Recently we exhibited, for the first time, at the Microsoft TechEd
show in Orlando. We were extremely excited to showcase our latest product, specifically designed as a plug-in for Micosoft System Center Configuration Manager, the Universal Imaging Utility System Deploy Plug-in (UIUSD)
This show offered a large, and very focused demographic from which to gather a substantial number of qualified leads. And we weren’t disappointed. We met some terrific folks, and had a great time (aside from the heat and humidity.)
One of the things that often happens at shows, and was prevalent here, is that when we give away free T-shirts we tend to get swamped with huge numbers of people. The common exhibitor reaction to this phenomenon, and the reason most give swag away, is to capture as many leads as possible.
We don't agree with the typical exhibitor, and here are three reasons why we don't want to scan every Conference attendee:
They only want the free stuff
If you’ve exhibited at shows, you’ve seen the type. They have a giant rolling bag, plus whatever bag the expo floor was sponsoring, and they walk around with wide eyes scavenging pencils, t-shirts, finger darts, and whatever else they can get their hands on. They might as well have “Not Interested” tattooed on their foreheads.
A worthless lead is a time waster
We try to spend as much time with each visitor as possible. But when there are T-shirts to be had, things can get a little crazy. So we don’t give away a T-shirt without asking one question, “Are you responsible, or do you know the person responsible for OS image deployment?” If they answer no, we give them a T-shirt and send them on their way. If yes, then we scan them right away and try to engage them for more information. If we scan a worthless lead, then I have to manage that lead. I have to score it separately and try to keep it from infiltrating the rest of my qualifies leads and thus, wasting my time when I open it, recall it’s lack of significance, include it in a segmentation list, or try and score it. If there’s a chance I can cultivate a lead, I will. But if there’s no hope, I don’t have enough time, to add a worthless lead as a time waster.
Email to worthless leads does brand damage
If your email inbox is anything like mine, as a marketer we receive countless junk emails a day. Somehow, in spite of all efforts to the contrary, my email ends up on a list to which I didn’t subscribe. My very first reaction when opening such an email, is profoundly negative. I don’t care who the company is, if they have sent me an email that has nothing to do with me, I get irritated. If I see that company name again, my automatic feeling toward that brand is not a good one.
I want to create a new lead and opportunity any chance I can, but not at the expense of having the recipients initial response to our brand be a negative one.
Are there any other reasons why you wouldn’t scan every attendee?
White Papers are interesting assets. Their origin as dry, technical documents has given way to a mix of content that often includes a blatant sales pitch. The best provide a solution to a prevalent problem, and are chock-full of valuable, usable content for the reader.
Good White Papers are really hard to write.
I wrote our first White Paper several years ago. It was a fair initial effort that took a great deal of time, contained some relevant information. But isn’t exactly at the top of my list of go-to assets.
When we launched our new product, the Universal Imaging Utility System Deploy Plug-in for Microsoft SCCM, I wanted a valuable, usable asset and maybe even a decent lead generator. So I had our recent White Paper written by a professional. (The @ppum Group did a great job and was a pleasure to work with)
But are White Papers really worth the time and money to market?
Unfortunately, the answer comes back yet again, to the same thing I’ve talked about all too often – good content. If the content is good, really good, and relevant to the reader, and provides knowledge or a solution, it is totally worth marketing. The big problem is that the White Paper universe is saturated with poorly written pieces. Or worse yet, filed under the wrong category. It can be extremely tiresome to sift through countless company-sponsored White Papers trying to find anything useful.
The other difficulty comes from the large cost associated with promoting assets like White Papers through paid content syndication. Some of the largest conglomerates, while still offering free submission, charge thousands of dollars a month to promote and track the leads associated with said White Paper. I don’t know about your budget, but mine certainly doesn’t have $75 a lead with a 125 lead minimum readily available for one site, let alone multiple.
So if good White Paper content is worth marketing, how can one accomplish it on a small budget?
