Good Proactive Marketing Can’t Fix Problems Like Amazon’s EC2 Outage . . .

. . . but bad reactive marketing can make the problem much worse.

[co-authored by Zachary Reiss-Davis]

As has been widely reported, in sources broad and narrow, Amazon.com’s cloud service EC2 went down for an extended period of time yesterday, bringing many of the hottest high-tech startups with it, ranging from the well known (Foursquare, Quora) to the esoteric (About.me, EveryTrail). For a partial list of smaller startups affected, see http://ec2disabled.com/

While this is clearly a blow to both Amazon.com and to the cloud hosting market in general, it also serves as an example of how technology companies must quickly respond publicly and engage with their customers when problems arise. Amazon.com let their customers control the narrative by not participating in any social media response to the problem; their only communication was through their online dashboard with vague platitudes. Instead, they allowed angry heads of product management and CEOs who are used to communicating with their customers on blogs and Twitter to unequivocally blame Amazon.com for the problem.

Many startups, including Quora, AnyTrail, eCairn, and MobyPicture, blame Amazon.com for their downtime.

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Redefining Sales-Ready Battle Cards

A theme that frequently shows up in survey data and during interviews with purchasing executives is that customers care more about how tech vendors sell than what they sell. Tech customers now put more emphasis on the behavior and skill of your sales reps than on your products or prices (see “Do Your Value Propositions ‘Go To Eleven’?”). What does this change mean for your CMI team?

Since customers are changing, how are your competitors selling differently? What intelligence do reps need from battle cards to anticipate and respond to new tactics from competitors?

As you frame your CMI team’s analysis within the customer’s problem, you see competitors from a different point of view – you first determine the merits in the competitor’s approach, then contrast your company’s solution, and, finally, build out a point-counterpoint discussion that will help reps anticipate topics that are likely to come up during customer conversations.

As CMI leaders, many of you tell me you are frustrated that the company measures your value by the number of clicks or downloads on sales portal, but that you don’t have a better way to show the volume or quality of work that you produce.

The only relevant gauge for battle cards is whether they advance the selling goals of sales reps.

The challenge is that sales reps have unique conversations with many stakeholders across a number of accounts. Your CMI team, obviously, cannot build battle cards for individual customer conversations. To break this impasse, Forrester will not provide a simple formula to quantify the value of your battle cards, but we will outline a methodology allowing your CMI team to define and measure how battle cards line up with selling situations.

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Marketing In “Cloud-Time”

 What is it that you think makes one tech company stand out from another? “My product is better than your product”? Not anymore. “My salespeople are better than your salespeople”? Possibly. “My channel is better than your channel”. You’re getting warmer. How about, “My marketing machine is better than your marketing machine”?

For example, 41% of customers identify “the vendor’s (not including its salespeople’s) ability to understand our business problem”, compared with only 21% who identified “the vendor’s salesperson’s ability to understand our business problem” as the most important vendor action factor when selecting a tech vendor. Marketing is clearly the difference-maker.

But cloud computing changes everything. The implications of cloud computing go far beyond its technology delivery/consumption model. It seems I get questions from tech marketers about all things cloud these days. A few examples:

  • “How can I use the cloud more effectively to market our solutions?” (Answer: It’s not what you read in USA Today about Facebook and Twitter. According to the results of our 2011 B2B Social Technographics® survey, discussion forums and professional social networking sites (read: not consumer social sites) outpace Facebook and Twitter ten-fold as information sources for informing businesses’ technology purchase decisions.)
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What's The Value Of Battle Cards?

During the past few months, our sales enablement team has researched and written about battle cards. We've spoken with more than 40 companies, including CMI leaders and sales professionals, to understand how sales reps use battle cards, what role a battle card plays in fueling customer conversations, and what CMI organizations can do to build more value into their battle cards.

During our interviews, sales reps told us that they need battle cards for effective selling today. Reps spend their time identifying a customer’s problems and building a shared vision to solve them. Competitors also engage in a similar journey, and sales reps told us that battle cards help them to:

Anticipate traps. Sales reps need to be aware of ideas that competitors will suggest to the customer early in the sales cycle, but that the customer won’t bring up until the final stages of a purchase. One rep told us of a situation: “A competitor’s rep told the customer that we have a lot of hidden costs – that we don’t include them in our early proposals, but that we will ‘change our tune’ later.” How do you prepare your sales reps for competitive traps?

Respond to questions. Sales reps must be able to answer their customer’s questions and recognize the more subtle issue behind the question – especially those issues that originate with statements from a competitor. A simple dialog shown in the graphic illustrates how a competitor will influence the questions that customers ask. How do you anticipate competitor’s questions and equip sales reps to respond?

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Social Media Best Practices: Don’t Take A Bite Out Of The Apple

This is Peter O’Neill and I had a very busy Forrester Marketing Forum last week in San Francisco: two presentations (well, two halves, I suppose, because I was the co-presenter) plus dozens of one-on-ones with Forrester clients. While I would have preferred to talk about differentiation in the customer lifecycle, the theme of my first Forum presentation and my most recent report, the incorporation of social media into the marketing mix continues to be the hottest topic for most tech marketers. It was exciting to be able to share our brand new Tech Buyer Social Technographics data which has just come in. BTW, the level of social media activity in European buyers is still ahead of American buyers – I will be presenting the European data in my planned Forrester teleconferences on May 9th: once in German for local clients, prospects and press; and once in English for other Forrester clients.  

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