Enterprise technology buyers are some of the most educated buyer types in the marketplace today. I don’t necessarily mean well-educated in terms of schooling, but more so in terms of how much they educate themselves when researching the technology they’re asked to buy on behalf of their company.
When I look at our sales wins here at MindTouch, I check out the individual opportunity records to see what our prospects “consumed” from MindTouch on their way to becoming a customer. 2 years ago, downloading a trial version of the product and reading a case study might have been good enough to move forward with a purchase – today, that’s barely the tip of the iceberg.
Whether it’s a collaboration platform, a specific solution for strategic documentation or a point product for microblogging, technology buyers today are looking beyond datasheets to help make their buying decisions. A major component of “Checklist 2.0” for tech buyers today is a vendor’s online documentation. Yup, documentation.
There are a couple of reasons why: First and most importantly, online product documentation is often the quickest way to find out how to resolve an issue. Buyers want to know that for minor issues they have the ability to figure it out in a self-service manner. This doesn’t replace typical product support, it actually extends it (it drives vendors costs down too, so it’s a win-win). So, if you’re a product marketer, a technical communicator, a content strategist, etc., you have to stop and ask yourself – is my online documentation helping, or hurting, my company close deals?
MindTouch CEO Aaron Fulkerson recently wrote an op-ed for Forbes magazine where he covered the “Evolution of User Manuals” – a great expansion of this subject. You can find it here.
Second, and probably something that marketers don’t want to hear – but it’s true – is that technology buyers today have highly tuned their filters for marketing jargon. Many are turning to available product documentation to see what a product is really capable of, as Monique Bozeman makes crystal clear below.
Some might think that uploading PDF’s of the product manual would be enough. It’s better than nothing, but how quickly will that information become dated? Prospects will see that as a sign of company and product immaturity, almost certainly working against you in a sales situation. It’s one thing to generate documentation, it’s another thing altogether in maintaining it.
If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, How about a Video?
In our discussions with customers we often hear about their plans to use video and other rich media applications as parts of their documentation sites, as a means of accelerating new user education. Imagine a prospect’s level of comfort if they were to find tutorial videos for the product they’re considering buying. Rich media is a great way to create an engaging destination for your customers – and a great way for prospects to find you on their way to becoming customers. Speaking of an engaging destination, stay tuned for a future blog post on adding a social layer to your documentation.
The concept of documentation being a major storefront for our customer’s businesses was a central theme we considered when planning for MindTouch Technical Communications Suite (note: for a great Q&A on how MindTouch TCS came to be, check out this interview with MindTouch CTO, Steve Bjorg). It wouldn’t be enough to simply provide an authoring environment for the web; we’ve already been doing that for years with our collaboration platform.
For online documentation to be truly effective as a ‘deal closer’ – which is to also say, strategic to the business – it needs to be easily discovered, searched and consumed. Another way of saying that – if documentation is part of your prospect’s checklist – make it easier for them to check that box in your favor. If you’re not providing that for your prospects, it’s hard to see how they’d ever become customers.
To borrow a line from our CEO, “your documentation is a storefront – are you open for business?”
Interested in learning more on making your online documentation a customer acquisition tool? Give us a call or fire up a chat session, we’d be happy to walk you through how customers like CompleteGuides.net, Intuit, ExactTarget and RightScale have already done so.