The VAR Channel's Marketing Challenge

By Pedro Pereira  |  Print this article Print


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Channel company founders are typically technologists, so marketing isn’t normally one of their strengths. Resellers may have the best technology and the best services on the planet, but if VARs don’t know how to market them properly, VARs might as well pack it in.

The typical solution provider’s lack of marketing skills is a challenge rivaled in gravity only by direct-sales competition from vendors.

It’s no secret that founders of channel companies typically are technologists, and that marketing isn’t one of their strengths. So you may have the best technology and the best services on the planet, but if you don’t know how to market them properly, you might as well pack it in.

To market themselves successfully, solution providers have to understand their customers’ needs. Admittedly, this is obvious, but company after company tends to get caught up in the technology and services without taking the critical step of articulating why the customer needs them.

The typical customer needs technology and services for one of two primary reasons—solve a problem or advance business strategy. A customer doesn’t ask for a certain technology because it’s a cool thing to have. Budgets are too tight for that.

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The most successful solution providers tell you that identifying customer pain and remedying it with sound planning and execution are fundamental. That should be an easy win. You solved the customer’s problem, and the customer will want to do business with you in the future.

But what if you are prospecting? How do you get the customer’s attention? It isn’t by going in there and talking tech until the prospect’s eyes glaze over. Bring up hypervisors in a discussion about virtualization or RMM tools in reference to managed services, and you are going to lose your audience.

It’s important to speak to the customer in terms he or she understands. Telling customers you have the "perfect managed service" for their need won’t resonate as much as saying you can monitor their PCs remotely over the Web to keep them running smoothly. The customer cares about e-mail, not the Exchange server.

And the same goes for marketing literature and Web content. I have seen countless brochures and Web pages that are positively nonsensical in their attempts to explain a technology and why the customer needs it.

Abstruse language creeps into TV commercials and newspaper ads, too. Technology companies love to communicate in shorthand, using "inside baseball" acronyms and abbreviations that no one outside the industry understands. You throw one or two of those into a commercial’s script, and you’ve got yourself a mass of viewers with no clue what you mean.

Unfortunately, the vendors’ funny language often is as confusing to channel partners as it is to customers. And that creates the added challenge of having to decipher what vendors are saying so solution providers can explain it to customers.

To complicate matters, many vendors allocate marketing funds available for partners, but the partners often don’t know how to access them. Or they have been scared off by dense rules and excessive paperwork. IBM has made strides to simplify its process, but by and large vendors don’t do a good job of letting partners access the money.

For those partners that do, however, it is important to have a clear idea for their use. Will you take the money to fund a lead-generation event or to run ads in the local paper? However you decide to use the money, report back to the vendor and let them know the results.

Just as vendors should communicate to partners about the availability of the funds, partners should report back to the vendors on what worked and what didn’t. The more executable information all parties have, the better the programs can be.

Marketing, of course, is communication. Solution providers have to communicate properly with customers and vendors. But for the communication to be effective, the provider first must figure out what kind of company it is and develop a plan to communicate that.

Pedro Pereira is editor of eWEEK Strategic Partner and a contributing editor for Channel Insider. He is at pedro.pereira@ziffdavisenterprise.com.




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