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How to Market Your Tech Products When Everyone Thinks You’re Just a Services Company

I attended an industry conference on technology marketing in the early 1990s in which one of the featured speakers was a senior executive from IBM. During his keynote presentation, he bemoaned the fact that few people knew that IBM was the second largest software company in the world. It was the height of the personal computer boom, and most people knew IBM from their computer hardware businesses, which ranged from mainframes to PCs.

“My biggest challenge,” he lamented, “is that no one knows how dominant we are in software. This industry secret keeps me up at night.”

Ladies and gentlemen, this was a vice president at IBM, then the most important technology products and services company in the history of the world speaking! If he was number two in the market and no one knew about it, your quest to get your product known in the market is even more challenging, especially if the market only knows you as a services company.

Many of the small-to-medium tech companies we’ve worked with are generally established as service providers but anxiously want to bring new products to market. Although they may have highly lucrative services businesses, they may have a deep-rooted need to also bring successful products to market.

Many of these companies view themselves as technology, engineering or software development firms, although most of their revenue has historically come from services. There may be a passion or burning desire to bring products to market. In some cases they are looking to hedge their bets in the market by diversifying into new strategic businesses.

We are frequently engaged by companies like this to lead or assist throughout the product life cycle from idea conception to new vertical market development. Frequently, however, a challenge is that no one even knows the company offers the products they are trying to market. Sometimes it’s because of the “if you build it, they will come” assumption. The company thinks that the products are so good they should sell themselves and therefore, do not need to be marketed and sold.

Often, it might be because the company is afraid of confusing the market by talking about their products when the company is more widely known as a service provider. Perhaps they are fearful existing services clients will be concerned that their focus will wane.

Sometimes the steps needed to market products are just too foreign for a services company to master, and nothing will work. They then use the hope method to market them.

But for our purposes today, the problem is pretty succinct. The company, plain and simple, has not let the market know that it is also a product provider. They might not even have let their best customers or closest partners know. Or, it may be hidden on the web site, if mentioned at all. Or perhaps there’s a separate web site with a well-hidden link from the company’s main site. There’s also a good chance that the employees on the services side of the business do not know much about the product business, if anything.

But, there still is an expectation that the product will perform and drive revenue. As challenging as it may be, it’s possible. Assuming there’s a market for the product, and the product is well designed and functional, a few, simple, inexpensive things should happen for the product to have a fighting chance for success.

Truly Clarify and Communicate the Product’s Role in the Company’s Overall Strategy

Since bringing products to market is often a foreign concept to professional services companies, it’s frequently unclear how the product line fits into the overall corporate strategy. I’ve often seen long-term employees get quite nervous when they don’t understand where the product fits in and how this may affect them. Is it a long-term play or the CEO’s “toy”? Will I have a role in developing, servicing, or selling the product? Is this the direction the company is going, and if so, how will it affect my career? The positioning internally is just as critical as it is externally.

Assign 100% of the Team’s Time to the Product

Team members, particularly leaders, must be focused on developing and marketing the product. Often, only a portion of their time will be assigned to the product, as if it were a client. Product marketing requires focus, attention to the market, and commitment. If other corporate responsibilities get in the way, the launch of the product will not be sustainable.

Let Your Friends Know So They Can Help You Get New Customers

Friends of the firm are the easiest group of people to market to, particularly those who are also in the tech industry as users or providers. However, I’ve seen many situations where close associates of the company’s executives do not even know that the product exists. Marketing to friends can lead to huge opportunities. A frequent marketing strategy I’ve deployed is a series of local receptions in which we have the team invite as many of the firm’s associates as possible to get a glimpse of the product. After we demo the product or discuss the market opportunity, we schedule follow-up meetings to delve deeper in to the value of the product offering or start sharing some leads. There’s a whole series of steps we’ve developed to help the firm expand the market’s knowledge that they are, indeed, in the product business.

There’s no reason why services companies cannot bring successful software and tech products to market. We’ll continue to discuss important strategies on how to do so in future articles.

Fred Diamond is the top go-to-market strategy consultant and execution expert to tech and professional services companies in the Mid-Atlantic region. He is also the co-founder of the Institute for Excellence in Sales.

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