Tag Archives: B2B

Cloudy With a Chance of White Papers

30 Sep
cloud softwareI remember when Salesforce launched at the turn of the century. Okay, it was the early 2000s, but saying “turn of the century” makes it sound a lot cooler.
A publishing business I was working for at the time adopted Salesforce as its new CRM. We had a really young MBA for a CEO and he was always willing to try new things.
Salesforce was one of the earliest SaaS success stories. I recall that switching to Salesforce from our old, custom-built database required a steep learning curve for many of the sales personnel. This was back in the day before clean, user-friendly, WYSIWYG-packed applications were the norm. Workers were not yet hard-wired to navigate a cloud interface.
Switching to a new CRM also likely involved a lengthy contract obligation and manually migrating information from our outdated system. At the time, I’ll bet our CEO read quite a few Salesforce white papers and technical backgrounders to determine if the CRM would be a good fit.

Now My Head Is In the Clouds

Fast forward to 2013.  How many new cloud-based services do you sign up for each month? How many free SaaS demos do you try? As an online marketer involved in SEO, paid advertising, and social media, I’d estimate that I create about five new accounts monthly. Last week alone, I signed up for Trello, Triberr and a silly wedding planning app that shall remain nameless (I am getting hitched in a few months!)
The SaaS model is now ubiquitous. Anyone can demo a complex software solution in minutes for free or a low cost and with very little risk.  User-friendly dashboards and universal design best practices, make it quick and easy to learn how to use new software. In addition, many APIs play nicely with one another. This makes it easy for a Salesforce user to integrate other favorite tools like MailChimp or Google Apps.

So, let me get to the point and ask a few marketing questions:

Are traditional white papers still relevant marketing tools for selling SaaS products? Have free trials and monthly plans significantly lowered the risk of trying new cloud applications?  How have these changes impacted the B2B sales cycle?

White Papers vs. Ebooks and Numbered Lists

Gordon Graham, a.k.a. “That White Paper Guy,” recently authored “White Papers for Dummies,” a thorough guide to writing long form B2B content. In this book, Graham describes traditional white papers, such as technical backgrounders for CTOs or CIOs and Problem/Solution papers for executives. Along with those two styles of white papers, Graham also recommends an ebook, or numbered list paper. This is a more informal document that reads like a magazine article or an extended blog post.
There are still many B2B situations where a white paper makes sense. However, I think that many SaaS providers today, especially smaller startups, may benefit from a numbered list or ebook more than a more traditional white paper. 
Today you can demo a SaaS product, try it out for a month, and then cancel or sign up. In the digital marketing space, I see a ton of software startups with small teams and budgets selling services to other small and medium-sized organizations. In this space, the numbered list has several benefits:
1. Numbered lists are scannable and easy to read and contain actionable advice that will make the reader’s life easier. This will appeal to small business owners, who are pressed for time and always looking for ways to streamline and improve operations.
2.  The soft-sell approach of an ebook or numbered list advances the customers who are already in your sales pipeline. An ebook also works to attract new leads by addressing important industry questions or universal concerns. This is a big plus for startups who are trying to get their name out there and spread brand awareness.
3. Unlike a white paper, an ebook is not an obvious sales tool.  This makes ebooks and numbered lists more sharable and easier to promote on social media.  When you download a white paper, you know you’ll be getting a call from a sales person. A numbered list or ebook does not have the same “salesy” reputation (yet . . .).
What do you think about using ebooks and numbered list content in lieu of more formal white papers? Please share any thoughts or reactions in the comments below!
Photo credit: jojo nicdao

Social Search & Why LinkedIn Marketing Matters

25 Feb

linkedin marketingI just wanted to make a quick post about an experience I had today with social search. Major search engines like Google are currently updating to include more social media content in search results.

At the moment, I am writing a series of landing page optimization case studies for DirectMarketingIQ.com. Before writing, I need to go out and interview companies and agencies about their landing page tests and campaigns.  I have a few leads around this topic but always like to go out on my own and search to see if I can find “new blood.”

Today I went to Google and searched for phrases like “landing page agency,” “landing page testing” and “landing page optimization agency.” I got what I expected, a bunch of internet marketing agencies all ranking for top keywords and phrases around “landing pages.”

Social Search Surprise

But there was one surprise on page one of the Google search results. One of the hits on the first page was a LinkedIn Question and Answer thread about landing page agencies (On LinkedIn, any user can post a question to their network, or post a question in the discussion forum in LinkedIn Groups).

