How to Sell Social Software

    October 23, 2006

An awful lot of social software vendors operate under the old field of dreams theory that “if you build it, they will come.”

Because they are often strapped for cash and have put everything they have into development, there is generally no budget for marketing, advertising, and PR. They depend almost entirely upon word of mouth-blogs and demos and meeting people at trade shows and making presentations to VCs-to create “buzz.” The objective is not so much to get customers as it is to attract new funding.

Because so much of their limited resources is focused on funding and development, there isn’t a lot of time, money or management energy left over for the real business of a business-to identify the best potential sales prospects and educate them about how social software can benefit their company and give them a compelling reason to buy their product. Creating and communicating a business value rationale too often takes a backseat to getting the product right and keeping the electricity on.

This scattershot approach to product marketing creates another major problem-unqualified prospects. These are people who have heard something about your product through the “buzzvine” but aren’t sure exactly what it does and aren’t interested once they find out. Knowing exactly who your most likely customers are and having your product more widely understood eliminates a lot of time and money spent chasing lukewarm prospects.

Six Apart, the Movable Type folks, have come up with a idea that addresses both of these problems. They’re teaming up with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide’s 360 Digital Influence team to conduct a series of half-day invitation-only seminars around the country to explain the benefits of business blogging, with each seminar keyed to the most likely prospective users.

In Washington, DC, for example, the seminar will focus on politics, advocacy and association communications. In San Francisco, the focus will be on technology, corporate communications and strategy.

Just as important as focusing on specific organizational uses, they have identified precisely the prospects that want to attend:
# Marketing, PR and Communications Professionals in any organization who need hands-on practical knowledge they can apply to meet communications goals and business objectives.
# Product Marketing and Project Team Leads who are tasked with managing large projects with many moving parts.

Granted, Six Apart is already a viable company and has more marketing money to spend than your average startup, but the approach it is taking to enterprise sales provides a valuable lesson for all:

Never lose focus on real customers.

Don’t wait for customers to find you, go get the customers you want.