The Dead Fish Test for Customer Surveys

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pitching customer surveys Conducting a survey to prove the need for your product or service is a popular content marketing tool, and with good reason.  Done right, it provides proof your product or service is needed, and a news hook for reporters or editors.

But all too often pitches for such surveys arrive in my inbox with a dull thud like a dead fish. That’s a waste of all the time and effort the sponsor put into them. It’s the worst of the three levels of survey pitches I’ve seen. Which one are you using?

The Dead Fish Approach

The least effective approach, which I see all the time, is an email blast throwing the survey on my doorstep in hopes I’ll be interested. For example:

 Hacking Heaven Systems just released the results of a survey on cloud security.  Any interest in checking out the press release on embargo? Let me know…

Why should I be interested? All you’ve told me is that you did a survey. Even if I covered cloud security exclusively and continually you’ve given me no compelling reason to follow up. The email doesn’t even have a link to the release itself, meaning I have to ask for it and wait for your rely.  Even if it was a really slow news hour or day or week, there are faster, easier ways to find stuff to write about.

And, what’s with the embargo? In these days of social media and instant news, an embargo signals you don’t have a clue. If you want to give your story a chance, offer it without preconditions.

The Live Fish Approach

This at least makes the pitch shimmy around and look interesting. And it ain’t complicated. You probably have an internal summary report describing the top three findings. Feature those prominently in your email so the editor can quickly decide if they’re interested and click through. For example:

While eight out of ten enterprises are putting more apps and data on the cloud, seven out of ten corporate decision makers say cloud security is getting worse, not better. Six out of ten say cost pressures are forcing them into security risks they’re not comfortable with, and half say it’s only a matter of time before cloud security harms their organizations. Contact Hacking Heaven Systems for details of the study and our analysis of the implications.

Am I interested? Quite possibly yes – at least enough to reply to the email and ask a few questions, like how large the survey is, whether any respondents are available to talk, and whether you asked any of them what they’re doing about this state of affairs.

The Great Fish Approach

This takes the most effort but maximizes the chances I’ll call. It does this by personalizing the email to reflect what I’ve already written about the subject or an editorial calendar where I’ve advertised what I’m writing about.

I notice you’ve recently done several stories quoting analysts and vendors about how concerns about cloud security are easing. Well, not according to the 500 corporate decision makers Hacking Heaven Systems surveyed recently. Yes, eight out of ten say they’re putting more apps and data on the cloud. But more than half say this is due to cost pressures, and seven think cloud security is actually getting worse. A full half of them say it’s only a matter of time before cloud security harms their organizations. Contact us for comment on what accounts for these findings, and names of survey respondents willing to talk.

This last approach obviously takes more work. It also assumes:

  • Your target reporter or editor covers this field often enough to have an opportunity to do a follow up, or is willing to develop a story to pitch on spec.
  • That you did a good enough job crafting your questions to develop these compelling angles.
  • That you thought the results through completely enough to offer a take on it that is more than a marketing pitch, and
  • That you actually have survey respondents willing to talk to the press.

If this was a beat I was covering regularly, I’d be hard-pressed not to follow up on this third pitch just to be sure I wasn’t missing a good story.

Or maybe I’m completely wrong, and in this age of SEO-driven marketing some content development bot would pick up even the dullest press release and promote it. If so, do you do one version for the bots and another for the humans you want to call for a full discussion?  

 

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.

Stop the Video Madness!

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when to use video If I have to sit through another vendor video full of bouncy music, cute special effects and a happy-talk narrator when I’m trying to learn something I’m going to scream.

And I’m not (just) speaking selfishly as someone that still gets most of their assignments producing old-fashioned word documents rather than video. I’m speaking as an information consumer that, just like one of your prospects, needs to quickly learn about new technology, rather than be “entertained.”

Almost everyone uses video in B2B sales these days. But here are six ways it gets in the way of educating these busy customers and steers them to your competitors.

  1. They have to wait for the video to load and buffer.
  2. They have to sit through the afore-mentioned theme song, graphics, cute jokes or happy talk before they hear anything worthwhile.
  3. Once the voice-over starts they need to toggle between the video and their word processor to take notes. (No way to easily cut and paste information as they can with text.)
  4. If the customer misses an important point, or the speaker mumbles or speaks too quickly, they have to rewind the video to listen again. This usually takes two or three tries to get to the right place in the video, forcing them to sit through the same video again and again.
  5. There’s no way to quickly scroll through the content to find what they need. With video, you force the customer to sit through the whole conversation before finding if their question was answered.
  6. The content is often presented out of sequence or full of vague jargon such as “solution,” “optimize,” “transform” and “digital.” The reason: The vendor didn’t properly script the interview and prepare the presenter, meaning they had to choose from whatever good video they got. With text, there’s more opportunity to push for more detail and reorder the content to focus on the most important points.

