This week we sat down with Ken Romley, CEO of Zift Solutions, a company that utilizes a custom software as a service (SaaS) platform to help channel partners increase their sales. Romley has worked in the IT industry in various marketing leadership roles and in development for more than 20 years.
TVG: Does the rise of SaaS affect marketing in the channel because of the change in the business model? Does this cause a need for channel partners to have to market their services in a different way?
Romley: You know, if you're just delivering boxes and wiring things together, it's going to be very tough and getting tougher to still have a strong, vibrant, growing business. It's not so much about marketing but mostly about how what people are looking for in terms of the "V" in Value-Added Reseller is changing a bit. We see most companies that have good, strong, growing opportunities tend to be focused on more of the business value these days. What also matters is that a lot of the buyers have changed in many cases, that they're going from IT buyers in many cases to line-of-business buyers. You have to understand where you're going to use their money and what's going to be interesting to those audiences. It's important to understand those people with your business as you're putting together marketing campaigns.
I don't know that that's unique to the channel but it's certainly something that they have to gear up for and make sure that they prepare for. What's unique to the channel is that instead of having to figure this stuff out all by yourself, you can leverage the experience of some giant branch of vendors who have gone through this unknown territory and really found some of the secret sauce that works. Instead of having to go it alone, in the channel you have so many great resources to help navigate this new environment.
TVG: What are the main benefits of marketing automation for channel partners?
Romley: You have to get your message out there, and people aren't going to listen to your salespeople anymore. How to do that effectively is one of these challenges. It's where is your audience is going and what are they reading and what's interesting them.
Marketing automation allows you to, at scale, go and get your message in front of the right prospect and make sure it's the right message so you're not wasting their time. You can be effective at getting them more and more interested in your services, then eventually talking with sales and becoming clients. Marketing automation, like GRM or ERP, is becoming one of the standards to be successful in today's digital environment.
TVG: For channel partners who are SMBs and have very limited resources to devote to marketing, what would you say would be the number one area they should invest in if they want to really optimize their marketing efforts?
Listen to Romley's answer below.
TVG: You spoke a moment ago about working with vendors and co-marketing efforts. Is that what you mean when you say alliance marketing?
Romley: Alliance marketing is something that even goes a step further when not only working with your vendors, but we're starting to put together alliances of people like Red Hat and Cisco and groups that can be even more efficient at setting up their partners as strong leaders. Beyond the direct support that some of these vendors offer, certain ones are coming together in alliances to be even more efficient at providing better abilities to generate pipeline and to generate interest.
TVG: What are the criteria that most vendors are looking at when deciding who's going to get what percentage of their MDF (Marketing Development Funds)?
Romley: They're betting on who's going to be a winner in the future. One of the new dynamics in this environment is instead of just looking at historic sales, there's so much information that's available on the Internet about what prospects are showing interest in what channel partners--a lot of the traffic stats, for example, on who's visiting what pages.
You can get access to that information, and then we get a real feeling for who are up and comers. The data for the first time is available for the vendors to see who's generating interest. It goes back once again to why it's so important to make sure that your website is good because those become the early indicators of who has the prerequisites for success not last year but next year.
We're one of the vendors, I think, that works to have that information for those suppliers, and because we know how it's generated we help a lot of channel partners to make sure that if they have a value prop for a particular segment and that they're generating interest there.
We used to have sales people come and walk people through and get them interested. That's something that's not working as well anymore. You got to figure out how to get your messages where your prospects are looking. That's the marketing automation. That's the campaigns. That's using the experience from great vendors like IBM, Cisco, HP, all those guys. It's hard to do. There's thousands and thousands of companies out there all doing a piece of marketing. It's hard to stay on top of it.
TVG: For partners again who are small and have limited resources, what are the best ways for them to leverage paid search and PPC opportunities?
Listen to Romley's answer below.
TVG: The marketing environment is shifting where the biggest metrics you need to pay attention to are the number of sales qualified leads and the number of actual sales that you are able to make. That's how you once judged marketing's effectiveness, but these days it's different. What KPIs should partners be examining most closely to see if their marketing efforts are working or if they need to be tweaked?
Romley: You still get into sales, but they're going to be lower dollar values. You're doing lifetime value calculations on a lot of this stuff and counting on these things going out longer. You're sort of building that book of business. You still want to see the leads coming in. You just know they're going to be lower dollars.
The big change is instead of measuring just the base amount we’re really looking at lifetime value. One of the other big changes is marketing and all about just getting that first sale. Some of the most effective campaigns we've been running have been the day after a sale to make sure that you're using these same marketing techniques and making sure people are getting the most out of the subscriptions that they're signing up for. There’s an emphasis on the sort of continuous marketing not just to initially bring something in but to also make the best of it that provides for upsell and cross-sell opportunities. It's all part of this new marketing.
TVG: What's the number one thing you wish you could make partners understand about marketing in the channel?
Romley: Number one, that it takes a little bit of time. You have to plan on enough time for making that conversion to build a reputation to increase your SEO score. It doesn't happen overnight.
It's not like where you can just do a big call blitz and immediately know the results. There are indicators that show if you're getting more traffic on your website and if you're getting more engagement. I wish there was some magic bullet that instantly gave credibility. So much of it is prospect directed, that there's tons of case studies about what works, what doesn't work overnight. Those are big pieces. There are 100 things you could be doing, but you can test it out in smaller, phased approaches that are manageable for you and each one of them incrementally provides value.
Because it takes a while, start doing the experiments ASAP. This is the new reality of what works in today's environment. There's lots of matrices supporting that and because nobody has that instant on-switch, it's time for us to move on these things and start doing those experiments, so that they have impact for you.
TVG: Any final thoughts?
Romley: Nobody has all the answers yet, but over time it will get easier. We make it more turn-key, but don't feel frustrated that it's a difficult time, because so much is new, it can be overwhelming. You have to look at some of the big pieces, start with your website and go step-by-step. It's important not to wait too long, because you need to make business today, but these are all smart people doing business--lots of them for a long while. They will get through it, but it's hard for everybody.