Red ocean space is where small fish are devoured by sharks and other larger fish. A red ocean market is the name given to a mature market with many competitors.
This article describes how a small Aussie software vendor swims with the sharks, and has built a thriving global business by winning bids through software marketing.
Red vs blue ocean space
One of our clients develops Business Process Management (BPM) software that helps organisations automate document production. Document management isn't new or sexy. It's one of the oldest and most crowded in IT, with dozens of competitors, from small specialists to global vendors like IBM, HP, Oracle and SAP.
In marketing, a crowded market
is ‘red ocean space'; it's that cut-throat area where small fish
get torn to shreds by the big ones. 'Blue ocean space' is where everyone wants to be, but finding it is tough in established markets, where competitors
lurk behind every rock. To make it worse, our client entered red ocean space, very late. (Read the origins of Red Ocean traps from the original authors Kim and Mauborgne and how we 'do' software marketing.)
A clear technology advantage
Fortunately, our client had a technology advantage: its solution
solved the old, well-defined problems of document management
with new approaches. Coming to market late had an advantage too: most of the other players, big or small,
based their solutions on older technologies that were less user-friendly, less flexible, less integrated
and more costly to maintain. Our client had years to collect
Another advantage was that the global BPM software makers were focused on Fortune 500 companies, while our client was happy to target organisations of any size that had complex business processes. These included government departments, industry regulators, and insurance or finance companies.
Agility a clear advantage
The other key advantage was agility. The big global players have layers of management, taking forever to get decisions, changes and updates implemented. It's a bit like teaching elephants to dance: it's possible but slow and not very elegant. For product development, for instance, several division managers need to agree on changes and new features, after carefully examining their impact on other products the company sells. It's a bit like changing the laws about elephants dancing.
With a product development team of 6 and no other products to worry about, and a CEO who doubled as CTO, our client made decisions quickly, including changes to functionality or new capabilities requested by customers. As a result, the product matured rapidly and acquired rich functionality on the way.
A Much Better Mousetrap
Our client’s solution had a specific set of applications for well-defined document management problems. It was smarter than the solutions of his direct competitors, and much easier to deploy than the cumbersome ‘Enterprise Content Management’ systems of the big guys.
In general, the big global players want to 'own' organisations by selling them complete sets of business software. In order to plug every gap in a universal offering, they acquire dozens of solutions and many of the companies that build them.
The result often looks like a highly integrated product suite on the surface, but is more a jumble of components never meant to work together,
which can't be made to, w
ithout a lot of effort and pain, oh, and costly professional services.
A final piece in our client’s software marketing strategy was not to compete directly with the big guys. From the beginning, its product was designed to integrate with the product suites of all the major software vendors, including some competitors. This way, our client could help them add functionality and agility, and so win bids they might otherwise lose to medium sized providers or not bid on at all. Very smart.
Our client’s solution was also able to bridge the information silos common in large organisations, due to all their applications and databases. The solution was simple and flexible: it didn’t need an Enterprise Content Management system or print management system to work, but gave customers the choice of integrating with these systems, if they had them.
In simple terms, the solution was a set of templates and background processes that streamlined document automation, and could integrate with almost any mainstream application or database already installed, using a set of predefined APIs.
A logical next step was the introduction of context-aware, dynamic customer-facing web forms, which our client did. This advance allowed large organisations to let their customers enter or update their own details (information self-service), and modify, process and produce their own documents, according to preset rules. For customer-facing organisations like banks, insurance companies and government agencies, this was heaven on a stick.
How smart software marketing backed smart technology
First we had to establish credibility: the smartest mousetrap is little use if no one knows or trusts its maker.
We created very specific resources, from White Papers, to Application Briefs and Case Studies, making them practical and engaging, addressing real issues, in language customised to target organisations. The resources also clearly articulated the functions that made the product unique, and superior to competing ones.
Too many solutions
However, a product like this could be used in virtually any industry to solve many problems. If we'd been all-encompassing, the message would have been generic, bland and without resonance with real people and real problems. We had to address the individual issues in each segment, yet enable automated delivery, qualification and lead scoring, too To make it tougher, the target decision-maker could be the CEO, CIO, CFO or even the compliance or marketing manager.
Segmenting and targeting
To meet the challenge, we tailored the resources to different roles and industries. We used industry- and role-specific terms, problems and examples, creating multiple resources for multiple parallel campaigns.
It was painstaking, but the difference was evident in 2 weeks: the download rates increased seven-fold, and lead quality skyrocketed. The sales team was also delighted with the readiness of leads to engage.
We used this approach for 2 years, constantly adding new industries and roles, adding new data from events and the sale team, moving out from Australia to the USA and Asia. In that time, these were the results:
- 73,187 emails to 3 continents
- 5,760 papers downloaded
- 485 qualified leads
- 23 sales
- ROI = 9 x investment.
Thought leadership too
At the same time, the software became seen as the most advanced on the market, and CEO as an innovator and thought leader. As a result, more of his global competitors wanted to co-operate on bids, further raising the profile and credibility of the product and company, not to mention its revenue and profit.
Competing in red ocean space is a scary prospect for any comparatively small Australian hi-tech company. Yet, if you focus on your inherent advantages, building credibility and thought leadership of your stakeholders, and exploiting the market opportunities that others don't see, you won't necessarily get eaten.
In this client's case, speed and agility, advanced technology, functionality and ease of use were specific advantages, which allowed the company to swim with the sharks and share their meals, without being an item on the menu.
Read more about finding blue ocean (or uncontested market) space in The Australian Technology Marketing Blueprint. Choose the one for your industry)
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