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This article was prepared for the January 23, 2002 edition of U.S.

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Where Did All the Customers Go?

Once upon a time David Barry did virtually no

marketing for his company, David Barry Consulting, a marketing

communications

firm that works with customers in high tech industries. Now, Barry,

who moved his business from California to William Livingston Court

in Princeton several years ago, spends 20 to 25 percent of his time

marketing.

The downturn in high tech has affected Barry’s company — whose

longtime clients include Cisco, Intel, and Apple — as it has

nearly

every business that caters to high tech firms. On Thursday, January

31, at 4 p.m. Barry speaks on "Where Did All the Customers

Go?"

at an event sponsored by the New Jersey Technology Council, and taking

place at the Sarnoff Corporation. Cost: $40. Call 856-787-9700.

Barry, who grew up in Westfield, returned to New Jersey because he

and his wife, Susan Barry, an art therapist at the Carrier Clinic,

and also a New Jersey native, wanted to move back east. Barry, a

graduate

of Syracuse University (Class of 1976), went to California after

graduation

and worked as a freelance writer for a number of publications,

including

the San Jose Mercury News, before taking a job with PR firm Regis

McKenna. There he worked with high tech clients, and found he enjoyed

"helping them deliver a message," a process which, he says

wryly, "can take some doing."

With skills and contacts under his belt, Barry went out on his own,

writing white papers, presentations, websites, brochures, and annual

reports for clients whose businesses are not always easy for the

layman

to understand. Largely from word of mouth, he built a client roster

that kept him busy for a number of years. But by the time he moved

back east, tech was in trouble, and keeping an even flow of work

became

a somewhat greater challenge.

Barry had to work at keeping projects flowing in, and found these

techniques valuable in doing so:

Develop a niche. A theme Barry returns to again, and

again,

this is his most important piece of advice. "Pick a segment,"

he says. And really get to know it. That way, when you call a

potential

client, "they know you are familiar with their issues, you speak

their language." Clients can feel that "right away," he

says. There’s no faking an intimate knowledge of medical equipment

or semiconductors. You know the players and the issues, or you don’t.

Do consistently excellent work. Nothing substitutes for

word of mouth. Strive to make every project fit a client’s needs

exactly,

and the word will get around. Working with a client is

"iterative,"

Barry says. As work progresses, he asks: "Is this what you’re

trying to say?" It’s a matter of honing the work until it is

perfect

for the client’s purposes. "You’re trying to get down to what

they want," says Barry.

He has seen that many writers write what they want, not realizing

that they have to listen to the client every step of the way.

Use warm E-mail. There is no better way to stay in touch

with potential clients than by sending E-mail, but no better way to

make enemies than by sending cold E-mail. Everyone’s in-box is

overflowing,

and few people have any interest in opening mail from people they

don’t know. Warm up E-mail by keeping a list of E-contacts, and

sending

them notes about matters of mutual interest. Barry has found this

an excellent way to keep his business fresh in the minds of clients

and potential clients.

Be a joiner. Pick a small number of professional or

industry

groups to join, and then participate enthusiastically. This is a fine

way to make contacts and build business.

Speak. Groups of all kinds are constantly searching for

good speakers. Think of interesting, helpful subjects, prepare

entertaining

presentations, then contact Chambers of Commerce, trade groups,

professional

groups, or niche groups (Latino women entrepreneurs, for example)

and offer your services. You will meet potential clients, and gain

credibility.

Don’t give away the store. Barry thinks hard before

addressing

the issue of dropping prices in a down economy. "It’s an

issue,"

he admits, but he doesn’t think it’s a good idea. Where a client is

exerting pressure, he says it’s better to come up with an idea that

will preserve rates, while still saving the client money. Sometimes,

Barry says, he will suggest that a client’s in-house writer come up

with a draft that he will then polish.

Smart marketing is now a necessity for consulting businesses

that serve high tech companies. Someday — maybe soon — there

will again be too much work, and marketing will seem unnecessary.

When the big issue is getting everything done, rather than pulling

in enough work, marketing often goes out the window. It’s hard to

make time for it. Still, says Barry, it is a good idea to keep lessons

learned in a downturn in mind, and make marketing an integral part

of every business.


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