BtoB: How do you define and segment the IT professional audience?
Kessel: There are three effective ways to segment the IT audience: by function and rank, by company size and by level of importance of IT to the business.
In terms of function and rank, the segmentation may concern IT decision-makers, such as CIOs, IT directors and senior managers of IT functions, vs. IT staffers, such as help desk, network administrators, programmers and others.
In terms of company size, the IT decision process in large companies is very different than in SMB [small and midsize businesses] or VSB [very small businesses]. In small businesses, there is often no dedicated IT executive-the owner makes the decisions. In large companies, many, many people are engaged in the decision.
The level of importance of IT to the overall business is also another way to segment. Some companies view IT as a necessary evil to get work done. Others use technology as a critical component of what they do and seek to maintain competitive advantage by harnessing technology. You have to talk to individuals within these kinds of companies differently, because their motivations for buying are quite different.
BtoB: What are the biggest opportunities and challenges in marketing to IT professionals today?
Kessel: The biggest opportunities lie in the midmarket-companies with 250 to 1,000 employees. They are big enough to have dedicated IT staff and need large enterprise-type solutions, but they have been largely ignored. On the product and service front, hardware is highly commoditized and hard to differentiate. The best opportunities are in software solutions that transform business processes, such as ERP, CRM, knowledge managem ent, wireless infrastructure, etc. These are major engagements in which all companies will seek to remain competitive.
The biggest challenge is selling into large enterprises, where procurement rules with an iron fist and the decision process is lengthy and hard to manage. More and more IT decisions are heavily influenced by business decision-makers who want a say in the IT purchase and adoption process. IT providers rarely get an audience with these individuals.
BtoB: What kinds of media and marketing strategies do IT professionals respond to best and why?
Kessel: IT pros are no different than the general business population-some like mail, some like a phone call, others prefer a face-to-face call and some prefer everything in an e-mail or on the Web. Successful IT marketers deploy hybrid communications strategies so that the individual can get what he or she wants in their channel of choice. The overarching trend is to use dimensional or breakthrough mail and/or print to drive people to the Web for information and a value exchange. This lets the marketer gather enough information to qualify the inquiry and see if it is a real lead for hand-off to a sales resource.