When Should You Fire a Client Gone Bad?

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when to fire inbound marketing client I recently heard from two colleagues (one a HubSpot partner, the other a user of a leading marketing automation platform) about customer engagements that seem doomed to failure.

My question is: When do you decide to cut bait with such clients?

Partnership Pain

One case involves a start-up with promising technology, but limited budget and marketing expertise. They have only a general idea of their target customer groups, much less specific personas or guidelines for scoring individual prospects. What’s worse, they’ve been very slow delivering feedback on content, as well as other promised material such as existing email lists or log-in information for their social media accounts such as Twitter.

The other case involves a large, established client looking to integrate an existing Web site with their in-house marketing automation platform. The consultant has asked the customer, without success, how many leads the customers wants from the marketing program, what they would consider a quality lead, and what parts of the inbound marketing process the customer will perform in-house and which the consultant will handle.

The lack of answers makes the consultant, naturally, very nervous about committing to a scope of work that could explode and sap their margins, and about being called on the carpet for failing to produce results that were never defined for them.

My questions are 1) what would you do with clients like these? and 2) What red flags have worked for you in deciding to ditch – or never start working with – an inbound marketing client?

Storm Warnings

My danger list, gained from much painful experience, when clients can’t or won’t:

  •  Pay a fair rate or commit to several months of effort.
  •   Quantify the number of leads they expect.
  • Describe what constitutes a “great, good or poor” lead.
  • Provide feedback from sales on the quality of leads a
  •  content marketing campaign is providing.
  • Provide promised sales material or access to subject matter experts to guide content development.
  •  Repeatedly miss scheduled meetings or deadlines of marketing content.

Those are my “gut feeling” indicators of when to pull the plug with a client. What are yours?  No names, please, to protect the guilty. And any “tough love” tactics that have helped get a wayward client back on track also very welcome.

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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Man with black mask in studioBuilding personas (profiles of the customers you most want to sell to) is like flossing. You know you should do it, but it always seems to be too much time and trouble. Besides, you’re not sure it’s that it’s worthwhile.

If that sounds like you, take a lunch break to watch this 30-minute video from the MarketingSherpa Internet Marketing Webinar Archive. It describes how IHS, a global provider of B2B market data, got measurable boosts to sales from its use of personas. Just as importantly, it’s full of specific tips for how to perform good persona “hygiene” without staying up half the night.

And it’s one of those well-done presentations that’s actually fun to watch.

First, the challenge. IHS was getting hundreds of thousands of site visitors per month, said Senior Director of Demand Management Byron O’Dell, but relatively few were doing anything but looking at the top-level pages. Like many, if not all, B2B companies IHS needed to convert those visitors into more qualified leads.

Now, the results: From the first half to the second half of 2013, IHS estimates marketing’s contribution to its aerospace and defense business revenue rose 83%. (Note that’s not increases to Web hits, downloads or even sales calls, but revenue.) O’Dell gives credit to a content marketing and lead gen program built around the unique needs of six primary personas, supplemented by about 20 secondary personas.

Getting Granular 

IHS’s marketing and product management teams created six personas, based on their experience with customers as well as data from the company’s CRM system. Only then did it take it to the busy sales teams.

The sales folks, who understand best how deals actually get done, suggested adding more detail to the mix by adding about another 20 “secondary personas.”  For example, under the single primary “Military/government planning and strategy” persona, sales recommended creating one sub-persona of “strategy and planning” professionals and another sub-persona of “research and development” prospects.

PersonasThis is important because each persona is supposed to represent a group with unique content needs. I’d guess, for example, that someone in planning and strategy has a need for shorter-term market predictions than does someone in research and development. Under the “Media/Advertising/PR” persona IHS was smart to create “Reporter/media” and “advertising” sub-personas. For reporters, IHS might want to highlight the free statistics they can provide in return for media exposure. For advertising agencies, it might want to push case studies about the value of their custom, paid research.

Step by Step

Rather than wait until they had the perfect, global persona-based strategy, O’Dell didn’t stop doing “batch and blast” content marketing while he developed his personas. He simply added the more granular, persona-based offers where they made sense and as his team developed them.

IHS also had the patience to map out a sequential approach to what content they would offer each “persona” based on their past behavior. For example, they sent everyone in one persona an email offering a white paper with an overview of its forecasts for the simulation and training market over the next ten years. Only those who downloaded the white paper, though, received a follow-up asking if they’d like to book a demo of their online data analysis service.

