This post is the continuation from 8 Key Elements for SMB Marketing (Part 1). In this entry, I would like to focus on effective lead generation and nurturing practices, sales tools, as well as an integrated sales and marketing approach.
Lead Generation. With small deal sizes and large number of customers, enterprise-style 1:1 marketing is usually ineffective. Instead, I have seen great results with marketing into communities, such as Spiceworks. Many IT professionals from SMBs use such communities to exchange ideas, to learn about new offerings and ask questions to peers. It is important to identify and establish presence in these communities - engaging participants, answering questions, working with customers and prospects, as well as running cost-effective marketing campaigns.
Another very effective way for generating high quality leads is creating unique and relevant content. You can use it for blogs, IT community posts, social media, and PR. In my experience, this has been one of the most cost-effective and sustainable sources of strong leads with very high conversion rates.
A lot has been said about the importance of PPC and SEO. I usually like to experiment with PPC for SEO messaging before putting lots of effort into SEO. This way I can get good results from a small PPC effort short-term, while SEO is gaining strength. Once SEO is strong, I still keep a small budget for PPC for experimenting with new keywords, ideas and marketing messages.
Call center lead generation campaigns can work well for certain offerings. However, to make these campaigns successful, there is typically a sizable upfront time and money investment - finding the right vendor, creating training materials and scripts, training agents, listening to calls and having an ongoing QA process.
One huge benefit of listening to lead generation and sales calls is the ability to witness your marketing and sales messages in action, see what works and what not, change as necessary and try again in real time.
Lead sorting and nurturing. With thousands leads from different sources and at different stages of buying cycle, it is virtually impossible to keep up with all of them manually. I have had success with designing a "funneling logic" for lead nurturing, where the leads get identified and categorized based on various factors and how far down are they in the sales funnel. Some types of leads get matured and closed using online tools (landing pages, content, emails, online store, chat, etc.) with minimal human interaction, saving sales lots of time. Other types get passed to the sales team for closing.
I have been using Marketo for lead nurturing. However, we quickly ran into the need to customize landing pages for further lead nurturing and "heating" to drive prospects closer to the purchase decision before handing them to the sales team.
Marketing and Sales Tools. I try to have a minimal set of marketing collateral with an emphasis on online tools, especially for cloud-based services. Many SMB IT folks don't have time to read through complicated materials. They prefer seeing and experiencing the actual product. Tools like screenshots and sandbox environments have been extremely useful for me, providing very high conversion rates. I also use podcasts, brief videos, blogs, datasheets, customer testimonials, and industry press articles as necessary.
It also may take some time to get the messaging and programs right, people trained, see what works and what not in your environment, before you can start seeing results. However, the results can be great in terms of a strong revenue stream, high customer satisfaction rates and lower marketing costs.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Monday, August 15, 2011
The challenge is that neither enterprise, nor consumer programs alone are effective in this market. I spent last 1,5 years on finding effective approaches for marketing and selling IT products and services into SMB. Here are my findings:
1. Market Definition. First, how do you define SMB? I break it down into 4 segments:
a. Small Office / Home Office (1 - 5 employees) Consumer-like buying behavior.
b. Very Small Business (6-30 employees). No dedicated IT. Use of consultants.
c. Small Business (31 - 250 employees). 1-3 IT employees.
d. Medium Business (251 - 1,000 employees). 1-5 IT employees. More sophisticated network / apps. Elements of the enterprise IT.
2. Analyzing Strengths. If you already have presence in this space and analyze your historic sales, you probably will discover that sales have been coming from one or two of the sub-segments above. This exercise will point to success in certain types of your activities or channels. And, visa versa, you may see opportunities in sub-segments that are not performing well. You can also define which of these sub-segments are best matched for your product / sales force / channel presence. This is critical, because even if you have the best product, but lack the right sales force type, your efforts may stumble.
3. Different Target Audience. IT folks in SMB find, purchase and consume products differently than their peers in large enterprises. SMB IT employees are typically generalists. Having to compete with much larger companies, IT departments with only a few people have to take care of everything from fixing computers to maintaining the network infrastructure and deploying applications. This often means no time for a deep dive into any area. This also means no time to read fancy white papers, or try every product feature, or attend industry IT mega shows. These characteristics make enterprise-type marketing fairly ineffective.
4. Product Approach. Ease of use is the name of the game here. I have seen many simple and easy-to-use cloud services beat out complex, difficult-to-use and deploy, yet feature-rich products. When building a product or a service for SMB market, it is critical to keep ease of use in mind. It is a somewhat difficult concept for enterprise software vendors, who customize products to the needs of very large customers. For these vendors, it may make sense to have a simpler and cheaper offering with reduced functionality that is easy to use, fast to deploy and doesn't require lots of support. That is one of the reasons behind success of many cloud services in SMB space. It is a worthwhile exercise for product managers, especially the ones with little SMB experience, to hold several focus groups to understand the simplicity requirements.
