Company: Softrax Corp.
Contact: Stephen Foster, Director of Marketing Programs
Location: Canton, MA
Industry: Business Software (B2B)
Annual revenue: $27,000,000
Number of employees: 125
Softrax Corp. is the developer of enterprise revenue management and billing software designed to automate a company's entire revenue cycle, including revenue recognition, reporting, and forecasting, as well as complex billing and contract renewals. Effective as these solutions may be, they also tend to be pricey, and therefore not an easy sell.
Softrax realized that its pitch would be more effective if potential customers better understood the many complexities—and opportunities—associated with revenue reporting and so recognized for themselves the advantages of automating such functions. Accordingly, the company embarked on a new marketing strategy based almost entirely on educating the marketplace.
At the core of this strategy was a series of informative monthly webcasts presented by government and industry authorities. The "Executive Webcast Series" served as a broadcast medium to educate viewers on topics that related directly or indirectly to Softrax products, but did not specifically market those products.
The webcasts were initially an expensive undertaking, but Softrax has worked relentlessly over time to refine the program by accessing more suitable technology and improving the brand experience without compromising its soft-sell approach. By trying different vendors until it found a good fit, Softrax was able to dramatically lower the costs of the webcasts and turn them into one of its most cost-effective marketing mediums. Webcast attendance—and the resulting sales—skyrocketed after Softrax was able to develop a simpler, more economical method of webcasts offered via personalized email.
Enterprise revenue management is a crowded space. Many of Softrax's competitors used expensive classic advertising or sometimes suspect guerrilla marketing techniques to promote their products, so Softrax sought a different approach. It decided to educate the market on the issues its products addressed—without directly promoting the products—allowing potential customers to realize the value themselves.
Monthly webcasts were the cornerstone of this soft-sell strategy, offering prospective and existing customers expert information and real-life solutions to their everyday revenue-recognition and government-compliance issues.
The company considered that approach very effective for "getting our brand and message either directly or indirectly in front of an audience of high-level executives...the people we know we need to be talking to," said Stephen Foster, Softrax's marketing programs director.
But at an average cost of $5,000 to $6,000 per event, these webcasts were fairly costly. Softrax aspired to both lower cost and increase brand awareness, which could offset costs in the long run.
Besides the obvious need for reliability, Softrax also wanted webcast-hosting technology that let attendees effortlessly view the events while speakers easily managed their presentations. Many of the technologies that Softrax had used offered more features than necessary and added confusion to the process, both for viewers and the event speakers.
The company turned to San Francisco e-marketing firm ON24 to provide a platform with straightforward functionality. Starting in 2005, ON24 worked on a new technology to ensure that webcast events went off without a hitch, by making it easy for speakers to get into the system and manage their slides. It also helped to ensure a positive viewer experience with a simplistic webcast design template and a prominent interactive feature for attendees to submit questions to the speaker.
Later, with the advent of VoIP, Softrax was able to dramatically cut its costs by replacing the webcasts' expensive conference-call component with streaming audio. Attendees were therefore able to listen to the presentations directly through their PCs, and each event supported a larger number of attendees.
The webcasts also included the following:
- Corporate branding: The new interface was customizable and permitted Softrax to clearly tie its brand to every event. The webcasts were moderated by Softrax president Robert O'Connor, Jr., who was allocated five minutes at the beginning for an overview of topic points and noteworthy examples before turning it over to the event's speaker, thus offering increased value while also furthering the viewer's connection with the Softrax organization.
- Email marketing: Softrax's customer base was made aware of each new webcast event via an email invitation (a cost-effective method), which also encouraged recipients to spread the word and forward the invite to others who might be interested.
- Consistent follow-up: Using ON24's backend capabilities and the company's own SalesLogix CRM system, Softrax could quickly determine which of the registered guests actually attended an event. Attendees were sent thank-you emails following each event, and those unable to attend were provided with a link to the on-demand version. Furthermore, both groups were offered related information such as whitepapers and articles from Softrax's resource library.
Because Softrax's sales team could track webcast attendance, which library resources a particular party downloaded, and other subsequent activities, potential customers inadvertently "self-qualified" themselves, according to Foster.
"Our internal sales team can tell which problems a company is experiencing and discuss those intelligently with them," he said.
Softrax sales have more than doubled over the past four years, from around $12 million to $27 million, due in part to the company's webcast program, which Foster described as "far and away one of our most cost effective vehicles."
The webcasting technology Softrax employed has helped push attendance to an average of 500- 600 viewers per event, while simultaneously reducing the expense of hosting a webcast from the $5,000-$6,000 range to around $2000.
The improved cost effectiveness ensures that Softrax can continue to offer monthly webcasts that position the company as an authority and resource for the industry. This has helped the company strengthen customer relationships and increase brand awareness without resorting to guerilla-marketing tactics.
"We know we're doing it right," said Foster. "We continue to see phenomenal growth, and we hold our head high. There's a lot of integrity in how we market our products."
Softrax customers clearly see the value as well. About 50% of a given webcast's attendee list has participated in more than one event, on average, and 80% of those who register but miss the event return to the Softrax Web site to watch the webcast or educate themselves through the library resources.
And these customers are spreading the word: Around 10% of event attendees are new prospects who have no previous experience with Softrax or its educational offerings.
- The most effective promotional strategy may lie in helping potential customers to themselves identify the value. By educating its key market through webcasts, Softrax was able to not only avoid costly advertising campaigns but also establish itself as an authoritative resource that its customers trust.
- Shopping around for the right technology is worth the time and effort invested. Softrax had tried several platforms before working with ON24. It realized that while many of those offered extra features, what the company really needed was simple functionality and the ability to brand the webcasts with a customizable interface.
- Don't underestimate the power of viral marketing. By directly asking its customers to forward webcast invites and other email communication to their friends and colleagues, Softrax gradually expanded its contact base an average of 10% per event.
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