June 17, 2007
I’ve had a couple of people ask me what exactly I do at my new job. Sitting in the airport in Columbus waiting for our (delayed) flight, this seemed like a halfway decent topic to tackle. Quick house update: we’ve found two houses that we really like in Dublin, Ohio. We’ve written up offers for both of them, and it was almost a coin flip as to which one we issued first. As Kurt Compeau, Chief Negotiator at National Instruments taught me, “We’re in an enviable position, in that we have multiple viable options.” Heck — he taught me that that was the line even if you don’t have multiple viable options. But, in our case, we do. So, hopefully, we’ll be under contract with a house within the next few days.
Now, on to what I do. The really short descriptions is: “I’m the Director of Business Process Analytics at a demand generation company.” That’s short, and very accurate. But, also, I realize, as intelligible as saying, “I’m the Grand Farquat of Gibberdy Gump at an igloodink that huckles nibbers” for most of the two or three people who might actually be reading this.
I guess this is the sort of thing that happens in the world economy of the 21st century, where business is increasingly complex and specialization is the order of the day. So, let me start with explaining what a “demand generation company” is.
Demand generation is a big chunk of what business-to-business (B2B) companies are focussing on these days. It’s trying to find the best ways to find people at companies that have a need for your product, helping them realize they need your product, and getting them fed into an efficient and effective sales channel to get as many of them as possible to buy your product. And, by “product,” I mean “product or service,” as lots of B2B action these days is in the services area. But that’s a whole other blog entry.
Bulldog Solutions helps companies be more effective with their demand generation. One example, and an area where Bulldog Solutions really offers a best-of-breed solution, is in the use of webinars (or webcasts, or web events). I hadn’t realized how much the use of webinars in the B2B world had worked its way into my normal life, even at National Instruments, until I took my current job and found out, in quick succession, that neither Julie, my mother, nor Marilyn had any idea what a webinar was. If you’re familiar with webinars, or if you clicked on the “webcasts” link earlier in this paragraph and read the content, then skip the next paragraph, which is a lengthy paragraph (but still just a cursory primer) on the subject.
In olden times — back in, say, 2003 or 2004 — one of the cornerstones of B2B selling in an increasingly complex business environment was the “seminar.” A sales person at a company that sold a complex product could not always sell simply by making phone calls. Many products and services really required a face-to-face conversation and demonstration. So, they would have Marketing and maybe an Inside Sales organization set up as many of these face-to-face visits with potential customers as possible. But, they could gain some real efficiency if they rented a conference room at a hotel and invited a bunch of prospects within that geographic area to come to them for a couple hours or a half-day presentation. This worked, and there were best practices developed in this area. For instance, those seminars get a lot better attendance if they’re not a straight-up sales pitch. They work better if the seminar actually presents new, useful information that is product-independent. Of course, the salesperson would work in a few plugs for their products, but, if they didn’t really demonstrate they were industry experts and provide content of real value, then they wouldn’t necessarily be incentivizing the attendees to buy their products, and they wouldn’t be likely to see those same prospects again in the future. Several shortcomings of this approach: 1) it can be expensive to secure a place to hold these seminars, 2) it requires prospects to decide that it’s worth leaving their jobs and driving to a place to sacrifice half a day or more…with no guarantee that it will be worth their while, 3) to really offer these seminars globally would require hundreds or thousands of these seminars to be set up, and if a really good prospect happened to have a conflict, he/she’s just going to miss the content. Enter the internet. A webinar is a seminar…conducted via the Web. Typically (currently), it consists of audio with slides (like PowerPoint) shown as the speaker talks. There are obvious upsides to this: 1) geographic limitations drop dramatically (timezone limitations still exist, but those are a much, much lower barrier to overcome), 2) “finding space” limitations disappear, as all of the attendees are participating virtually from their own offices, 3) the quality of the presenter(s) can be increased, because they, too, participate virtually, so you can have an industry expert in California co-presenting with another expert in New York without requiring either of them to travel, 4) the time investment for the attendee is dramatically lower — he can wrap up a meeting at 12:55 and be attending a webinar at 1:00; and, if the content isn’t what he hoped it to be, he can “leave” unobtrusively at 1:10, 5) the presentation can be recorded and made available “on demand” for people who did not attend the live event, so they can view it at their leisure. There are obvious downsides, too: the “personal touch” that comes from an in-person presentation is dramatically reduced. And, the audience isn’t as captive — a person may be “attending” a webinar…but checking their e-mail or having a discussion with someone else in their office at the same time. There is less interactivity. All of these are very real, but there are ways to minimize them. For instance, well-done webinars are sprinkled with “polling questions” during the session, whereby all of the virtual attendees answer a multiple-choice question related to the topic. And, well-done webinars enable attendees to type in specific questions for the presenter, which get addressed either at the end of the webinar or through a follow-up phone call or e-mail after the event. The economics make webinars a no-brainer in a demand generation-driven world. The goal is usually not to close the sale directly through the webinar. The goal is to build credibility for your company as an industry expert, as well as to identify the subset of registrants and attendees who have the most promising “profile” of someone who would benefit from your product. These people are the ones that Sales should follow up with first. And, Marketing should be following up with everyone to further build the credibility of the company, as well as to encourage these prospects to self-identify themselves as interested potential customers.
Webinars are just one technology that the internet has made available to companies to help them more effectively sell their products. There are dozens more, and more emerging each month: RSS, podcasts, blogs, wikis, social media in general, and more are all examples of what is commonly referred to as Web 2.o. Actually, the fact that you’re reading this in a blog, and the fact that all of the links I provided in that last sentence are to Wikipedia articles is a microcosm of the Web 2.0 world. This whole blog is managed through Google’s blogger.com, even though it’s published on my site at http://www.secondtree.com/. It took all of 10 minutes for me to set it up, and that was not because I’m a techno-whiz on that front.
Bulldog Solutions is all about Web 2.0. We help companies figure out how to effectively use Web 2.0 technologies to drive demand for their products. A big part of being effective in that area is measuring the effectiveness. The internet is increasingly dynamic. Just in the past few weeks, Bulldog has been playing around with personalized-video-in-e-mail. Imagine a voicemail, combined with a text e-mail, with video added. It’s pretty slick and, we think, a very effective way to communicate in certain situations. Measuring all of this can get tricky and complex. That’s my world — figuring out better and better ways for both Bulldog to measure the effectiveness of our use of these technologies, as well as then helping push these measurement techniques out to our customers.
The bulk of this entry has wound up being about what demand generation in the Web 2.0 world means, with then just a couple of sentences that are specific to my job. But, that’s as it should be. If you get what the company does, you’re 90% of the way to getting what I do.