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.

Steal This Idea: An App to End Sweatshops

Needed: An app to end sweatshops.

Aftermath of Bangladesh factory collapse.

While top retailers hang back over liability fears, the Bangladesh government lacks cars to even get inspectors to garment factories like the ones whose recent collapse killed 1,127 workers. Meanwhile, we consumers keep the system going because we like to save money. And, hey, how do we know where that shirt or jeans were made?

Meanwhile, social app developers let us share with an eager waiting world how far we jogged today. Webcams let us monitor our houses or nannies from work. RFID (radio frequency identification) tags let owners track the location of plastic shipping pallets lest they be chopped up by thieving recyclers.

If We Can Put a Man on the Moon…

If we can do all that, why can’t we use information technology, the Web and portable sensors to show customers, while they’re in the store, whether the shirt, jeans or whatever they’re looking at were made in a decent factory or a sweatshop?

Some studies have estimated that it would add as little as ten cents to the price of a piece of clothing to prevent disasters like building collapses. Would you pay that? Would you go further and spring for an extra dollar or Euro to add air conditioning and clean air?

Let’s say we’re real sports and make it the equivalent of $2US (about the price of the average Starbucks) to a piece of clothing or smartphone. Set aside $1 to improve factory conditions, and split the other $1 as additional profit between the factory and the retailer, just to keep everyone motivated.

Workers get better conditions, factories and retailers make more money, and we consumers get to brag about our generosity. The whole system is voluntary. It could also be a monumental PR and branding coup for the consulting, technology, retail and social media outfits that teamed up to make it work.

Oh, Yeah, the Details  

Some really smart people could come up with a more elegant way to do this. But here are some building blocks:

  • Embed a hard-to-remove RFID (radio frequency identification) tag or other unique identifier for the factory at which each piece of clothing was produced.
  • Create a mobile app that lets the customer scan the bar code or Google the factory ID and see real-time worker feedback about conditions. Services such as LaborVoices  and Labor Link already gather such feedback for retailers. Why not share it with consumers?
  • Create a “fair trade” certification process factories can voluntarily join, adding a fair-trade logo to their products if they choose. Vendors that want to go premium (and charge even more for their products) could set up Webcams in their factories showing consumers how well they’re treating their workers.
  • The customer decides how much to spend based on a reasonable level of information about the conditions under which the product was produced.

One small clothing company, Indigenous Designs, is already doing this on a small scale with QR codes.  Next, we need a large retailer, or clothing manufacturer, with the guts to do it on a large enough scale to make this a competitive necessity.

Not There Yet

 This system wouldn’t, of course, track suppliers further down the production line, like the farms that supply raw cotton, the mills that process it or those who make subassemblies (like shirt fronts and backs) for the factories.

 Then there’s the low-end of the consumer market, where customers may not want or be able to pay a premium for “ethical” products. And, yes, everyone from factory owner to global retailer to disgruntled factory workers will try to game the system. But the same social media sites that track complaints can also help uncover attempts to trick the system, just like with product reviews on the Web.

The more workers, factories and retailers participate, the more likely it is that most factories will, over time, get the reputations they deserve and most consumers will vote with their wallets. Best of all, this makes good working conditions an area where factories and retailers want to excel. (Free-market advocates may now applaud.)

All we need now are some smart, connected people in the technology, consulting, social media and retail industries to step up and get it done. Volunteers?

 Please feel free to pass this on to any clients or partners you think could help, and to claim it’s your idea.

 

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.

If You MUST Write A Press Release, Do It Better

At Schwartz Communications’ breakfast roundtable on content marketing last week, attendees were asked to rank which channels they used to get the news out about their company. Plenty of people use “blogs,” “Twitter,” “Facebook,” or “LinkedIn” but “press release” barely registered.

That led one attendee to ask why. Her employer, a B2B electronics manufacturer, regularly uses press releases that have been optimized for search engines. They get decent readership, she said, as well as some media mentions. From the tone of her voice, she was wondering if she was crazy for still issuing press releases or everyone else was crazy for avoiding them.

I thought I had killed off the press release earlier this year with my post pointing out there’s fewer and fewer official “press” folks to distribute news to, and that they’re more and more likely to hear your news over the Web before you “release” it. No “press,” no “release” means no need for a “press release,” right?

OK, maybe not for everyone. You’ll always have important news to share with the world and if you want to call it a “press release,” go for it. Just remember the aim is to share news with the world, not just “release” it to the “press.”  So what should you do differently?

Don’t just do a press release and share it over the syndication services. Reuse the content in the form of Tweets, blog posts, videos, podcasts, etc

 Do search-engine optimize both the press release and the spin-off content, based on an analysis of the keywords your target audience searches for.

