Last year was a pivotal year for the OpenNMS Group. In addition to having our five year anniversary, we finally hit a critical mass of customers that found us with some discretionary income. We used most of it to hire new people, but we felt it was time to actually spend some money on marketing OpenNMS.
In the past I’ve had a personal distaste for marketing. I always saw it as, well, something close to lying. For example, in my last post I talked about a company claiming its web site is “the epicenter of all open source projects that relate to IT monitoring” when it clearly is not.
But that is par for the course for many companies. They don’t have a story to tell so they have to make one up, or at least embellish the news they have. This is because their ultimate goal is to be purchased by a large company, preferably in a short amount of time, and so they have to seem bigger and more popular than they really are. Hence the emphasis on downloads and web site registrations, etc.
I count our success based on happy customers and money in the bank.
To me, a project is more successful that has 50 people who find it valuable versus one million who download it and never use it.
Our mission statement of “Help Customers, Have Fun, Make Money” has produced happy customers, and we’d like to have more. Specifically, we’d like to have more customers for whom OpenNMS is a great solution. As a services company it does us no good to have a client that is a poor fit. We just end up working harder for a client who can’t be made happy. We want to focus on getting the word out about the value of using OpenNMS to those people who most need it.
Enter marketing – a way to focus on introducing the value of our services to those who would truly value it.
Last year I hired two people to help us come up with (gulp) a marketing strategy. I am lucky in that they have turned out to be amazing.
The first was Phil Marsosudiro. I’ve known Phil for over 25 years. We met in high school at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. NCSSM is a two-year public residential high school for students to focus on mathematics and the sciences at a level not normally available in a public school environment. It was a great experience, and I met some amazing people – Phil being one of them.
Phil and I share the same philosophy when it comes to business. The idea is not to take as much money as you can, as fast as you can, from customers, but to instead create value for them that allows both parties to make money.
He brought Margaret Gifford to our team. Margaret is the first “real” public relations person I have ever worked with, and I am surprised someone of her background happened to be local. She’s been a Senior VP at Ogilvy and worked in corporate communications at Hewlett-Packard, among other things.
Together, they are a marketing dream team.
Since neither of them had a background in open source software, I had to tell them about our business. It was harder than I thought. When you work day in and day out in a particular field, you start making assumptions about what people know. To me using open source software is a no-brainer, but to the majority it is still somewhat of an unknown. Going through the exercise of explaining what we do and why it is valuable to people outside of the field was enlightening.
The first thing we focused on was why the heck would anyone need network management in the first place, much less open source network management. This literally took a couple of weeks.
What we came up with is that network management is a lot like maintaining an automobile. If you buy a brand new car and do little maintenance, it will run fine – for awhile. But without oil changes, new filters and keeping it clean it won’t last nearly as long as it could, and the investment made in buying a new car will yield a lot less than it should.
It’s the same way with computer hardware and software. Companies, at least successful ones, invest in information technology in order to provide some sort of productivity gains that should translate to the bottom line. But unless they have management, it is almost impossible to tell if it is providing value, and without the ability to tune it and detect problems, one can be sure any positive value will be less than what it could be.
Which is why they need OpenNMS. In Phil and Margaret’s words, the OpenNMS Group is there to “Get the Network to Work™”.
I know it sounds a little “sales-y” but that is at the heart of what we do. Papa John’s isn’t in the business of buying servers or building a website – they are in the business of providing quality food to their customers as quickly and easily as possible. The servers and the websites are there to enable that, but they aren’t the reason the company exists.
The next hurdle was to be able to tell people why an open source solution like OpenNMS was better than commercial software. I’ve known for years that OpenNMS was more powerful, scalable and flexible than things like Unicenter, Tivoli and OpenView, but how to get that across to people who haven’t “walked the path”?
Now a lesser marketing person would just put words up on the website claiming to be better. I could imagine seeing something like:
OpenNMS can expedite virtual paradigms and benchmark mission-critical technologies in order to grow ubiquitous solutions and visualize visionary experiences with the final goal to repurpose value-added experiences and harness magnetic relationships.
(I had help with that)
I hate stuff like this. Instead, Margaret insisted that the reasons to use OpenNMS and the OpenNMS Group should come from the people who use it and find it valuable, and not from the people who make it.
After months of hard work, I’d like to present the new OpenNMS Group website. While there is a lot of text describing what we do, the emphasis is on the stories from our customers. At launch we have been able to get two case studies approved, with many more in process.
The first is from New Edge Networks. If I had to pick a company that shared our dedication to helping customers and having fun doing it, New Edge would be at the top of the list. I’ve been able to watch them grow over the years, and OpenNMS has been able to grow along with it. In their environment, OpenNMS gathers data which is presented directly to their end users. At the moment this means data collection on over 160,000 interfaces. This is something that the most expensive commercial products would have trouble doing.
The second is Papa John’s Pizza. They were the first company to allow on-line ordering at 100% of their US stores, and OpenNMS makes sure that billion dollar business is working smoothly. We are now working on a project to extend that to manage all of their 3,400 stores worldwide and not just the data center.
But enough talking from me – read about it in their own words. These are the people that we help, have fun with and together we make money. We want to meet more.
Shouldn’t that really be the role of marketing?