Key audiences for technology marketers

What do live music bands and b2b technology companies have in common? Having creativity or innovation at the heart of their offering, perhaps? The connection I noticed the other day is rather more down-to-earth, but it’s an important one for technology marketers to crack.

Whether you’re selling music or IT, the route to the end customer is complex and it’s essential to get all the key audiences in the buying process on board.

The obvious audience isn’t always the right one

In the live music business it’s a question of influencing promoters, venue managers, loyal fans and potential new listeners. The obvious focal point for raising awareness and interest is the audience who’ll pay to come and see the gig; but there’s no point building excitement, sending tons of tweets, getting lots of ‘likes’ among potential fans — if you haven’t already got the venue managers convinced of your band’s potential so they’re raring to let your act play their venue.

Where should technology marketers focus their attention?

For technology companies the buying process typically involves the CIO and a spread of functional directors, relevant members of the IT function and often a purchasing team. It can be all too easy, as technology marketers, to focus most of your planning and marketing effort on one link in the chain, typically the budget holder. But the real task with complex purchasing chains is to look at the whole chain; to spot any weak links, fix them, and make sure that the chain is secure from end to end.

Mass customer communication and impersonal transactions RIP

Walk into a shop or the local garage and be greeted by name from the chap behind the counter. It makes you feel good; a valued customer. We should come to expect this personal interaction – rather than be surprised by it – because never before have companies had access to such powerful technology that helps them build deep relationships with their customers.

Cultivating customers

HBR’s article, Rethinking Marketing, points to the way ahead and how to become a customer-cultivating company. At the heart of these interactions is a solid content strategy with decisions about the way you talk to your customers and the content you provide them with: in print, online and in person.

We want to create content that sparks and fuels conversations with customers; that they want to spend time with; and that builds trust.

Innovation or comfort zone?

Humans are largely creatures of habit. We like the familiar. So when companies launch new and exciting products and services they can fall victim to their own innovation.

I was reading an article last week about a Microsoft vendor’s win over Google in a bid for the email hosting contract for the state of California. California could have been a big win for Google – which has been pushing its cloud-based offering as an alternative to more traditional systems, such as those offered by Microsoft – but it was pretty clear about what the state wanted in an e-mail system, and it sounded a lot like what Microsoft was offering. It had simply put together a list of requirements based on what it had had in the past, what users were familiar with.

As Google is learning fast, you can’t always give people what you think they want or need. Sometimes you have to give them what they’re asking for.

But I’m not discouraging selling innovative solutions, far from it; it’s how progress is made. Many users would like the confidence to adopt new ways of working, but are just more comfortable with what they know. So as marketers it’s our job to help your customers and prospects make this move with you.

It means changing mindsets and making the unfamiliar seem more familiar. As rather intelligent and social creatures, people like to chat with one another. The desire to communicate is part of their nature. As Marketers we can use this fondness for habit to our advantage. Get people talking about your new solution; get it out there – physically or virtually. Events, webinars, customer portals, and blogs and tweets will all encourage customers to explore your offering.

Google may have had more success if it had been more attentive to California’s current state of mind.

Have we forgotten the sizzle?

Are you familiar with the phrase sell the sizzle not the sausage? I sometimes think that in the rush to ‘sell’, the sizzle gets overlooked. From my personal experience I remember when my desk, sited on the floor above the office cafeteria, caused me to pile on pounds in just a few weeks after they began cooking up bacon rolls at 10am. The smell sold that bacon roll to me far better than any two-for-one pricing offer or even a picture. It helped me imagine the experience of holding and tasting that bacon role. Mmmm. I got the habit under control eventually but took a lot of willpower!

The better known anecdote is that of the Mercedes car sales person who outsold his colleagues month after month yet only used up a fraction of his allotted test-drive time. How? By showing them the logo on the key fob and talking to them about craftsmanship, prestige and how it felt to be the owner of a Merc…the sizzle not the sausage.

The way you talk about your products and services is all part of the sizzle. This is the power of content. Once you remember that your customer wants to buy into the feeling and the story not just the commercials of your proposition — the ethos and pathos, not just the logos — you can truly create content that sells. Hard facts and financial offers can pique interest, but it is these softer qualities that persuade, that help your prospective customers imagine what it would be like to be the owner of one of your solutions. How important is it, therefore, that all your content, in print, online and for face-to-face communication is written in a way that helps people engage with you, almost taste your brand and fire their imagination? Of course that’s what we do so our answer’s obvious.

Making every penny count

Whether your market is booming or the pickings seem rather meagre, it makes sense to get the most from every dollar, pound, euro or yen that you spend on marketing. As we all know too well, marketing budgets are often the first to be put under pressure, forcing marketers to prove their worth – so there is always a need for wise investment. This has come up more and more often in client meetings.

We’re all attracted by the bright lights of ‘new’ and it’s certainly important to keep things fresh and appealing. But every piece of material you create has hidden value. Have you squeezed all the worth you can from it? For example, when you invested in interviewing a customer for a case study, did you explore what else you could get out of the meeting?

Did you uncover the sales strategy? Writing up a separate piece with vital hints and tips for conversation starters and objection-handling can improve salesforce effectiveness. Did you gather additional sound bites? Quotes add substantiation and credibility to direct mail and brochures. Have you prepared a shortened version to include as a synopsis in a new product brochure?

Events are another area where it’s possible to get much more, longer-term, benefit from your investment. Don’t write off the people that didn’t attend. Writing an event report or putting together a short video of the highlights to put on your website can keep the event delivering value long after the remains of the buffet have been consigned to the compost.

Don’t get me wrong, I love big budget projects, and we can do all the whizzy and glamorous stuff. But where I think we offer something different is how good we are at making sure that you get really great value, even when your budget isn’t huge.

A little bit different

We had a lot of late nights last week helping a client respond to a multi-million pound tender. Burning the midnight oil to get it done on time is pretty normal when putting together a bid, so that’s not what made this job different.

Tender responses are usually hefty, detailed, written in legalese and, well, a bit bland. There are good reasons for all of this but it does handicap the ‘selling’ purpose of the document; and what is a bid if not the ultimate opportunity to sell your product or service?

With this particular bid, our client had no choice over the format of their formal response; the tender was issued as a series of questions that had to be answered online and delivered as printouts in a certain way. But the rules did allow for respondents to attach supporting material.

So the client turned to us: could we help them create a good-quality standalone brochure that would really sell their proposed solution to an executive audience?

They recognised that, while their online responses would be pored over by those charged with assessing the proposal in detail, this was not the best way to reach or convince many of the relevant decision-makers. They wanted to explain the proposed solution in clear and compelling language to a non-technical, time-poor audience.

The result is an executive overview that illustrates the solution’s benefits over alternatives, answers likely questions and combats likely objections; without making the audience wade through extraneous detail or ‘hygiene’ factors.

We were really impressed with the way our client recognised, and grabbed, the opportunity to do something different. Bid responses are important and there’s a natural tendency to ‘play it safe’, but there’s still room to innovate. We expect that this approach will help them to stand out against their competitors and improve their chances of winning this prestigious and sizeable deal.