How Much IP Should You Share?

Businessman Keeping Protective CaseDragging real insights out of subject matter experts (SMEs) for white papers can sometimes seem like pulling teeth. One of the most common excuses I get is some variation on “We don’t want to give too much of our solution away.”

In other words, if you share too much of your intellectual property (IP) with the customer about how you can solve their problem, they won’t call because there’s nothing left to talk about. That never made much sense to me. When it comes to software, the more completely you describe the problem and your solution to it, the more likely a customer is to buy. (Are they going to go off and re-code your software themselves?) And if you’re selling services, every customer is unique enough that even the longest white paper won’t teach them how to do what you do.

I’ve always urged my clients to go big with the details describing how they’re so smart and their competitors are clueless. Here’s how a recent white paper from security vendor Cybereason (no, not written by me) did a brilliant job of promoting their expertise by going deep into the details.

Dirty Rotten DGAs

Cybereason provides a “real-time attack detection and response platform that uses endpoint data to detect and remediate simple and complex threats.” To showcase the specific skills they bring to this somewhat generic area, a recent white paper shared what they learned about a specific type of attack called Domain Generation Algorithms (DGAs.)

DGAs get around conventional security software that blocks down malicious domains by, as the name implies, generating as many as a thousand fake domains per day. Here, in my view, is what Cybereason did right in educating its prospects about them.

If You Know It, Flaunt It

If your internal experts are good at their jobs, they’re the best source for compelling content. In this white paper, Cybereason relied heavily on its own work finding and fighting DGAs. You may not have an in-house security lab, but you probably have:
Field engineers who see common configuration errors customers make with your hardware or software.
Salespeople with insights into what tools, technologies or issues are most important to customers and why.
Your own engineers who have creative ideas about what new capabilities customers might like and could use a reality check by blogging about them and asking for feedback.

Lesson: Don’t underestimate the amount of valuable insights within your own organization and don’t be afraid to share them.

Grisly Details, Please

Just like in a movie or book, it’s the details that make your story real. Rather than cower in fear it was giving away proprietary goodies, Cybereason dove deep into the workings of eight DGAs ranging from “Necurs” to “Pykspa” to “Unknown Punycode-like.” It shared everything from screenshots to examples of fake domains and the associated country codes, including .ga (Gabon), .im (Isle of Man) and .sc (Seychelles). Note this is detailed information you could argue a customer could use without buying their product. But in reality, this level of detail does more to describe the urgent need for a solution like Cybereason’s than eliminate the need for it.

Lesson: Share the real-world details that show you know your stuff.

Don’t Forget the Newbies

Before the deep technical details, Cybereason set the stage with a review of where DGAs fit in the overall security picture (by establishing command and control over the affected system.) It also explained why DGAs are so hard to detect with traditional security methods.

This context and background is essential because not all of your prospects (or everyone involved in the purchase) will have a deep background in security. SMEs are often so close to their subject matter that they dive right in with acronyms, formulae and frameworks before telling the reader why they should care.

Lesson: Write the white paper so your significant other, spouse or parent could get the point.

A Real Screen Turner

Overall, this white paper felt almost like a news story and kept me reading. If anything, it could have been a bit more promotional with more details on how Cybereason fights these pests. But that can be the hook for the next white paper.

Have you found “more is better” in sharing your smarts or did you get more follow-ups by leaving prospects wanting more?

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.

When Content Turns Off Buyers

best content B2B buyers Recent research  from on-line IT marketer Spiceworks says yes.  Their users don’t give a hoot about spray-and-pray email blasts or mindless product promos on Facebook. What does keep them caring about and buying from vendors, says Spiceworks, are personal, technical responses to their questions from someone who sees them as a person, not just a number.

It’s important to note that Spiceworks sells infrastructure-oriented (not business focused) tools to a fairly tactical audience. Close to two-thirds of their respondents are manager or director level, rather than the C-level execs that sign off on the biggest purchases. And just over half work in companies with fewer than 100 employees, with only 25 percent at enterprises with more than 1,000 employees.

But even if you’re selling higher-level business-focused software or (shudder) “transformational” business-focused business services, you can learn from Spiceworks’ findings.

Tip #1: Lecture, No. Discuss, Yes.

The survey showed that Spiceworks users rely heavily on peer recommendations, ratings and reviews and free product trials. Several respondents said they listen most to people that respond personally to their specific questions in a technical way. (Emphasis added.)

