Last week, Spiceworks filmed a Google Hangout with a panel of IT pros discussing a topic near and dear to me and to the clients I work with—what they really think of the content software marketers publish.
Some of this, many may already know—or at least strongly suspect—but it’s good to hear it reinforced by the target market. Some of it might come as a surprise. The people on the Hangout were SysAdmins who play a primary influential role in the software their company buys—as well as IT content professionals who are in the trenches every day, talking to that target market. Here’s what they said.
Know about their buy hierarchy. One thing that stood out to me was how important it is to know who you’re talking to at every stage of the game. The buy cycle may be slightly different for each company, but these IT professionals described how the software purchase gets made in their companies with one overarching path:
1. The IT pro reviews the literature and chooses the software to buy (or narrows it down to a short list).
2. The IT pro then recommends the purchase to the Head of IT or another decision-maker—who may not be very technical, but who has dotted-line authority over the purchase.
This may be a radically simplified picture of some software sales funnels, but I think it says a lot. It says that, at least in these cases, up until the purchase decision is practically made, your target market is the company’s technical lead.
The white papers some marketers might think of as “top-of-sales-funnel,” the ones that are more focused on problems and solutions than on technical details, might actually be better suited to target the upper-level management staff after the buy decision has been practically made by the IT pro, serving to fully decide a deal that’s almost closed.
Key takeaway: Your technical, product-focused white paper may be the most important one you publish.
They want you to know they’re busy. When you’re putting yourself in the shoes of an IT buyer, it’s crucial to keep one thing in mind: they are constantly putting out fires. SysAdmins typically have multiple people and problems demanding their attention at any one time.
Part of their job is to review literature and choose software to solve major technical problems. But they don’t have a lot of time to do it, and content that gives them the info they need quickly and succinctly does them a favor.
Key takeaway: IT pros might only have maybe five minutes of uninterrupted time in a day to review your content. Make those five minutes count.
They think most white papers are too long. This was another opinion that was almost universally shared by the IT pros on the call. White papers are too long and dense, and typically take too long to get to the points that are relevant to them.
This reinforces to me something I’ve been preaching for most of my career: don’t write a white paper that tries to be everything to everyone. You can’t talk to the CFO, the CEO, the IT pro, and other key participants in the buy cycle with one white paper. Nobody has time to sift through that document to find the sections that are relevant to them.
Key takeaway: Know what the point is, and get to it quickly. Don’t try to make your white paper all things to all people.
They think you should be careful what you put behind a gate. Another thing that stood out to me was this: don’t put self-serving content behind a gate. The moderator showed an infographic that was slickly produced, but was basically an ad for a company’s software—and told the IT pros that it had been gated. The opinion they got back was that this was, quite frankly, annoying—the IT pros don’t have time to fill out forms to get back promotional content.
Key takeaway: Whatever you put behind a gate had better provide concrete value to the IT pro—it should be about them, not you.
They want education, entertainment, and information. Peter Tsai, the IT content lead at Spiceworks, emphasized that IT pros want three things out of the content marketers put out there:
1. They want to find the information they need, quickly.
2. They want to learn something valuable about the problem they’re trying to solve—again, quickly.
3. They want to have a laugh.
The IT pros on the call agreed that even in a white paper, fun, engaging content makes a difference—especially if it also shows that the company “gets” them in a fundamental way.
Spiceworks produces some great content for IT pros; as an example, this piece of content, IT Issues: 17 Problems All SysAdmins Understand , really demonstrates that the company “gets” its target market.
Key takeaway: focus on connecting with the buyer and showing you understand them.
Don’t forget the call to action! Entertaining, informing, and educating are all key in reaching IT pros—but it’s also important to know what you want the end result to be with all pieces of content you put out.
Key takeaway: Whether you want the reader to sign up for your newsletter, try your free demo, or get in touch—be sure you ask for that action.
The beginning of the buyer journey requires multiple short touchpoints. At the beginning, what seems to work is a number of small, short touchpoints—maybe an IT pro might first hear about a company through a banner ad, and follow that through to the company’s social media page, and then sign up for the newsletter, where they can get plugged into a drip campaign that builds their awareness in small, easily-scannable pieces.
Key takeaway: IT pros get pulled into the sales funnel through small, easily-consumable bites over time.
They rely on your website—and it better deliver. The IT pros on the call agreed that the website is a really key piece of content—and what they want to see is visuals. They expressed a preference for detailed screen shots and visuals that give them a sense of how the product works at a glance, with a free demo and plenty of details about the features.
Key takeaway: IT pros love websites with screenshots of your product, free demos, and details about the features—that are informative but easy to scan.
You can watch the full video here. Anyone else have anything to add? I’d especially love to hear from IT buyers on their content pet peeves (and successes), and what marketers are finding works really well in the field.