When Video Works

Having gotten that off my chest, here is where video is as good as, or even better than plain old text.

  1. When you have emotionally or visually engaging images to help tell your story. Think of showing patients helped by your Big Data diagnostic software, the factory equipment that stays running thanks to your Internet of Things sensors, or customers responding to real-time offers from your marketing software on their smartphones.
  2. When a moving image helps explain the process improvements you delivered or the unique benefits of your technology. Think of before and after flow charts showing agile application development, how Big Data analysis finds security breaches and how your advanced algorithms improve route planning.
  3. And when you have that rare articulate, passionate speaker whose presentation and presence adds to, rather than harms, your ability to tell a good story.

Being an old fuddy-duddy, I’m probably missed other areas where video trumps the written word. But for someone (like a customer) that needs to find very specific information very quickly, I beg you to at least offer them a transcript of the video so they can scan it quickly rather than sit through your entire spiel.

Anyone else out there agree that video can be incredibly annoying, or do I need to lighten up and enjoy the show?

 

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.

Tailoring Content to the IT Buying Cycle

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content marketing for IT vendorsIt’s no surprise that the IT sales cycle is getting longer and more complex, with more and more players involved all the time. The move to “digital” means not only IT, but sales, marketing, operations and finance is and should be involved in everything from setting requirements to agreeing on budgets.

But specifically what content do each of these players need, at what stage in the sales cycle, and for what type of IT product?

To the rescue comes business networking site LinkedIn, with a survey of how 8,600 professionals in 11 countries purchase four types of products: Hardware for end users, software for end users, hardware for the data center and software for the data center. While it’s a long (76 pages) read, (and covers only products, not services) its well worth the time if you’re looking to fine-tune content in these four categories.

Until you download the report, some highlights.

The Problem

The report found that IT sales are getting more competitive, with less than one in five large companies even willing to consider a new vendor. That makes it even more important, if you’re trying to crack a new account, to engage everyone involved in the purchase with engaging, relevant content.

Across all four product categories, the critical “vendor selection” stage typically involves four or more people, with any individual often engaged in more than one stage at any time. For every product type, the three stages that involve the most players are 1) the up-front needs assessment, 2) determining specifications and budget, and 3) implementation.

Although many vendors don’t consider this last, post-sales period part of the sales process, it’s actually critical, according to LinkedIn. That’s when, the report says, those who chose their product “…are very exposed and vulnerable…and need to know that the vendor” is there to help them prove to their bosses that they made the right product choice. Successful customers are more likely to stick with you for upgrades, and to recommend you to their peers – word-of-mouth that is often the most effective form of advertising in this social media age.

Some Suggestions

With my analysis in italics:

  • When talking to the finance types who influence the sale, “Be up front about the costs of implementation, not only financially, but also in disruption of productivity or operational downtime.” I think such honesty is a compelling draw for customers. But good luck getting your product managers to fess up to this, or your other customers to share such painful data.
  • Customers researching end-user software prefer Webinars over white papers. Makes sense as it lets the customer see the software, not just read about it. Webinars also makes it easier to get user feedback.
  • In the implementation stage, customers “…are the hungriest for rich content and information (but) are rather quiet” about asking for it. “Make it easy for them to self-educate and learn on their own. Maybe we should ask our technical writing peers for help with implementation guides, FAQs, best practices and ROI calculators to offer customers after, as well as before, the sale.
  • Data center hardware buyers are very closed to new vendors, and “prefer in-depth articles and engineering terminology over events, conferences or social media…” Ramp up the geek speak, but team your CTO or engineers with professional writers so their insights can also be shared with less technical folks on the evaluation committee.
  • Buyers of data center software find events and conferences more valuable as they move from determining the need to defining specifications and budgets. In-person schmoozing is where you get the real dirt about what works and what deals you can get from vendors. Rather than fight this, maybe facilitate it with your own networking events for customers?

Brave New Whirl

This is all a far cry from the relatively simple days (if they ever existed) of finding “the IT decision maker” and hammering them into submission over lunch or golf. It also makes for quite an uphill struggle, when so many companies struggle to produce enough content to support simpler sales cycles.

What’s your take on whether the buying cycle is indeed this complex, and on LinkedIn’s recommendations for navigating it?

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

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.
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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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Just waiting for this video to load…

There’s a lot of noise out there about making video a part of your content marketing strategy. Here are five reasons why it’s a waste of time for you and your customers:

  1. Customers need to wait for the video to load and stream. B2B prospects lack the time for this.
  2. They need to sit through two, five, ten minutes or more of talking before they learn all the key points.
  3.  To capture interesting points that aren’t in the accompanying PowerPoint, the customer must take notes and enter them into a database/tickler file (rather than just cutting or pasting as they can from text.)
  4.  If the customer is interrupted or accidently closes their browser window, they have to go back, wait for the video to reload, find where they left off and resume taking notes.
  5.  Producing quality video is difficult and takes time. Low-quality video is easier but can look amateurish, especially for complex, B2B sales.

