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December 9, 2015
Businesses of all sizes are demanding cloud IT services. According to Forbes, global SaaS revenues are expected to reach $106 billion in 2016 — increasing 21 percent over projected 2015 spending levels. The good news for partners, however, is that according to CompTIA’s 5th Annual State of the Channel Study, 65 to 75 percent of IT products sold to U.S. businesses are delivered through, or influenced by, channel partners.
I’m sure this doesn’t come as a surprise, but if you’re not selling cloud services by now, it’s time to get the ball rolling.
As a channel partner, embracing a cloud-services model means you need a greater number of customers to achieve the same amount of top-line revenue each year, compared with when you were selling, upgrading, installing and maintaining IT in the (more expensive) infrastructure model. This is likely why CompTIA’s research revealed a 64 percent increase in the number of channel firms that expect more revenue to come from new customers over the next two years. Transitioning existing customers to cloud services alone won’t be enough to close the initial top-line revenue gap. The good news is that cloud services let you fish in a much bigger pond since it’s easier to provide service to customers that aren’t in close proximity to your physical locations.
The bottom line: In the cloud era, you need increased focus on new-customer acquisition. And that means stepping up your marketing game to build brand equity, raise awareness and drive leads.
Here are five marketing tips that can help:
1. Know your audience: The IT decision-maker role is evolving. According to Avanade’s Global Survey, 90 percent of companies have non-IT business units that are partially or wholly responsible for technology decisions. On top of that, non-IT departments now control 37 percent of technology spending. We expect budgets to shift even more in the coming years, so it’s important to tailor your message so that it resonates with those who hold the purchasing power. Don’t assume that your audience knows the problem that your solution is solving. If your marketing messaging focuses on speeds and feeds, your message will likely fall on deaf ears. Lead with the business problem, and then present a solution.
2. Have an up-to-date website: According to Kinesis, Web credibility research from Stanford revealed that 75 percent of users admit to making judgments about a company’s credibility based on that company’s website design. On top of that, it takes no more than 50 milliseconds for users to form an opinion of your website, so looks definitely matter — especially when you’re in the technology industry. Invest the time, money and resources into giving your website that facelift; it will pay off in the long run. Furthermore, more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries, including the United States, according to Google’s own data. This means it’s highly likely your website is being viewed from a mobile device, making it necessary to ensure that both your website and your marketing tactics are optimized for mobile to enhance the visitor’s experience.
3. Make sure your website can be found: A great-looking website gets you only so far. If you’re not receiving traffic to generate leads, then the effort you’ve put into building your website is wasted. According to imForza, nearly 93 percent of online experiences begin with a search engine, which is why search-engine optimization (SEO) is a critical marketing tactic. SEO is the process of increasing your website visibility in unpaid search results, a crucial move since 70 to 80 percent of users ignore paid search ads, focusing on organic results. SEO is a highly cost-effective way to drive high-quality traffic to your website. SEO-driven leads have a 14.6 percent close rate, while outbound leads (such as direct mail or print advertising) have a 1.7 percent close rate.
Here are some basic tips that can help boost your SEO:
Think local: Include your location in prominent areas of the site to improve localized search opportunities. Include your city name in the title tag, add individual pages for office locations and link to your Yelp page, as Google tailors search results based on geography.
Optimize your “Title” and “Meta” tags: Title tags are used to describe the title of each webpage when it’s listed after a search, and meta tags are used to describe the page itself. Search engines search by these keywords and deliver search results based on them. Make sure the title tags and meta descriptions that are used on each page are unique, descriptive of the content and make use of your keywords. Most importantly, avoid using the same title tags for every page, and never leave the meta description empty.
Make friendly URLs: URLs should describe relationships and be readable by humans. Use actual keywords in URLs vs. long strings of randomized letters and numbers.
4. Develop a referral program: Many VARs and MSPs acquire new customers via satisfied existing customers who refer business to them. This is an efficient and cost-effective way to grow almost any business. According to Implisit, B2B leads coming from referrals yield more than double the close rates compared with the next best lead source. In order to maximize your referral business, you need to put a formal program in place to encourage referral behavior from your existing customers.
Here are some important things to think about when it comes to B2B referral programs:
Incentive options: Think about compelling incentives that reward the referring individual and company. When thinking about how much you can spend on the incentive, calculate your current customer-acquisition costs. If you’re a profitable business, then you can use your current customer-acquisition cost as the budget for your referral incentive.
Make the process simple: Collect the minimal amount of information that you need in order to follow up on the referrer’s lead and to reward the referrer if the lead converts to a sale. The easier it is for your customers to submit a lead, the more leads you’ll get.
Foster program awareness: Raise awareness among your customers and continue to reinforce that the program exists by encouraging your sales and support reps always to mention the program to customers who express high satisfaction with your solution. Additionally, put in place a way to cross-promote your referral program in your marketing email campaigns (via footer banners or text links, for example), as well other notifications, such as billing/invoicing, that have recipients in other functional departments. This will maximize your program awareness within each customer account.
5. Take advantage of vendor marketing tools and resources: This one may seem obvious, but it’s very important. Great vendors will do everything in their power to make their partners successful. Whether it’s a full library of marketing tools and resources to help you drive demand, hands-on sales assistance to help you seal the deal, or 24/7 technical support, your vendor should be committed to your success. As a channel partner, this aspect of the partnership should be critically important to your vendor-selection process. If your portfolio includes services from a variety of vendors, it’s unrealistic to think that you can become a marketing expert for each and every service — and you shouldn’t have to. Leverage your vendor’s marketing tools and resources to drive demand. If your vendors do not provide you with tools and resources, including a wide-range of sales collateral, product videos, marketing automation tools or self-paced training courses, then it may be time to re-think your partnership.
Make marketing your strength — not your liability. It’s important to be self-aware about your business’ strengths and weaknesses. Don’t wait until revenues slip to the point where you don’t have time to be proactive. Watch performance indicators closely and take course corrective action, where needed, as soon as you notice blips. In order to thrive as a channel partner in today’s world, investing in marketing is an absolute must.
Jon Borgese is director of channel marketing at Intermedia.
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