Even though beta-test customers in the commercial mortgage industry called LendingApps' software a "lifesaver", when push came to shove, nobody wanted to shell out $1,000 or more for a license.
Marketing Manager Chris Santo explains, "They were not techies. They never really spent much time with software and were not ready to give up their old Excel-based spreadsheets."
Although he was momentarily dismayed, Santo figured if he did a great job marketing the product, it would sell. Over the next six months he tested every single B2B marketing tactic that has worked for other companies, including:
a. Trade show booths & speeches
b. Planting pre-written articles in related magazines
c. Sending out a postal DM campaign to 30,000 carefully targeted names rented from a trade magazine
d. Offering 15-day trial software downloads from the Web site
e. Handing out CD ROMs with trial software
f. Telesales cold calls offering the trial
The results were: Absolutely miserable.
For example, although about 500 prospects downloaded the software for trial, just two ended up buying it. Some prospects said they had bailed on the download after realizing it would take more than an hour on their often-slow Net connections. (Many lenders and brokers use dial-up connections.)
Other prospects just couldn't understand exactly how the software would help them. "It seemed that our problem was that no one really knew what the software was capable of doing."
It was too complicated to explain with a quick sales pitch.
Santo had to come up with a winning campaign before the company went under.CAMPAIGN
LendingApps' management team began to wonder if the industry "wasn't ready to change the way they do business."
Then Santo had a brainwave. What if there was a deeper educational problem than just not liking new technology?
"I really thought the industry simply did not know what was involved in underwriting a commercial mortgage loan, so therefore they could not possibly appreciate what the software was capable of doing."
Inspired by stories of other companies' success with Webcasts and Webinars, Santo wondered if the same tactic could work for LendingApps. However, his CEO was not interested. "Management felt if we were to offer mortgage training, then we would lose our credibility as a software company."
Undaunted, Santo decided to run a quick no-cost test to see if the marketplace would respond.
In March 2002, he sent a text-only email note to the Company's house list of prospects who had agreed to get announcements. (Link to sample below.) The note offered no-cost beginner and advanced "video workshops" on loan origination and underwriting, and asked people which dates they would prefer to take the workshops on.
Santo did not actually have any workshops ready, because he was not going to invest in a whole hog campaign if prospects were not interested. When he was avalanched by hundreds of eager replies, he had to invent a workshop in a hurry.
"We received 380 sign-ups for the training from this one email. To put it into perspective, it took us six months to get just 500 responses from our other marketing."
Three copywriting tactics helped results:
1. Using the term "Class" instead of "Webcast" or "Webinar." Santo did not want to turn prospects off with a newfangled term. His first email referred to "classes that can be viewed from your computer." In future efforts, he refined this to "Web Video Workshops" which is a nice balance of old and new terms.
2. Signing the email "LendingApps Training Staff" instead of "Marketing." Santo also used the title "Program Manager" instead of "Marketing Manager" when he referred to himself as he led the workshops, and when he made follow-up calls to participants.
3. Ruthlessly eliminating sales copy. The email did not contain any product pitch. It reads like a serious professional announcement rather than marketing hype.
After getting the OK from management, Santo lined up a low-cost online meeting center (link below) and produced his workshops.
The first was 45 minutes long, and included three elements: a video-ed introduction starring Santo, a series of PowerPoint slides with audio accompaniment (via a toll-free phone call), and then the actual software in action.
There was "no product pitch at all," and the section with the software was not a training demo, but rather an illustration of the educational points made previously. "It's extremely valuable whether you have the software or not."
Within 24 hours after the workshops, Santo called every participant to follow-up. Again, he was careful not to come off as a marketer or sales rep. Instead he asked them how the class worked for them and if they had any questions on the topic. Then, he let participants bring up the subject of LendingApps software if they wanted to.
Encouragingly, many did. In fact, 10% of attendees converted into buyers.
Over the next nine months Santo continued to roll-out and refine his workshop marketing tactic. He tested four key refinements:
a. Offering recorded versions at the site.
Only 50% of the people, who registered to attend the workshop, actually showed up. Although this is actually a fairly good Webinar attendance rate, Santo wanted a way to reach out to the half who did not make it.
He created a canned version of the workshop and offered that as a no-cost option at the company Web site. After a bit of research into how Web surfers use canned Webinars, he decided to cut this version into 10 minute chunks for easier viewing.
"The first covers its topic and then hints at the next one. The second recaps the first quickly, then goes on to say what it's going to say and then pitches the third."
All were 100% educational with no product pitches. "If they think this is product-focused training, they will blow you off."
In order to view a canned version, visitors simply registered at the site and the workshop began to play. Santo made the registration form as simple as possible to encourage sign-ups. It only asks for name, phone, email and promo code. Plus, the "promo code" field is automatically filled in for any visitors using a hotlink from any of Santo's emailed promos.
