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Wondering if buyers out there care what you have to say? Worry no more.

A recent ITSMA survey of technology buyers found that vendor Web sites, rather than their peers are their primary source of information at early stages in the buying process. In fact, 70% of buyers wanted to hear from a vendor salesperson before identifying their short list of potential purchases.

Their peers are still an important as a source of referrals, recommendations and references, the survey found, but not information. That’s’ not surprising. Most customers I interview for case studies don’t have product speeds, feeds and spec sheets at their fingertips. They can, though, tell you whether a product or service helped their business. They’re especially useful for issues a vendor might be less candid about. These include hidden compatibility issues, ease of use and the quality of customer support.

Every Vendor a Publisher

These findings mirror other content marketing studies I’ve seen. They show that vendors have done a surprisingly effective job taking over from IT trade publications as trustworthy sources of product information.

But reporting on product specs hasn’t been the main draw of trade pubs for years. Readers instead looked to them for “education” about new technologies and “new and provocative perspectives” on technology trends. That’s exactly what  ITSMA recommends sales staffs give to customers. It’s all part, the organization said, of providing thought leadership selling and acting as the `frontline’ subject matter experts.’”

Therein lies a challenge for many of the content marketing clients with whom I work. They struggle to find a way to educate their prospects and keep them involved without sounding too “salesy.” They also struggle to find appropriate topics to write about, and to find the “news” angles in marketing content that will drive readership and involvement.

ITSMA’s recommendations got me thinking about how we in the trade press tried to provide both education and “new and provocative perspectives” to readers. We always tried to focus on the reader, insist on a “news” angle for every story, and stay entertaining and interesting without descending into buffoonery.

The Basics   

As many experts suggest, lead with valuable information in your content marketing, not shameless self-promotion.

  • Tell the reader specifically what your “solution” is. One of my first questions as a reporter was always “What IS it you’re selling?” Is it a PaaS (platform as a service) optimized for the commercial real estate market? A combination mobile app and social platform for military families looking for financial advice? Software as a service or a physical or virtual appliance?
  • Tell the prospect what your solution does. Don’t get bogged down repeating cliché problems (“provides agility”) or gauzy platitudes (“Optimize your business.”) Good writing is specific.  “We combine the most complete and up-to-date database of commercial real estate listings with an auction site for development loans…”
  • Tell the prospect whether they’re a good fit for what you sell.  “We provide automated server provisioning tools for Windows environments…” “We’re the simplest, easiest to use /marketing automation platform for small to medium businesses…” “We provide Big Data analytics consulting and services for pharmaceutical commercial operations…”

If It Ain’t New Don’t Say It

A “new” perspective is – duh – something the reader hasn’t heard before. Tell them why the “conventional wisdom” about, say, the cloud, open source software or solid state storage is wrong. Make sure what you’re saying isn’t common knowledge on every other Website or blog. Back up your insights or arguments with proof or at least a good argument. And go easy on why your insight means the prospect should call you ASAP.

What is a “provocative’ perspective? It doesn’t have to be outrageous, but it has to make people think differently about what to do. “Everyone’s caching data on solid state drives, but how you can avoid all those reads and writes cutting short the life of the SSD? Or: “Everyone is rushing to automate every process in their data center. But how about all those function that should never be automated for security, compliance or quality control reasons?”

Be interesting at all costs; be entertaining if you can. Use short, direct sentences. Write clearly with everyday words, just like you would speak to a friend over a drink. Use everyday images and speak from the heart.

Don’t Blow It

Survey results like these are great news for vendors. Buyers trust you, at least for basic information about your products and services. They’re willing to stick around for education and insight. Now, don’t blow it. Stay focused on their needs, not yours, and keep it simple, clear and compelling.

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.

The sustained downturn is doing some screwy things to the economy, like reducing the price customers will pay for “core” offerings while making them more willing to spend on what used to be “extras.” Two examples of core offerings that are losing their pull: Computers and tickets to sporting events.

Bloomberg reports that Wal-Mart and Staples are slashing notebook prices to or even below the break-event point so they can sell more higher-margin accessories such as service, external hard drives or even computer bags. Turns out for every $1 customer spend on the computer itself, they spend 89 cents on accessories. Service, especially, is a high-margin item, which is why the helpful sales reps push it so hard. One source even compared it to movie theaters that make their profits not on the ticket sales, but on the concessions like $5 a bag popcorn.)

 Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports the Dodgers are making a killing selling special access to fans, such as – I told you this was wierd – 100 fans paying $100 each to do yoga with outfielder Andre Ethier (above). The three nights the team offered batting practice for fans under the stadium lights brought in another $170,000. Dodger’s President and CEO Dennis Mannion says events like these could eventually bring in more money than tickets, concessions or parking.

I’m left wondering, through, if there’s any way this could work for big-ticket, complex IT offerings or whether vendors are already doing all “give away the product and sell the services” (see: Linux) that they can. The closest we have to “fan access” is when beta customers get a break on pricing in return for steering the development efforts.

And I doubt that, say, EMC inspires enough love that customers would pay to write some microcode for a new disk arrays, the way Dodger fans can pay $1,500 to deliver the ball to the pitcher’s mound. But hey, if this turns into a profit center remember where you heard it first. 

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.