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Sep 04, 2001
Article

Top 5 Online Marketing Mistakes Software Companies Typically Make

SUMMARY: "The big problem with most small-mid-sized company sites is they put engineering in charge. Marketing should own the Web -- no question about it. All the marketing people reading this will say, 'Duh!' But a lot of CEOs will argue with that. 'R2D2 knows how to write HTML therefore he's in charge of the site.' Nonsense! You're cutting your throat." Bruce Hadley, Editor-in-Chief Software Success newsletter, explains the top 5 biggest online marketing mistakes software companies typically make. Do you make them too?
After spending more than a decade as the marketer for three different software start-ups that grew to multi-million dollar sizes, Bruce Hadley became a journalist reporting on the software marketing. As Editor-in-Chief of Software Success newsletter, he talks to hundreds of software marketers to learn what works and what definitely doesn't.

We contacted Hadley to get his overview of the types of Internet marketing mistakes that seem to be pretty typical industry-wide. Not every marketer makes them, but enough do that he often finds it painful to surf their sites.

Mistake #1: "Educational" Material That's Just a Sales Pitch

As Hadley puts it, "Too many companies I know write white papers about 'how joe blow uses my software.' That's not content, that's a sales pitch." Sales prospects who look for educational content online want it to be just that: educational.

Hadley cites help desk software firm Web Wonderland, as an example of a company that does content right. Web Wonderland maintains both their own corporate site with typical sales materials at WonderDesks.com, as well as a completely separate educational content site at HelpDesks.com. Hadley says, "HelpDesks.com is a truly objective site. It compares all the various help desk software." Competitors are encouraged to contribute descriptions of their own products, which are then double-checked for accuracy.

The HelpDesks.com site gets about 20,000 visitors a month, many of whom are highly qualified sales prospects. "And it works great. If you're shopping, HelpDesks.com is the place to go," says Hadley, "but this tactic's dangerous if you don't have the best software or price point or value argument."

Environ.com is another of Hadley's favorite examples of content that educates prospects without turning them off with heavy-handed selling. The site, operated by Environmental Support Solutions which sells compliance software to thousands of American companies, functions as a very handy information portal on the subject as a whole. Hadley explains, "It's truly a tailored information source if you're trying to figure out compliance. It's become a portal. They are getting an incredible number of hits doing this -- 37,500 visitors in March 2001 for this niche vertical."

Mistake #2: Engineering is in Charge of the Web Site

"The big problem with most small-mid-sized software company sites is they put engineering in charge." says Hadley. "Marketing should own the Web -- no question about it.

"All the marketing people reading this will say, 'Duh!' But a lot of CEOs will argue with that. R2D2 knows how to write HTML therefore he's in charge of the site. Nonsense! You're cutting your throat."

So, if you're having a problem like this with your CEO, just forward this article to him or her today.

Mistake #3: "Horrible" Online PR

Hadley echoes the opinions of many journalists when he says, "The Internet makes it so much easier to do good PR -- and so much easier to do horrible PR. If you grab a media email list and blast out 150 press releases, you'll die. Instead, start to capture the mind of five-six good media people in your vertical. Maintain a relationship by sending them research unrelated to you. Position yourself as the information source for whatever market you're in."

Before you start, make sure your site appeals to the press. Hadley says, "It's amazing to me how many media unfriendly sites are out there. So few have home page links to press information.That's just idiotic. If I get a pitch or hear about you, the first thing I'm going to do is go to the Internet. If you don't have an immediate link for media archives, it's gonna put a bad taste in my mouth."

He adds, "What's even more bizarre is the number of companies without a phone number. First I'm going to go to your site, and then look for a number to call you. I can't tell you how many times I don't find a phone number."

Want to see an example of a great online press center? Hadley suggests you take a look at KnowledgePoint's press center at their HRTool.com's educational site. It includes a press kit, news releases, overviews, testimonials, fact sheets, user stories and complete contact information to reach the PR Director in short everything the busy reporter might need at his or her fingertips. http://www.hrtools.com/Frames.asp?Display=AboutUs.asp

Mistake #4: Sites That Don't Impress Industry Analysts

Hadley explains, "Analysts are like media, but more so." Favorable analyst mentions can result in a tremendous boost to your bottom line. And just like journalists, the first place analysts go to learn about you is your Web site. Then, if they are impressed they might call you (not the other way around.)

While reporters are often looking for a quick info hit because they are on a tight deadline, analysts tend to seek much more detailed information from your site. Hadley says, "Analysts sell their industry understanding. They want insight and technological depth."

His advice to impress analysts online? "Prepare your site as you would for the sale of a lifetime."

Mistake #5: Not Measuring Web Marketing ROI

Every 24 months, Hadley formally surveys almost 100 software company CEOs on their marketing and sales metrics. "I can't tell you how many times they answer, 'I never went through this stuff before I got your questionnaire'," he says. "The most successful companies measure what they are doing."

Key metrics to measure include:

- Costs and sales conversion rates for Internet leads vs. trade leads, vs. direct mail leads

- Number of downloads from your site and the conversion rate to sales from them

- Sales cycle length comparing Internet leads to other sources

- Number of visitors to your Web site, and their conversion to sales leads and/or downloads

He notes the critical factor for any marketing campaign is not the number of sales leads you generate, but the cost per lead, the average sales conversion rate and ROI per lead.

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