Date: 7-9-99

Topic: Selling technology to nontechies

Selling technology to senior management, end users, and other nontechies

by Robert W. Bly


When selling software to businesses, you often have to appeal to three different buying influences within each company:

1.      Senior management – CEOs, CFOs, COOs, vice presidents.

2.      End users – often middle managers or administrative staff.

3.      IS – Information Systems professionals ranging from programmers to systems analysts.

The first two audiences consistent primarily of people who are not techies. And these non-techies care about different things, and respond differently, than the traditional IS technology buyer.


Nontechies are results-oriented, interested in the ends rather than the means, the bottom line rather than the process. They lack interest in the details, preferring to focus on the “big picture.” Most nontechies simply want to resolve problems; engineers, scientists, and programmers enjoy actually working on problems.


The result is that nontechies are more interested in benefits, business results, and the reputation and credibility of the vendor. IS, by comparison, tends to focus on technical issues including platforms, scalability, interoperability with existing systems, reliability, specifications, limitations, and ease of implementation, operation, and maintenance.

Price and value


When generating leads for expensive enterprise software, quote the price in the terms that seem most palatable – for instance, per user or per site license. Demonstrate, if it exists, the rapid return on investment.

For instance, a mailing for SurfControl, an application that monitors and controls employee Internet usage in organizations, informs the recipient that surfing the Internet for personal rather than business reasons costs $300 per employee per week. (Copy claims that 4 out of 5 hits to the Playboy Web site are from Fortune 500 companies!) The letter then positions the license fee of a few dollars per user as a drop in the bucket compared to the savings SurfControl can generate.


For high-end software representing a major corporate investment, the goal is often to get an appointment with the decision-maker. The offer then becomes, in essence, not the software, but rather the initial meeting – which is frequently positioned as a needs analysis or assessment, to be followed by recommendations. Of course, the seller’s goal is to gain the information needed to provide a quote or proposal the buyer will accept.


For both lead generation and mail order, premiums are proven response-boosters. Premiums that have worked well for technology marketers include white papers, computer books, audio and video cassettes, free software, free support, free training, seminars, and electronic conferences that the user accesses via telephone (for voice) and, optionally, the Web (for visuals).


Another popular premium is to offer a simple calculator that demonstrates the potential return on investment to the prospect if they purchase your product. This is typically an Excel application on a disk. The prospect inputs his business scenario and instantly discovers whether your product will pay off for him.


Select a premium that is highly desirable and ties in with your product or service. A Web design firm, for instance, offered “four free digital photos of your key staff, postable on your Web site.” When the rep visited the prospect, she carried a digital camera, took the photos, and immediately gave the disk to the prospect. Of course, the prospect wanted the photos posted on their Web site, something which could be done as part of the “Web site makeover” service the Web consulting firm offered for a fee.

Response mechanisms

There are four basic response mechanisms: paper reply forms (fax-backs, reply cards, and reply envelopes), online (e-mail or logging on to a Web site),

phone, and fax.  Since you never know which reply method a particular prospect prefers, why not offer them all? At a recent marketing conference, one software executive said, “Every software prospect is on the Internet today. It’s a waste of time to offer any other response mechanism.” A colleague from his company disagreed. “I don’t want to log onto the Internet if I’m not already online just to respond to an ad or mailing,” he said, insisting that for him, a toll-free number or reply card is more convenient.


While it’s generally safe to assume IS professionals are comfortable responding by going to your Web site, don’t make that assumption with nontechies. Some can access the Web but are not comfortable with it and prefer not to. Others, amazingly, don’t even know how to get onto your site!


One tip: Always offer the Web as a response option when mailing to IS professionals – especially those involved with the Internet. Also, if you sell software, such as the latest antivirus or Y2K program, that prospects may want to try immediately, make it available for downloading from your Web site. You can let prospects download a demo version for free or the full program if they supply credit card information.


The key to success? Talk to businesspeople in their language, not yours. Show that if they give you a dollar, they’ll get back two dollars. And test – sales appeals, offers, pricing, response mechanisms, copy, graphics, formats, and premiums. Don’t assume you know which will work best. Instead, let your prospects tell you. Makes sense, doesn’t it?


            Robert W. Bly is a freelance copywriter specializing in business-to-business, high-tech, and direct response. He can be reached at