“We saw great conversion between those two steps,” said O’Dell, with those scheduling a demo turning out to be “high quality leads.” If someone clicks on a button asking for a demo, he says, there’s “noting ambiguous” about their interest.

IHS also didn’t turn prospects off by asking them to identify their persona and sub-persona through a lengthy qualification “gate” in their first interaction. It was only after the third week of the campaign that IHS asked for detailed answers that identified their sub-persona. By that time, after seeing some of HIS’s more valuable content, about half volunteered the extra information. It also used outside databases to pre-fill some of the prospect’s content info to reduce their workload.

The Angels Are in the Details

The IHS approach makes sense to me because it mirrors how I want to research products. I need the provider to prove their value before I give up too much information or agree to a sales call. And I’ll most likely to respond to a pitch that reflects my specific needs and interests.

Secondary personas help prevent you from spamming prospects with vague or irrelevant content. But for those of you out there using personas, are secondary personas just too much work?

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

Selling DevOps? Don’t Forget Security

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using security to sell DevOpsWhen we think about DevOps (you are thinking about DevOps, aren’t you?) we usually think about speed. By combining what used to be separate application development and operations into one continuous cycle, companies like Facebook and Netflix can instantly  tweak their Web-based offerings based on the latest usage feedback.

But in a “DevOps State of the Union” dinner hosted by a several cloud hosting and software companies the other night in Boston, security was a bigger topic than speed. One prong of the conversation was how DevOps could make it even harder to secure corporate data and applications. The second was how DevOps could instead be, in the words of Jerry Skurla, vice president of marketing of security management software vendor Firemon, the “last, best hope for security.”

Needed: Security Smarts

Either way, security makes for a relatively little-known area where you can prove your smarts as a provider of DevOps tools and services.

Let’s tackle the end-of-the-world scenario first.

Change, or so the conventional wisdom goes, is inherently bad for security. That’s because any time you tweak application code, update a driver or reconfigure a server or firewall you could create a security gap.  A recent HP report, for example, claims that nearly 80 percent of application vulnerabilities are caused not by poorly written code, but improper file settings, outdated software versions and misconfiguration.

Many DevOps devotees boast of rolling out not one new code package per week or month, but hundreds every day.  Consider that many of these updates might require links to new databases or legacy (read: outdated) corporate systems, or through the corporate network out to third-party data sources? It only makes sense that so much rapid, continuous change could create a security nightmare. And if you put every change through rigorous security checks, aren’t you slowing the rapid code releases that DevOps is all about?

The flip side of the coin is that real-time visibility into application performance will let developers find security vulnerabilities more quickly, while rapid code refreshes will let them fix those vulnerabilities more quickly. In this scenario a vulnerability found at 8 a.m. could be patched as part of a routine code refresh that contains other application tweaks before noon. In fact, says TK, DevOps could make it possible for smart companies to make strong security a competitive differentiator.

 

Insights Wanted

So will DevOps wind up being good or bad for security? Probably both, depending on how the industry tackles some pesky implementation details. For DevOps marketers, tackling these real-world questions provides great fodder for “thought leadership” blog posts, white papers, newsletters, and the like.

  • How do you enforce security-related coding and configuration standards without slowing code releases? (Skurla says this can be done by adding “built-in checks/processes” to emerging DevOps tools.)
  • How do you perform regression testing to ensure your latest release doesn’t open a security hole, again without slowing code updates?
  • How do you provide for code rollback so you can quickly withdraw a release that caused a security problem?
  • If you need an audit trail of who made what changes to which code and systems, how do you provide this in a DevOps environment without bogging everyone down in paperwork?
  • What balance do you strike between spreading the authority to quickly make needed code changes, and the need to control administrative access to your most critical systems?
  • How do you create a culture where your people speak up about a security problem in code they deployed, rather than staying quiet (and delaying a fix) in hopes someone else will catch the blame?

Where there are good, a new question like this, there’s opportunity to engage customers and set the terms of the marketing conversation. DevOps devotees, fire away!

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.

Checklist for Content Depth, Originality, Timeliness

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how to check content for depth, originality, timelinessIn keeping with the traditional end of year naval-gazing (or if you need a break from last-minute gift online shopping) here’s a “print and post” checklist for making sure you’re giving prospects what they want in marketing content.

How do I know this is what prospects want? Because they told us, in a survey whose results ring very true based on my years as a trade press editor.

