At OpenNMS it seems that we are always doing things backwards. We didn’t spend any time working on a business plan and seeking investment, we just started to provide services and running a profitable business. We didn’t hire any dedicated sales people, because we found that our technical people are the best at sales. And we pretty much let the project market our business.
I don’t like marketing. While I enjoy finding out about new things I might want to buy, or things that may help solve a problem, too much of marketing seems to be about creating an artificial need than actually helping customers. I know that’s a little harsh, but I’ve seen too many marketing campaigns that either rely on superlatives (“We’re the best, everyone else sucks, buy me!”) or fear (“You’ll lose your data, you’ll lose your job, you’ll lose your money unless you buy me!”) that I just get turned off by the whole mess.
And we’ve done well without any marketing. I still wince when someone posts to the opennms-discuss list with “Is there commercial support for this and where do I find it?” but I’d rather keep OpenNMS the Project distinctly separate from OpenNMS the Services Business than gain a sale or two.
But something happened that made me rethink our need for marketing. We were talking with a potential client in the UK. They had talked to most of the commercial players as well as the commercial “open source” players and then they came to us. David talked with them a bit, and this is the reply I got:
Talking with Dave was an eye opener for $COWORKER and myself, I was under the right impression already from the email discussions I have been having with Jeff and yourself. We find you guys very honest and easy to discuss with about our environment and the challenges we currently face.
We got the PO.
What we provide is a very personalized, results focused experience. The fact is that if OpenNMS is not a right fit for your organization, we don’t want you as a client. We’d just end up spending hours upon hours trying to get OpenNMS to do something it isn’t designed to do. It doesn’t work for us, it doesn’t work for the client. So we’re very eager to learn about the goals for a potential OpenNMS deployment as well as being quite honest if it doesn’t fit. A software company, on the other hand, hopes you’ll buy the product and not use it. If you use it, you might need support, and in their business model one of the best cases is if it becomes shelfware, since support costs money and reduces margins. At OpenNMS we have to provide great service since you can always just continue to use the product without us.
But how do I get this across?
Since I suck at marketing, I needed to find someone who understood it and who understood open source. Then I remembered a woman I met at BarcampESM.
As luck would have it, Michelle Greer understands both and she had just started her own company, SimpleSpeak Media.
Dave, Matt, Ben, me and Michelle
So for once I got to be the customer and order me up some of that consulting mojo. Michelle came up to metropolitan Pittsboro for a couple of days and really helped us work out a plan. For one thing, she pointed out that the .org site gets 50K unique visitors a month, and the .com site … 2500.
We still have a number of things to finish, but I think that soon we’ll have a … well, I think it’s called a “campaign”. Something that stays true to our free and open roots and makes it easier for our community to help overcome any resistance they may find in their organizations to FOSS.
If you’re in the same boat with respect to marketing, give Michelle a shout.