 Don’t write about what you think is exciting. Write instead about what’s in it for the reader (whether that’s a reporter, customer, industry analyst, or investor.) Include a benefit statement for that target reader in the first paragraph of every press release.  For example:

Backing up its promise to aggressively comply with new financial regulations, Goliath Universal Bank today announced it has already met 2014 requirements established by this summer’s financial regulatory overhaul…

Bringing iSCSI capabilities to the small business network-attached storage market for the first time, PackRat Storage today announced…

Adding HP products to the existing IBM and HP offerings it can provide customers, Joe’s Regional Geek Services today announced it has become an HP Silver Solutions Partner…

And drop the useless quotes. “We are very pleased to have Amalgamated Stores choose us as their exclusive supplier of paper towels for their five trillion retail outlets worldwide.” Of course you’re pleased, the quote says nothing and will drive readers away lest you follow up with something equally dull.

Whether you call your news a “press release,” a “blog post” “mutterings from around the water cooler” or just “content” is less important than how you write it. Focus on what the reader wants to know, rather than what’s  exciting to you from inside the organizational glass bubble. Then reuse it, share it, repeat it and search-optimize the heck out of 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.

12 Quick Content Marketing Tips and Trends

The frigid cold along Route 128 the other morning didn’t keep a standing-room-only crowd from Schwartz Communications’ Breakfast Roundtable on content marketing (using information shared on the Web to drive sales.) Featured speakers were Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at online marketing site MarketingProfs, and Brian Halligan, CEO of inbound marketing software vendor HubSpot.

Among the ideas and tips they tossed out for making the most of your blogs, Tweets, emails, videos, etc.: 

1) The title of your blog post is more important than the content, both to draw readers and to optimize its search engine ranking. Including hot key words and being snarky (i.e., edgy) helps.

 2)  The higher up the org chart you’re selling (like to CEOs and CFOs, the fewer words and the more pictures the better.

 3) Speaking of which, blog posts with photos or illustrations get more readership than those without them.

 4) Along with that photo, add a discrete “call to action” at the end of every post. (“For more information…”)

 5) Video is fading as the hot medium to “go viral” and be passed around the Web. What works now: Easy-to-read charts, especially those showing usable data from your original research.

 6) Mix up your posts up with something light and/or personal every now and then to keep readers’ awake and to build a relationship with them. Hey, did I tell you my knee is acting up again?

 7) While HubSpot uses both channels to promote itself, it gets a lot more paying customers from LinkedIn than from Twitter.

 8) Both long and short blog posts can work, but about one page (screen) of content seems to draw the most readers.

 9) For whatever reason, ebooks draw up to double the downloads of white papers. Maybe it’s because CEOs are looking at all the pictures.

 10) Email marketing is getting less effective every year, while social media marketing is getting more effective.

 11) Seven out of ten emails are read on mobile devices, so make sure yours read well on them.

 12)  f you can’t think of anything else to write, do a “Top Tips” list.

Official call to action: My specialty is writing marketing material that gets the attention of IT buyers based on where they are in the sales cycle. Email or call at (781) 599 3262 to learn 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.

Amateur Bloggers Jump Ship, Pros Taking Over

A story in the current Newsweek says that interest in amateur (non-profit) blogging and contributing to Wikipedia is falling off rapidly as, frankly, people get tired of working for free. The story mentions, in passing, that according to Technorati, professional bloggers are “a rising class.”

 

Welcome to reality, or, rather, back to reality. People don’t do things for very long if they don’t get a payback, whether it be emotional, entertainment, financial, etc. Editing encyclopedia entries in Wikipedia is no doubt fun and satisfying if you care about the specific topic, but without a financial incentive there’s no way to guarantee every entry about every subject, no matter how unpopular, is correct. The story also notes that “citizen journalism,” in which everyday people cover the local news, is also in decline. Sitting through a local sewer district meeting ain’t thrilling, and explaining what happened in plain terms is difficult. But try going without a working toilet for a week and you’ll know why tracking the workings of the sewer district is important.

 

Because some work is valuable but dull, society pays people to do it. The same is true in creating content to sell IT products and services. Doing it well is important and takes effort but isn’t always fascinating. That’s why, in at least some cases, you have to pay for quality content rather than leaving it up to your employees (who have other skills) or your customers (who have day jobs or may have other agendas.)

 

When can you afford to leave B2B content to the crowd and when should you call in the pros? Watch this space for many more details, soon. But the fact that people won’t blog or edit or tweet or whatever for free forever is a good sign. Looks like we might be starting to figure out this whole “New Media/Social Web” thing.

 

 

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.