Open Source companies benefit from continuous lead generation in an open ecosystem. They can operate with lower direct sales efforts, because prospects most likely already tried out the OSS product and contact them to agree on a deal. OSS companies can furthermore increase the number of leads with a moderate marketing budget, because their ecosystem contributes to the buzz.
Due to their open communication environment, Open Source ecosystems provide multiple access points to the marketplace for any type of individual and organization, be it do-it-yourself developers or enterprises in search for guarantees in exchange for money.
Potential customers can download and try out the software, consult documentation for instructions, ask in forums, write about their experiences in a blog, buy a book about the software, contact support for help, sign a service level agreement, use an on-demand flavor of that software, etc.
All participants steadily increase the abundance of information in an Open Source business environment and thus make it more likely for sales leads to emerge. Abundant information ecosystems make it more likely to please and sustain curiosity of entrants to the market place. Curiosity killed the cat and fuels Open Source.
In essence, Open Source lead generation is about monetizing the chain of knowledge production related to an OSS product.
It is important for those with a commercial interest, to draw a line between paid and unpaid work which still allows both sides to benefit from each other. For example, if an Open Source vendor receives a technical question per email which they will most likely not get paid for when answering, they should nicely point the questioner to the public forum.
Free support should only be provided via forums or mailinglists. The goal is to build a public knowledge base which allows to raise the overall knowledge of the community and to allow newbies a quicker entry. This leads to professionalization of the whole business environment, more capital in the market and thus to a more profitable business for all members of the ecosystem.
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