Hope you find this helpful.

What Prospects Want How to Tell If You’re Delivering It
Depth
  • Have I answered the reader’s questions at each stage from awareness to consideration to evaluation and selection?
  • Have I described specifically how my offering works and why it’s better than the competition?
  • Have I explained the applications and technical environments for which my offering is best suited?
  • Have I described what it takes to manage and scale my offering after it’s deployed?
Accessible and understandable information
  • Have I used jargon such as “solution” or clearly described what I’m selling as hardware, software and/or services?
  • Have I described how I solve the reader’s business challenges (higher sales, lower costs, improved quality, etc.) as well as meet their technical needs?
  • Have I used the type of language I would with a friend over a drink?
  • Have I spelled out all acronyms?
Originality
  • Have I told the reader anything they didn’t already know?
  • Have I just repeated “evergreen” challenges or explained how to meet those challenges in a new and better way?
  • Have I provided new context or a new way of thinking that will help the prospect even if they don’t buy from me?
Timeliness
  • Have I told the prospect why they need to read this content right now?
  • Am I writing this just because I have something to sell or because of a change in the technology, business or regulatory environment my prospects need to know about?
  • Will reading this content now help the reader make more money, keep their job, get a raise or go home earlier?

Download a postable version of this chart here.  Drop me a note if I overlooked any must-haves or, of course, if you could use a bit of outside help hitting any of these sweet spots.

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.

Are You Wasting 25% of What You Pay Me?

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matching messages to b2b buyer's needs Or any other writer to produce white papers and other marketing collateral? A new study from the CMO Council and B2B advertising network NetLine, “Better Lead Yield in the Content Marketing Field,” says the answer is yes.

It found that that:

  • A whopping 25 percent of marketing budgets spent by CMOs is largely squandered.
  • B2B marketing organizations need to bring more discipline and strategic thinking to content specification, delivery, and analytics.
  • The big challenge is how to make the content relevant and how to deliver it.

What Works, What Doesn’t

Their survey of more than 400 business buyers across a wide range of global industries, found that 86 percent said online content plays a “major to moderate role in vendor selection.” Which is why vendors are throwing so much business to writers like me these days.

But when asked what are the most trusted and valued sources of online content, only nine percent said “vendor white papers.” That suggests that not just 25%, but as much as 90% of corporate content marketing budgets could be a waste.

While B2B marketers spend $16.6 billion each year on digital content marketing, “Their content [tends to be] over technical, product-centric, and self-serving,” Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council, told CMO.com.

So what do B2B buyers want? Their top four picks in the survey were:

  • Breadth and depth of information.
  • Ease of access and understanding.
  • Originality of thinking.
  • Timeliness of content.

And what they hate the most:   

  • Too many requirements for downloading (such as registration forms LINK)
  • Blatant promotion.
  • Nonsubstantive or uninformed.
  • Overly technical or complex.
  • Poorly written.

Are We Really Doing So Poorly?

Most of my clients get the need for quality and try to help. Before writing, I push for their most original, timely, useful insights and ask every dumb question I can think of to make sure I can answer it in the copy. And, of course, I relentlessly polish the wording to make it easy to read.

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.

A Spicy Role in $500 Billion of IT Sales

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SMB IT marketing

Not your father’s trade show.

More than a thousand “SpiceHeads” and vendors descended on Austin this week, complete with bandanas, unicorn disguises, green capes, alien outfits, tattoos and kilts.

It wasn’t Halloween and it wasn’t part of a “Keep Austin Weird” campaign.  It was SpiceWorld, the sixth and largest gathering of users of SpiceWorks’ free ad-supported network management and IT help desk software. The kitsch was not the usual “at the edges” trade show goofiness, but an essential part of SpiceWorks’ competitive edge.

Giving the mostly male, geeky IT support world a sense of community and fun generates tremendous engagement with the SpiceWorks site. Four and a half million IT pros visit the SpiceWorks site each month, spending 5.5 billion minutes in SpiceWorks (easily outpacing time on other tech sites just as TechTarget and CNET,) claimed co-founder and CEO Scott Abel. Most importantly, the ads and advice on SpiceWorks influenced more than $500 billion in IT purchases in the last year, he said.

Based on their browsing habits SpiceWorks serves up customized ads, along with the ability to solicit bids from advertisers such as CDW. One attendee called it “Facebook for Techies.”

