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PR Strategies for Enterprise Software

By Sabrina Horn, President, The Horn Group

The technology industry is still in a slump. The sales environment is smaller and tougher than ever. The length of the sales cycle may have doubled. Hot prospects may have deferred their purchasing decisions to the end of the quarter or next year. And, the pipeline may suddenly look a lot less promising than it did a couple of months ago. In addition to all the other cutbacks companies are considering, marketing is probably going to be slashed. However, there are fundamental and highly cost effective marketing programs that can be implemented to spur sales activity. Before doing anything drastic to marketing, consider this: public relations, strategically planned and flawlessly executed against specific business goals, can be one of the most effective driver of sales leads, particularly for enterprise software companies.

At no other time is PR more valuable as a sales tool than in challenging economic environments like the one we currently face. Turbulent markets present unique opportunities for innovation that require strategic communication to build a company’s marketplace and mindshare. Now is the time to be bullish about all the good things that companies are doing to build investor, customer and employee confidence. Sales is clearly the function most imperative to helping organizations survive and thrive. And PR can be the most cost-effective, credible means of helping a sales organization succeed.

PR as a strategic sales weapon. To those outside marketing, public relations is frequently misunderstood as nothing more than a tactical press release machine. Unfortunately, PR is often an afterthought to strategic planning, and can be out of synch with overall marketing, sales and general business goals. The best PR efforts require creative and intelligent execution, as well as great content and planning. PR should be tightly integrated with marketing, requires the support, commitment and involvement of the highest levels within the organization, and should be inextricably tied to sales and tangible business objectives. At its most basic level, PR is the consistent presentation of a company’s image to all of its constituents through a variety of means, most frequently the reporting media. PR serves as the conscience of a company, facilitates change and growth, and is fundamental to helping companies build value. Sounds great, but actually getting started with a smart PR program can be challenging.

Base your PR program on realistic and measurable business objectives.
First, make sure you have seasoned internal PR executives or hire a good agency with appropriate domain experience. Put them in the same room with your C-level execs, including sales and business development. Ascertain what the company’s financial goals are for the next 12-month period. Calculate how many sales leads it takes to generate one good deal. Determine the length of the sales cycle. Choose potential vertical markets with low-hanging fruit. Identify current and future competitors. Map out upcoming product releases and services that will create or meet market demand.

Once these overall objectives are set, establish a few, very explicit business goals, such as “increase sales leads by 20% in financial services,” or “help generate an additional $10M in revenue in telecommunications over the next 12 month period.” Then devise a strategy and tactical PR plan around these goals that gets management support. One word of caution: there are also intangible, more generic goals, such as “build market awareness,” and “educate and build credibility in key target markets” that can be central to your public relations efforts. These goals are likewise important, and must also be measured through market audits and perceptual analyses. It is essential to justify your PR investment at the CEO and Board levels.

Measurement techniques: Is PR helping sales? Each established business or PR objective must be paired with a measurement tool or methodology that tracks its success. These tools and processes should be monitoring PR performance over the course of a program to determine what is working, thereby enabling a company to change gears midstream if needed. Following are a few high-level business goals with accompanying PR strategies and measurement tools for guidance:

Business goal PR strategy Measurement tool
increase sales leads by 20% in financial services

Position company as leader in market category

Increase awareness and build credibility
Product launches including tours, press releases and customer testimonial program

Competitive PR campaign,thought leadership campaign, CEO campaign

Business press campaign, analyst Relations program, Customer testimonials
Telemarketing staff maps source of incoming calls to articles published as the result of press releases or other PR. Sales lead tracking systems can be programmed to source same data

Qualitative analysis of market and category coverage by vendor and message over a six-month period.

Perceptual audit at beginning and middle of PR program, number of favorable analyst reports and resulting references for press and sales purposes, closed deals


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