System Evaluation Series, Part 2: 'Something Needs To Change'

Understanding the buying process is the first step in building meaningful marketing content to educate and support our prospects. In this series, we are following a real manufacturing company through a business management system evaluation, guided by the director of operations, "Dave." 

Consumers of Information Feel the Pain
In Part 1, Dave shared his plans to meet with the evaluation team to kick off the project. Dave reports that the educational start to the evaluation process was very well-received and got people talking.

To Dave's surprise, the most animated people in the kickoff meeting were the consumers of the system information as opposed to the heavy users, like the controller. "The people who weren't big users of the system were the most vocal about the challenges. They are more consumers of the system -- they need to know if a particular part is in stock or where a machine is in the manufacturing process," Dave said. "And they were most in agreement of the challenges with the current system." 

Dave observed that the people who work with the system every day -- the accounting staff who use the system day in and day out -- have become immune to the problems. They are simply used to the way they have to operate. On the other hand, the consumers of the information outside of accounting are frustrated and feel strongly that "something needs to change."

Workarounds: The Symptoms of Pain
As a next step, each member of the evaluation team met with their department leaders, which included the manufacturing, parts and service, engineering, and accounting teams, to identify and list their points of pain.

Leading the manufacturing team discussion, Dave asked members to focus on their workarounds. "Every workaround is a sign of something that isn't working. Every spreadsheet that you have to keep, every notebook that you have that tells you how to access information or how to do things -- those are signs that something is not right," noted Dave.

After the workaround exercise, he showed his team other systems as examples of what could be to spark discussion. "People that are in it don't realize what they are in. When you are trying to elicit a discussion about what you would like, they need to have something to compare it to," Dave said. "A lot of the people on staff have never had any exposure to other systems so they don't know that there are better ways."

Lessons Learned
How have you defined your target audience? IT managers and CFOs have historically been the focus of marketing campaigns and messaging. Are there others in the organization who are feeling the pain more acutely who may be more interested in your solution?

In terms of content, there are two groups to consider at this stage of the process. You can connect with those frustrated department managers looking for answers and you can help the evaluation team document their pains. Ideas to get you started include:

  • Content on your Web site that addresses common workarounds (think keywords) for the industries you serve.
  • Blogs about the real-world workarounds that your consultants come across in the field.
  • Screencasts demonstrating common solutions to workarounds for your target industries.
  • An "Evaluation Team Workaround Worksheet" for your sales team to send to prospects.

Next Up: System Review
Last week, the partner supporting the current system, Syspro, performed a paid system review. While Dave is skeptical, he believes that due diligence dictates investigating the current system's potential to meet their needs. We'll find out how they did in the next installment.

How do you help your prospects navigate the evaluation process?  Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

More from This Series:

Posted by Barb Levisay on April 26, 20120 comments

Take Advantage of the Power of LinkedIn

A recent study of over 5,000 businesses conducted by Hubspot, the marketing service company, found that LinkedIn generated the highest visitor-to-lead conversion rate at 2.74 percent -- almost three times higher than both Twitter (.69 percent) and Facebook (.77 percent). The visitor-to-lead conversion rate means the percentage of Web site visitors who took some action to become a lead, like download a white paper. 

The study's findings bring home the value of keeping your LinkedIn profile current, expanding your network and sharing updates that keep your connections well informed. You don't have to use Twitter to share your message with a wide audience. With far less social chatter than Facebook, LinkedIn shares get more attention and can deliver more value to your business.

Update Your Profile
The first step to making the most of LinkedIn is to update your profile and make sure that it is 100 percent complete. LinkedIn makes the process very simple with the "Improve your Profile" button located at the top of your Edit Profile page.

Michelle Glennie of The Partner Marketing Group offers three practical suggestions to keep in mind as you update your profile:

  1. You need to have three recommendations in order to have a complete profile. Through the recommendation tool, send an e-mail to customers, colleagues or vendors that you have worked with. Once they have written a recommendation for you, you will have a chance to review it before posting it to your profile.

  2. Be sure to add Skills & Expertise to your profile. This is a newer feature in LinkedIn and it's a tool that will make your profile more searchable. Think of these skills as "keywords" on your profile. Simply select as many skills as you like to represent what you do, what community you work in and where you have expertise.

