May 05, 2005
Congratulations! You just landed a new job as top dog marketer at a red-hot emerging technology company. But there's bad news... the Web site sucks, sales hates marketing, your brand name's unknown, and the sales cycle is stretching out forever. If you've ever been in a bad marketing situation, you'll enjoy this turn-around saga featuring best practices in research, PR, and copywriting:
In late 2003 when veteran software marketer Kelly Vizzini started her new CMO job at DataSynapse, she was psyched.
Although its emerging technology was red-hot new, the company was financially stable, had been in business for five years, and boasted several Global 1000 corporations on its happy client list.
However she quickly discovered the horrible marketing truth. "I thought I was starting out with a blank slate. But I found I was actually starting in a hole." There were three main problems:
Problem #1. Marketing created low credibility with sales
"Previously, marketing acted independently of sales. Marketing leadership created a culture of over-promising and under-delivering that left Marketing with extremely low credibility among those in the sales organization."
Problem #2. Prospects asked to "see the financials"
While DataSynapse's financials were just fine thank-you, prospects requesting a look-see slowed down the sales cycle to a crawl just when it should have been speeding to conclusion.
Vizzini says, "I have real empathy for the dread and irritation those six words -- 'I want to see your financials' -- can strike into the hearts of sales reps. The financial fire drill consistently cropped up as yet another peak to scale before the deal could be done."
Problem #3. Tedious copy on all marketing materials
Vizzini winced when she read through the company Web site and other marketing collateral. "It tended to be extremely verbose -- typical, tedious tech company writing." Most of her copywriting pet peeves were in glaring black and white:
- The leading...: "Nobody believes it. It's a nebulous statement that's lost all meaning. Why would I want to waste copy on that word?"
- Broadly-worded company description: "The boilerplate was so broad and so generic as to be meaningless. You try to be broad so you don't alienate anyone, but it's just bewildering to prospects. Messages should focus on differentiation, identify your unique attributes."
- Copy points similar to competitors': "Often vendors' sites all sound eerily alike. I don't like to read competitors' Web sites because you can become so consumed with what competitors are saying that your message starts to mimic theirs. People are afraid to have their own voice."
- Long lists of features but no benefits: Although the body copy almost endlessly detailed every nut and bolt of the technology itself, nothing explained why it mattered.
Although she was longing to, Vizzini didn't immediately start on new marketing campaigns or site revamps.
First, she bought some CRM software to track and manage all the leads she hoped to generate. "If you're not measuring conversion and close ratios, you're not managing your job effectively. You're not making your case for marketing based on intangibles." Next she picked up the phone. "I called all the sales reps. They were shocked. While that by no means did that win them over, it started a healing process."
"When marketers go to new jobs, some say 'Here's my plan. I'm going to do all these things.' That's the kiss of death. Why would I presume to create a whiz bang plan when I haven't sat down and talked to my own internal audience? You have to sit down and ask them where their pain is, what works, and where are you struggling?"
Vizzini asked all the reps who could make it to attend a special meeting in person to help her understand their challenges. The agenda had only three items:
#1. Everyone wrote down all the sales objections they get from prospects on a piece of paper. Why not shout them out? Well, that could turn into a "me too!" fiesta and limit individual thinking.
#2. Vizzini wrote up the objections on the big whiteboard, grouping them into themes (as they emerged) such as "Never heard of our brand" or "Want to see financials"
#3. Sales reps rated each theme by when it occurred in the sales cycle. Early, mid, or close to signing.
Vizzini used these themes to create her marketing materials attack plan. Marketing could help with most objections early in the cycle, many in the middle, and a few near the end.
But, before her team could write a word of copy, they needed to know what benefits DataSynapse's clients actually got from the software, and how they'd describe these in their own words.
"Every company will tell you they talk to their customers, but very few have actually done it. In reality, you have to put a formal program in place." Vizzini believed it was critical that that a C-level executive outside of marketing should be highly involved in the effort so the resulting information wider impact throughout the organization.
