Conferences are Dumb (and Wasteful)

I was at Interop/Web 2.0 for meetings this week. I also walked the expo floor talking to startups and attendees.  It struck me how broken the whole “conference” thing is. Vendors want leads but tradeshows are a notoriously poor source of qualified leads.  At every company I have worked at, when we actually tracked leads all the way through to revenue I’ve never seen any real return from trade shows. Attendees want to network and learn what’s new.  Talks can sometimes give some “what’s new” perspective but the speakers are generally folks who speak/write/blog enough that nobody needs to see them live to get their content (I was told by one well-known presenter that he had 16 people attend his talk).  Attendees can see what’s new at the expo of course but they will have to suffer a sales pitch few of them want in order to get it. Networking is going on around the show, in hotel bars and restaurants and at vendor-sponsored parties (now there’s a great place to qualify a lead!).  So, the attendees get to hang out and party and the vendors pay for that.  Sounds like a pretty good deal for attendees but the vendors sound like suckers. So you’re a startup looking for prospects.  Is buying a booth at one of these conferences worth it?  This is a case where it would probably be useful to apply the $100 bill test: Add up what you would spend on the show.  It probably looks like this – air travel for 2 people – $2000, hotel for 2 people for 3 nights – $1800, food,...

Working with Analysts is a Pain (but you Should do it Anyway)

Ever wanted to make a startup founder curse?  Try saying these 2 magic words – Gartner Group.  In big companies the reaction is usually about the same (with more politically correct vocabulary).  Why?  I believe it’s a case of each side having their own (very different) priorities and each not understanding the other’s point of view.  I summarize the opposing views like this: What Vendors Want Analysts that can understand their products after 1 briefing Analysts that will write positive things about their product and recommend them to customers Analysts that do not criticize their product, their marketing, their business model, etc. What Analysts Want Vendors that will brief them regularly and often Vendors that will pay them for advice, not coverage Vendors that value their feedback on their product, marketing, business model, etc. You can see how we might get into trouble here.  My personal experience has been that working with a few key analysts as you are in the design/development phases for a new product can be extremely valuable if you get it right. Here’s April’s Handy Dandy Analyst Do’s (and 1 Don’t) list: Do: Pick a Couple of the Right Analysts – you don’t have time to build a relationship with more than a couple.  Pick ones that focus on your market obviously but don’t be shy about leaving someone off the list if you think he/she might be too hard to deal with (ask around, read their blogs, check them out on Twitter – jerky-ness is easy to spot). Invest Time – schedule regular calls and don’t expect them to get what you do after...

PR is Not Marketing and You Can’t Outsource Marketing

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ve read the discussion that is going on around PR and whether or not is necessary for a startup.  Here is a quick summary for you under the rock types: Jason Calacanis says startups should fire their PR company. Steve Rubel says says PR folks need to stop spamming journalists. Michael Arrington says PR as a profession is broken. PR folks fire back saying It’s not just about online, people. Jeremiah Owyang also takes the opposing view and talks about how PR can help some startups. I basically agree with everyone.  Yes, CEO’s can do more PR directly.  Yes, there is too much PR spam.  And, although generally I think hiring a PR firm doesn’t make sense for an early stage startup, I have seen value from working with a firm that has good relationships to help accelerate visibility when a company is growing really quickly. However, I thought there was a dangerous bit of advice in Jeremiah’s piece when he talks about PR’s ability to refine communications.  Specifically: “The entrepreneur without professional communications help may often yammer about how great their technology is, or spend time sharing his passions.  The entrepreneur who has professional communication help often focuses on business solutions, able to talk at the market level, and puts the value statement right up front.” This is the most important job of a marketer in a startup!  If you run a startup and you can’t talk about business solutions, can’t discuss your market, don’t put value statements up front, you need to fire your head of...

Under the Influence

I once had “CIO Influencer Marketing” in my title and people used to ask me “What’s that?” and my cheeky response was usually “Buying CIO’s a few drinks at the bar.”  The conversation then always went down the path of talking about who actually influences a CIO. I recently had a series of conversations with the members of a CIO Advisory Council I run.  We had a discussion around who (besides the obvious members of the decision making unit and other C-level folk) they turned to for advice.  Did they listen to industry analysts?  The said yes, but mainly for context or to back-up a decision they had already made.  What about industry pundits, journalists, experts, did they go to them for advice?  Again, the answer was that they would use them if needed to support a decision they had already made.  “So who do you talk to?”, I asked one of them.  “Those guys over there” was his response as he pointed to the other CIO’s on the council. OK, it’s hardly a scientific study but I did read a great post by Don Bulmer at SAP on how Influencers rank by size of company that backs this up.  For larger companies, peers have the most influence. As a person who’s getting new technology out to market, I took away a key point about how this applies to getting a meeting with a CIO.  CIO’s don’t want to talk to you but they might talk to another CIO.  If you’re at a big company, get your own CIO on board and have him or her get you some...

Product Launches: Cuil vs. Chrome

I’ve found that in general for a V1/Beta launch, teams are too focused on technology and not focused enough on customer pain points, user experience and the market. Why? Because by definition, they don’t have much customer experience yet! If you don’t have any pre-launch customer experience then what makes you think you know anything about the market?  If you don’t know anything about the market then why launch now?  Seriously.  The more user-feedback can be heard and acted on before the product is launched the more you can plan for how the market will react to your strengths and weaknesses. This might seem obvious but many entrepreneurs in particular still hold onto the belief that the “big bang” launch comes first and working with customers comes later. The second thing is to set customer expectations at a level where you can meet them.  Again, a bit of pre-launch customer work goes a long way to helping you understand what those expectations will be.  Sounds easy right? If it was, I wouldn’t see so many hated, over-hyped products out there struggling to survive. Let’s compare two recent product launch examples: Cuil vs. Google’s Chrome. Cuil is a well-funded startup staffed with ex-Googlers with a search engine that “searches more pages on the Web than anyone else-three times as many as Google and ten times as many as Microsoft.” A better search engine than Google! Who doesn’t want to give that a try? The launch was massive. Hundreds of articles were written about Cuil in the run up to the release date including the New York Times, even though no media (or anyone...

The World Doesn’t Need Another Marketing Blog

I don’t really believe that’s true or this wouldn’t be here but there certainly are lots of great marketing blogs out there. Here’s what I’m hoping to contribute that’s at least different from the majority of marketing blogs I read regularly. I’m more of a Business to Business marketer than a Business to Consumer one. And yeah, I think BtoB is often different. I love social media but there’s more to marketing that just that. In my world (software sold to large enterprises), social media is part of a mix that shouldn’t be served straight from the bottle. My bag is bringing new software solutions to market and I’ve done that at big companies like IBM and Nortel as well as small startups.   I am interested in what makes one great idea successful and another not. I’m not going to be one of those post everyday people.  Subscribe and you’ll know when there is something new. First time reader?  Why not subscribe or follow me on...
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