It sounds like a simple strategy: Host a contest to give one small business customer a free extreme technology makeover. And use all the publicity around the event to fuel your lead generation efforts. But here's what can go right -- and wrong -- with the extreme technology makeover contests that VARs and managed service providers are hosting.
My thoughts for this blog are based on a panel I moderated at the 2009 HTG Summit last week in Dallas. The panel members included:
- Steven Harper, co-founder of Network Management Group Inc. (NMGI), a solutions provider in Central Kansas.
- Joddey Hicks, an account manager and location manager from Heartland Technology Solutions.
- John LaLonde, a business development manager for North Central Area, representing the Microsoft Local Engagement Team.
- Erick Simpson, CIO of MSP University, which educates vendors and VARs about the MSP business model.
The ConceptAt its core, a technology makeover is a free contest hosted by a solutions provider, VAR or managed service provider.
- The stated goal: Award one small business or non-profit organization a free technology makeover to help that organization become more productive.
- The hidden benefit: Lots of lead generation and publicity for the VAR, solutions provider or MSP.
- Planning: What is the goal of the contest, how will it be judged, and what are the measurable outcomes?
- Funding and partnerships: You'll need to pitch your plan to potential vendor partners (hardware, software, services) that can offer free or sharply discounted products as part of the contest. A typical contest might offer a free Microsoft Small Business Server with five client access licenses, plus free hardware from a server manufacturer. The value of the "free" technology typically ranges from a few thousand dollars to $25,000 or more.
- Promotion: Harper from NMGI promotes his contests across the web and on local television. His latest extreme makeover contest generated 60 qualified business leads -- and many of those leads may generate recurring monthly revenue to NMGI.
- Lead Generation: NMGI uses SurveyMonkey.com to collect makeover information from interested small businesses. The online survey helps NMGI to zero in on businesses that are worthy for a technology makeover. And the data also serves as a lead generation system for companies that may need NMGI services.
- Choosing a Winner: Some solutions providers organize an independent panel of experts (local CIOs, for instance) to select a winner. Other solutions providers simply depend on their own expertise. But all of thse solutions providers hosting extreme technology makeovers use legal documentation to describe terms of the competition.
What Can Go RightAs I mentioned, these contests often deliver solid leads and recurring revenue. Hicks from Heartland Technology Solutions says his company has hosted at least three successful makeovers, while NMGI has secured more than 60 leads for its current makeover.
Contest winners must agree to serve in company promotions, case studies and other materials that help the VAR to promote their business. The result is ongoing buzz that can stretch on for months or even years.
What Can Go WrongThe panel also shared plenty of horror stories that they've witnessed (though they didn't necessarily experience the horror stories first hand).
A few examples:
- Timing: All of the panelists said a makeover contest typically requires six months from start to finish. Some VARs push for 90-day contests and wind up missing self-imposed deadlines.
- Funding: It's increasingly difficult to get free or sharply discounted hardware from vendors during the recession, so most solutions providers are focusing more on software or services makeovers.
- Scope: Some VARs think too big and strive to offer makeovers that blanket 100 or more user desktops. All of the panelists recommended starting far smaller, perhaps with a five-user system makeover.
- Presentation: Simpson noted one horror story, where he heard about a VAR that chose a contest winner without doing a site inspection. Ultimately, the VAR had to refresh the customer's office space (new paint, furniture) in order for it to be presentable for media coverage.
- Bandwidth: Some VARs stumble because they form committees to manage the extreme makeover contest. Committees are fine, but at the end of the day the contest requires a point person who's responsible for the ultimate success or failure of the project.
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