Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Almost every marketer uses email to keep in touch with prospects and customers. To do that they use a bulk email system so they can send the same message to many subscribers, track who gets what message, who opens the emails and who clicks on the enclosed links.

There are many bulk email applications. They can all send high volumes of personalized email, track open rates, track clicks as well as manage bounces and opt-out requests. So which one is best?

We looked at ten options. Nine were software-as-a-service (SaaS) and one was a software application you install on your own server. We included the ARP Reach software application because we were familiar with it. We used it for years. It’s a great package. However we found it challenging to maintain the server and frustrating to depend on an IT person’s availability. Therefore we wanted to see if a SaaS package could meet our criteria so we looked at Campaign Monitor, ConstantContact, ExactTarget, HubSpot, iContact, MailChimp, MailJet, Salesforce.com, and VerticalResponse.

By a process of elimination we ended up recommending iContact. Here’s our review.

Methodology

Our methodology was straightforward. We believe it was consistent with that of a marketer looking for a bulk email application.

We started with a list of email services that included the well known brands. We then added to the list by searching for lesser known providers. We reviewed each provider’s package as described on their website and, where possible, we telephoned the provider to get answers to specific questions. We eliminated many providers based on the answers to those questions. We tested those that were not immediately eliminated. Out tests primarily looked at email format, personalization of message, and ease of use. We did not test integration with a CRM application or 3rd party applications that may be required to make that possible.

Our review criteria included 5 assumptions and 5 comparison elements. We are experienced email marketers. Therefore some comparison elements were so critical to us we eliminated packages based on poor performance in those areas.

Assumptions

Email Volume: Our sales prospects are organizations, not consumers. We would only email people who opted in online (subscribed) or requested information by telephone or at a trade show. Therefore we would be sending emails to a “House List” that may reach tens-of-thousands, but not hundreds-of-thousands or millions. We’d likely send an email every 4 to 6 weeks to people who had not opted-out (unsubscribed.) We assumed we would have approximately 5,000 subscribers within the first year.

Disqualification: Salesforce.com’s Professional edition includes email campaigns but we disqualified it because it is restricted to 500 emails per day and because opt-outs had to be manually processed.

Email Type: We favor personalized sales letters, not generic newsletters. Therefore the arrays of fancy newsletter templates were not important to us. We wanted our emails to look just like an ordinary email one might get from Microsoft Outlook. Accordingly, the emails must appear to come from our web domain and replies must go directly to the sender. Additionally, the emails must not include the SaaS firms’ branding.

Email Sender: The list manager and the instigator of email campaigns would be a marketer, not a salesperson or IT person. Therefore, that person could learn how to use the email application, they could format a letter in HTML, but they were not expected to maintain a server.

Technical Support: We know that problems arise at the most inconvenient times. Therefore, we expect prompt telephone support.

Standard Features: We expect to monitor bounces, opens and clicks. We also expect the software to provide opt-in forms and to automatically manage opt-out requests. Almost all email applications offer these standard features. Some offer email forward tracking but this feature depends on the reader using a special button/link so we considered this nice to have, but not essential.

Comparison Elements

Ability to Contact: We assumed that a SaaS provider that could not be contacted by a prospective customer could not be reliably contacted by a customer with a problem. Therefore we disqualified SaaS providers if we could not find a phone number for them, if they failed to respond to our email/form inquiry, or if technical support was limited to forms and/or email.

Disqualifications: MailChimp, MailJet and ARP Reach were disqualified because we could not find a phone number and/or because support is by email only. We’d like to say they were immediately disqualified, but we did invest more time than we should have trying to get in touch. Campaign Monitor did call us, but their service was disqualified because technical support is by email only.

Salesforce.com Integration: We believe that every firm needs one definitive source of information about its prospects and customers. One well mainlined CRM system is critical to accurate reporting and therefore it’s critical to decision making. Reconciling multiple data sources is difficult, slow, and prone to errors. We chose the popular Salesforce.com as the reference CRM application, not because we expect salespeople to manage email campaigns, but because we wanted campaigns and responses to be visible to the team.

Integration with Salesforce.com was critical to our review. It did not matter which Salesforce.com package was required so long as a mail list could be pulled from Salesforce.com and bounces and unsubscribe information could be synchronized. In general, SaaS email packages that work with Salesforce.com require the Salesforce.com Campaign features so we used the Salesforce Professional edition as our benchmark. We did not consider Salesforce.com’s Pardot application because it’s in a different league to most bulk email applications and we thought it was prohibitively expensive in the context of this review.

