Five tech strategies to help you ‘tell your story’ and make a sale

“Sell the sizzle not the steak,” is a favourite marketing mantra.

But tech-based businesses are better off expounding on the benefits their product or services provide if they intend to break into the market, according to two industry experts that took part in a series of Web technology workshop in Toronto this week.

“Very often, entrepreneurs get caught up on the technology they developed,” said Mike McDerment, CEO of Freshbooks.com an online invoicing firm based in Toronto.

McDerment is also one of the founders of MeshU, a series of workshops and conferences on how innovations such as Web 2.0 technology and cloud computing can help companies and individuals improve business advantage and processes. The event runs until May 22 at the MaRS Centre.

“Many business owners focus on how the technology works, but their customers want to hear what benefits the product will bring and why they should buy it,” according to McDerment whose invoicing service is positioned against spreadsheet and accounting software such as QuickBooks and Excel.

Start-up businesses must learn to “tell their story” and recognize the “key differentiator” that will set them apart from the competition, according to Reuven Cohen, founder and chief technologist for Enomaly Inc., a Toronto-based developer of cloud computing products for businesses.

Cohen delivered a presentation at MeshU on how businesses can deploy utility computing – the use packaged resources such as computation and storage as a metered service – to cut down on capital expenditure and maintenance costs.

Here are some tips on how firms can develop a business advantage using traditional techniques and today’s technology:

1. Create an elevator pitchBusiness owners must be able to inform their clients what their company is all about in a concise and effective manner, says McDerment.

“You need a very brief elevator pitch that will reveal three key aspects of your business: what your product or service is; who is it for; and why does it matter.”

This “verbal logo” will form the foundation of your oral introduction to possible clients as well as any information material or Web marketing content.

Technologies to deliver your message may change but just like in the old days, “customers still want to know what benefits you product has to offer and why they should buy it.”

2. Get customer feedbackThere is still no substitute to listening to your customers to determine what they want.

Web 2.0 technologies have increased customer touch points and companies that want to thrive in the current environment should learn to master these tools as they apply to their business.

In addition to face-to-face or phone surveys, firms can also use the company Website to touch base with their clients.

McDerment suggests opening starting a blog “to humanize your business and let customers understand more about your company.”

Blogs can be effective for marketing purposes and damage control when there is a negative issue plaguing the company.

3. Build a communityOne of the powerful aspects of Web 2.0 is its ability to facilitate online communities or social networks.

These communities can be harness to generate “buzz” around a product just as General Motors did when it organized a scavenger hunt that was covered online to coincide with the release of the Pontiac Vibe 2008 model.

In another example, Freshbooks reaches out to a vibrant software developer community by allowing these professionals to develop applications on top of the company application programming interface.

On a more traditional note, the company recently launched a road tour, where employees onboard a recreational vehicle motor around the country gathering customer feedback.

4. Be differentTake the time to identify and develop something that sets your business apart from others, says Cohen of Enomaly.

Many businesses occupy an already crowded market are able to thrive because they have a key differentiator. This could mean developing a new twist to an existing process or technology.

For example, Zimbra Inc., a Calif-based developer of e-mail software developed an open sourced version of the product and immediately generated a large following, said Cohen. The company was recently bought by Yahoo for $350 million.

Cohen also said Twitter, a free social networking and micro blogging service. “The company is basically makes use of an offshoot of SMS (short message service). But it was able to improve on that and enable groups of people to update each other on their status”.

There are now more than 340,000 Twitter accounts with more than 2,000 new one being added daily.

5. Use Google AdwordsFind out how your proposed marketing campaigns are likely to fare on the Web with the use of online search engine optimization tools such as Google Adwords, said McDerment. The service keeps tracks of the most searched words on Google.

For example, Adwords can help business owners determine how many people are conducting Web searches using words that appear on the company’s online campaign. “Using the service, entrepreneurs can tweak their campaign to match the most searched for words and thereby hopefully generate more Web traffic.”

In developing an online marketing campaign, McDerment, also recommends that business owners concentrate in running their company and hire a marketing firm that specializes in Internet marketing.

But in going this route, businesses must first determine the message they want to convey to the public.

“Entrepreneurs must go to the PR firm armed with their story rather than ask the PR firm to make up a story for them”.

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