Given the rapid pace of change within the IT industry, channel partners are challenged on two fronts: keeping up with new technology, and finding new clients for that technology. Most channel partners likely relish the former challenge; it is the latter of generating new leads and landing new clients that is vexing. Yet in today's competitive environment for managed services, channel partners must continually look for fresh leads, and do so in ways that are increasingly creative, actionable, and relatively easy to implement.
As unabashed techies, however, it is all too easy for channel partners to fall into old patterns of marketing, and chief among those is pushing the technology message. Such an approach, says Giovanni Sanguily, CEO and creative director of TriDigital LLC, an MSP marketing firm in Plano, Texas, is unlikely to uncover the most promising prospects. When it comes to new marketing ideas, "one thing MSPs can do that has the biggest impact is simple—stop marketing technology," he says.
While Sanguily concedes this seems unorthodox, MSPs typically take all of the advice from their vendors and mirror their behavior and messages accordingly. "The channel vendor will push technology and its benefits and that is the focus of marketing campaigns," he explains. "The problem is that these service providers are not selling software; they are selling their service and their expertise."
As Sanguily sees it, prospective customers aren't interested in buying technology—they are interested in buying solutions to their business problems. As such, prospects don't care about the software as much as the provider they are buying it from. As a consequence, the marketing messages that will resonate are those that emphasize "your people, your passion, and your culture," Sanguily says, or "the things that make your company different from others that are selling the exact same technology." Emphasizing the human element of your company in your marketing will lead to a higher response, Sanguily says.
Leads are also easier to generate when common interests are incorporated into marketing messages. If sports, travel, or the outdoors is an interest, Sanguily suggests writing blog posts that emphasize these activities and put a technology twist on them, rather than lead with the technology. The strategic placement of logos of charities or nonprofits an MSP supports on the contact page of a website can serve as an icebreaker to prompt a prospect to call. "Every which way you can market the human element and culture within your company is always going to result in more lead generation," he says.
Use an Interview Process
Another effective way to garner interest is to interview prospects and craft the results of those interviews into a thought leadership blog series. This approach worked well for Michael Brown when he worked in marketing for an IT firm. At the time, Brown was targeting QA professionals at enterprise companies. (He finds LinkedIn, trade publications, and conference speaker lists as good ways to identify interview subjects.) "As a marketer, I would find those people and instead of spamming them with email, I would ask for a 10-minute interview," Brown says. "This was a totally nonsales approach [that] got us on their radar," he adds.
Today, Brown is the CEO of nDash Marketing in Natick, Mass., a company that offers a platform for content creation. "Channel people are obviously subject matter experts in technology but not always the most marketing savvy," he says. An effective marketing tactic to capitalize on that expertise is to create a YouTube channel. "In this space what is really effective are videos that are practical," he says. Videos that offer product tutorials or comparisons can be particularly compelling, and often don't require high production values. These videos serve to give channel partners authority; feedback and comments left by viewers can be mined for leads, Brown adds.