In some cases additional software is required to integrate a SaaS email system with Salesforce.com. We were OK with that so long as integration between the three applications appeared to be reliable and the total cost was not completely out of line with other options.

Disqualifications: MailChimp reportedly integrates with Salesforce.com using Cazoomi. However, online reviews indicated that it did not work to the satisfaction of many users. MailJet reportedly integrates with PodBox, but the combined cost appeared uncompetitive.

ConstantContact was a finalist contender but online reviews indicated that integration with Salesforce.com did not work to the satisfaction of many users. iContact did much better in the integration reviews.

Price: There were differences in subscription rates and how SaaS providers calculated their fees. We were not particularly price sensitive because it was more important to have the features we wanted and because in the overall perspective of a marketing budget, email is not a big item. We anticipated a budget of $1000 to $1500 for the first year.

Disqualifications: MailJet, ExactTarget and HubSpot were disqualified because the pricing appeared uncompetitive with other options. These applications have valuable features, but we did not need all of them.

Piggyback Branding: Most SaaS email packages automatically include their own branding at the end of their customer’s emails. That piggybacking should be unacceptable to a professional marketer that’s paying to use their service. However, upon request most SaaS providers can change the settings to eliminate this piggybacking.

Disqualification: VerticalResponse said they could not exclude their branding from their customers’ email campaigns.

Deliverability: Almost all the SaaS providers promise a deliverability rate around 98%. That’s a great number because 100% is not realistic. Every campaign can expect some undeliverable bounces because subscribers leave, email addresses change. However, the SaaS marketers don’t commit to 98% deliverability to recipient inboxes. Our tests showed that until the sender was white-listed, emails were flagged as SPAM and were delivered to the junk mail folder.

One SaaS salesperson acknowledged our complaint but promised that inbox deliverability would be considerably higher for paying customers because their emails are sent from different servers. Apparently, the free trial customers are assigned to servers that have already been flagged by SPAM mitigation applications. And to be fair, many free trial users may send email that looks like SPAM.

Disqualifications: We could have disqualified all the SaaS applications that we tested. We didn’t disqualify any service because our test was limited to free trial accounts and we emailed our own addresses. It was not possible to conduct a more comprehensive test.

Conclusion

Marketingsage-Recommended-RibbonAfter weeks of reviewing the many bulk email options we ended up with three finalists: iContact, ConstantContact and ARP Reach. We decided to recommend iContact because ConstantContact and ARP Reach had some undesirable traits.

ConstantContact customers did not rate Salesforce.com integration very highly. At the time ConstantContact had an average 2 star rating from 17 reviews. Additionally, ConstantContact did not accommodate personalized subject lines. iContact had an average 4.5 star rating from 160 reviews.

ARP Reach is a great application and because it’s software, you buy it once and email as many subscribers as you like. However, we passed on it this time around because of the difficulties associated with server maintenance. Additionally, they did not respond to an emailed question about Salesforce.com integration.

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

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CloudBeat 2013 Review: A showcase for cloud success, software defined storage and encryption key management

Posted: September 17, 2013 by David Lamont in Opinion, Reviews, Security, Uncategorized
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Now in its third year, VentureBeat’s CloudBeat September conference in San Francisco consists of discussions, case studies, breakout sessions, and announcements reflecting the growing maturity of the cloud. From what I could tell (from the profiles displayed by the innovative Bizzabo iPhone app. that facilitates networking at the event), the 100+ audience at CloudBeat consisted of entrepreneurs, investors, CEOs and CTOs, as well as business development, sales and marketing VPs/directors.

This conference has an unusual and interesting format that consists of on-stage interviews. Unlike most conferences, the speakers do not present the corporate slide deck. They are interviewed on stage by a knowledgeable host, they answer questions and tell related stories. For example, Ilya Fushman, Dropbox’s head of products for business and mobile, talked with analyst, Paul Miller, about going beyond storage for 10 million users and 2 million businesses to become a platform for application developers.

