Marketing Mistakes By RFID Vendors

By Mark Roberti

At this stage of market adoption, selling RFID is still about targeting those companies interested in investing in a relatively unproven technology.

Last week, I wrote about how frustrating it is that companies seeking radio frequency identification solutions can't find the products that meet their needs (see Hooking Up End Users and Solution Providers). I believe there are a lot of firms out there looking for RFID solutions. I see it in the traffic to our site. But often, they can't find the products they are looking for. Some contact me for help. Many don't.

If the numerous products available were more transparent, potential buyers would find the right solution and deploy it. This would benefit solution providers. Moreover, RFID Journal might write about the deployment and other end users might hear about it and deploy a similar solution. So when one potential user of RFID doesn't find a solution, it slows adoption.

A big part of the problem, I believe, is the vendor community's focus on numbers. What do I mean by that? Well, imagine you are a marketer for an RFID company focused on, say, manufacturing. You have a choice between two events. One is a manufacturing event where there will be 10,000 executives from manufacturing firms worldwide. The other is an RFID event where there might be 100 executives from manufacturing firms.

Most marketers would choose the manufacturing industry event, believing the company's crack salespeople will be able to convince attendees to invest in their RFID solution. It doesn't work at this stage of market adoption, as Geoffrey Moore explains in detail in his seminal work "Crossing the Chasm." But you only need to look around to see that it doesn't work. If it did, most manufacturers would be using RFID. Many RFID companies have tried this approach, only to abandon it when the leads they got were ice-cold.

The same happens with advertising. Companies selling a health-care solution will advertise on a health-care site where no one has expressed an interest in RFID. As a result, they don't have any funding to invest in advertising on an RFID site that is visited by those in health care seeking an RFID solution. Or even if they do have the funding, they think they will reach only a few hundred health-care executives, and they would rather reach tens of thousands, believing that if they achieved a 1 percent conversion rate in both places, they would do much better on the health-care site.

That's sort of like saying you'll sell cars at a shopping mall, because many more people go to the mall than a car dealership. The difference, of course, is that no one goes to the shopping mall to buy a car—they go to a car dealership.

If you are a savvy marketer, ask your salespeople these questions:
• What percentage of time do you meet someone who was not looking for an RFID solution and convince them to invest in a solution? (If they say the percentage is high, ask why your company isn't growing sales 50 percent a year.)
• What percentage of companies in your target industry have deployed a large-scale RFID solution?
• What percentage of companies in your target industry are actively researching an RFID system?
• Where do you think they go to research such a system?
• Would you rather be in a room with 10 executives from companies in your target industry who are actively researching the type of system you sell, or in a room with 1,000 such people, none of whom are researching an RFID solution?
• If you could guarantee that you could get your ad in front of people actively researching a solution like the one you offer, would you want to do that, even if the number of people out there were relatively small?

And the most important question you should ask your salespeople—and yourself—is this: When you get a person researching a solution like the one you offer to click on an ad and they go to your site, what happens then? Unfortunately, the answer, more often than not, is "nothing." Most sites have no lead-capture mechanism or even a call to action that might get a potential end user interested. Too often, an interested party reads some heavy technical information, becomes frustrated and leaves without ever contacting the company.

I don't mean to beat up on the vendor community. I have tremendous appreciation for the great products that companies have developed. I'm just frustrated that they are not as good at marketing as engineering, and that, as a result, their products are not selling as well as they should and thus not benefiting end users as much as they could.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor's Note archive or RFID Connect.