-I mentioned the free submissions available on many content syndication sites – that is a good place to start.
-The next tip is something I figured out about two years ago. You can optimize the heck out of a .pdf for great SEO results when the White Paper is hosted on your website. First, under the properties section in Acrobat, you can add meta data to help search engines find your asset. Then, you can hyperlink any images or links that you didn’t already have hyper-linked through InDesign or word or whatever you wrote it in. Lastly, under Tool>Advanced Editing, you can TouchUp Text Reading Order. This actually tells the browser in which order you want it to read the .pdf which can be extremely helpful with keyword and header content.
-A lot of White Paper writing sites will recommend submitting a press release to promote your asset. I have mixed feelings about this one. Part of me thinks that any press is good press, and there are plenty of free PR sites. But does your White Paper contain content that is remotely as significant as your latest new product? Basically I ask myself, even if my White Paper is terrific, is it newsworthy, and does it warrant me pestering the journalist who’s desk the release will ultimately cross? The last thing I want is to have someone glaze over anything associated with our company. (This, of course, assumes that journalists pay attention to our companies in the first place.)
-Social Media is a pretty solid tool for continued promotion. Assuming you’ve done your job of garnering followers with similar interests to your company, strategic posts highlighting particular aspect of your White Paper can be very effective. This is true particularly if you have designated landing pages and an automated marketing system (we use Pardot) to track interactions. I used to use Hootsuite to plan out a weekly or bi-monthly post to Twitter or LinkedIn until we started using Pardot.
Those are my main ways to promote our White Papers, what are yours?
One of the challenges of any business is understanding the sales cycle, assuming there is one. Now obviously, some business are seasonal, or can anticipate increased sales volumes for certain times. Christmas is going to increase catalog, retail, and online sales, all of which will increase the amount of traffic for FedEx, UPS, and the US Postal Service. But what about your small business? Is there a semi predictable cycle? In my opinion, even if there is, predicting numbers is still like throwing nails at a dart board. In other words, wildly inaccurate.
However, to an extent, I have learned that dips are far more predictable than peaks. Here are a few examples, and it is all driven by customer reaction.
In late 2008, the world crashed. The markets crashed, sales crashed, credit crashed. Hell in a handbasket. Through the first three quarters of the year, we were up in sales, and looking great. Fourth quarter hit, and we saw a fifty percent decrease in sales from the previous fourth quarter. Now, fourth quarter is generally our slowest with holidays and such in there, but occasionally it surprises us with some end-of-fiscal-year bumps. However, fourth quarter 2008 nearly called for layoffs, and I admit, it wasn't something I saw coming. Having experienced it once though, I now know to be on the lookout for it again. As a plus though, because the UIU saves customers a tremendous amount of time and money, 2009 turned out our best year to date, which very few companies could say. So again, I now have a historical piece of data to work with in the future.
Another example for us has been associated with the release of a new Microsoft operating system. When Vista was close to release, our sales slowed or were delayed because customers didn't know exactly what to expect from Vista. Rumor had it that UIU would be unnecessary. Well, that was obviously incorrect, as sales continued to increase, but it was understandable. Consequently, when Windows 7 was announced, we fully expected the same thing. Customers would delay purchases while reviewing their environment. Windows 7 would cure all their problems. We had several customers not renew their UIU licenses as they were positive they didn't need us. Well, 2011 proved that wrong, with record sales and several customers coming back to the UIU. But, because of our experience with Vista, the Windows 7 hit and subsequent rebound was predictable.
