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.
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.
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?
Bob Scheier is a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor. Visit Bob’s site to learn more about his writing and services.