09 October 2009

The Future of Promotion

Though my professional email address at Agilix isn't published it's not too difficult to deduce. Based on the quantity of spam I get, a lot of people have deduced it.

Since my title is CTO, I get a lot of email promoting outsourcing or placement services. This is really surprising to me given that people with my title are very spam-averse and sending the CTO unsolicited commercial email (spam) is a good way to get you on the company-wide blacklist. The success rate of regular spam is extremely low. It's got to be even lower when spamming an email list of CTOs (unless there are a lot of unqualified people out there that share my title).

Despite the low rate of success on emailed solitations the method remains popular due to its extremely low cost. Thus, for some products (Viagra and Mortgages to name a couple) it remains cost-effective though illegal. But there's a broader issue involved. Our society is becoming increasingly advertising-averse. Among the reasons for TiVo popularity is its ability to skip commercials. So, if people are throwing away junk mail, filtering and deleting spam and skipping commercials, how will future vendors make contact with customers?

A related question is, "How will TV and radio programming remain profitable?" I'll save that one for a future post.

We can find a microcosm of this problem in my experience with outsourcing providers. With the advent of the recession, they've become increasingly aggressive (probably out of desperation). At present I average between fifteen and twenty individually addressed placement or outsourcing solicitations a week. I would get more if I wasn't so aggressive about shutting them down. There a few variations, some offer offshoring services to India, China or Russia. Others offer contract programmers based in the U.S. and others are executive placement firms. The last type are the most entertaining. There are several utah-based placement agents that have been calling and emailing me for the better part of a decade. They treat me with familiarity since they've been doing this so long despite the fact that I have never responded to an email or a phone call.

About a year ago I decided it might be rude of me to ignore some of the more personal messages (or blacklist their addresses). Pasting a canned reply only takes slightly more time than deleting the message. Here's my original version:

Dear Outsourcing, Consulting or Placement Provider:

Your inquiry is one of dozens we get every week. Unfortunately the inquiry rate has increased dramatically with the recession. We are presently fully staffed with very capable engineers. We also have one outsourcing partner that offers excellent service. As a result, we have no need for additional services at this time. If, at some future date the need for outsourced services does arise, our first choice will not be someone who sent unsolicited email to a purchased contact list or interrupted my day with an unsolicited phone call.

Sincerely,
Brandt C. Redd
CTO
Agilix Labs, Inc.

I got some replies to my reply. Some took offense at my attitude. I suppose that they think their messages are in some way above the rabble of conventional spam. I don't see the difference. Whether you're promoting Viagra or offshoring the message was unsolicited, useless and it clutters my mailbox. However, I decided to lighten the message. The new one is more polite but also less informative:

Dear Outsourcing, Consulting or Placement Provider:

Your inquiry is one of dozens I get every week. Unfortunately I don't have time to offer individual replies or to discover what distinguishes your organization from all of the others. Suffice it to say that we are content with our current service providers and are not shopping for new ones.

Sincerely,
Brandt C. Redd
CTO
Agilix Labs, Inc.

One soliciter called me (I didn't answer) and followed up with an email. After receiving my canned reply he complained: How did I expect him to do his job? If I thought it was bad receiving these messages, did I have any idea how difficult cold calling was? Didn't my company generate sales the same way?

I have no doubt that cold calling is difficult. But the difficulty is due mostly to its ineffectiveness. When cold-calling someone you have no idea whether they are shopping for your product. And, in cases like mine an unsolicited interruption is unlikely to buy you favors. Of course, there are much better options. The key is knowing where CTOs shop for services and being in those places.

I was in a charitable mood that day and so I took the time to respond:

I usually don't offer a personal response to blind inquiries. For some strange reason I feel like making an exception this time.

Our sales people follow up on leads generated by the marketing department. The marketing group uses advertising, conference attendance, viral marketing programs, business partnerships, and word of mouth. I think some of our resellers use cold calls but they aren’t very effective.

The point is that I'm not shopping right now so it doesn't matter how you contact me, I won't be interested. Your challenge is to find those who _are_ shopping. Then figure out how to appear in the areas where they shop.

Google Adwords is a good start for CTOs like me. That's usually my first stop when shopping for goods and services. My second stop is to ask colleagues in my industry who they work with. So, the next best thing is to cultivate a word of mouth network.

You need to be very careful when cold-emailing tech people. The usual response is that you get quietly added to their blacklist and there's a lot of blacklist sharing in this industry. We have a strong bias against the mailing list vendors and as a result we actively strive to make that marketing method as unrewarding as possible.

Sincerely
Brandt

In my opinion, that's the future of product promotion. Find out where people shop and then be in those places. Tech people shop on Cnet and we share experiences on various forums. For other products or audiences, the shopping areas may be different but the principle is the same. Find out where people shop and be there.

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