September 18, 2001
How To

The 8 Critical Keys to Marketing to IT Pros Online

SUMMARY: Everything you think you know about how IT professionals use the Web is probably wrong. They don't surf. They don't use live chat. They don't hang out in email discussion groups answering each other's questions. And they hate it when software companies give away
Peter Horan, CEO of DevX, understands how IT pros actually use the Web in real life better than almost any other marketer out there. Formerly with International Data Group (IDG), he turned ComputerWorld around from a dull publication to a must-read magazine. He also used to manage Microsoft's worldwide advertising account while at Ogilvy & Mather.

Software and hardware marketers spend millions online trying to impress IT pros. We asked Horan for useful tips on what really works, and what doesn't. Be prepared for some surprises:

1. IT pros don't surf

Horan says contrary to popular opinion, the real truth is IT pros "don't hunt around online looking for something fun and interesting. That's not how IT pros work. They come to the Web looking for a solution to a current problem. Something they're working on and they're frustrated with."

That means you better make sure your site is optimized and positioned in search engines under terms reflecting problems and solutions that your product relates to. Just listing by your product names is not going to get the traffic you deserve. This concept should also drive your site navigation and design. It's about helping them find a solution quickly to their problem.

2. IT pros verbally ask for suggestions before going online

The Web is not an IT pros' first resource when he or she is seeking a solution. Horan says, "First they are like prairie dogs. They stick their heads up out of their cubicles and yell, 'Does anybody know how to do this?' They look to someone physically close to them to solve a problem. Then the next thing they do is go to the Web."

So you'd better make sure your site URL is easy to figure out how to spell from a verbal suggestion. If someone says, "Hey try looking at" but the IT guy hears, "" you'll lose out on traffic. Another suggestion: buy up all the sound-alike spellings of your domain name that you can and redirect traffic from them. If someone's already squatting on one of them, offer them a token sum to add a banner or note redirecting appropriate traffic to you. Plus, of course make sure search engines rank you under common alternative spellings as well as your regular domain name.

3. IT Pros don't chat online

Back when everyone thought successful sites relied on the formula of content + commerce + community, many sites automatically added chat and discussion boards. Turns out IT pros don't turn to community in the way that other people do.

Horan says, "Chatting implies you get on the Web to talk about your vacation and your boss. When these folks go on the Web it's for a Vulcan mind-meld. They want to find another individual as quickly as possible who's solved the particular problem they have, and suck their brain dry."

Others in the community find this annoying because the problem may have been discussed in the past, "You idiot! Don't you read the FAQs, everyone's already talked about this!" Plus, most IT pros aren't the types who like to hang out sharing information, "the notion of giving back information is almost incidental." Horan says there is usually a 10:1 ratio of question askers to answerers.

Marketers can take advantage of this by getting their sales techs to search IT communities on a regular basis for questions they can answer in a helpful way without a heavy sales pitch (a useful link or two in your email signature should be enough.) Plus, consider changing the community portion of your site into an "ask the experts" function instead that feeds to tech support and/or sales techs.

4. Online tech support IS a marketing function

Most marketers are in charge of the sales section of the company site, while tech support handles their end in a vacuum. Horan advises against this. He says, "Tech support is a very important part of the marketing effort. It's really central to customer experience; a huge portion of IT pros' relationships with your company and brand is that kind of customer care."

This means you need to blur the lines between marketing and tech support. At minimum, have regular meetings with tech support; be their best internal ally when they need a bigger budget; ask them for site redesign and new content suggestions (theirs will be the best ideas you get); offer them email signature suggestions, etc.

5. Forget about "glossy" content -- make it quick and useful

The "glossy" site content most marketers are responsible for is ignored by IT pros. "They don't need your mission statement, or pictures of people, or lots of pop-ups. It's late in the day and I need a server, I'm trying to fill out a PO and how many megs of RAM does that thing come with? Help me do my job and let me go home," says Horan.

IT pros don't like long-form articles online either. So don't just digitize your print materials and pictures and shovel them onto your site; or simply post back issues of your email newsletter. Instead, create an easy-to-search solutions database with answers for common questions. Your database should include the latest technical specs and fixes in as much depth as possible. Horan says the Microsoft Developer Network does a great job of this.

6. Don't give away partial or crippled download demos

Although many marketers favor offering partial downloads to free trial users, Horan says, "In a lot of cases with a crippled demo you never know what it is that you're not getting." So making a purchasing evaluation is very difficult. Instead he strongly advises if possible that you "let them use the whole product and have it blow up in two weeks."

7. Help IT pros in their company-wide "consulting" role

Aside from solving tech problems, the other reason IT pros will visit your site is for data they can use when other departments ask them which IT products to buy. Horan says, "IT pros operate as consultants within corporations, much in the way KPMG or Anderson Consulting do. Here's how we can help you achieve your business goals. Here's what competitors are doing. Here's how much to spend."

So your site has to give them the "building blocks to make their case; make it a slam dunk for them to sell."

Case studies are a big help in this - especially if they can find one for their specific industry (so make sure you have them for a variety of verticals.) Horan says IBM does an exceptional job of this on their Web site, "Their customer success stories are valuable in that they show you the finished cake, not the bag of flour. It's always useful to show what tech looks like when fully implemented in a solution." Plus you also reduce perceived risk.

8. Definitely test ads in email newsletters

Instead of spending your energy on trying to develop a company newsletter (Horan says, "Most company newsletters run out of gas in three issues, and marketing content isn't interesting to IT pros anyway") test ads in email newsletters from publishers that IT pros already read and respect.

Horan says the lead sponsorship position generally works "very, very well." In fact these ads will probably perform far better for you than banners. "Banners are like billboards, they are low impact, not terribly involving." Which is why you'll want to make sure your newsletter ad contains text. Don't just reuse or create banner-style creative.

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