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SOTTILE: Business Articles
User Groups
Seats of Power
Power of Risk
Extreme Entrepreneurs
Bottom Up vs Top Down
Axis Power
Pomp & Circumstance
Easing The Pain Of Loss
Devastating Disarmament
Classic Close Calls
Major League Slump
Sales vs Mgmt Income
Contracts: The Bottom Line
PR Lessons From Space
Sexual Healing
Marketing Triggers
Hoist Up Your Sales
Navigational Sales Aids
Taxing Problem
King Of The Hill
Creatives In Conflict
Fathers & Mothers
Fallacy Of Composition
"Tele" Marketing
MHT "Tele" Marketing
User Groups
High Tech Retirement
My current comments about this article:

Importance of User Groups


I hold this truth to be self-evident, but apparently it is not so

obvious to others! Recently, I have come across many software

companies which have not formed a User Group; have no intention

of forming such a group; and have copped extensive rationals for

not doing so... And here I thought that the only questionable

issue was whether a company referred to this group as User's,

Users', User or Users.

Uneqivocally, a strong Users Group is a company's mealticket to

gaining and maintaining market share via its user base. It

generates an "infectious enthusiasm," that pervasively spreads

into a company's prospect base like blood into water causing a

buyer feeding fever. From a marketing/sales perspective there

can be no justifiable reason not to have a User Group. But it

happens....AND WHAT A WASTE! My purpose is to make this fact


Before starting, let's get the definition straight: A User Group

is an association of end-users who share the common element of

having all purchased and/or used a company's product(s). And

that's about all that is common about them, for as we shall see,

these groups come in all forms.


From a users viewpoint, there are some other real reasons

to band together.... To confirm their buying decision; to compare

notes and experiences with other users; to learn new techniques

in the product's application; to validate current procedures; to

set realistic expectations for the product's utility; to see who

else bought the product; and to tell the vendor what they like,

don't like and would like to see improved.

From the vendor's point of reference, User Groups should provide

an occasion.... to "gather the flock" for thanks for their

continuing loyalty; to get focused feedback on product

enhancements and new product direction; to informally off-load

vendor support to mutual support from other active users; to

learn side functionalities and extra market positions; to

announce new products; and to parade the company's growth via the

user base size. Well then...


I offer that it is fear on the vendor's part which blocks the

formation of a User Group. This fear is caused by that little

gremlin, Failure, that is in the back of all our minds. You

know, it's the one which causes our second guessing, feeling

guilty, and being embarrassed. And without a volunteering

vendor, it's very difficult to have a roll call of end-users.

I suppose that you could attribute this uneasiness to the ghost

of all those hotline calls; complaints about documentation, bugs

and the inconvenience of re-releases; plus knowledge of the

functionality-vs-budget trade-offs that had to be reached by

product management which conjure such dark images of users coming

after your corporate throat.

Einstein discovered that something very special happens when

highly charged particles get massed together....and I'm afraid

that what I pastorally referred to earlier as the "gathering of

the flock" is more than likely viewed by vendors as the critical

massing of excitable participants in which the outcome is very

uncertain and potentially explosive.

I'd like to report that such fears are unfounded --- but they are

not. Hostile groups have happened. However, since passive

aggression is as deadly as active, I submit that user hostility

vented.... is a load better than user hostility contained (unless

a company is planning on going out of business, tomorrow).

Consequently, there is only one underlying truth which needs to

be recognized to debunk these fears: WITHOUT A STRONG,






Most of us can recall the sickening futility of Hamburg Hill in

Vietnam where the "prize", the hill, was abandoned after the

costly fight. That's somewhat the feeling I get about companies

that forget prospects once they become users. The companies

leave the prize behind... along with their sunk expenses. Any

cost of sales analysis shows that the expenses are far too great

and the efforts are far too enormous in acquiring an account to

do that.

Yet, here are the rationals offered by companies that do: 1.

We're too small. 2. It's too costly. 3. We don't have the time

and people resource. 4. The users will request too much. 5. The

users will gang up on us. 6. We're apprehensive.

Rather than personally refute each of these rationals, let's look

at four local software companies -- Cullinet, McCormack & Dodge,

BGS Systems and Whitehat Systems -- to see how they have managed

the User Group issue and have benefitted.




Bogus Issue: BGS Systems of Waltham, MA had only 60 users at the

time of planning for their first national meeting. That was in

l980. They had only begun to actively license their software in

l979. Approximately 45 separate users ( about 80 people)

attended. True, this is in sharp contrast to McCormack and Dodge

of Natick, MA which went almost a decade and 900 customers before

formalizing its Users Groups. But it proves the point that a

company needn't be huge to have a User Group. Actually, a

smaller company obtains the greater benefit by massing its

reference base together as soon as financially possible.



Bogus Issue: Whitehat and BGS got their User Groups started for

less than a page in Datamation. Companies dictate the expense

....not the users. It's a matter of a company setting the limits

based on what it can afford or wishes to spend; and the control

that it wants/needs to have.

To illustrate the point, McCormack & Dodge and Whitehat assume

expense by providing administrative support to their Users Group.

