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Marketing gurus offer tips for modern businesses at Microsoft WPC 2014

Addressing an audience of Microsoft partners at the Worldwide Partner Conference, a panel of experts tendered important advice on rethinking your business approach in this fiercely competitive cloud era.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- At a "Leadership, Sales and Marketing" session here at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) 2014, four marketing and partner experts offered dozens of business tips for changing your business approach, thinking and, ultimately, companies, to a packed room of attendees.

The panel of speakers -- Christine Bongard, vice president and COO at Quality Technology Solutions; Jeff Hilton, founder of the Alliance for Channel Success; Eric Rabinowitz, senior partner of Nurture Marketing; and Ken Thoreson, president of Acumen Management Group -- focused on how partners can change how they sell, go to market, compete and lead.

Touching on some of the session highlights …

Multiply the number of events that you're doing now by four and you'll be successful marketing in the cloud.
Ken Thoresonpresident, Acumen Management Group

Thoreson opened the session. He addressed how, based on research that he's done over the past three years on how partners can succeed in the cloud, the cloud is changing partners' business models. He then shared with attendees a number of tips for success -- accelerate everything you do, build thought leadership to stand out in the marketplace, go vertical and increase the quantity of your marketing events.

"Multiply the number of events that you're doing now by four and you'll be successful marketing in the cloud," he said.Thoreson added that partners must execute and manage their business more effectively via dashboards for marketing, sales and administrations and measure the results with metrics.

So how do partners get started in the cloud?

Bongard suggested partners start with Azure as a business continuity solution. Start with a small success, then later, build solutions that complement your offerings to deliver additional value to clients.

The panelists turned the discussion to BYOD (bring your own device) and mobility as two big issues facing customers. They said partners can position themselves with Microsoft tools and products to add value to the customer mobility experience. Professional services will be in demand, with partners expected to offer advice around legal contracts and security, for example.

"Every IT leader is asking themselves right now, 'How can I take what I have in-house and let people use it on mobile devices?'" said Bongard, who added that more than 50% of IT leaders do not have an answer to that question, making it a business opportunity that partners should seize.

How to do it?

Partners need to make mobility part of every strategic business discussion. Additionally, partners need to practice what they preach and share their own success stories.

Next, Hilton discussed the five pillars of Nurture Marketing -- a term coined by Jim Cecil more than 20 years ago -- to build lasting customer relationships. The five pillars are persistence, consistency, reciprocity, rapport and ethics.

Noting that customers buy differently today than in years past, both Hilton and Bongard offered tips on how to energize clients, which included arranging a monthly sit-down with customers to ensure you're addressing their business needs, to renew your company vision by sharing it with the customers and to keep your business value in front of the customer.

Partners also need to know what makes them different. They should be asking their customers what they like about them, as well as what about the company they would change and so forth.

"You can create an advisory council for your customers," Hilton suggested.

Partners would like to clone their best clients. So do it, the experts said: Figure out what makes them a top client and go after prospects with a similar profile.

The panel warned partners that bigger competitors are entering the market and that the time to know who you are is now. Know how to solve business problems and not only technology problems, educate your clients about how to solve business problems, and talk in the language of business. Additionally, learn to partner to build stronger more competitive solutions.

But most of all, learn to market. While it may be the bane of many partner companies, bringing together champions from different parts of the organization can be key.

"It's not only the marketing organization, executives and sales teams that need to market," said Thorenson. Rethink who you market to, as decision-maker roles are evolving. Business unit leaders now often bypass IT when making technology purchases. "Include the vice president of customer service, human resources, CIOs, CFOs, CMOs, etc.," said Bongard.

Don't use stale marketing tools -- update. Think about CRM with integrated marketing automation, SEOBook.com, Blacklisted IP, search engine rankings, market research and social media, for example.

In the digital age, marketing methods and techniques need updating – and it's important to think mobile. Also, rethink how your company uses telemarketing, inbound or outbound marketing, and consider event and conference marketing.

The panelists also offered tips on leadership and rethinking, refreshing and rearticulating your company's value propositions. Leadership tips included: Be a specialist, not a generalist and a trusted advisor, not just a supplier; focus on business processes and outcomes, not reselling products; deliver business consultations, not technology implementation; even in a techy, analytical business, leaders must inspire; and hire the best talent for your organization that you can find, not who is most available. Make recruiting an ongoing process, even setting quarterly objectives.

"Keep your employees energized and engaged in the business," suggested Rabinowitz.

Some partners may also need to change the way they compensate employees, and one effective way to do so is to link compensation to a strategic plan. Manage compensation smartly or inspect what you expect. Finally, focus on gross margin, as fixing gross margins often fixes many other problems.

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Which of these tips are the most valuable? Are there any you'd add?
Some great tips here. I do think it's probably most important to know who you are and what makes your company/product unique in the marketplace is the most important place to start - then you can build those relationships and accelerate your marketing activities. Tool upgrades are important, too, but if you don't have the basics in place to support them, they won't help much.