Audience

The lineup of speakers was impressive. CloudBeat attracted 85+ knowledgeable C-level speakers from established players, start-ups, cloud users and investors:

3Scale, Accel Partners, Adobe, Alchemist Accelerator, AppDynamics, Artisan Infrastructure, AT&T, Axxess Unlimited, Bessemer Venture Partners, Box, Braintree, Canvas, Cisco’s Collaboration Technology Group, CITEworld, Citrix Systems, Cloud Foundry, Cloudability, Cloudant, CloudImmunity, CloudPassage, CloudPulse Strategies, Cloudscaling, Dark Matter Labs, Data Collective Venture Capital, Define the Cloud, Dell, Disney, Diversity Limited, Dropbox, Edmunds.com, Egnyte, Elance, Emergence Capital Partners, Engine Yard, Epignosis, Eucalyptus Systems, Firebase, Foley & Lardner LLP, GGV Capital, GlobalLogic, Harshman Phillips & Company, Hillenby, HP, IBM, Industry commentator, consultant & investor, Internet2, Issac RothShasta Ventures, Jive, Joyent, LED Source, LinkedIn, Metamarkets, Microsoft, MuleSoft, Nebula, Netflix, Norwest Venture Partners, Numecent, Okta, Optimizely, Parallels, Parsons, PayPal, Pivotal, ProgrammableWeb, Red Hat, Relevance, Room Key, Salesforce, Sanmina, SAP Ventures, Scale Venture Partners, Scribe Software, SendGrid, Inc., Silicon Valley Bank, Simple Signal, SimTable, SoftLayer, Spoke Software, SwiftStack, Symantec, Totango, Twilio, Vidyo, Wanelo, Xero, and Xerox PARC.

The event sponsors had tabletop displays outside the main room. I’m not sure the cloud-related vendors expected to generate many sales leads from this event. In at least one case, the vendor was there because it was a local event and one of their marquee customers was a speaker. Having a name-brand customer talk about how they use your cloud product is a good enough reason for a local upstart-up to sign up, especially when the interviews are recorded.

IMG_2556

CloudBeat 2013 Sponsors

Interesting storage and security vendors included KeyNexus, Scality, and SwiftStack.

Scality and SwiftStack provide highly-scalable, software defined, storage solutions to larger organizations. These are object storage systems based on the OpenStack framework. The software takes advantage of commodity servers and hard drives. Rather than use a SAN or NAS for storage these systems pool the storage in each server and make it available in the cloud. Unlike NAS and SAN, the number of processors and network controllers scales alongside the storage allowing the system to support a very high volume of concurrent users. The software then centrally manages data protection (replication) and performance (caching using server-based RAM or Flash). Cool stuff!

KeyNexus launched their cloud-based encryption-key storage and management solution for Amazon Web Services (AWS EC2) at CloudBeat. KeyNexus enables organizations to store, manage, and audit their encryption keys separately from the cloud, addressing the principal inhibitor to broader, faster, adoption of the cloud by enterprises — security!  Here’s how they describe it.

There are three typical cloud security scenarios. First, the key to unlock encrypted data is stored in the same cloud as the data. That’s like locking your house but leaving the key in the lock. In the second scenario, companies employ vendor solutions that host the key in an undisclosed location. That’s like having to call a security guard to access your home and unlock the door (and trusting the security guard never goes in when you are away). Option three involves securing the key on-site within the enterprise, which can be costly. The KeyNexus approach separates the “lock” from the “key” in the cloud, while also promoting encryption interoperability across the public cloud. Using a hardware appliance to create the keys, KeyNexus simplifies the management of remote key rotation as well as the migration of encrypted data between various cloud, SaaS and mobile platforms.

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

 

Back to back acquisitions are adding to the excitement in the Flash arena. As Pure Storage pulled in another $150M in Series E funding and EMC was putting the finishing touches to its VNX2 with an all-Flash option complete with controller and software enhancements, even bigger Flash news was brewing.

Western Digital/HGST announced acquisition of PCIe Flash and software company, Virident, for $685 million on September 9. This is the third Flash acquisition the company has made in recent months. After acquiring SSD veteran, sTec, for $340 million, WD/HGST apparently beat Seagate to the punch in acquiring cache company, VeloBit, for an undisclosed sum. Seagate, along with Cisco, was also an investor in Virident.

On September 10, Cisco announced that it will purchase Flash array vendor, WhipTail, for $415 million. Undoubtedly there are folks out there humming along to the tune of the “Hokey Pokey” and wondering how serious Cisco is about storage as it expands its Unified Computing System.

It’s appears that the ability to aggregate, manage and manipulate Flash through software is a good place to be as the market moves towards consolidation.

