Main | September 2006 »

August 28, 2006

Google - Please Don't Click-to-Call, Click to e-Mail

Google and eBay announced today a new partnership that will power Click-to-Call ads.

The strategy is interesting and is likely to be a boon to drive up the cost-per-click average for many consumer goods products to a $10 'click per call' from an average of $1 cost-per-click today. I like the concept and I expect it will be very effective for consumer technology sales.

I'm much less optimistic about 'click to call's' potential for Enterprise tech sales, since so many IT marketers are realizing that calling is not the best first step in the lead nurturing process. In fact, tech buyers are increasingly interested in an e-mail dialogue at the outset of a relationship and appreciate IT vendors who respect their desires. That said; we have been experimenting for some time with a 'click to e-mail' function that is working nicely. Users of the Ziff Davis Web Buyers Guide, who download a specific sponsored white paper, will trigger an automatic e-mail message that is designed to initiate dialogue and launch the nurturing process. That approach works - and the e-mail may even invite a phone call.

Whichever approach you try first - Click-to-Call or Click to e-Mail - be very considerate of your prospects receptivity level. You have one shot to make a great first impression. And, you must establish and immediate level of trust with your prospects if you want to move them quickly through the buying cycle.


August 24, 2006

Use All Kinds of Content to Make Your Business Case

Use all the senses to tell your story and make your business case. IT buyers want to use their senses and experience your products with demos and free trials, see what you have to offer via webcasts, listen to your ideas over podcasts, and understand your technology by reading technical white papers and conversational blogs. So get out there and engage your customers with a sensory experience of online content!

So what kinds of content do buyers want?

According to MarketingSherpa’s Best and Worst Lead Generation Offers for 2006, IT buyers found the following content types to be “very effective” in influencing their purchasing decisions:

Free Trials/Demos: 54%
Webcasts/Webinars: 41%
White Papers: 35%
Blogs: 35%
Podcasts: 22%

IT buyers are early adopters and they consume information in all forms. So, consider using content such as e-seminars, podcasts, videos, and blogs to bring your technology to life.

The role of strategic content to support enterprise technology sales is to educate buyers, provide solutions to their problems, and present your company as a “trusted partner” in the research process. So, get creative and touch all your prospects senses during the buying process.


August 20, 2006

Establish a Beachhead into the Buying Process

Act like a force of U.S. Marines who are establishing a beachhead and then moving inland toward their ultimate objective.

New sales leads - based on a white paper download, case study download or online demo - are simply beachheads into a much larger buying landscape. Use these new sales leads as critical new windows into your prospects current thinking and business requirements. A beachhead – a term I use to designate a sales lead that gives you an initial point of contact into an organization - can be established at many positions in a company and then must be utilized to broaden your understanding of the critical decision makers and the process that will determine the ultimate sale.

It is critical for IT marketers to fully understand the combination of business and technical decision makers that influence the purchasing decisions for their products. Many firms miss the opportunity to establish a 'beachhead' within prospect companies by overlooking the involvement of key business and technical users who are researching their product offerings.

One client recently asked us to qualify prospects exclusively with CFO titles. Why? Because they had determined that the CFO was making the final decision in many cases. With some more in depth study we determined that the CFO had actually played a fairly remote role in the buying process. The real 'decisions' were actually being influenced, vetted and determined by key business stakeholders and reviewed by technical decision makers. The CFO was simply rubberstamping the decision and performing a 'purchasing' function instead of a buying function.

It's critical to sell to buyers not to professional purchasing agents. The enterprise technology purchase is so complex that the purchasing function is relegated to negotiating terms - not choosing vendors. If you wait until the payment plan is being negotiated, you've lost the opportunity to participate in the decision process. In this case, the CFO was not a good beachhead to influence the sale. Beachheads are influencers who are involved early in the buying process when vendor selection is still under consideration.

Instead of qualifying sales leads based on their titles, consider each sales lead with business and technical influencers as a potential beachhead to be nurtured early in the buying process. Then, use that beachhead to dig deeper to determine who within the organization will help to accelerate the decision process.

One crucial step is to research the prospect organization’s structure, past purchases, and their current technological needs. Use this data to find out who has been involved in other IT sales. This strategic information gathering will be very useful when your sales team makes their initial contact.

Don't launch directly into a sales process with your new beachheads- start by asking questions!

The more you can learn from conversations with business stakeholders or email exchanges with technical influencers, the better understanding you will have of the entire buying process. Don’t be afraid to ask who is involved in the buying process. Each company and technology solution can have a different buying process - so get a road map for your product from your new beachheads. You are more likely to find an ally within the organization if you are direct and convey an attitude that suggests that you do not want to waste anyone’s time – regardless of their involvement in the buying process.


August 16, 2006

Corporate Blogs - Get Started Now!

