced provider and be left wondering where the innovation and transformation are.”

For what it’s worth, my small survey of PR and marketing respondents showed 40 percent agreed that transformation is a “fundamental, wide-ranging improvement that will last over time.” But a third believed marketers just throw the word around without thinking, and 22 percent said marketers use transformation as a synonym for “improve.”

In your experience, do customers get a warm and fuzzy feeling from the word “transformation” and click through to learn more? Or do they drop out of the sales funnel (or complain after the purchase) when they find transformation has been oversold?

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 #3: Selling DevOps

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content marketing DevOps(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 508 725-7258.)

DevOps is the process of combining historically separate development and operations functions to speed application deployment. This is especially useful for companies that need to rush consumer-facing mobile or social applications to market, or those that  need to roll out or test new features quickly.

But DevOps is a major change, especially for large organizations with complex and/or highly regulated software environments. That means opportunity for vendors that sell tools or services to help them make the shift.

Here’s a quick, and relatively easy, content marketing sequence to identify and rank prospects for your DevOps offerings.

Story One, for those at the “top of the funnel/awareness” stage: Explain DevOps and how it’s different and better than what came before. Describe how a DevOps org chart is different than a conventional environment where development and operations are separate. Explain, based on your actual experience with customers, to what extent DevOps is hype or real. Be realistic and honest about what types of organizations and business cases it is best suited for. Cite case studies and examples of how actual customers made the shift and the benefits they realized.

Offer this 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. The call to action is a link to a second, also ungated story, for prospects that are moving into the consideration phase.  

Story Two: Use the ever-popular checklist format for an “Is DevOps for me?” piece. Questions for readers to ask themselves might include:

  •  “Have I missed a market opportunity in the last year because I couldn’t field a new app quickly enough?”
  • “Is my A/B testing of new application features taking too long? How much would it be worth to speed that up?”
  •  “Do I have the stomach for the organizational and skill changes required to move to DevOps?”
  • “Do I have executive backing to make these changes and force my developers and operations folks to work more closely together?”

Promote this piece as you did story one, offering it ungated to attract the widest audience. The call to action can ask reader to register to read a third, gated piece that contains more detailed implementation guidelines.

Story three: A DevOps reality check for those in more serious consideration mode. Based on real-world experience, describe what it takes to implement DevOps in the real world. Make this a detailed implementation guide that doesn’t shy away from the tough changes in both process and technology needed to implement DevOps. Include sometimes-forgotten considerations such as security and how DevOps may affect databases. How much training, in what areas, and at what cost are required for your staff? Where do companies typically go wrong in their shift to DevOps and how can other companies avoid these mistakes?

Gate this with a short two to three field form (for example, name, email address, company name) that captures basic tracking information without scaring off too many readers.  (You can profile them more carefully later with additional questions.) Since every prospect’s needs are unique, the call to action can be to offer a detailed assessment of their specific DevOps readiness. 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 508 725 7258.

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.

Differentiating Local IT Service Shops

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content marketing solution providers

Logicalis US does a good job of presenting short, sweet customer “stories” on its home page (with links to full case studies, of course.)

A lot of local and regional IT “solution” providers I work with have a self-esteem issue. When I ask “What differentiates you from your competitors?” they say “Nothing.”

“We just do what everyone else does – install and manage networks, do user support, plan upgrades, execute cloud migrations,” they say. Or, “We try to listen to our customer needs and tailor a solution to them – you know, what everyone does.” Or, “we try to provide good service, but everyone does…our only advantage is we’re local and can get to the customer in half an hour.”

They’re selling themselves short. Every business – every business – has something unique to offer or it wouldn’t exist. Don’t believe me? Read on.

Commodity? Fughedaabout It.  

  • Chain gas station/convenience store:  Even the humblest, no-name, most run-down gas station/snack shop has at least one unique attribute, which is its location.  When a customer needs gas or coffee now location is critical. The same is true of a local IT service provider, and rather than shrugging it off as “our only advantage” you can play it up. (See details below.)
  • Donut/coffee shop: Here in Boston, we seem to have a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shop every quarter mile. The ultimate commodity experience, right? But I have friends who swear “their” Dunkin’ makes better coffee than the one down the street. Maybe it’s really the cleanliness or the friendliness of the staff or how fast the drive-through line moves. It doesn’t matter because the customer perceives it as better. And even if other coffee shops across town offer the same clean floor and smiling employees, each shop competes only with those within easy walking or driving distance of their clientele.  (Again, IT service providers take note.)
  • Handyman: There must be hundreds, if not thousands, of folks who handle odd householder repair jobs in the Boston area. But we stick with one fellow who is 1) exceptionally creative at solving tough problems in our more than 200-year-old house, 2) is meticulous in his craftsmanship, 3) is reasonably priced and 4) shows up when he says he will. (Yes, he is booked solid, and no, you can’t have his number.) As a local IT service provider, you probably share one or more of these winning traits. If so, tout them.