Luckily DataSynapse's Chief Business Architect agreed to the idea and devoted almost three months to calling clients for in-depth interviews sometimes on the phone and sometimes in person.
All interviews were recorded. "If you ask the client to make the time, make sure it's on record so you don't ask them to repeat it later. It's an incredible learning tool for new hires. Don't tell them what you do, let them hear it from the mouths of clients. Audio and a written transcription is fine."
Interviews were to some degree scripted to make sure every important question was covered. Vizzini's favorite was included repeatedly -- "So what?"
"When you say it, it's a very dismissive phrase that ends up being in your favor. It puts people's backs up a little bit. They need to prove to you why what they just said is important. It's reverse psychology."
"It's not enough if someone says 'I've been able to run reports 50 times faster or do 70% more trades.' So what? Then you learned that increase helped them drive $30 million more in revenue...."
Once interviews were completed, Vizzini's team had everything transcribed and spent 30-solid days going through every word with a fine tooth comb looking for overriding themes. They discovered three main benefits:
1. Cost savings 2. Helping clients improve service levels 3. Agility - helping clients be more dynamic
Vizzini met with sales and top management to double-check conclusions. Everyone agreed that cost savings was their biggest sales benefit. Then she ran a quick survey past clients asking them simply to rank the ways in which the software had been the most helpful for them. Would they agree that cost savings was #1?
Armed with results, Vizzini quickly moved into phase two of her marketing plan -- getting the message out. After revamping the Web site and all collateral from stem to stern, she started two key outreach programs:
Outreach #1. Hiring a PR firm
"PR is your best friend. It can help you eradicate lots of early-sales-cycle objections as well as questions about the viability of your financial health. The more coverage you get, the more inherent credibility you have.
Hiring an outside firm was definitely controversial. "It's not cheaper in-house," Vizzini insists. "If you pick a good partner, for the fee you pay you get a team of two-to-four who are out there building press relationships and contacts all day. That's their entire existence. Why should I go and reinvent the wheel?"
Outreach #2. Convincing clients to enter awards
Nothing builds your credibility and stops sales objections like famous client case studies and testimonials. However, when most of your clients are Global 1000, getting them to agree to publicity to help you can be awfully difficult.
Vizzini attacked the problem from the other direction -- why not ask clients to do publicity to help themselves instead? So, she created a list of the various awards clients might be able to win for outstanding technology and advancements and encouraged them to enter to try to win.
"In 2004 the company doubled in revenue and doubled the client base," says Vizzini proudly. "We're on a nice trajectory. Marketing can't take all the credit but we've definitely played a role."
Remember that list of three sales benefits based on client interviews? Turns out DataSynapse had them in precisely the wrong order. Clients were far more interested in the last point, and felt the first was obvious but kind of boring.
Vizzini was hugely relieved she'd surveyed the client base before going to market with the new copy. "I would have spent an entire year leading with the wrong message."
The revamped site now gets 50% more average traffic per day. Thanks to Vizzini's new lead gen forms, more visitors become prospects.
In the first six months of the new PR campaign, the outside PR team generated 250% more editorial hits than the in-house efforts in the past had. Plus, the stories were in much bigger publications - including CIO Magazine, InformationWeek, and eWeek. All internal objections to hiring a firm dried up very quickly after that.
The awards strategy worked as well. "You'd be amazed at how many clients are responsive to trying to get recognized as a technology implementer. When they win, it's a matter of public record and you can use it as a reference."
"I got a great quote at a show this January. An industry analyst said, 'You guys are much louder than your size. Nobody would ever guess looking at our site or based on media coverage that we're a small software company with 75 employees."
Useful links related to this article
Articulate Communications - the PR firm DataSynapse relies on: http://www.articulatepr.com/index.htm
SalesForce.com - the CRM system DataSynapse uses: http://www.salesforce.com