(Customers download SpiceWorks’ ever-expanding stable of free software to run on their own servers, to ease concerns about SpiceWorks knowing too much about their internal systems. SpiceWorks collects data which it can use for services such as recruiting virtual focus groups for vendors.)

Community Uber Alles

It’s a model vendors and IT trade pubs have been trying to make work since the pre-Internet days of bulletin boards. But none of them thought to sweeten the pot with free software that solves real problems for the grunts in the trenches. None also gave so much control and recognition to folks who rarely get attention, much less respect, from tech giants.

SpiceWorks didn’t plan on such a central role for the community. It jumped on the bandwagon when it was how much heartfelt advice users were sharing. It ranges from problems with switches to bad bosses to charity drives for injured pets. SpiceHeads rate each other’s contributions, as well as those from the “Green Guy” vendor reps who answer questions and respond to complaints.

The 225-employee company accepts — even depends on — real-time, unvarnished feedback from its users. So do vendors such as Pertino, which relied on SpiceHead suggestions in designing its Cloud VPN (virtual private network). SpiceHeads will even trash an ill-conceived vendor advertisement on the site, and a smart vendor will openly admit it’s wrong, thank the community for its guidance and even encourage SpiceHeads to spoof the ad.

Stick It to the Man

Knowing its customers usually toil in obscurity and rarely get noticed when things go right, SpiceWorks goes out of its way to celebrate them as heroes. Super-hero or fantasy themes abound, as in the orange dinosaur mascot “SpiceRex” or the – what else? – alien at the AlienVault unified security management booth.

SpiceWorks doesn’t compete with its advertisers, says Technical Program Manager David Bsbbitt, because it deliberately limits its own offerings to the 20% of capabilities that solve 80% of most customers’ needs. Enough SpiceWorks’ users, especially as their organizations grow, will always need more sophisticated or scalable products, leaving plenty of room for all.  “You guys using tools developed by other software vendors is how we make money,” Abel told the audience.

SpiceWorks just announced APIs to encourage other vendors to integrate their offerings with SpiceWorks. One recent example is Fibrelinks’s MaaS360 mobile device management software. Like other vendors, FibreLink offers basic functionality for free, with other features such as the ability to wipe devices or reset passcodes, available at a discount for SpiceHeads.

The “we’re all in this together” sense of community is palpable. One attendee described her husband’s nervousness about her getting rides to the convention center from fellow SpiceHeads she’s never met.  “If I’d trust them (for advice about) my network, why wouldn’t I trust them for a ride?” she replied.

Show Me the Money

The privately-held company is not yet making spicy profits, said Abel, but it “is not wildly negative” and is focusing on new features such as “user profiles” that help SpiceHeads showcase their skills and projects. The goal is not so much to move into the recruitment business a la LinkedIn, he says, but to keep more SpiceHeads on the site longer. Spiceworks is also beefing up its content creation services for vendors, especially in the fast-growing video segment.

If you’re looking to market to CIOs or CEOs, SpiceWorld is not yet the place. Khakis and a button-down shirt was over-dressed; jeans, or even shorts, and a “Back the F: /** Up” T-shirt (“F” as in “F” drive — get it?) were more typical. SpiceWorks has to keep managing its users’ expectations for new features they’d like to see but aren’t on SpiceWorks’ radar. And as they grow, it will be a challenge to keep their “SpiceHeads first” culture intact.

But if you want to reach passionate brand recommenders in the trenches – and are willing to take some tough feedback from them when you don’t deliver – SpiceWorks is unlike any other marketing channel I’ve seen.

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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marketing mobile app development toolsWriting and supporting custom applications is the last thing a Fortune 500 retailer, pharmaceutical company or bank wants to do. They’d rather be tweaking inventory and store layouts (the retailer), unclogging their drug development pipeline (the pharma company) or figuring out how to make money in a low-interest rate world (the bank.)

But employees, customers and business partners want snazzy mobile apps and they want them now. How to best deliver these apps poses challenges, but also opportunities, for IT marketers.

Customize This

The mobile craze is forcing enterprises back into custom app development, according to Dimitri Sirota, senior vice president, security at CA Technologies FCN. (Note: CA Technologies is a client, but did not solicit or reimburse me for this post.) He argues organizations need custom apps because each has different products or services to sell, different markets to serve and different messages to convey.

