Last night at the SpiceWorks “unplugged” event in Boston, 4 local IT managers sat on a panel and answered audience questions about buying products. It was really helpful for me, as I’ve been wondering whether selling to corporate IT folks is totally different from what I’ve been doing so far with Arq, our online backup app.
The panelists all worked at 100-250 person companies. One of them was the only person in IT. Everything landed on his plate: he had just finished implementing a building security system with door locks and ID badges.
The audience (mostly product marketers looking to reach IT buyers) asked some great, direct questions like:
How do we reach IT folks?
One marketer in the audience was asking whether any incentives might help here, specifically swag like T-shirts and trucker hats. Really, they didn’t seem particularly excited about getting free stuff. They were more interested in actually getting things done.
These folks get a lot of cold calls. They said cold calls are mostly annoying, especially when they’re busy. And they’re always busy. They spend at least 75% of their time fighting fires and less than 25% doing planning and research. (After the session I chatted with another attendee who told me about his sales VP who trumpets the thousands of cold calls they complete every day — maybe not the most effective approach!)
One panelist suggested sending an email that “pops”, something visual, maybe an infographic. He gets 100+ emails day pitching products and thinks he’d be much more likely to remember a visual email than a blob of text. Another panelist said, “Send a 100-word email. Grab my attention.”
They all appreciated vendors who participate in IT forums and events by teaching. Explain how something works; share your knowledge. Skip the product pitch entirely — mention your product maybe once.
How do you find products/solutions to a problem you need to resolve?
One panelist said he checks the SpiceWorks forums when he needs to find a solution; when he posts a question he often gets answers in 15 minutes. Another said he checks with his VARs, but he’s severely constrained in terms of whom he can buy from because he works for a state agency.
The other 3 said VARs don’t seem to add any value for them. They do research and find products just like the rest of us do: they search Google, SpiceWorks, other forums. Social proof is big for them. They’ll consider forum comments from vendor reps unless those comments are the opposite of community members, in which case the IT folks will trust the community over the vendor.
How long should the free trial be?
They all wanted a minimum 60-day free trial for any product, and longer for products which integrate heavily into other systems. They all had horror stories about products they tried, purchased, and then later discovered had a massive flag. In one case the IT person asked support for weeks about free-space problems with the archiving product he bought; the vendor kept assuring him it would be fine. When he finally figured out there was a fatal flaw, he was beyond the warranty period and was stuck with a product he couldn’t use that he wasted budget on. (I was surprised the vendor didn’t try to make things right regardless of what the official warranty period was.)
They’re not just testing your product; they’re also testing your support. One panelist said, “If your product costs more than $5k, chances are your support does too, so we want to try that out too.” They love responsiveness, and they love getting prompt access to the people who actually have the answers to their questions. One panelist described a vendor whom he knew he could call and quickly get connected with someone on the development team. He loved that. Until the vendor got acquired by a BigCo.
In general these folks seemed to love startups. The new products are exciting. If you’re straight with them and explain that the product is new and you’re committed to resolving issues and responding to feedback, they’re very forgiving and supportive.
The bottom line for me is you sell to corporate IT just like you sell to anyone else; same amount of effort required; there’s no secret trick to reaching those customers.
So the approach I’ve been using thus far should work great! Be extremely responsive to support inquiries, have the software developers (me!) answer support emails, offer to walk people through setup, be honest about problems and what the product can and can’t do, and you’ll go far.