You Can Still Leverage the Power of User Group Events in Your Marketing Mix

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One of the greatest challenges facing software developers and software product marketers today is rising above the noise of hundreds of thousands of marketing messages about thousands of software products aimed at businesses. The rise of the web has changed how some software is marketed and distributed. But some things never change. Face to face communications is still a powerful medium.

Postage costs have risen dramatically. The cost of printing is out of control. Hiring direct sales people, while often necessary, creates large management headaches, not to mention high overhead.

User Groups Still Live

Enter the user group. User groups have been around for many many years. If you been involved with PCs or Macintosh computers, you may be familiar with a number of small computer user groups. What you may not realize, is that many types of business-to-business software and many types of hardware have their own user group advocates. These user groups provide a useful forum for their members, and are often sponsored by the vendors. User group participation is often cheaper and more effective than attending large trade shows. You often get to demonstrate your products in more detail and can learn more about your users than at large trade shows.

User Groups Cost-Effective Marketing for B2B Software Companies

For software companies, user groups offer one the most cost-effective means of reaching highly qualified prospects. Think about it. These are people who take the time to belong to a group that meets once a month or once a quarter. These people come together to learn and share what they know about your particular software product.

A True Story

I was the first manager to be hired by a small software company in 1996. The four other managers were all founders of the company. As such, they had particular expertise in engineering, finance, and sales. The entire company marketing plan consisted of running one ad every other month in one industry journal and attending two large trade shows a year. In addition, a quarterly direct mail piece was prepared and sent to an in-house list of 80,000 prospects.

Sales had steadily risen to approximately $2.5 million a year. Unfortunately the company’s products or database support tools aimed primarily at programmers of a particular niche database. Our company had engineered two new product versions for a much larger, but much more competitive database system. The challenge was to open up a new market in which none of the founders had any experience.

I was well aware of the strong user group structure that had built up around this particular database technology. The user group had dozens of chapters across the U.S. and Europe and drew strong support from the database vendor, itself.

Answer the Call

That’s why, when I received a call from the president of a tiny users group a thousand miles away, and she invited me to attend as a vendor member, I jumped at the chance.

That first user group meeting was an eye opener. We had no signs, very little collateral, and a brand-new product that was essentially untested in that market. The airfare cost about $600. It cost us another $150 to rent a table with a plastic table cloth. I went alone to that meeting, scared to death that it would be a complete failure. Before I left, the CEO told me he thought I was nuts to spend the money, but that it was my budget and if I wanted to blow it on a rinky-dink user group show, so be it.

Lessons Learned

I taped a company T-shirt emblazoned with our logo on the wall behind my booth, because we had no sign. I hardly knew the product. Although I knew the kinds of people that were attending, having worked in the business for over ten years, I was unprepared for the familiarity that many of the prospects shared with other vendors, my competitors. It became clear to me very quickly that there was a strong network of vendors and prospects in this market. If we were to succeed we would have to really hone our message.

By the time that first meeting was over, I accomplished several tasks:

  • I had made contact with half a dozen vendors.
  • I had met with every one of the 150 user group members.
  • I had learned that you need to always bring a roll of tape and a black marker.

In eighteen months, after more than 50 user group meetings, I was proud of the fact that our participation in many user group meetings provided support and information to the kind people in our industry. I was also proud of the fact that in eighteen months our
revenues increased in that market from 0% to 34% of our overall revenues. There is no doubt in my mind that these revenues, which in the second year amounted to a 500% increase in revenues over that first year, were directly attributable to our user group participation.

Look for some group that supports your product. And don’t neglect the online communities springing up all over the web. Find and join those that cater specifically to your market and get involved today.

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