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?
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.
Software consultancy Software Advice has a good business model: Provide customers free software reviews and advice, both on-line and over the phone, and get paid by vendors when they pass on a quality lead based on those interactions. Its market analyst Lauren Carlson also had an interesting recent post about the major trends pushing customers towards marketing automation software, which tracks prospect behavior to determine which products they’re most likely to consider. Among the main drivers she listed: Buyers’ desire for quality content; an aversion to sales calls (especially before prospects are ready for one), the need for marketing to prove its value to the business and the fact that sales cycles are longer in a down economy.
I agree with her drivers, and would add another one: The decline of the trade press which used to be a source of trusted analysis and objectivity for customers. It would seem PR and marketing firms can help their customers by delivering the skills, processes and content B2B companies need to make marketing automation software work. Recent survey data indicates these are the top three hurdles to companies adopting MA software.
All of which begs the question: Which of these specific hurdles is most critical, and where do B2B vendors need help getting the benefits of MA software? Help us find the answer by taking a two-minute survey on what’s keeping you from MA heaven, and see instant results on how you stack up vs. your peers. And if there are hurdles I missed, I'd love to hear about them...
Some customers are pushing back on software maintenance agreements, threatening vendors with the loss of their most predictable, profitable continuing revenue stream.
Priced at 15% or 18% (or more) of the up-front purchase price of the software, maintenance agreements provide customers with updates and enhancements as well as support. For endors, they generate profit margins as high as 85%. But the great recession, years of familiarity with enterprise software and the growing maturity of customer’s own IT departments has led many customers question why they pay, year after year, for fixes to software that should have worked right in the first place, or for updates they don’t really want or need.
Several consultants who help customers negotiate software contracts told me, as part of a story I reported for InfoWorld, that a growing number of customers are ditching maintenance. Some simply don’t want to risk that an update, even if it had some value, would disrupt a critical system that had been working fine for years. Ending maintenance agreement might mean an end to technical support as well, but that’s less of an issue for companies with years of experience maintaining a mature application.
Another consultant told me that support from major vendors isn’t that good unless the customer pays more for a premium plan. If the customer has good skills in-house (or if the deployment is fairly stable), the question arises again: Why pay for maintenance?
Some consultants suggested turning the table on vendors, with concepts such as “reverse maintenance” (paying only for updates they want). Another idea is “pay for performance”, in which the customer pays maintenance fees up front, but is entitled to reimbursement if the vendor fails to produce upgrades of value. Besides the hassle of trying to get a rebate from a vendor, good luck trying to quantify the value of an upgrade. Yet another, and maybe the simplest option, is to get the vendor to agree, during the up-front negotiations, to fix problems under warranty, no maintenance agreement required.
With so many software sales coming from new, emerging economies with less experience with enterprise apps, maintenance agreements aren’t going away completely anytime soon. But a few takeaways for software vendors:
· At the very least, smart customers will start pushing back on standard maintenance agreements. Vendors should be ready with flexible terms that provide more value to customers.
· Over time, customers will demand more value from updates. Vendors need better systems for evaluating which updates which users need, and more flexible ways to provide them only the updates they need.
· Consultants also tell me some hungry, off-shore support firms deliver more support bang for the buck than the vendors. Major vendors might want to consider outsourcing or reselling service from such vendors to hang on to at least some of the revenue.
Bottom line: Maintenance used to be a “black box” where vendors could recoup some costs and build in some profit. In a networked world of smarter (and poorer) customers and lower-cost offshore service providers, this model is under attack.
I’ve been yelling for years that technical jargon in marketing content turns off B2B business buyers. Now, it’s official – or at least corroborated by a Forrester Research Inc. report.
“Vendor use of jargon and their lack of simplifying issue complexity often keep business-oriented buyers from grasping the nuances of how technology can help to solve their problem,” says a post on the Marketing Interactions blog. “When it's too difficult, the executive will choose to switch priorities” to something easier to understand.” (My emphasis.)
In other words, if you baffle them with your BS, they’ll tune you out. Only 15% of the exec surveyed by Forrester felt their meetings with salespeople are valuable and live up to their expectations, and only seven percent usually accept a follow-on meeting. That’s a pretty pathetic return for all those expensive feet on the street.
Explaining things clearly to your prospects isn’t rocket science. But it can be hard work because you have to get your nose out of your own technical brilliance and marketing buzzwords and speak plain English. And, as Forrester points out, you need to develop sales content geared to the needs of individual industries so buyers in each of them can understand why they should care about what you’re selling.
Marketing Interaction suggests creating “content designed to answer specific questions buyers have at each stage of the buying process” and “create a conversational brief for sales that indicates which resources should be used when for specific buyer segments.” That sounds like a series of FAQs (frequently-asked questions) aimed at prospects with different pain points, budgets, buying authority and/or existing infrastructures. That’s a good idea. But doing so won’t help unless you scrub the jargon from the answers to those FAQs.
For tips on doing that, see my presentation on “Art of the Pitch.” Or, just ask your mother, father, friend, partner, etc to read your material and see if they can make any sense of it. If they can’t, fix it.
SAP appears to have done a bang-up job with its combined physical and virtual customer conferences, according to B2B Magazine. Not only did it focus on getting customers to talk to each other, (VS. SAP talking at them,) but tracked which content prospects viewed to learn about their needs, and will use a content management system to target future info and offers to them based on those actions.
The simultaneous physical events attracted 20,000 people to Orlando and Frankfurt, not to mention satellite physical locations where people watched live satellite feeds. More than 30,000 virtual attendees watched and heard content generated by editing studios, satellite trucks and a global broadcast network. Chief Marketing Officer Marty Homlish says that being able to see who viewed what information, and for how long, goes a long way towards helping SAP “capture demand.”