The third scenario we have run into is with our own product updates. It was not uncommon to hear that a customer wasn't going to purchase or renew until we had released a new version - something compatible with Vista, Window 7, containing certain drivers or fixes, etc. The customer always wants assurances that it's going to work in their environment, and despite years of proving our commitment, fear still reigns. Not much you can do, but understand that the process will take time. So, when we heard customers were leaving us for Microsoft's SCCM, because it would do everything they needed (see point two), we listened and waited, and soon those customers started asking if the UIU was SCCM compatible. As those requests grew, we realized we needed a new product that would integrate with SCCM (UIUSD), which we just released in April. That release though has caused a slow down in sales and renewals because for existing customers moving, or considering moving, to SCCM, they now had to do the research and evaluate their environment. And so while sales fell dramatically in April, I was able to warn my sales and marketing staff that it would likely happen. No one is happy about having such a terrible April, but the interest in UIUSD has been awesome, and we can fully expect the corresponding increase in sales shortly.
I don't think business is tremendously predictable, as far as set numbers. We would all like to increase sales by a certain amount every year, but can we predict that with any accuracy or certainty? I don't believe so. What I can do though, is be somewhat predictive as to when sales may increase or decrease based on certain outside events or perceptions. The more cycles you go through the better a predictor you should become, as long as you learn to recognize the patterns.
Guest Post from Big Bang Sales Director - Kelley Burian
...cont'd from Part 1
What we hadn’t properly examined was our massively diverse current and potential customer base. This sounds like an impossibly dumb oversight, so I will explain. Most small businesses serve a specific industry, be it manufacturing, healthcare, retail, education or government. From there many get even more granular and cater to a specific gender, age group, financial status, etc. Our customers and potential customers, on the other hand, include any and all organizations with more than 100 computers running a Microsoft operating system. That’s it. Your company needs 100 computers, something most of us can’t perform our jobs without, and the most popular operating system in the world. So while our customers come in all shapes and sizes, the things that qualify them as our customer are really simple.
My critical mistake was not accounting for how differently those customers use those 100+ computers. We knew there would be special circumstances, because there always are, and we planned to work those out one-on-one. As we got going, we realized those special circumstances were less special than we thought. In fact, most have reported a scenario that was the complete opposite of what we anticipated. Education is a primary example and a large part of our current customer base. In general, each student is not going to have a school-issued computer in their possession, but rather use one in a smaller pool of shared PCs. We determined very quickly that requiring a license per user where a student is considered a user (not just staff and teachers) was maybe easy but not necessarily fair.
We did find that other customers loved the idea of the per-user model. Barring a rapid growth in employees (which rarely bothers anyone) or a merger, corporate licensing per-user is both easy and relatively predictable from year-to-year. It was also attractive because corporate environments are going to be far more likely to support multiple computers per user.
Lesson: One size does not, as advertised, fit all.
It was the kind of mistake that was good in many ways. While we are back to a per-computer licensing model as the default offering for both products, we now also have a plan for those UIUSD customers that a per-user model is more attractive. It isn’t as simple as I wanted, but at least it remains simple for the customer—As for the sales staff, well, that’s what we’re here for. We also learned a lot about some of our customers’ challenges this week, and that is always a good thing.
All things considered, I think we have achieved both mutually fair and as simple as possible, though it took us a few extra days more than planned. I lived, I learned, and now I just need to find a way to keep this from the boss.
I’ve made a huge mistake.
About Big Bang Blog
There are many reasons to write a small business blog, we wanted to bring you at least a few reasons to read one. The Big Bang Blog covers the ins and outs of running a small software business, as well as a variety of small business marketing and media topics. Please leave us your comments and questions.
Be sure to visit our UIU Blog for Industry Insights, Product Updates, Support Notes and more.
|About Adam Murphy -
Adam is the President and Owner of Big Bang LLC and espouses a pretty progressive small business philosophy based primarily around hiring the right people and getting the hell out of their way.
|About Nate Bauer -
Nate is the Marketing Director for Big Bang LLC and pretty much spends his days tip-toeing on the pinnacle of how to most effectively implement strategy given the wide open cookie jar of small business marketing possibilities.
|About Kelley Burian - @kelleyburian
Kelley is the Sales Director for Big Bang LLC. Responsible for everything from GSA contracts, resellers and international customers, she has her hands full doing whatever she can to make sure our valued clients are thrilled with our fantastic products.