Fusion-io and Violin will certainly be under increased scrutiny as the industry-wide game of musical chairs progresses. Will Seagate ever manage to snag a Flash chair? What shall we see at Oracle Open World in a few weeks?

About the Author

Agnes Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, security, cloud and enterprise software products. She can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join her network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

FIDO - making fast work of secure online data access.

FIDO – making fast work of secure online data access.

Have you ever given up on reading an article or buying something online because you forgot one of your many passwords? If password management stymies you, then join me in the small joyful anticipation that comes with the news that BlackBerry has joined the FIDO Alliance.

Fast IDentity Online (FIDO) looks like the best hope on the horizon for securing online access to data. Mind you, it’s looking like a pretty far horizon. The FIDO Alliance was formed over a year ago by Agnitio, Infineon Technologies, Lenovo, Nok Nok Labs, PayPal, and Validity. FIDO’s noble aim is to change the nature of authentication by developing specifications that define an open, scalable, interoperable set of mechanisms that supplant reliance on passwords to securely authenticate users of online services. This new standard for security devices and browser plugins will allow any website or cloud application to interface with a broad variety of existing and future FIDO-enabled devices that the user has for online security. I, for one, can’t wait!

FIDO is expanding membership and, in addition to BlackBerry, has added Allweb Technologies, Check2Protect, Crocus Technology, CrucialTec, Diamond Fortress Technologies, Entersekt, Fingerprint Cards (FPC), Google, Insyndia Global and NXP Semiconductors.

As data security becomes an ever more pressing concern for users and IT pros alike, storage vendors would do well to delve deeper than encryption when adding security innovation. Consider how a tight coupling of authenticated users and access devices with underlying storage could transform the cloud market. A while back, SNIA had a storage security tutorial that talked about trusted platform modules in storage devices. That seems like a likely connection point with FIDO.

Maybe it’s the canine association (Fido is a dog’s name after all) that makes me optimistic, but I really hope that the FIDO Alliance gets the support it needs to quickly come up with a globally beneficial standard that will make all of our online data more securely accessible.

FIDO Alliance: http://fidoalliance.org/

About the Author

Agnes Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, security, and enterprise software products. She can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join her network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

It’s that time of year when many students and recent graduates take on their first “real” jobs — those jobs related to their chosen careers. Most of these jobs are low-level, low paying, and not all that glamorous. Some would call them “crappy” jobs.

If you now have one of these crappy jobs, embrace it and give it 110 percent. You may give it 110% because that’s just who you are. But if not, consider this. One day you’ll be the boss and you’ll need some student or recent graduate to do similar low-level jobs for you. You’ll want those jobs done well by people you can trust. When you do your job well today, you can legitimately expect the same from your (future) team. So jump in. Go beyond expectations. Arrive early. Stay late. Volunteer. Ask “can I help with that?” Before long you’ll earn the reputation you need to advance to the jobs you really want.

It’s better to do something for nothing, than nothing for nothing

It’s entirely reasonable to expect to be compensated fairly for the work you do. And, there are many people who, as a rule, will not work (or give 100%) if they feel that they are not adequately compensated. That’s understandable. However, I follow a different rule that serves me well.

I believe it’s better to do something for nothing, than nothing for nothing. Volunteers and unpaid interns obviously agree. Here’s why: A low- or no-pay work opportunity gives you experience, contacts, satisfaction, and references that you will not get if you don’t do the job. In turn, those benefits can help you get paid more down the road. Therefore, if you have nothing better to do, and an opportunity arises that will add to your capabilities or contacts, you should consider it, even it is unpaid. If you take it, give it 110%. After all, you cannot reuse wasted time and 40 hours on Facebook will never equal one hour of on-the-job experience.

Living and working in the Silicon Valley as I do, it’s almost inevitable that I meet with a lot of active and aspiring entrepreneurs. On the whole, the early company founders tend to be engineers whose passions drive them to create proofs of concept for their ideas. If the late nights don’t do them in, an embryonic company is formed. Marketers tends not to be added until such time as the product progresses into something feasible and there’s a little money in the bank to launch, communicate and promote what’s on offer. Generally we don’t see this until VCs are involved.

For a lot of early entrepreneurs, raising money is the next hurdle once the prototype is looking good. This is definitely a lot easier for those who are independently wealthy or blessed with a network of supportive, talented friends who’ve cashed out of their last company to EMC, Cisco, etc., but are too young to retire. Aptly- named angel investors supply an alternative.

