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.

Tailoring Content to the IT Buying Cycle

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.

Content Cookbook #5: Cloud Security

marketing campaign cloud security CIOs love the agility, flexibility and lower prices offered by the cloud. But year after year, security breach after security breach, fear keeps them from moving more sensitive data and applications to off-premise data centers.

If you’re selling cloud security, either as a cloud service  or in the form of consulting to help clients assure cloud security, what sort of content do you need to find, score, and nurture prospects?

Based on my recent reporting and a recent global survey of IT executives I helped execute for Oracle, here are some security-related questions you can use to build content for each nervous step along the cloud purchase funnel. Each of these topics can easily be expanded into a blog post, white paper, Webinar, ebook or “Top Ten Questions to Ask” cheat sheet.

Awareness/General Education Stage

  1. What questions should I, as a customer, ask to determine if the cloud is likely to be more or less secure than my in-house environment?
  2. What general questions should I ask my cloud provider about security?
  3. What types of applications and data are my peers trusting to the cloud?
  4. How do assess my applications and data to determine which are most suitable for the cloud from a security perspective?
  5. How much can I trust security certifications such as PCI? What are the hidden “gotchas” that can make such certifications worth less than they seem?
  6. (For cloud-based security as a service:
    1. What is “security as a service?” How does it work?
    2. What forms of security are available as a service (Identity management? Remote monitoring?) What are the pros and cons of each?

Product/Service Consideration Stage

  1.  What specific questions should I ask a cloud provider based on my vertical market and its industry/governmental compliance requirements?
  2. What processes, and technologies, should the service provider use to alert me to security issues? How quickly will I be notified, and what are the escalation paths if the problem isn’t solved quickly
  3. What types of encryption should they provide for data in transit and at rest?
  4. What are the different methods of isolating customer environments in the cloud (such as network traffic isolation vs. database traffic isolation? How does a customer determine which is best for them?
  5. What security service level agreements (SLAs) should I expect from a cloud provider, or a security as a service provider?

Product/Service Evaluation/Purchase Stage

  1. What specific security-related controls and reports should I insist on from my service provider?
  2. How will the provider give my internal or external auditors the information they need to help prove my compliance with essential security requirements?
  3. Specifically how do they assure my data and applications are isolated from those of other customers?
  4. Do they offer any federated identity or access management capabilities that make it easier for me to integrate my on-site security mechanisms with the cloud?
  5. Specifically how does each provider assure only proper access to the administrative accounts that are the “keys to the kingdom” for their cloud? Who performs patching, and who on their staff is authorized to log onto each host and guest
  6. How quickly will they inform me about the existence of a security breach, their progress toward resolving it, and what if any of my data was compromised?

The specific points you address at each point in the sales cycle may differ. The point is, the closer your prospect is to the evaluation/purchase stage, the more specific the questions become. Let me know how this list looks to you, and what content has worked well in selling cloud security.

 If you’d like to see a content cookbook for any other product or service, email 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.

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.