Essential Guide

IT channel sales and marketing strategy for the digital era

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Digital marketing techniques key to partner revenue growth

Digital marketing, reinforced by marketing automation tools, places partners on the revenue growth path and paves the way for revenue marketing.

Digital marketing, marketing automation and, ultimately, revenue marketing is the path to success that partners need to take as they transform their business, capture customers on their buying journey, build marketing and sales synergy, and increase revenue.

It doesn't matter if a partner is at square one when it comes to digital marketing or is a more advanced marketer, the important thing is that partners strategically use today's business-to-business (B2B) digital marketing techniques to find new customers, make more sales and be more successful. Those techniques include social media outreach, webinars, online video and email.

Partners who view marketing as a revenue generator rather than a traditional cost center get this and are taking steps to become better digital marketers. Those who don't just might be doomed.

"A good business strategy without a marketing strategy to support it won't be very successful," said Pablo Zurzolo, vice president of TDAgency at Tech Data. "Our resellers are realizing that a marketing strategy is really a combination of the marketing mix that maps to a business strategy."

Solidifying a business strategy is key to success, i.e. How do you want to grow? What pieces of the business do you want to grow and in what way do you want to grow?

"There are different marketing techniques that will allow you to accomplish those things that are very effective," Zurzolo  said, but you can't have one without the other. TDAgency has marketing consultants to help partners assess, plan and execute a marketing strategy.

Partners also have to recognize that if they're not getting the same results from their marketing techniques that they got in the past, it's because IT consumption models have changed. How customers buy technology and who is buying the technology has evolved.

According to Forrester Research 74% of business buyers report that they conduct more than 50% of their research online before making an offline purchase. That combined with the fact that the CIO is no longer solely in charge of IT purchase decisions flips traditional marketing on its ear.

"The IT contact, the CIO, CTO or director of IT, is no longer the main buyer for all B2B purchases," said Jennifer Anaya, vice president of marketing at Ingram Micro North America.

Furthermore, she noted that industry research reports that B2B purchases have gone from involving one decision maker to as many as five to eight people weighing in on a buying decision as low as $10,000 and up. So, not only are partners dealing with multiple people who influence a decision, but people with varying degrees of knowledge about the technology, what it does and how it works.

Digital marketing techniques for customer engagement

David Powell knows this all too well. He is vice president of managed and cloud services at Teklinks, a Birmingham, Ala.-based partner firm founded in 2001 that has a traditional value-added reseller (VAR) business, managed service provider (MSP) practice, cloud practice, and owns and operates its own data centers. Powell is responsible for marketing, product strategy and developing a product roadmap as well as managing the vendor relationship with companies such as Cisco, EMC and VMware.

The challenge of having the expertise to meet customers where they are in their journey to the cloud manifests itself in the company's marketing message.

A good business strategy without a marketing strategy to support it won't be very successful
Pablo ZurzoloVP, TDAgency,Tech Data

"These are different and distinct audiences so we have to be more intentional in how we craft our messages," he said. "Customers are also Googling you -- So what are they finding and how far along the buyer's journey are they before they take a first appointment?" he added.

Customer engagement today means having multiple ways of crafting messages and multiple sources for them to find a partner company when they come looking. Powell stated that his main goal is for customers and potential customers to know that Teklinks is the expert in today's ever changing tech environment. The partner has taken some nontraditional approaches in its marketing strategy.

"We've done a web-based video series, called Tek is the New Black; it's not a hardcore technology thing, instead we talk about many technology subjects, such as drones or autonomous vehicles, for example, to establish us as tech experts, and we drive that through our social platforms," he said. The company is always looking for new ways to engage customers, he added.

The tools and social platforms that Teklinks uses include, Oracle’s Eloqua for marketing automation, Sprout Social, a social media management tool, and, Hubspot, an inbound marketing and sales platform. The company also uses Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Teklinks distributes and rotates content, created by an in house content creator, according to a schedule.

Get smart with marketing automation tools

Marketing automation is really what's new in the digital marketing world and channel partners need to get onboard in order to be more prescriptive with their digital marketing techniques, get smart and catch prospective customers at the right place and the right time.

That means being able to target specific buyers as they search for a solution to a particular business problem. Buyers may want to know how to get more uptime or how to secure their data, for example.

"They're searching with intentful phrases and with marketing automation software we can be smarter and tailor the content to be at the right place at the right time in the buyer's journey," said Dennis Crupi, director of creative services for Ingram Micro. The distributor has a full-service creative ad services agency to help partners with brand assessment, web assessment, campaigns, lead generation, etc.

Marketing automation tools can help partners plan, execute, monitor and gauge the effectiveness of digital marketing campaigns. Think of marketing automation as having a crystal ball.

"We now have technology on our side. We not only see who is consuming the content but if it's working," Crupi said.

However, content is king when it comes to marketing automation. And, having a content marketing strategy is what could position partners as thought leaders in their space. That means partners need to know their customers better, speak in terms of business outcomes, know what markets they're selling into, and who inside the customer company they're trying to reach.

Creating customized content is preferable to using off=the-shelf content, said Richard Young, director of marketing at mindSHIFT Technologies, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ricoh Americas Corp. and an IT outsourcing and cloud services provider. "We know our customers and it's a more effective marketing tactic in today’s world," he said.

MindSHIFT, based in Sterling, Va., uses a smorgasbord of content types to be informative, entertaining and educational, such as videos, analysts' blog posts, case studies, success stories, and blog Q&As, for example. The content, geared to prospective customers or existing customers, addresses customer questions such as: What's my problem? How do I fix my problem? Are you right for me?

Young noted that vendors such as Cisco, Microsoft and VMware, for example, get it when it comes to creating what he called "top of the funnel content assets" that address potential customer questions.

"They're getting more creative and catchy as opposed to creating data sheets or white papers," he said.

Another vendor partner provided support on the digital side in terms of pay per click and paid marketing on Google and Bing, he noted.

According to Sherri Liebo, vice president of global marketing at Cisco, the company is moving from packaged campaigns for partners in the shape of PDFs to digital assets. "We're starting to create more syndicated campaigns for partners so they're not so hermetically sealed. They're assets that partners can assemble in the moment and can execute and include their own pieces," she said.

The first syndicated campaign was around collaboration. Expect to see syndicated campaigns around data center and security coming soon. Cisco's roadmap for additional syndicated campaigns will ultimately include all the Cisco architectures, Liebo said.

Cisco partners can utilize their marketing funds from PartnerPlus or cloud market development fund (MDF) to tap into a full set of marketing services offered by the vendor.

A leader in the promotion of marketing both internally and with its partners, Cisco has offered a Partner Marketing Professional certification for the past two years. The marketing badge is a full marketing curriculum that includes revenue and digital marketing and, to date, more than 350 partners have completed the curriculum and received the badge. Another 1,630 partners have started the curriculum, according to Cisco.

Revenue marketing: aligning with sales

Revenue marketing more tightly aligns the marketing professional with sales, making the marketing organization more accountable for sales. Cisco is a recognized leader in revenue marketing and leads the industry in sharing its revenue marketing journey and promoting it to partners. For past few years, the vendor hosts Cisco Marketing Velocity, a one day event for senior-level partners responsible for the marketing function as well as a Regional Velocity Roadshow that takes the best marketing content from Velocity and shares it with partners across key cities across the U.S., Canada and Latin America, according to Cisco.

MindSHIFT is a very sales-oriented organization and marketing works closely -- hand in hand -- with inside sales, according to Young.

"If a buyer raises his or her hand and says, 'I have a need,' whether it's filling out a form, hitting the contact us button on our website, downloads a white paper on a backup solution that just launched and they want some pricing, or whatnot, and that comes through a marketing channel, we had better call that individual back within five minutes or chances are they've moved on -- that's revenue marketing," he explained.

Granted, mindSHIFT has a marketing team with experts in content marketing, field marketing and social media, and Young is in contact with the company's director of inside sales throughout the day.

"That can be a differentiator between us and a small solution provider who doesn't have that resource," he said.

The Pedowitz Group, created the Revenue Marketing Journey infographic to help marketers understand the revenue marketing journey, a path that begins with traditional marketing and then continues on to lead generation, demand generation and, ultimately, revenue marketing. The revenue marketing agency offers strategy services, technology services and execution services.

According to Liebo, in 2014, Cisco's sales team generated $1.1 billion in sales qualified leads for partners. This year, Cisco's goal is to create $1.7 billion in sales qualified leads, which accounts for 15% to 20% of the company's overall sales goal.

Marketing is a journey and a crucial part of the partner's path to visibility and success.

Next Steps

Read about digital marketing techniques for small businesses

Find out how to get the most out of marketing automation tools.

What might the $1.79B sale of marketing automation vendor Marketo mean for the channel?

This was last published in July 2015

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Essential Guide

IT channel sales and marketing strategy for the digital era
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