Normally this means paying for and handling all of the mailings;

sending staff to attend and present at meeting; providing formal

and informal exchanges; etc. Other costs are borne by the users.

BGS Systems financially supports the entire national meeting

except for the users' travel and living expenses while attending.

Cullinet sort of does the same thing for their User Week.

Regional meetings for both are totally supported by the users...

much like M&D's and Whitehat's arrangement.

These extra dollars invested seem to pay handsome returns.

According to Greg Ware, VP of Sales at BGS, in addition to

providing all the customary functions of a User Group, BGS has

discretely taken the opportunity to turn the annual Users Group

meeting into an excellent closing vehicle by allowing selected

prospects the opportunity to attend. Ware adds that the Users

don't mind, because they (the users) probably came into the fold

in the same manner and are appreciative of the opportunity to

look before leaping. Julie Khuen, Product Marketing Mgr, of

Cullinet in Westwood, MA, reports that her companies allows the

same privilege. "The salesmen love it!" And so they must. Last

year's attendance exceeded 3,000 attendees -- up 40%.

I would too. It's the ultimate reference sell; the ultimate press

of flesh; and the ultimate exposure to "infectious enthusiasm."


Valid Issue: M&D, BGS, Cullinet and Whitehat all have people

assigned to support their Users Groups. All report up through to

the VP of Customer Service or Marketing. These companies have

come to understand that User Groups are all about relationships;

and like others, these require nurturing.

McCormack and Dodge by far has the largest staff of the companies

surveyed to do this. Gina Fulchino, Manager of Customer

Relations, heads the task. She prides M&D with having the best

relations with its users than any other vendor. And well they

might. M&D may have gone a decade and 900 customers without a

Users Group...but, when they saw the light, they S-A-W T-H-E L-


From no Groups in 1979, three types of User Groups (product,

regional, & special interest) have evolved accounting for 8

product groups, 24 geographical groups of which 10 are

international, and 10 special interest groups (i.e. by industry

or by hardware etc,). THAT'S 42! Additionally, Gina's position

was created in 1980; and three other people have been staffed to

assist her. These four matrix with the product managers and

regional offices to get their users group meetings together.

Nice touch! You might say that M&D has made a commitment!



Barely an Issue: John Montgomery, Vice President of Marketing at

Whitehat, learned this after the fact ...but he makes no bones

about Whitehat's initial concerns: "We were very apprehensive

about bringing users together to form an Advisory Council... We

didn't know what to expect... In retrospect, we wish that we had

done it a lot sooner... We discovered that our users believe that

we are heading in the right direction... We even got some ideas

on new market areas... Everybody is excited."

To me , that quote says it all. The fear of failure is grossly

overstated. There are but two questions that need to be

addressed before squaring off with users. First, is your company

making a sincere effort to correct and enhance your current

product/service. Second, regardless of the rate, are these

efforts making a positive difference. Sincerity has its own

beauty... and users are quick to appreciate it.


Well, the arguments may always exist whether it's User's, Users',

User or User .... but there should be no further argument about

the merits of convening such a group. A solid, referencable,

loyal user base is by far the most coveted asset that any

corporation can have. User Groups are the one marketing support

activity that best assures this possession. They insure a

company's product(s) development; they demand a company's

continuing product support; and they hold a company accountable

by requesting your presence at the next "gathering of the flock".

That's a lot of pressure. But, that's what it takes to

continually succeed. And that's why those that contributed to

this article are in various stages of success. Consequently,

that's why you should believe in my rule: WHEREVER THERE IS MORE


GROUP.... ΁


If yes your company should be able to handle the arrows that may

come you way....which more than likely will not come en masse.

More probably, one self-appointed person will attempt to steal

the moment. But sincerity has its own lustre and gallent efforts

don't go unnoticed. The detractor will not find support from the

others who pick up on your sincerity. My recommendations for

those companies which still feel uneasy about handling their

first user group is that they seek the advise of associates in

other companies having users groups, their PR firm or other

consultants familiar with external company relations. And if

after all that advice and consul, there is still apprehension, my

guess is that you've finally got coming to you what you know that

you deserve.

To show the plus side of this concern about asking too much,

according to Ware, BGS over the past four years has taken the

opportunity of their user group meeting to showcase new products

and additional functionalities.

; and perhaps the ultimate exposure

to embarrassment. Hey, just because you buy them lunch doesn't

mean that they won't ask an unfortuneately tough question.

Another way to get started is to follow the path of Whitehat

Systems of Woburn MA. Though the result of a merger between

Interactive Management Systems and Manufacturing Resource

Processing, Whitehat itself is only 15 months of new corporate

age. It just held its first User Advisory Council meeting of 15

selected users who are now to form the Users Group at large.

According to John Montgomery, VP of Marketing at Whitehat, of the

fifteen companies invited to be on the advisory, all sent

representatives -- five sent two. This all leads to my rule



Sottile's Winning Action Team
Tactical Marketing Agency

"Marketing Tactics Make Corporate Strategies Happen!"
                                                                   John Sottile