January 26, 2006
Case Study

How to Impress Conservative Fortune 100 Business Prospects by Allying With Academia

SUMMARY: Are you in charge of demand generation campaigns targeting top execs at very big companies? This Case Study is for you. Learn how a previously little-known software company became a trusted and admired brand in a couple of short years. The trick? Alliances with nuts-and-bolts professors in America's heartland. Includes creative samples, and tips on partnering with academics:
CHALLENGE Executives at giant manufacturing companies in the Fortune 100 are exceptionally careful when they pick new enterprise software. Part of it's due to the industry having been burned during the gung-ho days of the not too distant past. 

"People were a little embarrassed stuff didn't live up to hype," explains Glen Margolis, who founded Steelwedge Software five years ago to provide more reliable alternatives.

His problem -- how do you gain the trust of conservative prospects in huge companies, especially when you're a new company? And then, how do you turn trust into demand?

CAMPAIGN Margolis didn't want to wait the years (or even decades) it could take to get Steelwedge established as a highly trusted brand on its own. He needed a demand generation campaign that got him a foothold more quickly.

Why not latch the Steelwedge brand onto an already-trusted expert, such as a leading professor and academic researcher in the field?

Thing is, US-based manufacturing executives don't tend to trust advice from Ivy League academics. "It's pretty ivory towerish." Instead, Margolis looked for professors in "heartland places where they're very practical, focused on the nuts and bolts, such as the Universities of Wisconsin and Tennessee as well as Missouri State."

The goal was to find professors who would be willing to conduct research in partnership with Steelwedge into best practices, ROI forecasting, and financial benchmarks related to Steelwedge's field. Steelwedge would provide access to customers and prospects, ideas for research topics, and -- key -- a publishing platform for formal papers and speeches.

However -- another key -- Steelwedge would not influence the content of the papers unduly, nor would any papers serve as overt marketing pitches for the company. "The research is not biased toward us, however hopefully we're an example of a leader doing something that not many other companies are doing."

No money changed hands directly between Steelwedge and the professors. "They're already heavily incented because as professors they have a quota to put out a certain number of publications. Some of these guys jump for this."

In addition, some professors hoped for consulting gigs on the side. Having their papers appear in Steelwedge's newsletter and giving speeches at relevant Webinars or live events certainly could help market them in turn as experts. The universities were also delighted with the additional visibility.

Next, Margolis and his marketing team used the content the professors' research created to put together a comprehensive demand generation program. "It all has to fit together to drive demand," he notes. "If campaigns are done in isolation, we won't get strong, qualified participants."

Not only were campaigns calendared carefully to work as a whole together, all campaign measurement was fed into one main platform (link to vendor below). Steelwedge could track who signed up for a newsletter, when they clicked on a link, what links were clicked on, which events attended, which areas of the site visited, etc. The sales team then got a complete profile of each prospect's real interest.

#1. Email newsletter (Link to sample below)

Although the newsletter's purpose was to market the company, it was anything but an overt marketing vehicle. In fact, unless you scrolled to the very bottom, you didn't see Steelwedge's logo.

Instead, the newsletter mimicked the feeling of a formal academic journal. Entitled "Perspectives on Enterprise Planning" and each bimonthly issue had a Volume Number just like a journal would. Lead articles were often by famous professors, by well-known industry consultants, or by Steelwedge's own engineers.

#2. Webinars

Naturally the team conducted webinars whenever they had interesting research findings. Margolis notes that it's best to allow plenty of rehearsals for professors who are used to a lecture hall but not the small screen. His guidelines to presenters are to allow 15-25 slides at most for a 45-minute presentation.

#3. Live Events

Next, the highest quality prospects were invited to in-person events, often with a professor as a guest star. These included breakfasts, and even a river cruise. Prospects for these events were hand-picked. "They've already seen or heard of us in three other places. They read an article in our journal. And they are someone likely to buy our software, not just groupies."

(Margolis says 'Groupies' are consultants and lower-level executives who may be great evangelists for the brand, and should be eagerly encouraged to read the newsletter.)

#4. Online "Best Practices Center"

Margolis collected the best content from newsletters, papers, and webinars and put it together on a Web page entitled "Best Practices Center." This helped the Steelwedge site with search engine optimization, and also gave new visitors something meaty and impressive to sink their teeth into.

However, *very* cleverly, Margolis instructed the Web team to put an automated registration barrier in front of a Web visitor the second time he or she clicked on a resource during a visit. So, you could view one great article or download a useful PDF and hopefully thereby gain trust in the brand, but when you went back to the well for more, you were asked for your contact information. (See link below for sample reg form.)

RESULTS "For the longest time, no one had heard of us, but now we have clients around the globe," says Margolis. "60-70% of leads generated these days are coming through our channels. We have 131 academic papers posted on our site."

He's delighted to report, "It's shocking to me how many CEOs and VPs surf the papers on our site. They use it like a personal library. One time Michael Dell surfed our site and made an inquiry!"

The email newsletter gets a very healthy 14% clickthrough rate (names clicking to read a story divided by total names sent). Depending on subject matter, readers spend 45 seconds to almost three minutes with an issue. (Note: the average for b-to-b newsletters is well under 30 seconds.)

More than 50% of prospective attendees who register for webinars actually end up attending (this is roughly double industry average at this time).

Steelwedge Software's most famous academic relationship is with Professor Tom Mentzer of the University of Tennessee. Mentzer frequently consults for the industry. "He has plenty of self-confidence to walk into a CEO's office. He will not hesitate to make statements to help project managers within a company actually implement best practices and processes."

Naturally this places Steelwedge in a delightful-but-dangerous situation. You have to be awfully secure in the quality of your product to let a passionate academic see behind the velvet curtain…

Useful links related to this article:

Creative samples from Steelwedge: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/steelwedge/study.html

Ihance Solutions - Steelwedge uses to track the activities of prospects on their Web site in a meaningful manner for the sales team: http://www.ihance.com

SalesForce - the CRM system Steelwedge's sales team relies on: http://www.salesforce.com

Steelwedge Software: http://www.steelwedge.com

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