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Solution providers are failing to adopt a proper marketing approach to technology and the business changes happening in the market.

At the Gartner ChannelVision event in Palm Springs, marketing or the lack of it in the channel was a hot topic.

“Marketing resources are absolutely lacking in the channel because it’s hard to prove the ROI on marketing spend,” said Tiffani Bova, research director for IT channel programs, sales and alliances at the market research firm. “It is much easier for a solution provider to justify the cost of a new engineer who can make back his cost in the field than on a marketing person.”

Bova asked the attendees at the conference if they had a full-time marketing person and only approximately 5 percent to 10 percent said they had. Bova said marketing plays a crucial role in helping solution providers to grow their businesses in the face of the changing marketplace and the arrival of managed services.

“VARs get so much of their business from their existing customer base that they think they don’t need much marketing,” she said. “This is fine if their business doesn’t change, but if they are making the move to managed services then they need to adopt a marketing strategy.”

She said solution providers need to leverage as much vendor and distributor marketing funding as possible and at a minimum hire a part-time marketing employee.

Glenn Gramling, senior vice president of sales and marketing at solution provider Infogain, said the cost of hiring a full-time marketing team was prohibitive for most channel players.

“It is definitely a case of justifying the ROI,” he said. “Most of the channel are technology people and have difficulty seeing the value in non-technical roles.”

He said using vendor funding for marketing could also be difficult.

“Vendor and distributor marketing funds tend to be very restrictive. It has to be spent on a certain Web site or publication. There is not much room for creativity.”

Justin Crotty, vice president of services in North America at Ingram Micro, also stressed the importance of marketing and branding in a panel debate at the conference.

“The VAR will become the front-and-center brand as managed services become more important,” he said. “There is a huge marketing opportunity out there for solution providers, and as the brand becomes vital then marketing becomes more important. Solution providers must invest dollars in marketing capabilities and propositions.”