Each registration sends an alert to Santo's own email box. After carefully waiting about 30 minutes (to give prospects enough time to view a workshop or two) Santos would call them up to ask how it went.
b. Offering CD ROMs, a PDF and an email newsletter
He learned yet again from these calls that some prospects' low bandwidth made it tough for them to view an online video. He tested offering two different options for these folks: A CD-ROM of the videos for $10 to cover shipping and handling, and a no-cost "Desktop Reference Guide" which was a 13-page PDF.
He also tested launching a monthly educational email newsletter (link to sample below) to replace the workshops for those who could not download them and to supplement the workshops for those who could. Again, this newsletter focused on useful educational content rather than sales pitches.
c. Testing HTML email.
Although he had tremendous response to his text-message, Santo wanted to see if an HTML version would work. He rented the use of email lists from related trade magazines and tested an HTML version. In each case, he double-checked that the list was indeed permission-based. The owners sent his message to their lists, and included a quick note at the top of the copy indicating where they got the name from, so that it did not appear to be spam.
d. Creating a special landing page
Instead of hoping people would find their way to the workshop registration from LendingApps' home page, Santo created a special page that is almost like a mini-site all by itself (although it is also part of the main site) to use as the landing page for email campaign click throughs.
He used slightly different links to this page for each campaign and each list used so he could measure results. He was very careful to make sure none of these links would ever go dead, even months after the campaign.
"People hang onto emails. I'm still getting registrations from an email sent in April 2002. So, that link will always be there for that reason."
However, although the link will always work, Santo did not want visitors assume the offer would always be there and perhaps bookmark the page instead of taking action right away. Therefore, he added one simple line of copy near the top of the page: "Free for a limited time."
Finally, although the landing page offers all the educational items (workshops, CD ROM, etc.) it does not offer a trial software download. Instead, Santo has a new rule in place, "No more downloading of the software unless a visitor has been through substantial online training."
"I am pleased to say we are generating positive cash flow," says Santos who gives nearly 100% of the credit for sales to the workshop series.
The shorter canned workshops are hugely popular, and are by far the most clicked on item on the landing page. Almost every prospect who chooses to attend a live workshop (which is also offered on the page) has already seen a canned one and decided to try the live version so they could ask questions during it.
Santo's timely follow-up calls really make a difference. "It's the greatest thing," he says. "They've just seen me in the video so they say, 'Oh you're Chris!' If they are still watching the workshop I apologize and say 'Let me get back to you later, I just wanted to make sure it's working.' Often they say, 'Oh no, stay on the line, I have a few questions. I'll pause the video if you've got a second.'"
Although pleased by results. Santo says the canned workshops still have two drawbacks:
1. Some people still can not view them due to bandwidth issues. In this case the 30-minute follow-up phone call can be a deal-saver because it enables Santo to remind prospects about alternatives (such as the email newsletter or PDF) before they forget they ever visited the site.
2. Some people register and then bookmark the start page for the workshop, intending to go back later to view it. Then Santo challenge is to get them to remember to actually go view it, and to catch them for a timely conversation afterwards.
After testing several days of the week for the live-workshops, Santo learned that his market's sweetspot is Tuesdays at 1 P.M. ET. Now that is the time they are all held at.
Since offering the canned versions, the percent of registrants-to-attendees for the live workshops has sunk from 50% to about 20%. "They know if they can't catch you, they can watch the video."
Luckily since switching from text to HTML, Santo's response rates to workshop offers have more than doubled. He has got plenty of new prospects coming in.
The email newsletter has been fairly successful (almost 50,000 prospects have signed up for it in less than a year). However the PDF offer has bombed so far. "Very few people want it. They all want the workshop," says Santo.
The CD ROM offer proved popular but flawed. "We were sending out a ton of CD-ROMs," says Santo. "But when we made the follow-up calls, they told us 'Yeah I never put it in, I never watched it.' People were ordering them figuring they could watch it whenever they had time. It did not help close sales."
To get people to take it more seriously, Santo raised the CD-ROM price from $10 to $100 a few months ago. Since then just three prospects have paid for it, two of whom went on to become software buyers as well.
Santo is deservedly proud of having created a campaign that turned a no-sales company into a profitable one. He notes, "It sounds so easy, but the reality is this was a year-long process. Each week we'd apply one new tactic. It was just such an incremental process to change everything from what we had then to what it is today."
In other words, to succeed you can not just launch one big campaign, or one site redesign, and be done with your testing and adjustments. Useful Links Related to This Article
Link to samples of Santo's email campaigns & newsletter:
Link to low-cost vendor Santo uses to host the workshops (Santo says he pays $30 per month for participants to watch over the Internet and 29 cents per minute for the in-bound toll-free number for them to listen to the audio).
Link to LendingApps.com's campaign landing page: