The IT Marketing Agency's Simon Dobson advises managed service providers how to get the most from their marketing.
I have worked in the technology sector for the last seven years, initially in sales and marketing for a growing solutions provider and latterly with marketing agencies working in the technology space.
I have attended and spoken about marketing at a number of industry events for organisations like CompTIA and GFI. I don’t say this to bolster my ego, but to provide context to my findings. Whilst mooching or propping up the bar, I have had many conversations with technology business owners about marketing and often found myself hearing the same reasons why they are not marketing.
Here are a few of the common lines, do any sound familiar?
“I know I should do marketing, but I don’t do anything”
“Sometimes XYZ vendor sends an email for me”
“We tried it once it doesn’t work”
I appreciate that running a growing business is very demanding, and it is easy to get wrapped up in just delivering stuff (that’s without the planning, forecasting, selling or meeting the accountant). But all too often marketing is ignored, dropped or ceremonially replaced by a networking breakfast. These have their place but with limited reach, is this enough? The answer is NO.
Like the technology landscape, the marketing landscape is ever-changing and the noise generated by marketing is getting louder and more difficult to cut through. Time has marched on, meaning the sales cycle of yesterday isn’t the same as today. Our prospects are now hyper informed and able to have a world of knowledge and options at their fingertips without even hearing another human voice.
By the time a conversation takes place, prospects have done research and already have an idea of the answers they expect to hear. In fact, a study by B2B Marketing concluded that 71 per cent of visitors to your website are not looking to validate the solution, they are looking for pricing.
It is also worth being aware that your prospects are using a number of different channels to find answers (Google, YouTube, LinkedIn, forums and blogs) and this should indicate that you need to start hanging out in these places. People no longer pick up the Yellow Pages and look for “Provider of managed email”. They remember communications, company names, search forums, social media and the web looking for answers. The Yellow Pages is however good for spiders.
Your business is no longer competing against adverts in a section of the Thompson Local. You are competing with every business in the guide. Your target customer has just received an email from Domino’s Pizza pushing an appetizing deal for dinner, Volkswagen selling them the dream of a more reliable car and Groupon with another set of daily offers. All of these communications competing for a slice of their time and attention. Therefore your marketing needs to be compelling and more importantly regular.
"I know I should, But I don’t do anything…"
Not doing anything to market yourself is no longer an option. In fact doing nothing is akin to watching your business go backwards. Imagine the traditional Oxford Cambridge boat race, the gun sounds, fighting the current the Oxford row with vigour and Cambridge don’t put an oar in the water…Who wins? It’s no different in business, it is no longer an option to sit idly by without marketing your business and to be fair there are no excuses.
“We tried it once, it doesn’t work”
This is another common retort. All too often business owners miss the point of marketing, and it is applied as a quick fix to a slow or diminishing sales pipeline. Having nothing in the sales funnel, and sending an email to 1,000 recipients who have not seen you for nine months is not likely to work. Especially as the recipient has now subscribed to the very informative blog of your competitor three doors down. You need to be pushing out messages on a regular basis. It is commonly accepted that it takes between seven and 13 touches before someone is sales ready. In the scenario above one email = one touch.
This scenario happens all too often, and when sales don’t close anything on that one email who gets the blame? Usually marketing.
"So we have established that you need to do marketing. What next?"
A big gripe from my time as a reseller was the lack of investment in marketing tools for smaller partners. I am not stupid, I totally get the fact that if you significantly fill the order book of a key vendor/distributor you deserve more funds. That said, it then becomes an unbroken circle with the bigger partners, getting more funds, getting more orders and you guessed it getting more funds, leaving the lower tier partners to feast on the last scraps of the carcass.
Also, the quality of much of the available marketing for lower tier partners is poor. Quite often it’s a case of supplying a logo, contact details and off the email goes with 50 other matching emails (aside from the logo) and clogs up the inbox of the now irritated IT manager who has 50 emails with the same offer. What does he do? In most cases adds you to a block list.
Delivering fully bespoke marketing is often not an option either as it can be expensive, investing in bringing in resource also carries a significant cost. But there are resources and places to go to help you implement some marketing tactics and gather the insight needed to help you compete against the bigger players. Tubblog (http://www.tubblog.co.uk/) for example is a great place to get advice on how to run and grow your business with practical tips and guidance as well as links to some great content and podcasts.
CompTIA (http://www.comptia.org) is the only IT industry trade association which offers a plethora of content and downloads to help your business including a great marketing toolkit as well as regular events. You can also work with companies like The MSP Marketing Academy (http://www.mspmarketingacademy.co.uk/) that deliver personalised and branded campaigns.
To close, it is worth remembering the following.
Marketing will require time and investment but with a little attention will help to build the platform that your business can use to grow.
Marketing will help position you and the business as experts in your field.
Marketing will help you reach prospects that otherwise you would not have engaged and ultimately marketing will be the difference between success and failure.