The LinkedIn question was from a person looking for a landing page agency and asking for recommendations. Savvy landing page agencies that actively market themselves on LinkedIn responded to the question offering their own services.

The Punchline

Now these landing page companies, who did not rank on page one of Google for “landing page” keywords and phrases, were on my radar as contacts for the story. What’s the benefit for the companies who marketed themselves on LinkedIn? They got on page one of Google and as a journalist, if I interview them for the story, I am basically giving them “free press.”

That’s just one example of why B-to-B marketers should be active on LinkedIn. Now back to writing!

How White Paper Writers Can Conduct Better Interviews

7 Jul

On her site, White Paper Results, Apryl Parcher interviews “That White Paper Guy” – Gordon Graham about his strategies for getting the most out of a phone interview. This is the third interview in a series of posts. In parts one and two Apryl interviews John White- a marketing communications writer and Jonathan Kantor- a white paper expert.

This Q&A series will be helpful to any journalist or business writer who deals with interviewing clients and subjects for stories, case studies and yes – white papers too!

Check it out here.

Photo via Flickr user Leo Roubos.

A Plum Offer You Can’t Resist

6 Oct

In a well-branded effort, American Express OPEN offers business prospects its Plum Card

In these trying economic times, small business owners are undoubtedly on the lookout for ways to save. Yet, when it comes to opening a business credit card, prospects also are wary of potential fine print and loopholes that may trip them up in the future. In today’s economic climate, a little transparency and an offer that does not seem “too good to be true” go a long way.

In its July mailing, sent to small business prospects, American Express OPEN used simple design and clear copy to showcase how its product can help businesses save. “Plum customers tend to be established businesses with larger revenues. A business needs to have a strong cash position in order to take advantage of the product,” says Courtney Goldstein, director of card acquisition for Plum Card.

The control mailing first went out in May 2008 and has been in the mailstream for more than a year. It arrives in a 8˝ x 5¾˝ white outer, with a metallic sticker in the return address block, designed to look like a tiny version of the Plum Card that the mailing offers. Inside are a one-page letter with terms on the back, a one-page application and a BRE (Archive code #544-172047-0907).

A collaborative effort between two of American Express’ agencies, Digitas and Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the mailing is branded with the American Express logo and general look and feel. Plum, or purple-colored, fonts and graphic design accents on the outer, letter and application form help establish the specific Plum Card’s brand as well. “The [Plum Card] product has a unique visual look and feel that we try to promote in every communication,” says Goldstein.

On the outer envelope, directly above the address window, sits a testimonial from Inc.com, Inc. magazine’s website, which delivers content geared toward small businesses and entrepreneurs. Goldstein says past research supports the use of such testimonials from respected sources on the outer because they add credibility to the marketing piece.

One of the highlights of the mailing is the offer itself and how the letter very successfully communicates that offer. Three subheads, each with a paragraph of explanation, point out these main benefits for those busy readers who may only skim the letter, “Pay Early and Save 1.5%,” “Or Take Up to 2 Months To Pay The Full Balance,” and “The Flexibility Your Business Needs.” Important copy including the telephone and online reply channels, and the added benefit, “no annual fee for the first year,” are all bolded to further stand out to the prospect.

At the top of the letter, a sample Plum Card is spot-glued onto the page, with a sticker repeating the three response channels—online, telephone or mail-in application. “We believe in offering channel response variety to accommodate different business owner preferences,” notes Goldstein, who describes American Express as having a holistic approach to response. It doesn’t look at mail in isolation, but looks at all channels—direct mail, print, online, telephone, face-to-face and TV—as working together.

The mail-in application form is just as clear and concise as the letter, with easy-to-read font and ample white space to fill in information. American Express OPEN even cleverly finds a way to repeatedly insert the words “You” and “Your” into the form. The form is broken down into section headings that make the prospect feel important: “You, Your Business, Your Employees, Your Billing Cycle, Your Signature.”

All three response channels are listed at the top of the mail-in application, and if the prospect does go online to the offer’s landing page, he’s greeted with the same look and feel as the mailing. “The online and mail applications mirror one another … We try to align messages and the look and feel to make sure it’s consistent with the product and specific offer,” Goldstein says.

While she cannot reveal the results of this mailing, Goldstein confirms that, as with most control packages, the piece is performing well among its target audience of high-revenue small businesses.

Originally published in the October 2009 issue of Inside Direct Mail.