The Dead Fish Test for Customer Surveys

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.

Should We Really “Think Like Publishers?”

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.

Content Cookbook #3: Selling DevOps

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.

I try to steer my clients from vague buzzwords such as “transformation” in content marketing because they confuse customers rather than engage them. Now, no less an authority than industry guru Gartner is warning that using the word “transformation” in contract negotiations can also  foul outsourcing deals by raising false expectations among customers.

The warning came in Gartner’s June 2011 Magic Quadrant ranking of finance and accounting (F&A) outsourcing providers as it advised to “Ban the words `innovation’ and `transformation’ because they will only lead to misaligned expectations.”

Specifically, the Gartner report said, it can lead the customer to believe “`…my service provider is all-knowing and can fix everything.’” Imagine, for example, a customer who’s been unable to reduce costs or understand a new market due to internal cultural and organizational problems. An outsourcer comes in promising to “transform” their organization and runs afoul of those same problems. The outsourcer loses money trying to solve problems it never signed up to tackle in the first place, and the customer has wasted time and effort without achieving their goals.

Another scenario Gartner mentioned involves the customer choosing the lowest-price provider and  “left wondering where the innovation and transformation are.” Innovation and “transformation” require understanding where a business is now and where it needs to be. That’s why, Gartner advises baselining the current state of affairs and not hoping the outsourcer “will solve all the internal process issues, which may never have been addressed internally.”

Using “Transformation” in Content Marketing

This confusion is mirrored in the results of my ongoing online survey which shows 40 percent of respondents agree with my “gut” definition that transformation means a “fundamental, wide-ranging improvement that will last over time.” But a third believe marketers just throw the word around without thinking, and 22 percent said marketers just use transformation in their copywriting as a synonym for “improve.” Hence the confusion when an outsourcer is using “transform” to mean just a lower price, while the customer is expecting a radical makeover

One simple way to avoid trouble in content marketing – and to set yourself apart from the hordes throwing around the “transform” buzzword – is to insert the word “by” after the word “transform” and explain specifically what you will do, how you will do it, and the specific business benefits you’ll deliver.

Examples:

  • We will transform your accounts payable by performing all transactions on our cloud-based platform, analyzing all payments with our proprietary algorithms to detect waste and fraud, and shifting any manual processing such as troubleshooting to our offshore staff. We commit to permanently reducing processing costs by at least 36% and waste and fraud losses by at least 23%. Reducing payment times by one week will also allow you to recover 10% early payment discounts from your vendors.
  • We will transform your IT infrastructure by shifting peak loads and Web-facing systems to our lower-cost cloud, managing remaining internal systems with our offshore remote management staff and remotely testing applications. This will permanently reduce your  capital budget by 60%, your operating budget by 60% and time to market for new applications by one month. Future work shifting will, within five years, allow you to devote 50% of your IT spending to new initiatives versus only 20% now.
  • We will transform your customer service by surveying current and past customers to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and comparing your costs, service levels and customer satisfaction levels to other clients with whom we have worked. We will design, implement and monitor the organizational and cultural changes required to meet your strategic goal of permanently becoming the top-ranked vendor in your industry for customer service.

In each case, everything after the word “by” explains what you mean by “transformation” and how you will achieve it. While Gartner focused on outsourcing, describing “transformation” in any content marketing clearly leaves  much less room for confusion, and much more compelling content to attract and keep customers. Let me know how you’re hearing “transformation” used and misused in content marketing.

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 Your Weaknesses in B2B Content Marketing

I’ve long argued that admitting your product or service isn’t the right hammer for every nail is an effective way to sell. The folks at marketing automation software vendor HubSpot seem to agree, judging from a recent blog post on “Seven Reasons Social Media is Bad for Marketing.”

 

Since social media (the use of content-sharing sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to promote a product or service) is one of the main uses for HubSpot’s software  you would expect HubSpot to be a leader in sharing lots of tips about how to use social media and why it’s good. Which they are. But in this post HubSpot admits “we have under-reported on the negative aspects” of social media and lists seven hidden downsides.

 

Did HubSpot shoot itself in the foot? No. Rather than trash the basic idea of social media (as the headline implies) the post actually focuses on what happens when you do social media wrong and describes how to do it right. That transforms what seems like an exercise in humility into an opportunity to educate and engage customers and prospects. For example:

 

Reason Two, that social media causes companies to “Focus on the Wrong Metrics.” The post goes on to suggest “Reach, leads and sales should be some of the tangible metrics that are measured as part of social media marketing strategies.”

 

Reason Four, that social media creates another isolated marketing silo that doesn’t work effectively with other parts of the organization. If integrated into customer service and product development, the post suggests, social media could instead “be an important factor for organizational improvement.”

 

Or Reason Seven, “Lack of Change,” which accuses content marketers of using social media to distribute “the same boring and legally reviewed sound bites that people have tuned-out on TV and in print.” The implied solution? Turn out better content and social media will work better.

 

All HubSpot is admitting is that social media is not a cure-all and that its product has to be used correctly to work. By raising the potential downfalls of its product itself HubSpot educates and engages current and prospective customers.  One day after posting, 26 people had commented, of whom only two piled on to say social media is worthless. The rest thanked HubSpot for raising these problems and/or asked for help in solving them. That’s two dozen current or potential customers who will think of HubSpot next time they have a marketing problem and the budget to solve it.

 

Which, after all, is the point. 

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.

Ask anyone selling marketing software or services what their “cost per lead” is and you’ll get a different, and self-serving, answer. I’ve seen estimates ranging from single dollars to tens of dollars to hundreds of dollars. The cost is always the highest for whatever mechanism (trade shows, telemarketing, direct mail, marketing automation software) the competing vendor is hoping to trash.

 

Of course, everyone cooks the underlying cost numbers to make their approach look best. But you’re actually asking to be bamboozled because you haven’t defined a “lead.” It is just a name and a possibly outdated title and email address from a purchased list? Is it the current name and contact info of someone who actually visited your booth or downloaded a white paper? Or is it the name, contact information who has indicated (either through a registration form or their readership history) that they’re feeling the pain you can solve, own the hardware and software your product needs to work, and are willing to sit down and talk for ten minutes?

 

Naturally, the price goes up the better the “lead” is. A veteran marketing director working for a social media startup told me recently that white-paper syndication services charge about $25 per lead, (names of individuals with certain titles, at a given size organization, etc. But identifying which “leads” have the right other products to make them a good lead boosts the cost closer to $80. Winnowing the field down to those who have the specific problem his product solves, and is open to a call, winds up costing hundreds of dollars per lead.

 

Some vendors try to ease the confusion by differentiating between “leads” (less qualified) and “prospects” (more qualified.) Other cite a CPL (cost per lead) and CPA (cost per action) with the “action” being a lead downloading a white paper or taking a call. But whatever terminology you use, “cost per lead” is useless for calculating ROI unless you define “lead.”

 

The CPA metric is a good start, because it defines success as a specific action. And most marketers (like my friend) have a good intuitive feel for what they want from a lead. Just adding a few words – a lead who will take a ten minute call, or who downloads our white paper – are all it takes to set a clear and level playing field.

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.