  3. Add your company Web site, blog and Twitter links to your profile. You are allowed to have three Web site links on your personal profile and a link to your Twitter account if you have one. These can create some good inbound links for your company and blogs that you are participating in, not to mention bring more awareness on how to stay connected to you.

Glennie added, "Make a note on your calendar to take a look at your profile and update it on a monthly basis. Making small updates such as adding recommendations, adding skills, or updating your summary can keep your profile from going stale."

In future posts, we'll look at additional LinkedIn best practices to help you send more visitors to your Web site and convert them to customers.

How are you using LinkedIn? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on April 19, 20120 comments

System Evaluation Series, Part 1: Help Prepare the Team

In this blog, we have often talked about the importance of matching marketing activities and content to the buying process. For this series, we have been given the unique opportunity to follow the systems evaluation and purchase decision of a real company. Our guide on this journey attended Convergence as a prospect and volunteered to share his experience leading a business management systems evaluation. We'll refer to him as "Dave" throughout the series.

While the focus of this evaluation is ERP, the lessons learned from this selection process apply across all significant technology investments.

The name of the company and Dave's true identity will remain anonymous to protect their privacy, but we'll share a few facts. The company is a manufacturer of specialty industrial machinery with 200 employees in seven North American locations. A Microsoft-centric organization, the company currently uses Syspro for ERP and SharePoint for document management.

As head of operations, Dave's role includes oversight of IT. He leads the eight-member evaluation team, including an executive team of four and the department managers.

The initial goal of the project is to define what systems the company needs to support growth. The first milestone is the development of a systems roadmap, due by the end of June. The roadmap will include a five-year systems vision and a 24-month action plan.

Education First
Last week, the selection process kicked off with a meeting to educate the evaluation team. Dave prepared a 44-slide PowerPoint presentation to introduce the project and get everyone on the same page. The deck covers:

  • Lingo: Eighteen definitions of terms commonly used by vendors. Terms like VAR, ERP, add-on, workflow, integration and SharePoint.

  • The Issues: Very high-level description of why the project is needed. Several slides on the importance of changing bad habits during the implementation.

  • Getting to the Solution: Definition of next steps and deliverables.

Dave closed the presentation with these words of wisdom:

  • Every company has these bad habits and system issues,

  • Software looks wonderful in its demonstration state,

  • There are hidden "uglys" in each solution, and

  • Implementation of completely new systems is a ton of work (but may be worth it).

Lessons Learned
There are "Daves" out there now searching the Internet or asking their friends for information to help educate their evaluation team. Be ready to support their first steps and they will keep coming back for more. You can be prepared to help with:

  • A page on your Web site with common definitions, include a downloadable PDF.

  • An article or white paper on change management best practices -- something like, "How good companies break bad habits."

  • An update of the services pages on your Web site, written for non-technical readers. When in doubt, ask a non-technical person to read it and explain it back to you.

  • An "Evaluation Team Introduction" PowerPoint ready for your sales team to send to prospects.

To Be Continued
We are just getting started on this journey. We'll check back with Dave every couple of weeks to report on progress and build our lessons learned. Special thanks to Dave for allowing us to follow along and learn from his experience. His time and openness are appreciated.

What content do you have ready for the evaluation process? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

More from This Series:

Posted by Barb Levisay on April 11, 20120 comments

How a Microsoft ISV Is Using QR Codes To Boost Marketing

A few imaginative Microsoft partners are testing the use of Quick Response (QR) Codes and Microsoft Tags in marketing campaigns. Increasingly seen in magazine ads and store windows, QR Codes are two-dimensional matrix barcodes. Using your Windows Phone, iPhone or Android smartphone, users scan the code which takes them to a landing page or Web site for more information or additional actions.

Case in Point: Promoting Social Media
When planning for their Convergence Expo promotion, the Virginia Beach, Va.-based Torrential Data team wanted to add a social media component to the mix. Torrential Data's president, Brad Bimson, recalled, "Our intention was as much about learning what was possible as it was for getting substantial results out of it." The promotion invited booth visitors to register to win an iPad by posting a social media message about Datahaven for Dynamics, Torrential Data's ISV solution.

When a partner or customer visited the Torrential Data booth, they could pick up a 4x6-inch folded brochure for Datahaven with screenshots on the inside and two barcodes on the back -- one QR Code and one Microsoft Tag. Scanning the code with a smartphone took the prospect to a landing page with links to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

"We wanted to make it as easy as possible for visitors to share, so we put code behind the buttons and prepopulated the Tweets," Bimson said. The links were prepopulated with the message, "I saw Datahaven for Dynamics at Booth 1352 at Convergence. What a great document management solution!"