Although the Silicon Valley is rife with tales of Venture Capitalists and IPOs, less is understood about angel investors, even though they have helped the likes of Google and Apple get their start. A great resource for tracking angel activity is the Halo Report, which is published by The Angel Resource Institute, Silicon Valley Bank and CB Insights. Here are a few quick facts:

  • The majority of angel investment activity is concentrated in California and New England.
  • Internet and healthcare-related ventures accounted for approximately half of all angel investments in 2012.
  • Angel investment rounds are averaging around $1-$1.2M.*
  • Pre-Series A valuations for companies with angel investments average around $2.6M.

*I think this number is a bit skewed towards group angel and “superangel” investors, as many individual angel investments are sub-$200,000, as recorded anecdotally.

 Angel investors are often seasoned entrepreneurs themselves, so can bring passion, expertise and support beyond what you might ordinarily expect from a later stage investor. They tend to be savvy to the fact that failure rates for early start ups are high (about 50%), but are willing to invest across several companies and/or limit their activities to an area of personal expertise (e.g. storage management software, but not hardware) to mitigate their risks, absorb losses and still achieve expected overall investment returns of 2.5X.

Check out:

Angel Resource Institute – www.angelresourceinstitute.org

Returns to Angel Investors in Groups by Robert Wiltbank, Ph.D. and Warren Boeker Ph. D. – http://sites.kauffman.org/pdf/angel_groups_111207.pdf

About the Author

Agnes Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, security, and enterprise software products. She can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join her network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

Like kids squabbling over a bag of candy, disagreement over resource and budget control seems inevitable between sales and marketing. Sure, there are instances where politics, greed, and ambition fuel the tension between these groups, but I think that’s the exception rather than the rule. In my experience, both groups typically share the same goals and aspirations and genuinely want to work together amicably, albeit on their terms.

After many years working with sales and marketing across sectors including storage, data management, and security, I’ve come to the conclusion that, fundamentally, sales and marketing executives are wired differently. In a pre-technology era, I reckon they would have been hunters and farmers respectively. Sales executives tend to be high-energy optimists with a temporal focus on the short-term: this year; this quarter; even this deal. Like hunters, they can hyper-focus on their target, track it, and set up the perfectly-timed kill-shot. They can net a lot of protein and feed the corporate family as long as they have a ready supply of potential prey.

Marketing executives, like farmers, play a long game with planned diversity. They are the analytical planners, the visionaries who work diligently day after day to grow their crops. Good farmers know their soil and seasons, read the weather, prepare the ground, plant the seeds when conditions are right and nurture them daily. They stagger the plantings, thin the seedlings and cultivate them until they are ripe for harvest. They rotate the crops and make the soil richer year after year.

The hunters and the farmers are equally valuable and effective in feeding their community, but their methods and philosophies are fundamentally different. The same is true of sales and marketing in our modern, technologically-enabled corporate world. It’s understandable that sales typically favor events, turnkey sales appointment setting services, and blitz campaigns to drive leads. Marketers are more likely to analyze costs and likely outcomes and favor continuous, evolutionary campaigns that generate leads from multiple sources, based on multiple value propositions, and nurture them throughout a cycle that allows for education, evaluation and the vagaries of budgetary discretion until the qualified leads are ready to be harvested. Communications are consistent and sustainable.

Next time you’re caught in the crossfire between sales and marketing vying for budget dollars and competing demand generation plans, I hope this little analogy will help you value both approaches and clarify the results you need and how to prioritize and support the activities that are most beneficial for your organization. Like the kids with the candy, the outcome ought not be decided based on who screams loudest!

About the Author

Agnes Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, security, and enterprise software products. She can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join her network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

We’ve all been duly awed by the Dell buyout announcement. Over the years, the company has amassed quite a portfolio of storage and data protection and management offerings, having acquired companies such as EqualLogic, Compellent, Quest, AppAssure and SonicWall. Although many of these acquisitions brought robust technology and contributed handily to Dell’s revenue, the company never made the transition to becoming a storage company. This begs the question as to what will now happen to these lines as Dell sharpens its focus and remakes itself into a seller of products rather than an architect of share valuations. Only the most naïve amongst us harbors any ideas that the latest chapter in Dell’s story might lead to storage innovation and a bid for leadership in the space.

