Talking to channel partners first helped AutoVirt's customer prospecting

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Do you know what distributed file system virtualization and management is? Don't feel bad if you don't. Storage software player AutoVirt's prospects didn't know much about this emerging category either, which created a marketing challenge for the company, said Brian Gladstein, the company's VP-marketing. AutoVirt was sending out white papers, links to webcasts and other traditional marketing materials, but prospects didn't understand what the software was nor how it might work for them. This was one of the reasons that its e-mail marketing programs were so poorly received, Gladstein said, who started the company last September.

“IT administrators are overloaded with e-mails. They weren't reading anything we were sending them, so we had plenty of e-mail campaigns that had response rates as low as less than half a percent,” he said. “And at the time we couldn't figure out why.”

This past January, Gladstein launched an integrated telemarketing and e-mail program. His directive: Gain insight into AutoVirt's marketing efforts and the needs of its potential customers.

Since reaching out to end-users—IT administrators, directors and CIOs—wasn't working, Gladstein decided to change his focus, concentrating on “several hundred” value-added resellers (VARs). Telemarketers called those VARs, discussing their products and asking them to provide data on customers who had recently bought, or were planning to buy, new storage hardware.

The pitch seemed to work. In fact, in many cases the VARs were interested in co-marketing with AutoVirt. “We told them, ‘If you have clients who are about to buy storage, we have a product that's right for them,' ” Gladstein said. “Now, instead of reaching out and tapping 10 people but only hitting one who was actually in the right stage of the buying cycle, we could hit one person—but that one person was actually a lead.”

Once the VARs provided contact information, AutoVirt reached out via e-mail with a message that contained “very targeted” product information and a link to drive recipients directly to a free product trial download. “The biggest value was definitely sending someone who had a new storage implementation to the download page,” Gladstein said. “IT admins really want to play with things, so the trial was a call to action that really made an impact.”

Today, e-mail campaigns have a 5% response rate—someone downloads the evaluation product, enters the sales cycle or purchases the full version of the software, Gladstein said. The biggest change has definitely been the company's focus. Before, AutoVirt stretched out a wide net for potential clients; today, it markets mostly to recent or future buyers of storage hardware.

“We're closer to the potential customer than we were,” Gladstein said. “Now, e-mail marketing is delivering what they need, and we understand the link between our software and the customer. Storage purchases leads our sale. We didn't know that going in—that storage software is only budgeted when storage hardware is purchased. That knowledge alone was worth the telemarketing campaign.”

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