Marketing as the Bane of Channel Existence

By Michael Vizard  |  Print this article Print

As marketing starts to drive more sales, solution providers are in danger of being left behind

Marketing has been the bane of the channel as long as anyone can remember. If a solution provider has any money available to invest in their business they generally opt to do one of two things: recruit another sales person or hired an additional engineer.

Unfortunately, the one thing they don’t tend to invest in all that much is marketing. That’s understandable in the context that the return of investment in marketing is hard to quantify. It requires a lot of time and effort to create marketing materials and most solution providers don’t really know where to look for marketing expertise. At the same time, however, marketing activities that leverage predictive analytics and social media tools are getting more effective with each passing.

The channel team at Hewlett-Packard wants to fundamentally change the marketing equation in the channel with the expansion of a Market Depot initiative that the company has been piloting with some of its largest partners via the HP partner portal site. According to Matt Smith, director of marketing for the HP Solutions Providers Organization, the basic idea is make it a lot simpler for HP partners to access and rebrand marketing collateral created by HP that spans everything from advertisements to video footage and back again. In addition, HP has contracted eight marketing firms that partners can tap to help them execute a marketing initiative.

The end goal, says Smith, to not only increase the amount of revenue being generated by HP partners, but to also recruit new partners that will be attracted by the level of marketing support that HP is willing to provide them. Smith says that HP partners that have availed themselves of HP marketing services are definitely growing faster than those that don’t and that its HP’s goal to get as many of its over 10,000 partners as possible to use the service

The concept of outsourcing marketing services isn’t particularly new. Many vendors have been offering marketing services to one degree or another for awhile and in recent years distributors have significantly increased the number of marketing services they provide.

But while some marketing is definitely better than no marketing, the marketing efforts funded by a vendor tend to be focused on one product or area they dominate. In reality, most companies in the channel are trying to sell a solution, which by definition involves components from multiple vendors. Some vendors are better than others at creating marketing collateral in conjunction with other vendors than others. But by and large co-marketing between multiple vendors that might be included in the same solution is difficult to pull off. In addition, a lot of the solutions that a partner may be selling, such as a Citrix desktop virtualization environment that needs to be integrated with a VMware virtual server, are not areas where the vendors involved are inclined to cooperate with one another.

None of this means that solution providers should ignore the marketing help being proffered by vendors. But it does mean that even while programs such as Market Depot at are a big step in the right direction, solution providers are still going to need to take those marketing efforts to the next level. That means relying on part time marketing help that comes in after school or is related to someone the owner knows simply isn’t going to cut it, especially in an age where marketing is not just being used to create awareness but actually generate inbound sales.

That can’t happen, however, unless the solution provider is willing to put the people and processes needed to drive those processes; otherwise the size of the business is always going to be limited to the number of opportunities that the sales staff can uncover. The first step towards gaining a better understanding of what marketing can really do should be to check out the marketing services that vendors already offer, if for no other reason than to get a better understanding of just how quickly marketing is evolving into more science than art.