Only 3% of Dell’s revenue is from storage, with software and peripherals yielding 16%, of which data protection software is a part. The overall business distribution is more even with 30% of net revenue coming from large enterprise, 20% from consumer and 25% each from SMB and public sector organizations.

Anecdotally, Dell does not exercise the kind of account control as players such as EMC, IBM, Oracle, or Cisco.

HP has not been shy in making generalized predatory rumblings about picking over Dell’s portfolio, and I suspect Dell is a subject of strategic debate in many more functional boardrooms too. Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall over at EMC and NetApp? These storage giants, along with the myriad of smaller storage and data protection vendors, are no doubt strategizing furiously about how to woo customers and key talent away.

On the face of things, storage and data protection represent relatively small, albeit growing, potatoes to Dell. But in the highly competitive mid-tier storage market, these potatoes undoubtedly look mighty appetizing. Dell will need to make big moves quickly if it’s going to keep control of its pricey ($24.5 billion) lunch. In any case, the storage market is sure to heat up over the coming months.

About the Author

Agnes Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, security, and enterprise software products. She can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join her network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

Here’s a situation that’s not uncommon when selling enterprise storage or data management products: a firm generates an increasing number of marketing-qualified leads, but the percentage, or even the volume, of sales-qualified leads drops. Obviously, the quality of the leads should be questioned. But what if the lead sources are the same? Why are the new leads not as good as the old leads?

Before you kill your marketing programs you should look at your December data (or any other short month for business). You’ll likely find a very a strong correlation between the time the salespeople spend actually talking with prospects and the number of sales-qualified leads. In other words, if the salespeople are not connecting with prospects, leads will not convert from marketing-qualified to sales-qualified. The number of man-hours dedicated to talking with prospects, and the quality of the initial sales pitch, are far more likely to determine the number of sales-qualified leads than the source of the lead. The holiday season can highlight this often overlooked fact, especially if you don’t track the actual number of sales conversations.

Unfortunately, the sales bottleneck is not always recognized, especially when many marketing programs are running and evolving at the same time. It’s easier to conclude that a marketing campaign is failing, or worse, that marketing as a discipline does not work.

It’s natural to assume that if you increase the number of marketing-qualified leads, the number of sales-qualified leads will increase at the same rate. However, that is only be true if the sales team also increases its bandwidth to process them.

Think about the logistics (optimistic for complex/expensive IT products): A salesperson with time for qualifying leads makes an average of 60 calls per day. With an average of 3 attempts required to reach a prospect, they can talk to 20 prospects per day. With an average of 17 dialing days per month, one dedicated salesperson can talk to 340 prospects. If 5% have an open project, budget and authority the salesperson would convert 17 marketing-qualified leads to sales-qualified leads per month. Put another way, that’s 17 sales-qualified leads per 1020 dials assuming you have a large team of salespeople and can average the data. Obviously, a single salesperson talking to 20 prospects for 15 minutes each would require over 5 hours of talk time and would not be making as many dials.

If the overall bandwidth does not increase, individual salespeople are put under pressure to quickly “work through” the backlog of leads before they go “stale”. Nobody wants to have a large number of “Open”, “New” or “Unopened” leads next to their name in the CRM system. However, the salespeople can only make a limited number of calls in a day so they only try to reach each prospect once or twice before they move on. Best practices call for 5 to 8 call attempts, so while they make many calls, they have fewer timely conversations. As such, they don’t identify as many sales opportunities. Additionally, pressure to clear a backlog may result in less thought going into a customized sales pitch – again depressing the number of sales opportunities.

Even successful sales calls can result in fewer sales-qualified leads when there are more leads than sales bandwidth. Typical enterprise sales are complex. They require research, demos, evaluations, team selling, etc. so once an opportunity becomes “hot” the salesperson has less time to work on new opportunities. Because they have an opportunity in-hand and less time, their criteria to qualify new leads gets more stringent, again reducing the number of sales-qualified leads.

In conclusion, bandwidth is not just an issue for engineers to consider in their storage and data management products, it’s also an issue for the CEO, CMO and VP of Sales to consider when selling those products.

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

Summary: Marketing VPs and CEOs at data storage and data management firms can use these 5 techniques to generate more sales for the same budget by thinking strategically about how they allocate money.

