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Firms face stiff competition educating target market

With the business community becoming more technology-savvy, and the end of the economic downturn paving the way for capital investments in network infrastructure products and services, metro area technology firms are facing stiffer competition in the global marketplace.

The most immediate challenge for technology marketers is keeping the message clear, said Kevin B. Harper, district sales manager for Jackson-based UCI Communications.

“Technology evolves,” he said. “Too often in the beginning of that evolution, hype takes over and demand pulls the product along a little quicker than it should. This was the case with VoIP a year or so ago. Folks wanted it because it was the buzzword — and not all it was talked up to be. Now when all the kinks are worked out, cost is justifiable and true benefits have emerged, the consumer is a bit hesitant to explore the opportunity. They shouldn’t be because the right solution can bring them many cost and time saving benefits.”

Persuading the market to adopt a new technology requires focused advertising, said Nathan McNeill, COO and marketing coordinator of Ridgeland-based NetworkStreaming.

“It involves simply encapsulating the messaging surrounding that product to the extent that you can get across the core value proposition in a short span of time or in a short snippet of written text,” he said. “That’s what it boils down to, communicating in two or three seconds the value of your solution and how it fits with a particular customer. If it takes two or three paragraphs to explain it, you’ve probably lost that battle.”

Determining whether to market to a company’s IT director or its CEO “depends on the particular deal on the table,” said McNeill.

“Normally, we’ll end up speaking to an IT supervisor or someone in charge of managing an IT department or a support department,” he said. “It’s usually not the CEO or the IT guy on the front line unless it’s a small company.”

IT directors tend to be the influencers and CEOs are the decision makers, said Robyn Harris, marketing manager for Ridgeland-based Business Communications Inc. (BCI).

“It’s probably more difficult to market to IT pros because it is so specialized,” she said.

The buying process

Regardless of the ultimate decision maker, marketers must bear in mind that customers are moving toward a product from several different stages in the buying process, said McNeill.

“If you lose sight of that with your messaging, you’ve lost that customer,” he said. “For example, when people come to us through our Web site, they’ve usually seen and adopted our messaging and agreed with our value proposition. They’re calling us pretty late in the cycle and we’re able to turn that potential customer into an actual customer very quickly and effectively. On the other hand, if you’re stepping into a corporate office shaking hands with someone and telling them why they need this new slick solution, you’ll have to start much earlier in the sales process. Going through the steps necessary to bring that prospect to a close is extremely important in making the sale.”

Marketing to the IT crowd through events with product partners is important, said Harris, because “we focus on only being associated with the ‘best of breed’ as it relates to a product.”

Also, “we try to touch a variety of media outlets to accomplish … (being) the first ones people think of when they have a need, or the potential client (being) aware of what we do when a salesperson makes a call to them,” she said.

UCI has not seen an influx in business from traditional print ads and other media that typically creates top-of-mind awareness, said Harper.

“However, studies show that having one of the three largest ads in the Yellow Pages does help to get call-ins from folks who use that as their source,” he said. “We have online lead generating companies that we utilize, and they do create some traffic. However, in those cases the online shoppers are often exposed to so much on the ‘net that we spend a lot of time and energy re-educating them and selling them on local service and support.”

Driving results?

Print advertising in eWeek and Windows and Dot Net industry trade magazines has not proven effective for NetworkStreaming, said McNeill.

“It was a bit of a wash,” he admitted. “For many different types of print advertising, there’s value in building awareness, but it doesn’t bring leads in the door. So we’re trying to drive results rather than simply awareness.”

Online marketing has generated about 95% of NetworkStreaming’s revenues, mainly by utilizing Google and Yahoo search marketing, said McNeill, who estimated a return on investment of $3 per $1 spent on that form of advertising.

“It’s worked well for us so we’ve stepped it up as the company has grown,” he said. “It involves a lot of cost-per-click marketing and search engine optimization. Due to those factors, most of our revenue is driven by our Web site. We haven’t had a lot of face-to-face conversations with our clientele because we’ve provided many different means for them to find us. Once they find us, they sign up for service.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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