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.
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
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
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 email@example.com.