I think it fair to say that most executives take a tactical, rather than a strategic, approach to the marketing budget. For the most part they take last year’s budget and adjust it up or down or they base it on a percentage of revenue. Then they apply the relatively small changes to their existing expenditures. Accordingly, firms set in motion a marketing program that may not provide them with any competitive advantage. And for most, that’s OK. It is good enough not to be at a competitive disadvantage.

However, it’s possible to gain a competitive advantage at budget time. By that, I mean a small sales-centric firm can “punch above its weight” and generate more sales for the same budget by thinking strategically about how it allocates money.

Strategic budgeting also makes it possible to overcome many of the B2B marketing challenges:

MarketingSherpa Marketing Research Chart:

A worthy goal is to maximize the funds that are applied to lead generation and lead management. What’s a lead? It’s not a web page visit, a click, or a rented list. A lead, according to Marketingsage’s definition is “a sales opportunity-related request with actionable contact information recorded by [you].” These actionable requests are reliably generated by paid promotions such as online advertising, trade shows and email campaigns, especially when supported by product-centric PR and highly selective participation in social media.

Another goal, for business with a resale or distribution channel, might be to increase the funds available for sales incentives directly tied to revenue. For example, paying market development funds to resellers only when they meet a set revenue objective.

Regardless of the promotion or incentive, strategic budgeting usually comes down to applying money to programs and campaigns that have a direct, or highly influential, impact on sales. So if your budget is not increasing, you are really making a decision to take funding from something or someone so you can apply the money to something or someone else that may have a greater impact on sales.

That’s why strategic budgeting is tough. Almost all marketing program and campaign will have their merits and supporters. However, the fact that it tough to do is also the reason why it’s possible for some to out perform peers with the same budget.

With that said, I’ll highlight my top 5 techniques for strategic budgeting.

Calculate What your Promotional Budget Should Be

When you have a revenue target, a lead-to-sale close rate, an average cost per lead and an average customer value you can estimate how many leads you’ll need and the required budget.

For example, if you pay the industry average of $60 for an information request type lead (e.g. white papers download), and your lead-to-sale close rate is 0.5%. You can calculate that you need 200 leads per sale and those leads will cost $12,000. If this year’s revenue target is $10-million and the average customer generates $100,000, you need 100 customers. The 20,000 leads you need for 100 customers will cost $1.2-million in promotions.

Of course, a happy customer can be expected to purchase more and the cost of incremental sales to existing customers will be far lower.

When you do this for the first time you may fund the numbers quite sobering. That’s not a bad thing because the strategic marketer will use this calculation to push back on unrealistic expectations and goals or to justify the appropriate budget for the targets set.

Adopt an Opportunity Cost Perspective

The average cost for an information request type lead (e.g. a white paper download) in the data storage industry is ~$60. As such, you’ll find it helpful to think of each $10,000 that is not spent on lead generation as 166 lost leads.  You can translate that into foregone revenue when you calculate your own close rate and expected average value of a customer – $83,000 using the above example (more if customers have a recurring value).

Thinking in terms of lost leads is very helpful when making judgment calls. For example, should you spend $60,000 to upgrade the trade show booth? Yes, if you think it will deliver a return greater than ~1000 leads – $500,000 in new revenue using the above example.

The same question can be applied to the purchase of marketing analytics tools, paid analyst relationships, promotional giveaways, internal sales meetings, custom creative, etc. If you are the CEO, you can apply this opportunity cost perspective when allocating budget to other departments, rather than to marketing.

Invest Early

If it takes an average of 3 months to convert a sales lead to a customer your fourth quarter promotions are driving next year’s revenue, not this year’s. Therefore a strategic marketer will invest almost everything early in the year to drive sales. Early sales success can be used to justify, and fund, the additional budget required to sustain the momentum later in the year.

Although the data storage and data management industry is not as seasonal as bathing suits and snow blowers, it does have some peaks and troughs that should be taken account. For example, summer months tend to be slower and government and educational customers purchase in cycles. Strategically it may make sense to execute the bulk of your lead generating promotions in the first 5 months of the year.

The word “execute” is important here because it takes 4 to 8 weeks to prepare most promotions – longer for trade shows. Add months and quarters if you need to hire staff, plan and/or build consensus.

Think Talent

Executing lead generating promotions on time with sufficient budget is paramount to success. Your ability to do this will depend on having the right skills at the right time. Therefore, strategic marketers think about talent before they decide whether to hire employees, agencies and/or contractors.

