VARs at CompTIA Show Marketing SavvyBy Carolyn April | Print
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For too long, marketing activities have been considered a luxury by solution providers. But there's a refreshing shift in attitude happening, and it was on display at Breakaway this week.
Historically, marketing investments have been treated as a near-luxury—or sometimes an afterthought—among a majority of solution providers and resellers. In some respect it’s understandable; most in the business come straight out of the technology expert pool, engineers with an entrepreneurial zeal who over time got fairly accomplished at sales activities. But marketing? That’s remained a weak spot for many.
Unfortunately, that’s a huge problem because effective marketing is one of the essential pillars to any successful business—even more so during a difficult economy and as the complexity and sophistication of this industry continue to grow.
So you can imagine my encouragement at a spirited conversation in one of the discussion groups at this week’s CompTIA Breakaway event in Las Vegas. The array of channel partners in this room clearly took marketing seriously, many having implemented innovative campaigns in the past year to try to outsmart the recession. All were looking for even more creative ideas to drive lead generation, increase brand awareness and continue to win net-new customers while getting deeper penetration into existing accounts.
Some of what they are doing just makes plain sense. Regional events for potential and existing customers that showcase their company capabilities and culture, but steer clear of a sales pitch, have been effective. Also popular are regularly scheduled (monthly) "lunch-and-learns" for small groups of customers to air their concerns and ideas—again sans sales pitch.
But there were more creative ideas introduced. One solution provider has placed nearly all of his advertising buy dollars into local cable TV stations, customizing the ads depending on the region. The cost is startlingly minimal, he revealed, and the return on investment worth it.
But no outlet is being dissected, analyzed and gamed for marketing purposes more now than social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter. These solution providers leveraged these tools not so much for branding or promotion, but instead to create communities of customers tied together by the solution provider’s business. Newsletters, bulletins—communications of all sorts—are being funneled out in this way.
Hand in hand with the attention to social media is the whole notion of search engine optimization. Funny, SEO wasn’t something anybody talked about much even five years ago. Now even the smallest VAR with a Website is conjuring ways to grab the attention of the Google algorithm and use that as a competitive marketing advantage for their business.
This all marks a refreshing change. For years, too many solution providers have hitched their branding wagon to their key technology vendor partners, and that’s a marketing mistake, especially for those doing managed services. In the MSP world, reputation is everything. If end customers are going to sign a long-term contract for you take over their IT operations and run things remotely, foremost on their mind will NOT be what tier you’ve achieved in the Cisco partner program. Rather, they want to evaluate what your capabilities are, hear what past customers are saying about you and, frankly, ask themselves whether they’ve ever heard of your company before. So it’s crucial to establish a strong market identity independent of your key vendors and put your own investments into marketing activities.
The group at CompTIA this week, they got it.