What can we in smaller companies learn from giant SAP?
First, get the customers talking to each other and stay out of the way, unless you can really help. I recently helped “cover” a customer summit for a multinational services company and was amazed by the amount, quality, and candor of the interchange among customers. Yes, account reps were accompanying their clients, but they spent most of their time listening to their customer’s problems. Which is about as good market intelligence as you can possibly get. It also cemented the reputation of the service provider as “different” than rivals who push marketing harder.
Second, integrate the physical and virtual events. This is tougher, and requires staff to capture the events (in Tweets, blogs, videos, etc.) and then to edit, process and post that information on-line quickly. It also requires paying someone to keep jogging the on-line conversations, offering new questions, insights, observations and thoughts before, during and after the event. And that costs. But it’s not really that expensive, I’d guess, compared to the total event budget, and it can pay off if…
You share (as SAP did) the information about which customers and prospects viewed which events with your sales force. That, of course, is the whole aim of content marketing (to help the sales force,) and if a trade show or customer conference isn’t an exercise in “content creation” I don’t know what is.
But designing an overall plan – which includes deciding on target customers, key issues to highlight, how you are going to score prospects and then how you’ll share their names with the sales force -- requires time and thought, which are in short supply when you’re trying to stage a plain old physical (much less physical and virtual) event. I’d be curious to hear, six months from now, from SAP whether the extra effort was worth it.
To succeed, the “social media press release” must focus more on content than Web bling.
Catherine Marenghi, senior PR manager at Cognizant Technology Solutions (a client of mine) read my recent post asking if it’s “Time to Kill the Press Release?” because it’s too stilted and vendor-focused, and asked what I thought of the Social Media Press Release (SMPR) template.
My first thought was that a “Social Media Press Release Template” makes about as much sense as a mahogany console for an iPhone. On second thought, my first thought was right.
The template looks like a gussied-up version of the traditional press release. The key innovations, if you can call them that, are a link and RSS feed to a purpose-built del.icio.us page with hyperlinks to “relevant historical, trend, market, product & competitive content sources…context as-needed, and, on-going updates” as well as blank spots for photos, videos, podcasts, etc.” There’s nothing here that couldn’t be done as well, or better, by a well-done blog post, Webinar, white paper, etc. with similar links.
The central problem is that this “Social Media Press Release” is still all about the vendor, which is why it doesn’t work in today’s world of “two-way” conversations among customers and vendors. As I argue in my post, the people you need to reach – prospects and customers – want far more candor, insight and context than you can deliver in a press release that’s been scrubbed of all three by PR, legal and marketing.
The fact that press releases focus on naval-gazing is probably why they’re often read first and foremost by competitors. And why not, since they focus on tweaks in management, distribution, product wins, sales or product features in terms that are more critical to competitors than customers? Only problem is that you’re spending money and time to feed your competitors info.
Similarly well-intentioned advice I’ve seen more recently makes the same mistake, describing how to do Web-friendly things like optimizing the press release for search engines, and adding multimedia and tags. Nothing about the core of the press release – what it says!
If you must write sterile press releases, go ahead, and if you want to Web-optimize, that’s probably a good idea. But focus your efforts, and your spending, on content that explains why the reader – the prospect – should care about what you’re doing.
But not to talk about the new appetizer they just tried at a trendy restaurant. A new study shows decision-makers, such as business buyers, are increasingly using social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter to make buying decisions.
Trade publishers have tried, unsuccessfully, for years to build such on-line communities which they could control and mine. As it turns out, customers (C-level execs) like everyone else want to own and control their own networks.
If customers are increasingly turning to each other for product information, does this leave B2B marketers out in the cold? Of course not. The customer still has to learn about the vendor's offering somewhere, somehow.
The marketer's job is to 1) do an even better job of describing the unique benefits they offer and how they help the customer, and 2) monitor and take part in the conversation on social networks, offering genuine useful advice, answering questions, addressing concerns but skipping inane, clumsy pitches.
Social networks are another, complementary sales channel where the emphasis is on useful, honest information. Hmmm, sounds kinda like old-fashioned journalism, doesn't it?
As I’ve written previously, if you’ve going to do a survey hoping to get ink make sure it generates some hard news. A recent survey by network management vendor Spiceworks did just that, asking if small to medium sized businesses are keeping their IT hardware longer than before. The answer: Yes, and about a year longer, to be specific. That, and other survey results, got Spiceworks mentioned in Investors Business Daily, and Network World, and eWeek. The lesson: Imagine the headline of the news story you hope to see featuring your name, and work the survey questions from there. Including some nifty graphics LINK highlighting the juicy stuff doesn’t hurt, either.
An added note: Spiceworks itself has an interesting business model, providing free network inventory and management software paid for by advertisers and sponsors. Spiceworks also lets users join buying clubs and tell vendors what they’d like to see in future products through its “Voice of IT” program. It’s yet another threat to IT trade pubs and those who serve them, such as PR agencies: Give away the content (in this case software) to aggregate customers, and plumb those customers for market insights at the same time. I assume Spiceworks also charges vendors who want to do custom surveys of that customer base. Wonder if they’re making any money, from what sources (advertising vs. selling research) and how many IT managers buy into this model?
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.
Bob Scheier is a 20-year veteran of the IT trade press whose specialty is translating IT jargon into business benefits. Besides writing for major trade publications such as Computerworld, he produces white papers, email newsletters and other marketing collateral for major IT vendors including Microsoft, AT&T, Symantec and Nokia.