Marketing expert Robin Robins groups most of the channel companies she works with into two general types.
The first, she describes as the “high achievers,” those companies that already execute fairly well and belong to all of the major industry peer groups, seeking the slightest edge to help them be more competitive.
Then there’s the other type.
“The desperate guy, it’s the guy who is deeply unhappy about his lot in life,” Robins explained. “They’ve been in business for a long time and they feel like they should be further along than they are; ‘I’m still doing tech work. I haven’t been on vacation in forever.’”
“They built a job for themselves,” she said. “At some point, they decide they want to build a new business.”
In 2002, Robins launched her channel sales and marketing consultancy, Technology Marketing Toolkit, after years in the business working with major tech companies.
Thousands who ascribe to her method are gathered at the Omni Hotel in downtown Nashville, Tenn., this week for her annual IT Sales and Marketing Boot Camp.
Now in its 10th year, it’s typically one of the largest conferences for IT services and solutions providers each year.
It doesn’t take long to appreciate Robins’ grasp of the art of sales and marketing.
Evidence can be found on the Boot Camp web page, which explains her “outrageous better-than-your-money-back” guarantee:
“If after attending the ENTIRE Boot Camp you are not thoroughly convinced that this event was worth every single penny of the tuition you paid and the time you invested, just hand in your materials and say, ‘This wasn't what I expected,’ before you leave, and I will refund 100 (percent) of your money – no hassles. And for your trouble, we'll ALSO refund your airfare and hotel up to $300 in addition to your registration.”
Feast or famine
Robins estimates she’s worked with about 8,000 IT firms, including everything from MSPs and VARs, to computer repair shops.
Every company that takes part in Robins’ program is surveyed early and often.
As with most channel firms, about 80 percent of her clients are doing under $1 million in revenue.
Roughly 15 percent are doing between $1 million and $10 million, while about 5 percent are doing $10 million or more.
At the heart of her approach to advising channel companies lies a fundamental truth: Many channel companies hate sales and marketing, often because they don’t know how to do it well.
“Really, they’re not doing anything,” she said of many of the firms that come to her.
“They say they do social media marketing,” Robins went on. “What they mean is they have a LinkedIn page, they have a Facebook page but they’re not strategic about it.”
That often leads to other challenges.
“They’re relying on referrals,” she said. “They get referrals if a referral happens to blow their way. They’re not doing any sort of strategic outreach.”
She cited a recent poll of 1,800 MSPs who reported averaging just one qualified lead per month.
Nearly all of her prospective clients – 95 to 98 percent, she estimates – are unable to describe their target customer.
“‘Anyone with 10 to 100 computers?’ That’s not a market,” Robins said. “How many are in your market area? They have no idea.”
Given that the best prospective customers are largely already outsourcing their IT, effectively selling to those SMBs requires a compelling argument.
“What are we going to say, when you show up, to make them go through the pain of switching their services over to you?” she asked. “They don’t know who they want as a customer and they can’t articulate why someone would want to hire them.”
“Because of that, if they lose a customer, they’re in trouble; they’re in this ‘feast or famine,’” Robins added. “They have no certainty in their sales pipeline and that’s a recipe for trouble.”
‘Pretty marketing collateral’
Technology Marketing Toolkit’s strategy for helping service and solution providers to solve those problems is tried and true.
“The lifeblood of sales is lead generation,” Robins said.
“I solved this problem a long time ago,” she added. “The harder part is changing their mindset.”
IT people, in her experience, harbor an inherent aversion to sales and marketing.
“They’ve got all this negativity about asking people for (the sale),” Robins said. “They look at the quote that they need to charge and they end up discounting it.”
“They don’t want to bother people,” she continued. “They just want to sit behind a desk, they want the email they can send out, they want the one thing that’s going to bring more customers.”
Once the client is mentally prepared, the program teaches them what is truly required to get serious about sales and marketing.
“There are a lot of vendors in this industry that try to give their partners marketing materials and I say ‘it’s never going to work,’” Robins said. “It’s pretty marketing collateral.”
“I’ve got to give them something they can really trust, that’s really going to work,” she said.
The Technology Marketing Toolkit program offers three basic tiers.
At the entry level, a company can sign up for a self-guided program for $2,997 a year.
For $4,500 a year, the self-guided program can be enhanced with a Rapid Implementation Workshop.
“We walk them through the implementation of it,” Robins explained. “We bring them to Nashville and we take two days and walk them through ‘here’s how you plan a marketing campaign’…I go through some very necessary fundamentals.”
“After that, we do weekly coaching calls over the next 12 weeks,” she said.
About 370 companies looking to improve performance as quickly as possible, pay $1,497 a month for a Producer’s Club membership, which includes quarterly meetings, benchmarking and a wide range of in-house marketing services.
“We do a lot for them,” Robins said, “direct mail; we do the website.”
And though she’s clearly running a very successful business, Robins insisted her compensation goes beyond financial rewards.
“When I look at any one of these guys, when I see them succeed and start to really achieve, when they get out of the anxiety, when they feel like they’re proud of themselves – to me – that’s the biggest payoff,” she said. “I love to see our members succeed.”
This article is part of a series entitled “MSP Whisperers,” which looks at the distinct approaches of top consultants in the MSP space.
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