All right rabbit, you’ve convinced me…stall the sales cycle

If you are not familiar with the reference to the classic Bugs Bunny short film “Bugs and Thugs,” check it out. For the rest of you, read on.

Coming from the IBM world of mainframe computing, I am accustomed to long development cycles. Maybe a release a year where the roadmap is closely guarded so you do not stall current sales cycles by announcing something really cool that is still a year off. That was always frustrating for marketing departments whose job it is to talk about all the great things products can do for customers. In those days, it kinda/sorta made sense because tipping your hand also meant competitors could preview what you would be doing next year. That sucked. I’ve been beaten over the head a few times and I have finally become a believer is social media marketing for old-school markets.

Today things are different. When my friends and I started HostBridge Technology, we adopted an agile development model for mainframe-based applications. HostBridge makes mainframe applications available as Web services, which meant evaluations included both mainframe and Web developers. Our ability to churn out new features to the market based on customer requests and feedback was a boon not only to the mainframe community, but matched the expectations of the Web community. For me, the biggest benefit was the ability to market new features as soon as they became available. This meant we could respond to market changes quickly and reduced the risk of competitors beating us to market.

Social media provides an incentive to talk market new releases as they are being developed. Blogging about them creates the opportunity to include customers, partners, and even prospects in the requirements process to ensure the release meets real market needs.  However, this  flies in the face of the traditional notion that you do not want to signal future releases due to fears of freezing sales cycles while prospects wait to see the new and improved version.

One instance when you might want to consider this is when disruptive changes are expected. For example, if you are making a platform change from Java to .NET, or from on-premise to SaaS, you can hardly keep that a secret so why not create an open discussion that guides the transition. Disruptive changes are easier to swallow when you are involved the process.

Another instance might be when you are behind the competition with your existing release, your sales are already stalled due to current market conditions, and you have a new release on the horizon. In this case, what do you have to lose? If the competition is already winning the business, talking about the new release might freeze their sales cycles and keep your solution in play.

One final example is the launch of a new product or new line of business. I can remember how people wanted to surprise the market with new offerings so competitors could not position themselves effectively for a few months following the launch. Now, I have become more of a fan of softening the market through education and conversation, and surprising them by meeting target dates and expectations. Positioning yourself within the minds of consumers is more powerful than positioning against competitors.

The truth is, I know of very few organizations who evaluate solutions well in advance of a pressing need. It’s not like we all have time to issue and review RFPs and RFIs out of curiosity. Organizations tend to engage vendors when they need to make decisions. By interacting through online conversations about current and future solutions, you can maintain or expand awareness and allow communities to become invested in your offerings.

I differentiate this kind of social marketing from stealth marketing or buzz marketing. Social marketing is not meant to simply to announce or influence through surreptitious posts, but to engage communities in conversations that guide your products and solutions meet market needs. It provides reassurance to your organization that the investments you make in a new release will not miss the mark and creates incentive for those who provide feedback to follow the outcome.

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