I recently attended Software Success's CEO Forum where software executives identified the issues most important to them as:

  • Identifying which users most want their technology.
  • Understanding how customers will use their products and why (i.e., what features are important to them and how the vendor should describe the technology).
  • How to get face to face with customers to generate qualified leads and create demand.

Some vendors expend a lot of time and resources going to trade shows to accomplish these objectives. As a result, they end up doing trial-and-error product development, marketing and sales ­ throwing things out there and seeing what sticks.
How does IT accomplish these objectives? Cross-functional teams or IT/user committees set up to evaluate the technology are often disbanded after the technology is purchased. This creates a disconnect between IT and the users when it comes to implementation.

There is an easier, more effective way to accomplish these objectives, enabling vendors and IT to target the right set of users, create user awareness, assist users through the purchase process and help them make decisions. It's called association marketing. Association marketing works with associations to understand users and provide necessary education and partnerships that facilitate user adoption of new technology.

Six-Phased Approach to Successful Association Marketing

  1. Clearly establish your objectives.
  2. Identify high- priority users.
  3. Find the right associations. If you find that you aren't accomplishing the objectives, either the association or the approach isn't right.
  4. Speak their language. Their objectives are different than yours, but can be extremely complementary when you find the right association (s).
  5. Understand their requirements and make sure that what you are proposing is of mutual benefit.
  6. Establish relationships with the targeted association at the national, state and local levels.

Associations consist of groups of people who share common interests and objectives. An association enables its members to network with peers, be educated, share ideas and exchange information. There are more than 130,000 associations in the United States. Seventy percent of adults in this country belong to an association and 50 percent belong to three or more.1 There are 100 associations for facilities managers alone!

Numerous organizations exist for IT. For example, IT executives have such organizations as Society of Information Managers (SIM). Those who manage data have the Data Management Association (DAMA). There are associations for operating systems, such as the OS/2 User Association.

The challenge is that people tend to migrate only to those associations that apply to them and tend not to go where their customers go. They network with their peers but not with their customers. Yet it is the associations your customers belong to that provide the strongest ally in achieving the objectives presented earlier.

In the early 1990s, MIT conducted a study on people's adoption of new technology and new information. They found that:

  • 10 to 15 percent will try new technology or adopt new information with or without assistance. These people are the early adopters. If you are reading this column, you are more than likely in this group.
  • 10 to 15 percent will never adopt regardless of what's done or what happens. We all know a few of these in our organizations or at our customer sites . They may have a computer on their desk, but they don't use it. Or, if they do use a computer, they only use it for a basic function such as word processing or e-mail.
  • 70 to 80 percent will adopt, but they need assistance. These are the people we can reach and influence through associations.

Members look to their associations for assistance in learning and understanding new concepts. They look to associations for help with buying decisions. This is especially true when members are looking to adopt new technology. Users trust their associations, so the associations provide a level of credibility not available elsewhere.
Associations are invaluable allies in the customer adoption process. Associations know their members, so they can help vendors and IT understand how users will use the technology and why. As a result, product development, marketing and sales efforts can be more focused and effective. In the process, users will be better served.

This year's columns will focus on the users' perspective ­ how users use the newest technologies and why ­ as the basis for increasing the adoption of new technology.

1 Washington Business Journal. September 26, 1997.

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