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Why your SAM program needs a PR makeover

If there’s one thing that history in the world of Information Technology has taught us, it’s that the best ideas aren't necessarily the most successful ones. The difference between the success and failure of many new products brought to market is often great marketing.

Get the value proposition right, convince the audience that they will benefit from what you have to offer and position it at a price (or investment in whatever form) that is perceived to offer great value, and you've got a good chance. It doesn't matter how good you are, failure to do any of these makes your chances a lot less rosy.

I believe the same basic principles apply to Software Asset Management. We’re not talking about the “Why you should buy Snow over SAM solution x,” kind of scenario, but how good marketing is critical to your SAM program. This may be something you hadn't thought of until now, so here are some basic steps towards the successful adoption of SAM across your organization.  

What’s the biggest obstacle to SAM success?

In a typical situation, Software Asset Management is the responsibility of a small team within a much larger organization. Just as the size of the team is disproportionate, so too is the budgetary responsibility, given that software can often account for more than 30% of the organization’s overall IT spend.

It is this tiny team that is charged with optimizing a spend that can run from thousands into tens of millions of dollars. They are the ones that must define the policies around software availability, advise on the best procurement and licensing practices as well as ensure that unused software is reclaimed and reused.

And therein lies the challenge. Policies and procedures aren't worth the paper they are written on (or disk space they occupy, since we’re talking IT!) if they aren't adhered to. Some SAM teams will have the power and authority to dictate and enforce some SAM policies. Many have little of either. And none have complete control of the software estate without one vital element: user buy-in. And that in a nutshell is why marketing – or perhaps in this example, public relations is a better description – is the often-overlooked element of SAM success.  

Engage the experts

Just as you wouldn’t ask your marketing team to undertake a SAM program, it’s unfair to expert licensing experts to intuitively know how to run a successful communications initiative. So look around the organization and identify who can help you communicate with your internal audience.

The chances are that if you’re big enough to be investing in SAM, you’re big enough to have an Internal Communications Manager or team (we have one at Snow, and we’re “only” 500 people strong).

They will understand the culture of the organization and what tools are available to you to help spread the good word about SAM, be that an intranet, regular emails, a newsletter, company meetings, posters etc.   If they’re worth their salt, they can also help shape the way you communicate, what you say and how it is presented in order to maximize its resonance with your target audience.

And speaking of messaging, it’s difficult to overstate how important it is to get the following aspects of marketing your SAM program right.

As a professional marketer myself, there are some basic questions that I ask myself before I undertake any form of communications or PR activity.  They translate extremely well into the SAM environment:  

Q1. What’s in it for me?

We all have an inherently high level of self-interest:  Why should I care? What’s in it for me?  If SAM success rests on user support and adoption (and I believe it increasingly does), you need to understand and articulate what successful SAM means to the end users across the organization.

How will they benefit?  Will they get faster access to the software they need (through self-service)?  Will they be able to manage their own IT budget?  Will they spend less time on the phone or email to the support desk?

The individual benefits will likely be different depending on the scope of the SAM program and the individual organization’s approach to license optimization and compliance, but what remains constant is the need to see the SAM program from the user’s perspective.  

Q2. How do I want to be addressed?

Given what I'm about to write, the irony of me saying this in a 1,000+ word blog is not lost on me (in fact, research suggests blog articles that exceed 1,200 words are seen as more valuable by readers than short ones!).  But the bad news is that, on the whole, people don’t like reading much these days.  So creating a SAM policy and then writing a long descriptive intranet page and/or email about why it’s important is perhaps not the best idea.

Take a look at the Snow website, for example.  Yes, there are still lots of words.  But more and more of our pages feature video content, as all the signs indicate that this is becoming the preferred way for audiences to consume information.

You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a professionally-produced video, but a talking head on camera can often convey more (and give a human face to the SAM project) in a way that’s easier for the audience to absorb.  A video, or multimedia content, is also far more likely to be viewed in full than a written document.  Your email is even more likely to be opened if the subject line includes the word “video” (yes, it’s true!).  

Q3. How do I engage?

Okay, so you've got the audience on-side.  You've convinced them that Software Asset Management is great for both them and the wider organization.  Now what?  It’s important to make it clear what’s expected from the audience; how can they participate in the SAM program and help achieve their personal goals.

If it’s through self-service, focus on making it as clear and simple as possible to understand how the self-service system works (again, perhaps videos will work better than written user guides).  If there will be processes such as software re-harvesting, explain how what the user will experience and what their expected behavior is.  

Shout about your successes

Many initiatives start with a flurry of enthusiasm and activity, but wane over time to the point of becoming ineffective or even long-forgotten.  One way to make sure this doesn’t happen with Software Asset Management is to shout about the successes of the program on a scheduled (perhaps quarterly or six-monthly) basis.

Use whatever media you identified in the initial phases (intranet, newsletter etc.) to continue showcasing the good work that you – and your colleagues – are doing.   And that of course means talking about reduced license expenditure or audit exposure, but it is also means adding information that means something to the target audience.

Point to greater software availability, shorter average waiting times for software deployments, more people running the latest versions of approved apps, that kind of thing shows how SAM is adding real value! Use the updates as a way to maintain buy-in and ensure that users keep behaving in the way you want in order to support the SAM program’s overall goals.  

Why you need to act now

It is saddening to see SAM professionals becoming disheartened or frustrated when their programs are not understood or embraced across the organization. Software Asset Management has so many positives to offer that it can sometimes be difficult for those of us inside the industry to understand why everyone else fails to see the same things we do.

The harsh reality is the most people are ignorant of the complexities and risks surrounding Software Asset Management and simply see it as ‘someone else’s’ job to worry about. Of course, we know different. But it is our responsibility to educate our colleagues on why SAM is a team effort and why it will make their lives better to get on board.

That means not preaching or dictating, but putting ourselves in their shoes and articulating the Software Asset Management message in a way that resonates and gains buy-in from across the organization.