Your choices here are critical simply because talent is likely to be your largest single expense. Typically talent expenses, including payroll, annual analyst contracts, and agencies can consume 60% to 90% of a marketing budget so productivity gains can make a huge difference if savings can be directed into sales programs and lead generating campaigns.

Whether you can redirect savings from increased productivity depends on whether your talent expenses are fixed or discretionary. Payroll is essentially a fixed costs so sales-centric productivity is key. If an employee costing $150,000 per year is spending just 20% of their time on irrelevant tasks, you are effectively forfeiting $30,000 worth of leads. Using the above example, that’s 500 leads that could drive $250,000 in revenue.

On the other hand, outsourced talent is typically discretionary so you can use the services for what you want, when you want, for as long as you want. There usually very little, if any, “busy work.”

Therefore, the strategic marketer minimizes fixed expenses by keeping the number of employees to an absolute minimum and ensuring that the vast majority of everyone’s time is spent on activities that can impact sales. Many deliberately under-staff for 3 reasons:

  • Employees, and everyone who demands their time, are forced to prioritize.
  • To get everything done, tasks will need to be outsourced. Therefore the value and cost of the task will more visible and it will get more consideration (see note on the Opportunity Cost Perspective).
  • Discretionary budget can be more easily reallocated to sales programs.

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Of course every situation is different, but based on decades of experience I’ll offer this rule of thumb:

≤60% of the talent portion of the budget should be allocated to employee payroll, bonuses and benefits and tools (including the VP of Marketing). The most productive teams have experienced product marketers with deep knowledge of the products and industry.

Their job is to manage the day-to-day tasks that cannot or should not be managed by outside agencies. These include liaising with customers, vendors, technology partners, resale partners, salespeople and engineers. This interaction allows them to:

  • Define the strategy, budgets, and timing.
  • Define the product and company positioning.
  • Tee-up press announcements and the outsourced development of sales tools (case studies, brochures, video, etc.)
  • Make decisions about product pricing, sales programs and promotional investments (lead quality, the acceptable cost per lead, tactical placements, events, etc.)

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≥40% of the talent portion of the budget should be allocated to outsourced services such as PR, creative services, media buying, event management and strategic counsel – tasks that are performed better by people with broad media relationships, independent perspectives, and specialist skills. For most firms these tasks do not fill a 40 hour week and specialist skills, contacts and tools make it difficult to hire an effective do-it-all employee. Additionally, many of these tasks need to be executed simultaneously during certain periods of the year requiring bandwidth that just not available from a highly productive internal team.

A highly productive small tech firm marketing a B2B product like storage or data management software can compete using an experienced product-centric VP of marketing, a senior marketing manager, and one full service agency (like my PR and lead generation firm, Marketingsage 🙂

Such an organization would typically:

  • Run 20-25 simultaneous adverting campaigns, including creative, landing pages and lead capture.
  • Generate 10-12 press announcements per year and brief press/analysts each time.
  • Run quarterly reseller inventive programs.
  • Attend 6 or so domestic trade shows.
  • Run 8 to 12 prospect lead nurturing email campaigns.
  • Manage the process for 4 or so interoperability certifications.
  • Author and layout 4 or so white papers.
  • Author and layout 6 or so case studies.
  • Produce 20 minutes worth of videos.
  • Maintain the web site.
  • Maintain a corporate blog.
  • Selectively participate in sales-centric social media discussions.

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Fast, Good, Cheap

You’ve heard the saying: You can have it fast, good or cheap. Pick any 2. For a marketer at a small firm in the storage and data management sector the priority is clear:  Fast and good (enough). Cheap is not the strategic option, even for a cost conscious marketer. Here’s why:

Time is your enemy. The market is highly competitive so a better or less expensive product will emerge soon – maybe before you see an ROI on your current development efforts. This could leave you at a competitive disadvantage with unsold inventory, depressed margins and higher promotional costs.  Additionally, if your firm does not yet have a positive cash flow, time is burning up your available capital. Ask the CFO what’s preferable: spending an extra 20% on an agency that can execute now; or burning 3 months of expenses for the whole company while you go through a hiring or orientation process.

Obviously fast and bad will not win you customers. However, don’t let perfect become the enemy of good enough. Good enough is faster and less expensive than perfect. You’re in the B2B IT market, not the fashion market, so let your competitors waste time and money on custom art, billboards, golf sponsorships, and chotskies while you deliver what prospects want – timely information that helps them choose your product over the alternatives!

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).