I admit video IS great for:

  1. Adding credibility to B2B customer case studies IF the customer is articulate and enthused about what you did for them. (The same goes for showcasing the quality of your workforce or your facilities.)
  2. Explaining complicated concepts with pictures as well as words.
  3. Showing, rather than telling, how a product or process works.

My advice is NOT to throw a video up on your B2B site without adding a brief, but complete, written summary of it for those who lack the time or interest to sit through it. Video is a sequential learning tool, for those with the time and motivation to devote to it. A brief written summary is a random-access alternative for those time-pressed, B2B customers who want to scan quickly and pick out the key points.

Subscribe to my free Editor’s Notes newsletter for more tips, or email me if you have other content marketing strategy or implentation questions.

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

Way back in November 2010, I asked “How Much Rope Should You Give a Corporate Reporter?”  The question just hit uncomfortably close to home, with a blog post (now on hold) that would have required me to get comment from one of my client’s competitors.

The topic is the effects of mergers and acquisitions on well-known product in my client’s market space. The post would have raised the question of what will happen to a well-known group of products, widely used by customers, as a result of their being bought by larger companies. Will the acquiring companies keep selling and supporting them? Will they continue to OEM them, as their former owners did, to multiple other vendors, or kill them off in favor of the acquiring company’s own offerings?

Trust Me, I’m the Competition

These are all great questions, which have formed the basis for countless stories and columns in the trade press down through the ages. As a reporter for a trade pub, I would call the acquiring companies, their customers, their competitors, resellers and industry analysts to ask if there have been or will be any layoffs in the development groups for those products? Will the acquired products be merged into existing product lines, and, if so, how? How long will the acquiring company support any “orphaned” products?

But as a paid representative of a competitor, would any of these folks – should they – take my call as a representative of a competitor? Is a competitor’s Web site an appropriate place to lay out your post-acquisition product strategy, or to defend it? Can you trust a paid representative of a competitor to quote you accurately, and not spin your comments into an ad for their products?

The easy way out is to just pose the questions in an “open letter to the industry,” calling righteously on your competitor, or customers, or someone else in a “legitimate” position to get to the truth. But that is misleading the reader by raising urgent and important questions, but not doing all you can to answer them. That, in my opinion, is lying to the reader, pretending to report the news while only sowing fear, confusion and doubt to boost your employer’s sales.

Morality? What’s That?

There are obviously moral implications here, and the practical need to not compromise my “reporter” reputation by putting my name to blatant marketing material. But there’s also a more practical content marketing question: How far should we go using traditional journalistic tools (like getting the other side of the story) to meet the business need of attracting and keeping readers on our client’s sites?

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.

Coffee With Bob For Those 25 Hour Days

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Just checking Twitter once more before logging off...

Nothing makes me feel like a real industry expert than coffee with PR veteran Tim Hurley, who recently let me pontificate on his Web site about tech, PR and media trends in 2012. Based on a whole mess of reporting I’ve been doing for publications such as Computerworld and InfoWorld, and ongoing marketing work with clients in the cloud, storage and outsourcing areas, trends I managed to pick out of my cluttered mind include…

  • Cloud computing going mainstream
  • Not only apps, but everything IT, going mobile, and
  • The challenge of using social media to enrich customers’ lives rather than distract them to death.

Another big trend I keep seeing is internal IT staffs, and outsourcers, struggling to move up the fabled value chain and deliver innovation, and not just lower cost, to the business. This requires change not only in business models (how staff and outsourcers are measured and paid) but changes in mindset. Good luck doing that while cutting costs and keeping the wheels turning in a tough economy.

On the media/communications/PR/marketing world, I observed that content marketing is still struggling to prove its worth to the enterprise, as is social media. I also predicted, somewhat hopefully, that “content curation” (automatically gathering content from around the Web to push to readers) will turn out to be just another buzzword. Why so nervous? Because, despite claims to the otherwise, I think it  undermines my value proposition of creating unique, high-quality content. Hey, as Andy Grove once said, even paranoiacs have real enemies.

On the skills front, I recommend PR and marketing pros learn how to 1) work with social media without busting the budget or working 25 hours a day, 2) cost-justify these social media and content marketing efforts, and 3) develop a multimedia strategy that includes podcasts, video and Webinars easily viewable on mobile devices.

One of my predictions, that PR agencies that still focus on story placement in print pubs are missing the boat, has already been undermined by several PR pros telling me such placements still drive leads. They’re also very important to Indian-based outsourcing vendors, because in India the print trade press is still far more robust than in the U.S.

Let me know if I’m right or wrong on story placement, and if you have any great ideas for how not to work 25 hours a day.

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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