5. Messaging. Since simplicity is so important, most of the enterprise (complicated and long) messaging approaches won't work. SMB IT folks have absolutely no time to translate complicated technology of fluffy marketing messages into benefits. Product Marketing has to create a message that connects quickly and uses their target market's language. The reward can be huge - quick decision-making process and faster time to revenue. A successful example of such messaging is what we did for Panda Security: www.forgetsecurity.com
More... Not to bore you with too long of a post, I broke it down in two entries. In the second part, I discuss lead generation, lead sorting and nurturing, sales approach and channels, and marketing / sales tools.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
I used to think that Twitter represented no significant value for business needs. Just to be familiar with it, I opened an account a while ago, and tweeted here and there.
That all changed as I began working on a startup, developing a technology to prevent cyberbullying. In that process, I discovered very effective ways of using Twitter as a practical tool for market research.
Many business executives, product managers, marketing professionals and sales reps find it hard keeping up with industry news, competitive info and market trends. Even though there are plenty of tools, keeping up with the news still requires hours of finding, sorting and reading articles. People are usually busy with tens of different tasks, leaving market research as something that often gets pushed down in priority.
There are armies of people who are tirelessly tweeting 24 hours a day. Tweets are brief. It takes less than a minute for us to determine if they are useful or not. We can use Twitter as tool to quickly get up to speed with the relevant news, spending just 5-10 min a day. Here is how I do it:
1. Create a Twitter account that contains the words of the main business problem you are trying to solve. In my case, it has "Cyberbullying" in it. This will be useful later, when you would want to use Twitter for marketing needs.
2. Find people tweeting on the subject of your interest. You can use the search bar for that. Play with multiple keywords to get the content you want. Then check profiles of people you found and make sure they fit your needs.
3. Create your Twitter list. Follow as many relevant users as possible.
4. Get a mobile app. It may be easier to get quick updates on an iPhone or Android. I am using TweetCaster on Android. It gives me updates in a very easy format. It takes me only 5-10 min to go through the daily news. I often discover news before they show up in RSS feeds or other major news sources and tools. The most relevant ones get lots of retweets from many people. It is sort of "crowd voting."
5. Trim your list. As you are finding people who are tweeting irrelevant things for whatever reasons, unfollow them, until you have a "golden list" of sources that bring you the best quality news.
6. Check few times a day for 3-5 minutes each time and you will be abreast of the latest industry news.
7. Augment this with your more in-depth research from various sources when you have time.
In military terms, Twitter became my Special Forces team for getting the dirty job done quickly and effectively. Other tools are like my regular military units for thorough, longer-term type projects.
Friday, August 5, 2011
It's time to hire a marketing exec and build a team. Founders emphasize leads and conversion rates. Good things like SEO, lead nurturing, online marketing get implemented. But one fundamental is often missing.
Sin #1. Positioning / Main message. Let's look at the main message from two companies web sites:
Are these accurate and good in the eyes of these companies? Probably.
Is this the way their customers think? Probably not.
Do these miss a chance to communicate the true value? Yes!
A strong main messages gives the best opportunity to grab prospect's attention... the right way. It also flows into the rest of messaging, impacting PPC, SEO and the conversion rate. In fact, vague main message results in wasted money and ineffectiveness of marketing campaigns. This is especially painful for startups with little brand recognition.
Here are examples of effective and clear messages from Pandora and AppAssure:
How do you develop a strong main message? Here are some key principles:
1. Grab attention. It has to be unique enough to grab visitors attention and encourage further browsing.
2. Differentiate. Has to communicate at least one unique angle or a customer benefit.
3. Specific. The benefit has to be specific. Statements like having "all-in-one," "complete," "best" are often subjective and indicate vendor's point of view. In the examples above, the word "complete" may have a very different meaning for target customers vs. the vendor. It can discredit the message. What I like about the message from AppAssure is that is specific. "Recover in Minutes" sets a pretty specific expectation.
4. Believable. It is important to keep the balance between reality and outrageous statements that prospects discount as zealous or exaggerated.
5. Language. The message has to be in the language used by target customers, which is often different from the vendor's language. If your target customer is CIO, too technical of a message may be a mistake. If you are targeting sysadmins, you may want to be fairly technical and specific.
6. Easily understandable. The prospect has to be able to quickly grasp the message. Don't make them think too long - often people don't have time or desire to do that. They will just leave the site.
7. Customer tested. It is critical to test the main message with a number of customers and prospects before going live. You can start with a qualitative test via customer conversations. Then, you can finish with an online survey.
8. Not Perfect. It doesn't have to be perfect. You don't have to spend months on this. It OK for some internal folks to struggle with it. It can be work in progress, however you don't want to change it very often. It just has to be effective.
To summarize, a strong main message could drastically increase the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns and ROI of your marketing spending. I will discuss the sin #2 in the next Hack Marketing blog entry.
Here is an example of a message that we developed about 6 months ago: www.forgetsecurity.com