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Many resellers have a problem with marketing. They all know it is important. They all admire great marketing in other companies and they all have occasional strokes of marketing genius. But as a practice, marketing is often put way below priorities such as current projects, sales and product development. Procrastination, ad hoc implementation and penny-wise/pound-foolish spending create a perpetual marketing crisis and guarantee a negative return on the marketing investment.

Worse than the financial loss is the reinforcement of the idea that marketing is something mysterious, difficult and impractical. For example, just a couple weeks ago the CEO of a small channel client of mine stated she really did not understand or like marketing. She says it makes her head ache and frustrates her. It is not unusual for an otherwise successful business owner to be intimidated by marketing.

Marketing is about creating an environment that is conducive to your sales approach. It is that simple. When a prospect interacts with your sales person, are they in the right frame of mind to have a productive sales discussion? If the answer is no, then you have some marketing to do. The product offering, message, visibility, promotion and sales approach are interrelated parts of the environment that can be manipulated to deliver higher sales productivity. Assuming a viable product and an average sales force, that leaves just three basic marketing issues to resolve: refining the pitch, exploiting opportunities to be seen and generating leads.

Back to the basics

Message: Product positioning is the art of differentiating your solution from the competition, creating a desire for your solution and linking your products to the business issues of your customers. Your sales people do this every day. The marketing message is just a more formal, exact version of your sales force pitch. Because marketing communication is less dynamic than a sales call, the message has to be more precise. Use your best sales people to refine the message, but get past the features and into the financial impact on the customer’s business. Even if you do not resolve the product positioning, at least your sales pitch will be more refined. Visibility: For most non-retail resellers, visibility is not advertising. Trade shows, publications, associations, events, traffic, seminars, speeches, conferences, direct mail, e mail, webinars, referrals, communities, blogs, etc. all have costs and benefits. Some activities, like direct mail, have fixed financial costs and other activities, such as blogs, have enormous time costs. I was once invited to speak at a seminar where the vendor created good content, great collateral, solid product and no attendees. Failure to recruit an audience wasted the entire investment. Do not underestimate the required investment; pick two or three initiatives and focus on maximizing the exposure and return from those campaigns.

Promotion:The trick to getting a high ROI on marketing for resellers is to invest marketing dollars where they will make the most impact. Let the vendor invest in making the market (awareness and acceptance) and focus your marketing efforts on delivering solutions (preference and purchase). Marketing communications, or “Marcom” as it is often called, is all about getting a target group to take a specific action at a specific time. As shown in the graphic below, promotions are very effective at driving buying decisions.

Top five ways to torpedo a marketing effort

With industry trends pointing to consolidation in the channel, it is clear that only the most efficient channel resellers will prosper.Below are five big mistakes to avoid when investing in marketing and promotions: Those that demonstrate marketing competence will outperform their competition.

  1. Abdicate responsibility: Do not delegate marketing strategy to a junior person or outside consultant. Commit to making marketing an internal strength.
  2. In-house collateral: Do not make your own marketing materials. Think about it. If you were really good at making marketing materials, would you be a reseller? Hire a professional agency.
  3. Product centric messages: You cannot bore someone into buying your product. Your customers only care about your products as a means to their ends. Find the link to their issue.
  4. Penny Pinching: Do not trim costs by eliminating preparation or follow through to marketing events. Choose two or three initiatives and invest enough to make them succeed.
  5. Hail Mary Promotions: Do not put everything into one-off, unconnected events. For example, a single flight direct mail drop to 100,000 contacts will not produce as well as a three flight direct mail campaign to 5,000 contacts. Commit to sustained, long-term promotions versus singe hit events.

    There is a correlation between companies that actively market and companies that grow. According to our Channel Performance Index (CPI), the best resellers invest 3% to 5% of revenue net of vendor business development funds (BDF) in proactive marketing.

    Scott Karren, the “Channel Pro,” is chief executive officer of Channel Ventures, a channel development consulting firm. Read his online weblog.