Overall, Bimson was pleased with the results but there were a few challenges. Some booth visitors wanted to post to Facebook or LinkedIn but didn't have their log-in set up on their phone. Others did not have the QR code readers installed on their phones.

Regardless, Convergence was a huge success for Torrential Data, delivering 50 percent more leads than expected from the Expo. And while the jury is still out on the final results coming from the QR Code promotion, the team learned valuable lessons to apply for the next trade show.

Are you using QR codes successfully? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on April 05, 20121 comments

Not All Buying Decisions Start with a Web Search

It's a given that the Internet has transformed marketing. A multitude of studies confirm that most buying decisions start with a Web search. But while that may be true, here's a real-world example that tells a different story.  

When Connie Silverman, controller for Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Mo., started looking for an IT service provider, she didn't start on the Internet. The iconic Kauffman Center was under construction and Silverman was responsible for building the technology infrastructure to support operations at opening.

Silverman needed a partner she could completely trust to support the Center during the demanding months before grand opening. "We were growing from a staff of four employees to about 50," Silverman said "We needed someone who could scale with us."

It's Who You Know
To find the right vendor, Silverman worked with a board of directors evaluation committee to create a request for proposal (RFP) and review solution providers. The RFP was sent only to firms referred through the connections of the board. An Internet search was not part of the process.

As Silverman notes, "Most of our board members, as well as our donor base, are all high influencers in the Kansas City business community. They are in the Chamber or other associations in town, so the network is pretty wide."

The referral process was extremely important to the decision because it provided an initial endorsement to help filter potential vendors. Based on RFP responses, three vendors were selected for interviews with the evaluation committee.

It's Partnership
Carl Hentsch, strategic business consultant with Kansas City-based NetStandard, stood apart from the other vendors by delivering a message of partnership. During the NetStandard interview, Hentsch focused on how the two organizations could work together to meet the changing needs of the Kauffman Center.

The evaluation committee's decision was clear based on the interview. From file sharing to e-mail to Dynamics GP, Hentsch and NetStandard worked with Silverman to guide the IT decisions to support the Kauffman Center's growth. Balancing cost with the functionality that the Center needs, Silverman has complete confidence in the recommendations that Hentsch makes. The grand opening of the Kauffman Center last September, while very hectic in the last weeks, was completely supported by outsourced IT through a team approach.

Lessons Learned
One, networking builds relationships in your community that will deliver unexpected opportunities.

Two, most customers are looking for a partner, not a service provider.

Three, not all opportunities come through the Web.

How are you building your network? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on March 29, 20120 comments

Microsoft Learning Partner Wins with Outside-the-Box Marketing

While it may seem obvious that taking a creative approach to marketing is a good idea, it's tough to step outside the norm and try untested tactics. The problem is that new ideas don't always work. Sometimes, though, they hit big -- and there lies the value in trying.

An Indirect Approach To Finding Customers
Microsoft Learning partner QuickStart Intelligence, headquartered in Irvine, Calif., trains IT professionals and developers on Microsoft technology. The bulk of QuickStart's business comes from Microsoft and partners, so it faces a common challenge for both training and ISV partners: How can it work cooperatively with partners to connect with end users?

In 2009, QuickStart decided to take a new approach to marketing. Justin Slagle, QuickStart's director of business development, said, "We wanted to get out of the loop of waiting for people to deploy new technologies. We wanted to help customers deploy more software which required a presales approach working with partners."

One-Day Technology Conference
QuickStart's unique approach was to hold a day-long technology event targeted at business decision-makers. By educating CEOs and other executives about the benefits of new technology, QuickStart was promoting adoption of applications new to the organization, as well as the latest versions of owned software. The assumption was that training opportunity would follow the adoption. 

"We started out with a one-day technology conference," Slagle said. "We wanted to make it very local and very high-level so that we could draw in the c-level." 

The event was so successful that QuickStart expanded the program. The company has hosted 16 events at various convention centers with as many as 28 partners as co-sponsors. The technology conferences typically draw between 200 and 600 customers who get to choose from dozens of sessions at the 100-200 technical levels.

