Monday, February 15, 2010

B2B Tech Companies: Market What You Know, Not What You Sell

The idea for this blog entry has been brewing for a while. The genesis for it came in 2008 while I was Director of Marketing at Inlet Technologies. The engineering-heavy video encoding start-up tasked marketing with generating leads and increasing awareness but didn't have a massive budget for PPC/PPL activities. This led me to emphasize online and social media marketing approaches in my plan.

Not long before joining the company, I had read the results of the CMO Council's survey of business technology buyers on the criteria they weighed most heavily when making vendor selections (see image on left). The results validated many long-held beliefs of mine. Namely, that having the most whiz-bang features or the lowest price were less important than demonstrating an unwavering commitment to customer success and a clear view of where the market is going.

Even equipped with what seemed to me to be incontrovertible evidence that the proverbial "speeds and feeds" and "price per [insert relevant speed or feed here]" were less important than support, expertise and commitment to customer success to our target audience, I still faced a baffling uphill climb to get many of the people possessing the expertise - namely the founders, product managers, sales engineers and product developers - to share their knowledge online. There were one or two who "got it" but the social media marketing needs were greater than could be handled by one or two lone "evangelists." We needed broad commitment to participate in social media from across the organization, and it did not come easy.

Since leaving Inlet, I have done project and consulting work for a few b2b tech companies. At one in particular - a small enterprise software company in Europe- the resistance to sharing expertise online was fierce. As I struggled to get these guys and gals to blog, tweet, participate on relevant industry email lists and fora, I came to an important realization about how to sell the idea of social media participation to engineers. I can sum it up this way:
Market what you know, not what you sell.
What really motivated me to actually dedicate the time to writing this blog was reading Steve Blank's Emulating Empathy post the other day. He describes his early career as an engineer in Silicon Valley, and being responsible for "imparting a fire hose of technical information efficiently." Though he doesn't explicitly say so, I figure the topic of the technical information was his company's products. In my experience, this is pretty much every b2b tech engineer's comfort zone.

And so, when marketing goes to product management and engineering and says "blog, tweet, and participate in online fora," I think a primary cause of the resistance is the engineering logic that goes "but all the product detail is already on our web site and in the data sheets and white papers that I've already written." True dat. Very true.

And therein lies the marketing failure to define the task correctly.

Effectively leveraging social channels for marketing results isn't about how accurately and quickly you can recount technical details of your and your competitor's products. In my mind, that's "what you sell" and it is NOT what you need to be sharing on social media. Rather, in order to use social media to generate customer affinity you need to share What you Know.

Example. Inlet's engineers know video unbelievably well. And they know what all the major players in the video distribution ecosystem - new and old - are up to. They are involved, either formally or informally, with all the major industry organizations that set standards, and they have opinions. They are working on solving some of the toughest challenges in new media distribution for many of the largest new media companies on the planet. But these challenges, and the expertise required to overcome them, are not unique to NBC, Major League Baseball, etc. They are shared by every organization that wants to participate in the new media landscape. And these organizations are online 24/7/365 looking for help. Someone will provide it and that vendor will have the advantage in building customer affinity, which will drive top line results.

In closing, it's certainly true that there are often strategic implications for sharing opinions and knowledge online. Which is why the head of marketing needs to coordinate social media participation and have a strategic plan for it.

No comments:

Post a Comment