The customization these apps require go beyond easily-tweaked user interfaces. They involve harder-to-solve issues, like drawing data from repositories or formats not easily accessible by mobile devices. Sirota co-founded Layer 7, which provides API management software to ease such access, and which CA acquired earlier this year. Among other things, he says, such API management can help developers solve mobile-specific challenges such as compression and caching to improve performance and battery life.

Gil Bouhnick, vice president of mobility at mobile workforce platform vendor ClickSoftware has a different take. He sees most of his customers turning to the cloud for quick, easy-to-deploy mobile apps so they can reach the market quickly and learn what works. Whatever customization they are doing tends to be done with offerings from their own app store that provide, for example, specific types of forms or data access without the need for custom coding.

Market Messaging    

Whether customers build their own mobile apps or pull them from the cloud, they don’t want to code.  Whatever brainstorming they do must be around streamlining workflows or reaching new customers with mobile, not the plumbing required for it. Just as with security, business managers want mobile apps delivered in consistent, proven and measurable ways.

If you’re selling to folks who need such industrial-strength mobile app development, some suggestions:

  • Provide examples of repeatable, proven policies, templates or frameworks you’ve provided customers. Consider sharing appropriate examples in an open-source model or creating an app store like ClickSoftware’s. That makes life easier for your customers, enhances your reputation as a “go-to” source for knowledge and tools, and lets customers and partners do some of the hard work of developing new mobile tools. Tracking such community-based development also gives you insights into what customers need but aren’t getting in tools like yours.
  • Push your customers to discuss the specific cost savings or revenue gains they’ve experienced by doing mobile app dev in a repeatable, measurable way. Yes, getting folks to agree to case studies is harder than ever. But proving they have solid mobile development processes is not only a great competitive advantage, but can help recruit top development talent.
  • Get your internal experts talking, blogging and sharing about best practices in app dev, security or any other IT discipline. This move to “industrialized IT” is still in its early stages, and there’s a wealth of market education to do and challenges to discuss.

How do you see mobility changing corporate app development, and how is mobile changing your marketing message?

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.

Daring Concept: Tell IT Buyers the Truth

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Bigstock_48447038 (2)When you’re producing marketing content to IT buyers, be honest about the downsides and tradeoffs of what you’re offering.

But don’t take my word for it. Read this first-person account by the anonymous “ITSlave” for SpiceWorks, which combines free IT management software for an online community for IT pros and the vendors who market to them.

No Perfect Cloud 

His story (the 239th in SpiceWorks’ “Spotlight on IT” series, was called “No silver bullet for slaying IT monsters: The cloud on a case-by-case basis.” In it, he explained how he evaluated whether “moving a service or application to the cloud may or may not make sense for a host of different reasons.” And, he said, the truth is that “As is the case with everything in life, there were also some trade-offs we had to make.”

He then described several examples. Moving a “flaky” Exchange 2010 implementation that suffered from poor planning and a rushed deployment to the cloud “is probably the best move we could have made,” he said. It lets them add or cut users as their contract-based business rises and falls from month to month. Uptime has been around 100 percent, better than he could have provided in-house. The major downside was they could no longer easily customize Exchange for each of their business units, but that was acceptable.

The second example was moving from tape-based backup that took too long to recover after an outage to a cloud-based disk-to-disk system. This reduced both time to recover and the amount of data they might lose in an outage. The tradeoff: Since they have no control over the recovery site, which is 2,000 miles away, they have to pay for annual testing. When his contract expires, ITSlave says, they’ll probably look to move to a more fully cloud-based infrastructure.

Finally, he described the pros and cons of their ongoing shift from physical to virtual servers using a local service provider. The good news is his employer is doing a better job finding, and eliminating, servers business units ordered but no longer need. That bad news is that creating a private cloud with the provider involved a “hefty” up-front cost, but it was still less than building it in-house.

They’ll Find Out Anyway

If this is how an IT buyer talks to his peers, isn’t this how you should talk to him as well? If you’re scared of pointing out the limits or tradeoffs in what you’re selling, look at studies that show IT buyers want product information from vendors, but they don’t want fluff. Remember also that ITSlave eventually learned the downsides of each of the cloud offerings he considered, and made the purchase in all three cases – and plans to stick with the provider in two out of the three examples.

Finally, admitting you’re not the best fit for every situation only increases your credibility, and weeds out prospects who you’ll eventually find aren’t a good fit.

Are you – or your clients – brave enough to tell the truth about your offerings? Or does this seem like the worst idea in the world to 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.
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