This year, QuickStart has five SharePoint Intelligence Conference events and five Cloud Intelligence Technology Conferences scheduled. It is also leading a group of Microsoft Learning Partners, all Star Learning Alliance Partners, that are hosting nine more events to complete a 14-city series across the entire United States.

"The beauty of the event is that high-level decision-makers come to understand the new technology from Microsoft," Slagle said. "At the end of the event we ask the customers if they would like to do a proof-of-concept to see how the technology would work in their organization. We've had up to 77 proof-of-concept leads come from a single event."

QuickStart's investment in this marketing program has grown over the years. It has a dedicated staff to manage the events year-round. So, is it all worth it?

Slagle said, "We have helped our partners build multimillion-dollar pipelines as a result of these events. QuickStart sees a significant ROI in training business within six to 12 months."

How are you thinking outside the box?  Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on March 15, 20120 comments

Take Advantage of Internal-Use Microsoft Dynamics CRM

If you are like most partners, you have accumulated a pretty decent contact list over the years. From seminars, referrals and networking you have collected quite a few names and e-mails.

Chances are, those contacts are all stored in the Access database you built in 2001 when you had some spare time on your hands. Or, you have them in Sales#@$ Wow. Time to change that.

Internal-Use Microsoft Dynamics CRM for Partners
Did you know that if you have earned one Gold or Silver competency, you have access to Microsoft Dynamics CRM? One Silver competency entitles you to 25 on-premises or 100 online user-access licenses. With one Gold competency, it's 100 on-premises and 250 online. Additional competencies earn you more user-access licenses. Check your MPN account for details on your internal use benefits.

"Partners should be taking advantage of Microsoft Dynamics CRM internally to grow their business," said Lisa Malone, Partner Account Manager for Microsoft Dynamics, East Region. "Sometimes we are so busy positioning the benefits of Dynamics to the broad market, we forget to share best practices with our valuable channel."

Step-by-step instructions are posted on PartnerPoint to help you figure out how many seats you are eligible to use, how to access and implementation resources.

Expand Business Opportunities
While the cost savings from internal-use Dynamics CRM licenses is the most obvious benefit, there's more. When your teams -- including sales, management and consulting -- are using a solution, they will see the possibilities for customers as well. Before you know it, you have a new practice area with expanded services for your existing clients.

Then, of course, there is the functionality of Dynamics CRM. As your business grows, the old Access database is probably not the best way to connect your employees to customer data. The social media connections and new mobile functionality of Dynamics CRM can take you to a new level of customer interaction instantly.

There's no better time to get started with Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Adoption is building and you can participate in the wave without big investment.

Are you building opportunities with Dynamics CRM? Add a comment below or tell me about it and let's share the knowledge.

See Also:

Posted by Barb Levisay on March 08, 20120 comments

Sweatworking: When Networking Gets Physical

What happens when you combine fitness with business? According to The New York Times, it's called "sweatworking." It's a unique situation when win-loss is a good thing: Win more business while losing more inches.

More than Just Business Connections
When Matt Fenton, president of Pittsburgh-based Oxford Solutions, suggested the idea of meeting with business associates at the gym, Bruce Nelson knew he had found a solution. Nelson, president of Vertical Solutions, also based in Pittsburgh, had been looking for a way to combine his interest in fitness with building business connections.

Since Western Pennsylvania is not the ideal location for year-round golf, most networking focuses on coffee, food and sitting for local companies. Nelson explained, "I work out three or four days a week and was looking for a way to incorporate that into meeting other business executives to learn more about them and what they do."

An additional benefit to meeting at the gym is getting a deeper insight into a person's character that talking over coffee isn't likely to reveal. "You can find out a lot about a person by working out with them," Nelson noted. "Do they show up? Do they commit or are they looking for excuses? Does that person push the extra few steps? It gives you a better feel for whether this is a person you trust with referrals...what they are really about."

Endless Possibilities
The possibilities for sweatworking are endless -- from spinning to yoga to workout routines. Fenton and Nelson's workout includes four people split into two teams. They set a course of routines and each team completes the exercises with a little friendly competition thrown in. Workouts can be tailored to skill levels appropriate for the participants. The end game is to give people an opportunity to get to know each other in a fun and active environment.  

There is no reason to limit sweatworking to outside networking.  As waistlines expand, what a great way to give employees an opportunity to get out of their chairs during the day. Combine team-building and fitness for a healthier work environment.

