IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Ask, and Ye Shall Receive

Market development funds from your top vendors are often just one question away. By Stuart Crawford

Like some other IT professionals, I have stepped outside my role in the technology side of my business and into business development--aka sales and marketing. I realized that to make the company grow, I needed to focus on strategies for keeping business in the pipeline. That was three years ago.

For me, marketing is no longer an afterthought, as it is for a lot of small business IT professionals. Most of us started out like I did--we had three guys who knew how to fix computers. We didn't know how to get our word out. Some of us are good relationship builders, though, and do very well with word-of-mouth marketing. But that takes a company only so far. I know that marketing budgets are either nonexistent or ad hoc--you come up with an idea to do postcards that costs $500, so you take $500 from the budget somewhere else.

What a lot of partners fail to realize is that vendors like Microsoft, Symantec, and others are willing to fund your marketing activities if they fit into their plans. I've pitched marketing ideas to Microsoft that have gone nowhere because they didn't coincide with the company's marketing schedule or current focus. You've got to understand how marketing with your vendor partners works, and you have to know their marketing schedules. So if they're doing a push on mobility, maybe that's something you should look at to see what mobility can offer to your clients. Then you have to sell your idea.

I have a form I created that explains my end goal to the vendor. For example, in Canada, Research in Motion is still the preferred mobility provider for a lot of executives. So my end goal for a new marketing piece is to increase the awareness of Windows Mobile 6 among small businesses in Calgary, and talk about the benefits of Mobile 6 over the BlackBerry technology.

I'm a big believer in marketing contests, so we have teamed with both Microsoft and Rogers Wireless Communications--which is like an AT&T or Verizon in the United States--to find out why people would want to get new mobile phones. We'll leverage the market development funds from Microsoft to drive the message about Mobile 6 and wrap that in a contest for which Rogers donated a device we can give away as our prize. Our investment is minimal because we have partners helping us.

Many partners have great ideas, but the trick is to get them down on paper and sell them. And when the promotion is over, you have to report on its success. For example, we did a contest in Q4 of last year and gave away a Dell computer that we promoted with Windows Vista and Office 2007. I reported back to all the partners involved--Dell, Microsoft, and Symantec--on the extra revenues generated by the contest, using a simple spreadsheet. But you could use email. It's the reporting that's important, not the way you do it.

I also create my own client case studies in which I outline the client's challenge, how a Microsoft solution helped solve it, and what the payoff is--we engaged in a managed services contract, say, or we will be bringing in about X amount of revenue. I send these to my partners and it's amazing how they circulate around. Then, when we go to ask for more marketing dollars, we have a proven track record, and the company is more open to sharing the money they have with us--from a few hundred dollars to help print some postcards to a few thousand dollars for a larger effort.

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