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When Cliff Conneighton worked as an industry analyst at a technology consultancy, he took some clients' advice: Check out Lotus Notes.

"I liked the product so much I joined the company," says Mr. Conneighton, who came aboard Lotus Development Corp. in late 1992 to spread the word.

Lotus Notes is a computer software package designed to make groups of people work together more easily. It works in tandem with special business applications, such as large databases shared by many users, in much the same way computer operating systems like Microsoft Windows need applications software like word processing.

Though introduced five years ago, Notes languished as a "technical curiosity," says Mr. Conneighton, director of marketing for communications products. Lotus previously had aimed marketing at corporate technical "visionaries," and customers had to buy Notes directly from the company.

The 44-year-old Mr. Conneighton, a former product marketer at Digital Equipment Corp., helped Lotus radically alter Notes strategies. The idea, he says, was "to build an industry around the product."

Lotus signed up thousands of "business partners"-ranging from local computer distributors to giants like Andersen Consulting-to sell, service and customize Notes and applications software.

The company also worked to sell analysts and the press on the product. And Lotus and Boston agency Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos switched ad focus-from what Notes is to what Notes does.

They followed that with a customer testimonial campaign.

Behemoth Microsoft Corp. is likely to introduce the first major challenge to Notes before yearend. But Mr. Conneighton isn't cowering.

Notes will surpass 1 million users this summer, and has the momentum to stay in the lead.

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