Corporate blogging is gaining in popularity as a great way to promote your company. [If you are reading this blog - then you are part of my outreach program. Thank for being part of this conversation.]

By publishing a corporate blog, you can actively create content that supports your company’s goals and objectives, provide a forum that encourages customer feedback, and present new ideas about your organization’s most up-to-date products and technologies before they hit your company Web site.

The best blogs must come from the CEO (or other C-level executive), with both the knowledge and authority over your company’s products and technologies, and a level of credibility that your company’s marketing executives will lack. By using this credibility to blog, you have the power to reach a segment of the market that is constantly seeking up-to-date information.

So what do you need to know if you want to start a corporate blog? Here are a few tips for getting started:

1. A corporate blog is not the same as a personal blog. Save your random musings on your children’s required reading list or your favorite pictures of your new grandchildren for another venue.

2. A corporate blog, while seemingly informal and conversational in tone, is still a part of your company’s corporate communications. Don’t write anything in your corporate blog that would get you fired if written in an e-mail, press release or on your company’s Web site.

3. Never lie outright in your corporate blog. Likewise, plagiarism, deception, omission of facts, and fraudulent posts will only turn off both your readers and other (often ruthless) bloggers.

4. Provide a space for readers to offer their comments and feedback. Remember that reading and responding to the feedback left on your corporate blog is good customer service and reflects positively on your company.

5. Acknowledge the greater world – including other companies, the blogosphere and technology analysts – when writing your corporate blog. A corporate blog is not a one-sided forum where you can spout off glowing accolades about your company in total isolation [that’s what press releases are for!]. Instead, to gain credibility, you need to link to other companies [even if they are your competitors], take your lumps when mistakes are made, and reach out to your readers.

By sticking to these basic corporate blogging tips, you can start writing and see what a positive impact a corporate blog can have on your organization.


August 14, 2006

The IT sales cycle is getting longer

The graphic below illustrates the change in sales cycles reported by IT companies from 2005 to 2006. The fact that the IT buying process is getting longer is disturbing news and has much to do with the increased information that is available via the Internet and the number of key influencers that involved in these purchases. The phenomenon is likely to be temporary as marketers will adapt quickly and learn how to capitalize on their new tools. And buyers will adapt quickly as well- since a slower buying process will inhibit the ability for companies to implement new technology and realize gains from cost savings and productivity.

If you are targeting the Enterprise, expect sales cycles to become even longer. Big companies can produce large wins - but organize your sales plans to build a track record of smaller wins that can finance your way to the those big whales. IT marketers that are hyper focused on the big wins may find themselves brushing up their resumes - if firms lose patience with their strategies and lack of results. Be keenly aware of your company's patience level and tolerance for long-term marketing plans. Otherwise, may be a nice site for you to visit in the near future.


August 11, 2006

Lead Nurturing: Get in touch with your feminine side

I'm not kidding!

Marketing - Maternal - Mother
Sales - Paternal - Father

By definition, "nurturing" [Webster's New Collegiate] should foster maternal instincts (to nourish, educate - or even suckle your newborn). Think of your new sales leads as young birds that are new to your nest. Provide them with 'food for thought' and new ways to experience your business proposition at a time when their appetite is whet with interest.

Remember that your sales team is comprised of hunter-gatherers who require an immediate action.

Lead Nurturing is a pre-sales process that requires you to consider strategies that will develop your firm's relationship with new opportunities and requires you to prepare those new opportunities (leads) for the sales team.

Nurturing strategies should be designed to meet the following marketing objectives:

[1] Build awareness
[2] Collect information
[3] Qualify for purchase
[4] Demonstrate your expertise
[5] Build trust

Don't throw the young bird out of your nest pre-maturely. Prepare your sales leads properly and your sales team will love you for it.


August 10, 2006

Microsites are Red Hot!

According to a study released this month by The Strategy Group and (a Ziff Davis Web site), microsites are now the leading online information resource sought out by technology buyers when researching their purchases. 64% of eWEEK readers who were polled access topic-focused microsites at least once per month when utilizing the Web to gather information for business purposes. (Source: "Interactive Information Sources: Quick Poll," from The Strategy Group). For IT-related job functions, that figure jumps to 70%. Microsites are now more sought out than individual efforts to find white papers and product reviews.

What are Microsites?

Microsites (at the WBG we call these "Landing Zones") are dedicated Web sites, or targeted content environments on an existing Web site, that house critical marketing content, typically about a micro-topic, such as a product or technology. If designed correctly, these zones should allow researchers to navigate your solutions thoroughly - and prepare them for the sale. Tracking the behavior from one content asset to another (and encouraging it) is essential to this strategy.

I've got three white boards going on this concept right now as I try to develop the ideal navigational paths.

