The Channel Has Changed. Channel Marketing Needs to Catch Up

To say the IT channel has undergone a profound transformation is a vast understatement.

We were originally dubbed a “channel” by IBM, whose rule was that nobody but IBM can sell IBM. So they created a reseller “channel” by selling to aggregators or distributors, who sold to resellers who sold to customers.

Remove IBM from the equation and there’s no product to sell or resell to anyone. And that’s in essence what has happened. So it can be said that there really is no “channel” anymore. What remains is a robust services industry that pulls products through with those services rather than pushing products to customers.

What Hasn’t Changed is Channel Marketing

Clearly there are those “channel partners” still remaining who insist they can sell products at a profit. The questions we could ask include “for how much longer?” and “so what?” Customers will gravitate to the lowest-cost provider, continuing this ongoing product pricing race to the bottom.

The big “so what” is all about scale. The number of stalwart product-focused squatters who remain pale in comparison to the large community who are, or who at least call themselves, MSPs.

Despite this overwhelming majority of MSPs, a look at the materials, programs, and “strategies” sold to unsuspecting MSPs to help them market their services still resembles the gaudy, colorful, shallow messaging of the product era. Price, performance, and delivery. “The best ever!”

Vendor channel managers still bemoan the sorry state of partner marketing. They continue to insist that MSPs just don’t know how to market, which is exactly how they used to complain about resellers.

It may actually be true, but when most MSPs turn to external agencies for support in marketing themselves, they find themselves confronted by “marketers” who never made the transition they have. Most of them seem to think they’re still pushing products through partners. For the most part, the marketers know little more about marketing MSPs than the MSPs do themselves. Some declare “social selling” to be the solution. Others are all about postcards. Yet others are busy preaching “nurturing.”

Gimmicks.

The reality is that managed and professional services are very serious business and deserve to be marketed with appropriate seriousness.

Will your services lower their costs and/or increase their revenue productivity and therefore increase their bottom line? This is virtually all they need to know about you and your services. Nothing more.

Back in the days of the reseller, everyone put their emphasis on marketing greatness. How great the product was. How great they were in providing and promoting the product. How many customers loved them for how well they provided the product. How many years they were selling the product. Even as you read it you sense just how ridiculous it was.

So exactly what is it we’re marketing?

Value and ROI are All that Matter

Potential customers come to your marketing materials, activities, events and so on less interested in you and how wonderful you are than they are interested in what value is available for them. What value can they expect to enjoy as a result of working with you? Of consuming your services? Will it result in a substantial return on their investment in those services? Will it continue returning over and over again? Will your services lower their costs and/or increase their revenue productivity and therefore increase their bottom line?

This is virtually all they need to know about you and your services. Nothing more.

Before they know you, they really don’t care about you. They don’t care how long you’ve been in business, or how many employees you have wherever in the world your corporate headquarters happens to be inconsequentially located. Your stock performance, the industries you serve, all that stuff your marketing experts tell you has to be right up front in your presentation deck. None of it matters. At all. In fact, focusing on that stuff increases your odds of losing the reader before they’ve had a chance to learn what they really want to know about you – what you can do for them.

Make no mistake, value is in the eye and ear of the beholder. “To sell Bob Jones what Bob Jones buys, see the world through Bob Jones’ eyes,” is a famous old adage that continues to wear well and serve us mightily. What value do your customers want from you? If that’s not what you’re offering, you’re sunk. You can scream from the mountain tops, and nobody will care.

What Customers Want to Buy Most

Wondering why content marketing is so important?

What customers want to engage with most are people who know what they’re talking about and can guide them to success. Smart people. Competent people.

Content marketing, then, is a similar strategy to that employed by drug dealers. Give them a little taste and let them get hooked. Write about values customers want for their businesses and give them just a little taste of your smarts, your insight, your acumen, and cement their confidence that you know what they need someone to know in order to help them.

Call it thought leadership. Call it guidance. Call it whatever you call it, but it’s the heart of services marketing, convince the customer you know your stuff and can get the job done right, on time, and within budget.

A Simple Content Marketing Guideline

Another old axiom, but again very valuable. Customers tire of complex, convoluted campaigns. “This is what you want. This is what we do. See how well we do exactly what you want?” That’s the kind of message you need to provide. A simple message.

start paragraphs talking about the customer and what they want or need

Here’s a fun exercise to get you started.

Go to your website and count how many paragraphs begin with “I, me, my, we, our,” or your company name. How many paragraphs begin with you?

Now flip some of these paragraphs upside down and start paragraphs talking about the customer and what they want or need. The paragraph can end up in the same place, explaining how well you provide what is needed, but watch what happens when you begin with the customer and end with you. Magic. The paragraph instantly sounds better, more convincing, more compelling.

Bottom Line: It isn’t all about you. It’s about them. And your value to them.

Further reading: From VAR to MSP: Managing the Shift from Push to Pull

Howard M. Cohen
Howard M. Cohen is a 35+ year executive veteran of the Information Technology industry who writes for and about the IT channel. He’s a frequent speaker at IT industry events, including Microsoft Inspire, Citrix Synergy/Summit, ConnectWise IT Nation, ChannelPro Forums, Cloud Partners Summit, MicroCorp One-On-One, and CompTIA ChannelCon, and he frequently hosts and presents webinars for many vendors and publications.

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