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How I sold $20 million of software with a "special report"

Twenty years ago, I was VP marketing for a software firm with a typical problem:

How to stand out in a crowd.

Our company sold data collection software for ERP systems like Oracle and SAP, and resold bar code scanning hardware from Intermec.

On every deal, we were up against two or three much bigger competitors.

We decided to create some print ads, since both Oracle and Intermec at that time published print magazines.

So I sought out copywriting master Ivan Levison from Silicon Valley for help.

Musing about what we could do beyond advertising, he asked, “How about offering a little guide called something like, ‘How to Unlock the Power of Your ERP System’?”

This crumb from his table grew into one of the most powerful marketing campaigns I was ever involved in.

howtounlock - How I sold $20 million of software with a Using his title, I planned a 48-page full-color guide with a story as simple as a children’s book.

It featured two men—a CEO and a CIO—walking through their plant chatting about the many benefits of a data collection system like what we sold.

The final booklet was like a success story compiled from our real-life case studies, rolled into a special report/white paper.

It was packed with photos, sprinkled with factoids and short enough to read in a few minutes.

And none of our competitors had anything like it.

Our total cost was about $25,000, mainly for printing.

And we distributed it only as a printed booklet to give it some “trophy value.” We never sent it out as a PDF or put in on the web as a download.

What kind of return did we get?

Our West Coast sales manager put it best.

“Whenever I go to a meeting and put out copies of our handbook for everyone at the table,” he said, “our company shoots right to the top of their vendor list!”

That little booklet helped us sell more than $20 million of software over the next two years.

Of course, we had a solid product, a great team and a ripe market. But still, that special report helped us stand out from the competition and land sale after sale.

Then the company itself was sold to a much larger competitor who got tired of us eating their lunch.

And much of this success flowed from a casual suggestion that Levison dropped in a phone call.

Fortunately we had enough sense to pick up on his suggestion and run with it.

And I learned an incredibly valuable lesson: There is no limit to what you can accomplish with the right content.

And white papers—aka special reports—are the “king of content.”


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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 300+ white papers for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from tiny startups to 3M, Google, and Verizon. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 50+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. And named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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