In the typical enterprise sale, this is where vendors rely on a sales rep, cite case studies, or arrange a one-off call with the reference customer if the prospect is serious enough. Another option, taking a page from Spiceworks, is to get that reference customer to do a Webinar answering questions from multiple prospects. To ease the path with their PR folks, stress that they will not endorse your product, but just describe their experience, the factors that went into their evaluation and their lessons learned. The resulting themes and tips can be repurposed into blog posts, white papers or “Top Ten” checklists.

An even easier way to get the conversation going is to have a product manager, technical lead or (in professional services) engagement lead do a Q&A on trends in, say, health care regulatory compliance, stress-testing for banks or the use of Big Data in retail. Begin with the questions or pain points bothering your current clients, and then open it up for questions. Make sure your subject matter expert comes across as a real person, treats the attendees like real people and can drill into either technical or business details. Again, mine this for “top tips” or “industry trend/thought leadership” content.

Tip #2: Facebook, No; Forums, Yes

Spiceworks found that while close to 90% of marketers use “mainstream” social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to build brand awareness and promote products, only 16% of IT pros turn to these channels to research new products or services. For them, Facebook and the like are or entertainment or other non-work topics.

“On the flip side,” Spiceworks found, “nearly all IT pros (92%) are using IT forums during the buying cycle, while only 61% of marketers are investing” in them. Just like a good survey should, these results neatly showcase Spiceworks’ differentiator: A large and active community built around its free cloud-based IT management software. Users provide the valuable, technically rich answers for the satisfaction of helping others, to make human connections in a sometimes-lonely profession, to gain “expert” status and (most importantly) so they can in return get fast, free and expert help.

If you’re selling very high-end or customized software, or very “customer-specific” service engagements, you may not be able to create such a community. (Or maybe Spiceworks has one for you.) At the very least, Spiceworks says, “invest the time and find out which social destinations your customer uses…” and don’t waste your efforts on blatantly useless networks. However you network (see Tip #1) keep the focus on answering specific questions from real people, not one-size fits all marketing messages.

Tip 3: Tell? No. Show? Yes. 

Spiceworks’ users scored videos and Webinars higher than any other content type in every stage of the sales cycle. This figures, since their users are the ones who have to live with the “look and feel” of apps that must deliver specific, well-defined functions.

In emerging, less well-understood area such as the use of Big Data in analyzing new health care models, or the impact of DevOps on databases, longer-form written text such as white papers is still essential, especially in the research and awareness stage.

What Content IT Managers Want, Throughout the Sales Cycle (left-hand columns)) and In Specific Phases.

What Content IT Managers Want, Throughout the Sales Cycle (left-hand columns)) and In Specific Phases.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t illustrate concepts with an illustration or video every chance you get. Don’t just claim the new reports you provide help uncover business trends – show it, with screen shots that are big enough to actually see. If you’re a high-level business consultant, do a quick video comparing the “before” and “after” of the process flows you simplified. Keep whatever you do short, sweet and clear. Finally, don’t be afraid to mix up your formats with variations such as ebooks (heavy on illustrations, short on text) and to tease longer-form print from shorter-form video and vice versa.

Marketing Must-Haves

In my view, Spiceworks’ findings hold most true for sales of tactical products sold relatively far down in the organization. For prospects further up the org chart, more of the care and feeding would need to be done by a sales rep, backed up by more conventional content.  But getting more interactive and personal, showing rather than telling, and choosing social media channels carefully are musts to all prospects groups.

What’s your take?

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.

case studies thought leadership While developing a thought leadership white paper for a client, they asked whether customer case studies or “use cases” (examples of how a technology or process would be used to help the business) have a place in such “non-sales” content.

My answer: You bet, if they’re used right.

Yes, “thought leadership” means giving prospects a new, insightful way of thinking about a common business or technology problem without a detailed sales pitch. But case studies and use cases are an ideal way to tease your expertise without giving away the store. Here’s how.

We’ve Handled That

Case studies belong in thought leadership collateral if they are presented as illustrative examples of a general problem faced by many customers, and contain valuable advice that can be used by any reader without making a purchase from you.  

For example, “At one global pharmaceutical company, our data architecture evaluation discovered hundreds of potentially sensitive databases the compliance staff wasn’t even aware of. Issuing a blanket edict against use these valuable data sources would have been ineffective and hurt the credibility of the IT organization. Instead, we worked with the client to develop a series of incentives and approved processes to successfully nudge the business units towards compliance.”

