CHICAGO – Truth be told, there’s some bad news and good news for reluctant marketers.
The bad news is that anyone (even savvy marketing professionals) can experience marketing reluctance. The good news is that almost everyone (including those with limited experience, time and funds) can find effective ways to overcome marketing challenges.
The story of Chicago business partners Paul Vriend and Joel Friedman makes a case for both points.
The tale begins when Friedman – a highly regarded marketing researcher who sold his interests in a marketing research firm to head in a new direction – wanted to play out his hunch that given the right set of research tools, the Internet could become a powerful vehicle for gathering market research data.
Enter Vriend, a longtime software developer with a reputation for mastering tough technical challenges.
The partnership clicked. Friedman was passionate about developing a software tool that would offer real value to market researchers (chock full of new capabilities). Meanwhile, Vriend was adamant that the tool be technically proficient to do the heavy lifting of complex data analysis without compromising speed and performance.
The two became convinced that they were onto something big. A low-cost, highly functional product hosted on the Internet could attract thousands of prospects. A flexible design would allow rapid improvements and build customer loyalty. With all that, Friedman’s reputation would be a powerful plus in the marketing research world.
Concluding they had a winner, SurveyWriter.com was born. The pair set out to work at a furious pace. The first version of SurveyWriter.com emerged in only eight months. Not quite satisfied, they added tweaks and improvements for another four months.
But after one year, Friedman and Vriend had to admit something to themselves: the phone wasn’t ringing nearly enough. Salivating marketing researchers were not beating down a path to their door at a satisfactory pace. SurveyWriter.com was not going to sell itself.
Between the two, Friedman was the obvious choice for marketing responsibilities. Still, he was reluctant because his involvement presented a crucial problem.
He was vital to the core business (the development of the product itself). Tagging Friedman with added marketing responsibilities carried too high an opportunity cost. By default, Paul Vriend the software designer became Paul Vriend the reluctant marketer.
Vriend quickly assessed his situation. On the downside, he had absolutely no marketing experience and a shoestring budget. He did have one redeeming attribute: he was intrigued by the power of the Internet.
He started with a simple premise: If SurveyWriter was to be used on the Internet, it would likely be sold there as well. He then turned to the Internet for a self-guided study on Internet marketing.
Vriend closely examined dozens of successful Web sites and discerned a common theme: each made navigation uncommonly easy for users. Borrowing from good ideas he found, he added substantial improvements to SurveyWriter.com.
Next, he studied sites known for attracting traffic. Detective Vriend looked for clues that designers and marketers used to increase the chances of being selected by search engine users. Once again, he employed the patterns he saw. In time, SurveyWriter.com was nearing the top of the lists of queries using common marketing research terms.
Unable to afford expensive prospect lists, Vriend started another “do-it-yourself” marketing project: searching for data that might identify potential SurveyWriter.com prospects. Though initial results were amateurish and uneven, he stuck with it. He knew he hit marketing pay dirt when one day he found a free, comprehensive list of more than 7,000 SurveyWriter.com prospects.
To communicate with prospects, Vriend rigged a simple procedure combining Microsoft Outlook with an Excel spreadsheet to efficiently customize e-mails to names on his ever-growing contact list.
He then found and took full advantage of Web sites offering free distribution of press releases. Vriend learned that the key was customizing his basic news to the interests of specific audiences and industries. Soon, information from press releases on SurveyWriter.com was showing up in a variety of industry and trade publications.
Over the months, Vriend’s efforts have paid off. This has led to a different kind of challenge. Friedman and Vriend are now working to pace the level of their marketing efforts with their available time to sell. They recently reached the rate of one qualified lead a day, which is a quantum leap over the pace they were on a year before.
Upon reflection, Vriend has some words of encouragement for other reluctant marketers:
Start with your strengths: Rather than trying to negotiate unfamiliar ground, Vriend turned to the familiar Internet. He encourages others to do a similar assessment of their own interests and abilities.
Learn from the best: Vriend found great examples and ideas by turning to others who successfully mastered similar challenges. Imitation can be much more than flattery; it can be good business.
Don’t overlook available resources: Vriend used three common tools already available in most offices to produce a winning marketing strategy: a browser for research, a spreadsheet to collect data and an e-mail system to create custom communications. Vriend proved that it’s not the tool; rather, it’s the craftsman that makes the difference.
These days, SurveyWriter.com is used in every state in America as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The bet paid off. Friedman continues to concentrate on refining and developing new function and Paul Vriend (the marketer) is ready for his next challenge.