If you're selling high tech products or services, some offline methods like trade shows or investor events might be key to your strategy. Here's how to get the most from them.Most important rule with Offline: be very choosy. It's too expensive to do anything else.
1. External events
Events like trade shows, industry conferences and investor events where you exhibit, present or both are usually expensive; depending on the sponsoring industry, they can be exhorbitant. Yet, they may be very necessary for profile building or to launch new products. But don’t get stuck in the annual trade show cycle just because you ‘have to be there’. This is really common in the IT industry, but it can be a trap.
Select the particular shows that ideal buyers attend, and focus your stand, collateral, in-program promotion and emails before and after, on problems you know they have. If you attend with a 'me too' attitude and stand, it might end up being one big party for all the sales teams. Be sure to have clear goals in mind (read How to Maximise trade show ROI) and to measure cost vs benefit, so you'll know which events are worthwhile, and ditch those that aren't!
2. Internal events
Lunch and breakfast seminars held in attractive venues are expensive but, as the organiser, at least you can control who attends. To get the most return, focus on solving specific problems and invite only those you know are likely to have them. If you have non-competing partners in a complementary area, you could co-host with one of them. This will halve the cost and double the exposure, but make sure you both have equal air-time and speakers of equal standing. On the day you can use specific tools to weed out the serial diners from genuine prospects, which will increase your ROI.
For shareholder events, you will control who attends too, and your presentations need to be focused on technology strengths, recent advances, strength of the management team, growth potential and shareholder value. If you think you might encounter some curly questions and you have live feeds from more than one location, you can always make it clear that questions will be submitted to a moderator, and that your team will make every effort to answer every question.
In IT, User Groups can be a very useful way to reinforce customer relationships, to find out what improvements they want next, and to show your advantages to prospects through customers’ eyes. If you sequence and script them well, and are highly selective about attendees, you’ll can get dual benefit - enhanced customer and prospect relationships - from one investment.
Customer and partner referrals are really valuable, but it's a problem that you can't demand one when you want it. You have to wait for them to be proffered. Yet, you can increase the likelihood and frequency if you build the expectation of a referral into your sales process, and nurture customers and partners after the deal is done.
A common mistake is to forget customers once they've signed the deal, and this makes them really annoyed, especially if they're aware of enticements you're giving to new customers. To keep customers happy and make them willing to refer you, have a special nurture system just for them, where you show them extra value or new functions, or invite them to customer-only events. Nothing is more powerful than a referral from a genuinely happy customer.
4. Networking and WOMM
Both of these have some value but not as much as referrals from satisfied customers. In fact, if a referral is expected as a result of being part of a network, it's not only meaningless it could be counter-productive. I know of one business network where referring members is expected, even if you've just met them. Would you put your reputation on the line to refer a total stranger? I wouldn't.
Apart from those networks, Word of Mouth Marketing is useful, but very uncontrollable. Someone who knows you in one context may refer you for work they think you might do. If this happens, you can waste time qualifying leads that are irrelevant. Anyway, not everyone is a born networker, so consider if you are or not.
If you are, network naturally yet use your time wisely: select your targets, ask them about themselves first and listen to their answers. they'll be flattered and will remember you (because everyone else is self-absorbed). You can then make a real impact by being short and sweet in what you say about yourself, and finish by giving your business card.
Post or 'snail mail' may sound pretty old-fashioned but, with buyers opting out of email more often than opting in, post has its place. In fact, in some markets it's made a mini-comeback. I know of several tech companies who follow up initial meetings with a useful book in the post. If it's relevant and appropriate, it can be powerful.
You can even use post for selective 'cold calling'. Apart from bills, no-one receives much post these days so, if nothing else, you'll be remembered. For greatest success, be choosy about recipients, be very sure about correctness of their contact details, write directly to them peer-to-peer (CEO to CEO not salesperson to CEO) and only write if you have a very compelling reason for him to accept a call from you. You must also follow up the call with a call from you, not someone else. As I said, offline marketing is expensive!
Many hi-tech companies used to use telemarketing to cold call to get opt-ins for email. This is a very expensive way to build a list, with a very high risk of opt out, so you might end up wasting your money. This is especially so in hi-tech markets, where your target usually requires a high level call. The average telemarketer doesn't fit the bill so opt-in is often 'inferred' or gained from a third party. The result is: no relationship with the target, no knowledge and no permission, so he unsubscribes to your first email.
If you have a well-trained telemarketer who knows your technology inside out, it's an advantage, but targets are still elusive: many companies off-shore their call centres, so the person who answers the phone has no idea about contact names. In any case, the senior people you want to reach are better protected than ever: they’re never at their desks or they don’t take calls.
To get a return from telemarketing, you’ll need tight scripts and short calls. It works better when you call those who know you, like customers for surveys, and prospects after emails or to confirm event attendance. Cold calling is a waste of money these days.
Advertising in in print media is vastly more expensive than in online media, and fewer buyers go there these days, so it's higher cost, fewer targets and harder, if not impossible, to measure ROI. You might gain some profile, but how will you know? If print advertising is part of your mix, the best way to minimise costs is to be highly selective, apply laser precision to your message and back the print ad up with advertising in the corresponding online media.
So, in short, with traditional marketing, be really selective about which you choose, make your message super-specific to the audience, and always back it up with online methods, to get the most value.
(Read more about how we 'do' marketing for high technology companies. It's mostly science, a bit of art and absolutely no fibs - and it works).
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