This is a valuable lesson that will impress prospects with your smarts, but doesn’t give away the “secret sauce” of how you pulled this trick off. The prospect still needs to call for specifics such as:

  • What neat technology and processes did you use to find sensitive data stores the client’s own compliance staff couldn’t?
  • How did you navigate the corporate power structure to steer the business owners away from a heavy-handed response that could have backfired?
  • How did you figure out the right incentives and processes to convince, rather than force, business units to do the right thing?
  • And how did you balance the business units’ legitimate need for data with the corporate need to prove security compliance?

The Use Case for Use Cases

 More general business use cases – what I think of as “the problem, whether we have a case study or not” are also extremely valuable because 1) they tell specific stories rather than lay out generic challenges, and 2) demonstrate how you’re developing approaches to meeting them.

Some examples, based on recent projects I’ve done:

  •  Many of our clients want to automate testing to meet consumers’ demand for more apps, on more devices, more quickly. We recommend, among other things, carefully choosing which tests to automate, developing standardized, centralized test processes and understanding how much manual test effort is still needed.
  •  With the combination of mobile social apps and Big Data analysis, many retailers want dashboards that show changes in consumer behavior and sentiment in near real-time. To deliver those, you’ll need to combine structured data such as customer IDs with unstructured data such as blog posts, and to present the analysis in user-friendly formats.
  •  The shift from hosting applications in-house to buying software as a service (SaaS) forces software vendors to not only code great apps, but to become service providers. Making this transition requires new capabilities such as meeting service level agreements, creating real-time usage monitoring and billing platforms, and meeting strict security requirements.

Bottom line: I will happily take either case studies and use cases and put them to good use. In each case, they give the prospect a new way of thinking about a common problem, but force them to contact you to learn how to solve their specific problems.

If anything, my clients usually err on the side of being so vague (“We found multiple opportunities for optimizing IT operations”) their promises sound like vague marketing fluff. Trust me: Every client’s IT environment, culture and business needs are unique enough you’ll have plenty to talk about once you’re in the door. You’re better off telling them more, not less, to get in that door.

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.

Occupy Marketing Slams Puffy Collateral

These white papers aren't even white!

Well, not quite. But my good friend (and sometimes boss) Larry Marion, CEO of Triangle Publishing Services, does the next best thing with these gloves-off scoring of actual IT white paper by brand-name  vendors.

You’ve all probably heard the best practices for white papers – skip the hard sell, prove your claims, make the text easy to read. But it’s not often you see someone who creates content for a living bite (or at least snarl at) the hand that feeds him by calling out vendors who have succumbed to the temptation to pitch rather than educate.

(By way of credentials, Larry’s has more than 20 years of research, writing and editing reports on the use of technology, interviewed hundreds of senior executives at large organizations about technology, and served as a judge of a major white paper contest for many years.)

Database giant Oracle got a dismal 42 out of 100 for a white paper on “Big Data for the Enterprise.” On the plus side, says Larry, writing “isn’t bad,” the first half covers the right issues and it provides lots of hypothetical examples of how “big data” (the analysis of very, very large data sets) can help businesses.

On the down side, though, he complains of “exceptionally heavy Oracle references,” and only “ one third-party reference, despite many debatable assertions,: no information about the author’s credentials (he’s  in Oracle product management, not exactly an unbiased source) and only one graphic that didn’t focus on Oracle’s product, rather than on customer needs. Finally, he says, there was no clear call to action, and several obvious errors caused by poor editing.

Thoroughly depressed on behalf of Oracle, I trolled through several other critiques in search of good news. But a Siemens white paper on “The Communications Tipping Point” did only slightly better, with 61 out of 100 points. On the plus side: Original survey data, lots of charts, a strong writing style and point of view, a good mix of external data sources and what Larry playfully calls “self-control – Siemens doesn’t  plug its solutions until the last page.

The weaknesses:

  • Headline needs a subtitle, so you know what the paper is about
  • Poorly conceived charts
  • Missing information
  • Who is the author? His/her credentials?
  • Some assertions lack data to support them
  • Some comments reflect unfamiliarity with business budgeting and spending practices
  • No clear call to action

(I would add that nowhere in the executive summary, which is all some people will read, did it describe what the “tipping point” is and why the reader should care. But this is Larry’s rant, not mine.)

A quick glance through Larry’s list showed no white paper got even a gentleman’s “C” for best practices. Was he too kind? Too cruel? Feel free to drop a note and let him know. But his basic protest – that too often vendors use white papers to sell rather than educate — is spot on and ignored too often. Let the street protests begin.

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.