Now, Tell Your Story

How do we turn these elements of differentiation into compelling content for a “commodity” local IT service provider? Through stories other prospective customers can relate to. For example:

  • The location advantage: “When the point of sale system crashed at a local party supply store the week before Halloween, the screams about lost sales were for real. Because we were located just across town, we had a technician on site within 30 minutes and the system back up in another hour – just in time for the Saturday afternoon sales crush.”
  • The customer service/creativity advantage: “The staff at a local commercial insurance agency found themselves struggling with the new customer service portal rolled out by one of their most popular insurance providers. While training was not part of our existing service offering, we quickly learned the portal, provided training to their staff and wrote custom scripts to integrate it with our client’s CRM and accounting systems. Our client’s staff can nowfocus on business, not learning the new portal, and is even using the new portal to provide special discounts and mobile service to their customers.”
  • The “we know your business” advantage: “A local hospital we support was struggling with the shift from the ICD-9 to ICD-10 codes for classifying diseases and treatments. Training their staff on the new codes was hard enough. They had no time or skills to tackle the associated changes to their applications and databases. With our deep understanding of the hospital’s IT infrastructure (much of which we deployed) we were able to handle the technical side of the upgrade with minimal fuss and cost. We even deployed analytic software to help them recover revenue they were missing due to mis-coded treatments.”

Needed: Happy Customers

The best proof of your value is always a real customer, with a name and a face, describing what you do well in their own words. Logicalis US, a global service provider, is among those who do it well (see screen shot above.) If you’re not asking your best local customers for referrals, now’s the time to start. And remember: Just because you’re small and local doesn’t mean you’re not special.

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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case studies thought leadership While developing a thought leadership white paper for a client, they asked whether customer case studies or “use cases” (examples of how a technology or process would be used to help the business) have a place in such “non-sales” content.

My answer: You bet, if they’re used right.

Yes, “thought leadership” means giving prospects a new, insightful way of thinking about a common business or technology problem without a detailed sales pitch. But case studies and use cases are an ideal way to tease your expertise without giving away the store. Here’s how.

We’ve Handled That

Case studies belong in thought leadership collateral if they are presented as illustrative examples of a general problem faced by many customers, and contain valuable advice that can be used by any reader without making a purchase from you.  

For example, “At one global pharmaceutical company, our data architecture evaluation discovered hundreds of potentially sensitive databases the compliance staff wasn’t even aware of. Issuing a blanket edict against use these valuable data sources would have been ineffective and hurt the credibility of the IT organization. Instead, we worked with the client to develop a series of incentives and approved processes to successfully nudge the business units towards compliance.”

This is a valuable lesson that will impress prospects with your smarts, but doesn’t give away the “secret sauce” of how you pulled this trick off. The prospect still needs to call for specifics such as:

  • What neat technology and processes did you use to find sensitive data stores the client’s own compliance staff couldn’t?
  • How did you navigate the corporate power structure to steer the business owners away from a heavy-handed response that could have backfired?
  • How did you figure out the right incentives and processes to convince, rather than force, business units to do the right thing?
  • And how did you balance the business units’ legitimate need for data with the corporate need to prove security compliance?

The Use Case for Use Cases

 More general business use cases – what I think of as “the problem, whether we have a case study or not” are also extremely valuable because 1) they tell specific stories rather than lay out generic challenges, and 2) demonstrate how you’re developing approaches to meeting them.

Some examples, based on recent projects I’ve done:

  •  Many of our clients want to automate testing to meet consumers’ demand for more apps, on more devices, more quickly. We recommend, among other things, carefully choosing which tests to automate, developing standardized, centralized test processes and understanding how much manual test effort is still needed.
  •  With the combination of mobile social apps and Big Data analysis, many retailers want dashboards that show changes in consumer behavior and sentiment in near real-time. To deliver those, you’ll need to combine structured data such as customer IDs with unstructured data such as blog posts, and to present the analysis in user-friendly formats.
  •  The shift from hosting applications in-house to buying software as a service (SaaS) forces software vendors to not only code great apps, but to become service providers. Making this transition requires new capabilities such as meeting service level agreements, creating real-time usage monitoring and billing platforms, and meeting strict security requirements.

Bottom line: I will happily take either case studies and use cases and put them to good use. In each case, they give the prospect a new way of thinking about a common problem, but force them to contact you to learn how to solve their specific problems.

If anything, my clients usually err on the side of being so vague (“We found multiple opportunities for optimizing IT operations”) their promises sound like vague marketing fluff. Trust me: Every client’s IT environment, culture and business needs are unique enough you’ll have plenty to talk about once you’re in the door. You’re better off telling them more, not less, to get in that door.

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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