If you are tired of the standard coffee talk, try starting up a sweatworking group. There are bound to be lots of other businesspeople in your area looking for a better way to network.

Have you found a creative way to connect with other business people? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on March 01, 20120 comments

How To Build Customer Trust Through Your Microsoft Partnership

You've worked hard to meet the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) competency requirements to support your partnership with Microsoft. Most of your customers are committed to Microsoft, as well, but don't have your inside view. Share your insight to build trust and add value to their business.

Be a Filter
Every week, you receive multiple e-mails from Microsoft intended to help you navigate partner training, product development news and marketing support. While much of the information is only applicable to partners, there is plenty that would interest your customers.

As they hit your mailbox, save the stories that are worth sharing with your customers. Include the information in your monthly newsletter or on your blog. Send a personal note to a special client when you find something that will affect their business.

Every time you share filtered information, you establish yourself as a conduit to Microsoft. You also show an interest in and knowledge of their business that keeps you fresh in your customer's mind.

Be an Interpreter
No one, especially not Microsoft marketers (no slight intended), knows your customers' business the way you do. When you see an announcement out of Microsoft that will affect one of more of your clients, be the first to tell them. Explain to them what the announcement means to their company -- what time savings it could mean to them or what business opportunity it could present.

As businesses become more self-sufficient in technology, you need to find those places where you can add value every day. Don't wait for the next launch.

Be a Guide
With Convergence, the annual Dynamics user and partner gathering coming in March, partners have the unique opportunity to spend days with clients learning about new technology together. Partners who guide their customers through Convergence find out more about their clients' strategies and future directions. What better way to match your services to their needs in a true partnership?

There are a multitude of customer-facing Microsoft events each year that offer a similar opportunity. Suggest appropriate events and accompany your customer to demonstrate your inside knowledge and interest in their business.

It's easy to take the overload of information from Microsoft for granted. There is a lot, but it's your job to filter through it and share what's important with your customers. As curator of that information you can build your value in the eyes of your customers -- and the only investment is your time.

How do you use your Microsoft partnership to build customer relationships? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on February 23, 20120 comments

Lighten Up Your Marketing

It can be disheartening to think about the e-mail you crafted so carefully being completely ignored or deleted by 90 percent of the recipients. On average, your prospects have to sort through and choose to open or delete over 100 e-mails each day. How can you help push that open rate up to get a few more eyes on the important message that you are sending?

Not Everyone Thinks Technology Is Cool
The first step, often repeated in this blog, is to stand in the shoes of your prospect. You need to think about how you can help them from their perspective, not yours. Yes, there are technology geeks out there who want to read about every new technology. These are not most of your prospects.

Catch the attention of your prospects with the promise of solving their biggest pains. How can your solution save them money, save them time, solve their problem or improve their business? Tell them in the subject line of your e-mail. Tell them in the body of your e-mail. Give them a reason to ask for more.

Have Some Fun
Done well, humor can help you grab some attention when your message hits the inbox. Very few partners use humor in their marketing, taking a conservative approach instead. Perhaps Microsoft has set the tone -- not much humor has come from the business solutions product marketing groups. But even Microsoft is getting in on the action with the Gmail Man video series, which is fun and effective.

For humor to work in your marketing, it really needs to be a part of the organization's personality. If your company takes a fun and positive approach with employees, there is no reason you can't share the same with your customers. Take a look at your next message and see if there is a way to spin in some humor.

Which is how Rob Ciampa, VP of marketing for Microsoft vendor Pixability, came up with his e-mail subject line. Appealing to the challenges of marketing content development that his clients face, Ciampa penned, "Suffering Contentstipation? Your Online Video May Be. Unclog with this Webinar."

The e-mail's call to action was registration for Pixability's upcoming webinar, "How Bad Plumbing Clogs Good Video." While wordplay like that may not appeal to everyone, it caught at least one marketing journalist's eye.   

"We wanted to be relevant and appeal to our customer's pain points but also have some fun. Humor is a little risky, but the danger of always taking the neutral route is that you will be totally ignored." Ciampa said, adding, "And, we had a good open rate."

Take a Risk
There is no doubt that trying a different approach or using humor can be risky, with the potential to annoy or offend. On the other hand, if you don't take some risks in marketing, you stand a good chance of hitting the inbox trash with very predictable regularity.

Have you taken a clever approach to marketing? Leave a comment below or e-mail me and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on February 16, 20121 comments