Selling Technology to Senior Management, End Users, and Other Nontechies

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When selling software to businesses, you often have to appeal to three different buying influences within each company: senior management, end users and information systems professionals.

The first two audiences consistent primarily of people who are not techies. And these nontechies care about different things and respond differently than the traditional IS technology buyer.

Nontechies are results-oriented, interested in the end rather than the means -- the bottom line rather than the process. They lack interest in the details, preferring to focus on the "big picture." Most techies simply want to resolve problems; engineers, scientists and programmers enjoy actually working on problems.

The result is that nontechies are more interested in benefits, business results and the reputation and credibility of the vendor. IS, by comparison, tends to focus on technical issues, including platforms, scalability, interoperability with existing systems, reliability and ease of implementation, operation and maintenance.

* Price and value. When generating leads for expensive enterprise software, quote the price in the terms that seem most palatable -- for instance, per user or per site license. Demonstrate, if it exists, the rapid return on investment.

For instance, a mailing for SurfControl, an application that monitors and controls employee Internet usage in organizations, informs the recipient that surfing the Internet for personal rather than business reasons costs $300 per employee a week. The letter then positions the license fee of a few dollars per user as a drop in the bucket compared to the savings SurfControl can generate.

* Offers. For high-end software representing a major corporate investment, the goal is often to get an appointment with the decision-maker. The offer then becomes, in essence, not the software, but rather the initial meeting -- which is frequently positioned as a needs analysis or assessment, to be followed by recommendations. Of course, the seller's goal is to gain the information needed to provide a quote or proposal the buyer will accept.

For both lead generation and mail order, premiums are proven response-boosters. Premiums that have worked well for technology marketers include white papers, computer books, audio and video cassettes, free software, free support, free training, seminars, and electronic conferences that the user accesses via telephone (for voice) and, optionally, the Web (for visuals).

Another popular premium is to offer a simple calculator that demonstrates the potential return on investment to the prospect if they purchase your product. This is typically an Excel application on a disk. The prospect inputs his business scenario and instantly discovers whether your product will pay off for him.

Select a premium that is highly desirable and ties in with your product or service. A Web design firm, for instance, offered "four free digital photos of your key staff, postable on your Web site." When the rep visited the prospect, she carried a digital camera, took the photos and immediately gave the disk to the prospect. Of course, the prospect wanted the photos posted on its Web site, something which could be done as part of the -Web-site makeover- service the Web firm offered for a fee.

* Response mechanisms. There are four basic response mechanisms: paper reply forms, online, phone and fax.

Since you never know which reply method a particular prospect prefers, why not offer them all? At a recent marketing conference, one software executive said, "Every software prospect is on the Internet today. It's a waste of time to offer any other response mechanism." A colleague from his company disagreed. "I don't want to log onto the Internet if I'm not already online just to respond to an ad or mailing," he said, insisting that for him, a toll-free number or reply card is more convenient.

While it's generally safe to assume IS professionals are comfortable responding by going to your Web site, don't make that assumption with nontechies. Some can access the Web but are not comfortable with it and prefer not to. Others, amazingly, don't even know how to get onto your site!

One tip: Always offer the Web as a response option when mailing to IS professionals -- especially those involved with the Internet. Also, if you sell software, such as the latest antivirus or Y2K program, that prospects may want to try immediately, make it available for downloading from your Web site. You can let prospects download a demo version for free or the full program if they supply credit card information.

The key to success? Talk to business people in their language, not yours. Show that if they give you $1, they'll get back $2. And test -- sales appeals, offers, pricing, response mechanisms and premiums. Don't assume you know which will work best. Instead, let your prospects tell you.

Robert W. Bly is a freelance copywriter specializing in business-to-business, hi-tech, and direct response. His e-mail address is

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