If only you could hang a big poster above your office and then watch lines of customers crowd through the door. Life would be just grand.
That may have passed as an ersatz marketing strategy when the channel was still in its formative stages and relatively few people outside of the tech cognoscenti knew their way around a computer keyboard. But that strategy is as relevant to the needs of contemporary resellers as is the IBM PC Jr.
Nowadays resellers need to reach prospects who in many cases may not even be aware of their existence. Yet marketing still receives short shrift in an industry where products and sales take precedence over marketing. But there are good reasons why channel executives should rethink market’s importance in their overall sales strategy.
No More Information Deficit
Before the turn of the century, the technology buying experience was more tilted in favor of resellers of technology. If someone wanted information about CRM or ERP, for example, they might attend a trade show or pick up brochures. But eventually, they would contact a channel salesperson, who could leverage their familiarity with the product to close the sale.
The information deficit has since turned into an information surplus. Buyers today can bypass the channel and get instant access to information about new products and technologies. That’s also shifted the constellation of power more in favor of customers. A recent study on line of business buyers completed by CompTIA found that nearly 40 percent of those polled research and finalize purchase decisions before interaction with any selling party.
“If you’re a technology salesperson, you’re going to be sitting for a very, very long time on your chair waiting for a phone call that may never come,” says Dean Ara, principle of Total Product Marketing. “Nowadays, the buyer is very independent of the sales experience. And the buyer is only going to call you when he or she needs a little bit more information and wants to check out and compare vendors and partners.”
As a result, “The marketing person is no longer someone who just sets up events at trade shows,” he added. “They have to take active roles in educating prospects—or else the prospect will never come to you for buying information. That’s the No.1 thing that’s changed from 20 years ago.”
Younger generations of resellers who grew up with the internet as their new normal may well take all of this in stride as standard operating procedure. But older VARs and MSPs, who started in business running IT shops, may not naturally think of involving marketing as part of their overall sales strategy.
It’s this cohort that’s most in need of revising the role of marketing in their operations. And they can start by avoiding three common mistakes.
- Don’t lull yourself into believing that customer support is a differentiator. As Ara notes, great customer service is only the equivalent of table stakes in this game. “Lots of resellers may say, `We take care of customers. Go ask John, my client,’” he said. “Well, I’m sure that John is happy with you but how do you prove that? The reality is that buyers aren’t going to go talk to `John’ to find out about your company.”
- Don’t believe there’s one-size-fits all marketing and that the same tactics apply, no matter where the prospect is in the buying cycle. As potential customers move through their various stages, from awareness to making a decision, you’ll need different content, different resources, different approaches and different ways to speak to them. Unless resellers understand where their prospects are within the buying cycle, closing the deal turns into a crapshoot.
- Don’t go AWOL. If you fail to maintain a consistent marketing cadence, you risk diluting your message to the market. Sudden bursts of marketing followed by long lapses of silence only confuse customers. If you suddenly go missing, don’t be surprised when they disappear as well.
Hiring a Marketing Maven
Should you hire someone with technical chops who hails from inside the organization or look outside for a candidate well versed in the ABC’s of marketing?
Obviously, there are pluses and minuses to both approaches but the ideal candidate would be someone who can speak both languages. No one wants to listen to techno jumbo all day long. And so a marketing maven who can take technical jargon and distill the necessary information to prospects is going to be worth every penny they get paid.
If you can’t find one, then look internally for candidates with a command of the marketing challenges facing the organization. They should be able to convert customer input into actionable tactics, both from a marketing perspective as well as from the operational side. Think about moving up a technical operations person or an engineer with the aptitude for taking on the new role. They already know their way around the organization and will be familiar with its sales challenges. Another bonus: It can help improve the sometimes fractious relationship that builds up between sales/engineering and marketing.
Plan of Action
As UCLA’s legendary basketball coach John Wooden noted on many an occasion, failing to plan is the equivalent of planning to fail. It applies to marketing equally. Good marketing must align with the company’s other goals to communicate the true value proposition to customers. So if a reseller changes sales goals or branches into a new technology area, it’s also probably a good time to update the marketing plan as well.
Play up the organization’s strengths. Everyone talks about “value add” but marketing ought to highlight a company’s expertise. Demonstrate why you can decipher customer pain-points better and transmit that message across your network of marketing communications. A specialist with customized computing solutions has more to offer than the proverbial jack-of-all-trades, especially when it comes to understanding customer needs in complicated areas like cloud computing.
Develop authority in your market by demonstrating thought leadership. Marketing doesn’t have to be costly. So learn to blog and supply relevant news and research that’s tailored to the needs of your customers. This isn’t a one-and-done exercise and should be part of a long-term plan to cultivate connections with your readers.
Finally, make sure that the company name gets seen.
Organizations can interact with customers on all available digital platforms—mobile, social, email—and so it’s important to supply a steady stream of relevant blog content and outreach via e-newsletters and social media. Also, get to know the ins and outs of search engine marketing so the company’s messages have a better chance of being viewed by the people you want to influence. A good marketing person understands the ABCs of SEO and the importance of being found via Google and paid ads as well as through content marketing and market automation.