The popularity of microsites makes sense. Rather than focus research by content type (white papers, case studies, etc.), microsites allow you to organize all your content assets about a micro-topic in a single, easy-to-navigate 'zone.' This can reside either on your corporate site, or you can partner with a media company to develop a site for you.

Sounds easy right?

Next time you go to your favorite software company Web site, notice how it has organized the taxonomy for its solutions vs. its content assets. Many have developed a taxonomy by content type. For example, look for tabs that direct you to white papers, case studies or webinars. This approach is fine for directory sites - after all, that taxonomy is what has made the Ziff Davis Web Buyer's Guide so successful and draws millions of users to the site. But, the WBG is also organized by more than 1,000 product categories, which actually creates natural microsites that thoroughly organize all the various asset types.

Consider that same approach - brand a Landing Zone and organize your content to allow the researcher to move through the buying process.


August 09, 2006

Technology spending is approaching $1.2 Trillion

With IT Technology spending now approaching $1.2 Trillion (IDC: CMO Tech Marketing Benchmarks Studies 2003-2005), there are probably a few new customers that you are missing. Tech spending has recovered nicely since 2001, with average growth rates from 2004-2006 in the 6% range. While that's not the double digit growth that we witnessed for many years leading up to 2000, we are smarter, leaner and operating more efficient marketing and sales organizations.

Interested in the make-up of that growth?

Services is up 8.9%.
Software is up 7.0%.
Hardware is up 5.3%

We have a nice breeze powering our sails (sales).


August 08, 2006

Don't confuse lead generation with lead scoring

Lead Generation campaigning that imposes filters to limit (and target) results can be useful to consider, but not at the cost of some very profitable sales opportunities.

Last week, an ad agency (new to the Lead Generation game) proposed a campaign for one of my clients. The campaign required qualifying sales leads through a series of white paper efforts for a critical enterprise software technology. The target was exclusively prospects within companies with 5000 or more employees.

Sounds ok, right? Not at all!

I discovered that the software was actually being sold to companies of all sizes and that all of those companies had completely different objectives. The director of sales for the software firm was proud of some recent wins with larger firms (and no doubt had waxed enthusiastically at a meeting) and the agency ran with that tidbit of information.

The client – during a more sober moment – actually had an entirely different objective. In fact, smaller firms represented the largest opportunity to close business during the quarter (think public company needing to report better results this quarter!). Smaller firms were making decisions faster and implementing the software quickly. Therefore, they represented the most lucrative near-term business opportunity and were the highest priority. Once agency, client and I were able to get on the same page, the client reversed the agency’s size filter and focused the campaign on companies with 100 or more employees.

The agency had simply never been introduced to the company’s Lead Scoring approach (they were actually new to the entire concept of prioritizing leads rather than eliminating sales opportunities). In fact, prospects from larger firms, while valuable, were not valued less – just differently – than prospects from smaller firms. Smaller firms represented sales results – now! Larger firms represented bigger results – later!

The agency was confusing Lead Generation with Lead Scoring. Agencies adapt quickly and that particular agency will be savvier for the next campaign. Until then, we continue to guide agencies to serve their clients in a fashion that provides them with the fastest sales results.


August 06, 2006

Buying technology is a process

The sales cycle for Information Technology is getting longer.

From 2005 to 2006, IT sales executives overwhelmingly indicated that their sales cycles were increasing, according to MarketingSherpa's Business Technology Marketing Benchmark Guide 2006.

That is a very disturbing trend. Setting aside the macro impact on our national and global economies, the micro affect is even more curious to me. When you consider the inherent company benefits that are promised by the implementation of new technologies (i.e. increased productivity, speed and cost efficiencies) - I wonder why we aren't in more of a hurry to make technology purchases which can offer real gains for our companies.

The truth is, we are in a hurry - both as buyers and sellers

As buyers, we want all the benefits of the purchase - but the decision process 'pre-purchase' is getting more complicated, powered by online tools, flowing information and a more collaborative work environment. Companies (both large and small) report more people than ever are involved in the decision process.

As sellers, we are even more impetuous. Rather than recognizing a new dynamic selling environment - we are using our powerful new online tools to drive dated 'targeting' techniques - a wishful strategy that presumes that there is a single purchase influencer, neatly organized by job title, function and size of firm, who will immediately approve an order (so we can play more golf). We are, in effect, guilty of skipping the necessary steps, people and dialogues in today's buying process. And, by leapfrogging the natural order, we are actually slowing down a sales process that is ripe to accelerate.

Doing this blog is labor of love. For more than 25 years I've been a student of the buying process and a self-professed 'speed freak'. I've always used my analysis of the buying process to guide my marketing and sales strategies. And, with this blog, I'll be using that same approach.

I hope that my simple observations and the analysis of our many contributors will help you unlock the buying process for your products and accelerate your sales process.

Let's get started!