Biting into the almost free lunch

Biting into the almost free lunch

Resellers can tap their vendor partners for marketing funds to help sell their solutions. But first you have to do your homework to make a case

If you have a well-thought-out marketing initiative, one than includes a specific activity, a budget, a realistic return on investment and a method for quantifying the results — then there are market development resources available from vendors to help you achieve your goals.

Not 100 percent funding, mind you. There is no free lunch, but there is enough money to make it worth your while. You just have to do your homework.

Nobody is going to fund a feel-good meet-and-greet event or buy your advertising for you. You know your clients and their needs. If you can clearly articulate their requirements and show your vendor partners that, with a bit of proactive marketing, you can sell more of their solutions, you can get the green light to spend their money. Anything else is just spinning your wheels.

The days of free-flowing funds are well and truly over. Just looking at the number of ad pages in the trade press is a dead give-away. So resellers really need to hone their marketing initiatives to make maximum impact for minimal dollars.

“The equation has changed,” says Gerard Fitzgibbon, director of marketing firm Demand Flow Intelligence. “It’s moved from a sales cycle process on the part of the reseller to a buying cycle exercise for end users. The challenge for resellers is to be able to synchronise their messaging to resonate with the end users who are ready, willing and able to make the purchase. Just shouting ‘this particular product is great’ at end users doesn’t work.”

Result-driven exercise

Co-op funding is a results-driven exercise.

“Before we release any funding for marketing, we set realistic targets for sales and pipelines within a certain timeframe,” says Brad Andrews, ANZ national sales manager for CyberPower Systems. “There are no hard and fast rules. Each reseller has unique markets, resources and requirements. When a reseller or distributor makes a request for co-op funding we’ll sit down with them and discuss exactly what they want to achieve. The actual project can be as simple as an electronic flyer sent out to prospects or a full-blown promotion with bundled products and aggressive pricing. But whatever the scope, the results should be quantifiable and commensurate with the resources invested.”

Measuring results is a key requirement for any marketing initiative.

“The move towards digital marketing makes it easier to measure results,” says Mark Evans, a director of marketing firm Swaytech. “In the past, resellers might have been able to propose ‘brand building’ initiatives and receive funding. But now, with tighter controls, vendors want to see results in sales, leads and pipelines. However, this enforced rigour encourages resellers to target their messages and articulate the returns. In fact, the advance in technology means that it is easier to see marketing as an investment rather than an expense.”

Reading the prospect

“Enterprises work to their own timetable, especially with major purchases,” says Bob Pinchin, also a director at Swaytech. “There are five steps that they follow - identifying the challenge, researching the market, finding resellers, trialling the solution and then, and only then, making the purchase. It is absolutely essential to ensure that your marketing collateral addresses the appropriate stage. For instance, success stories are good for the earlier stages. The point is that good marketing is a process that creates a narrative that clearly defines the benefits that a solution provides. Branding is nice, but addressing specific challenges is what enterprises will pay for.”

‘Technology is rapidly approaching the commodity stage,” says Sam Excell, director of Leverage Excellence, a specialist IT marketing firm. “As such, you can’t simply focus on features. Resellers, with their already established customer and prospect relationships, can look beyond the features and identify exactly how these features can address the customer’s challenges. And once they articulate the benefits that a particular solution provides, prospects are more inclined to listen.”

Planning the project

Planning for a successful marketing initiative takes a strong mix of experience, expertise and technique. “Most vendors already have a co-op funding process in place,” continues Excell. “It all starts with a conversation, either with the distributor or vendor. If you have an idea…say a service that adds value to a particular product and want to communicate the benefits to a set of your qualified prospects…there are typically forms to fill out. They might include budgets, timeframes, returns and a way of quantifying the results. Similarly resellers are usually tasked with preparing follow-up reports that provide the final numbers.”

It is absolutely essential to follow the proper procedures. “Vendors see the value in co-op marketing initiatives,” says Excell, “but they need to see results. Indeed, most co-op funds are just that, co-operative, not 100 percent. If resellers are spending their own funds as well, they are more inclined to set a goal - and a clear expectation - for return on investment.”

“We like to work with resellers on co-op marketing initiatives,” says Brad Andrews. “The initiative not only helps us build tighter relationships with our channel partners but it also helps us focus our own marketing and messages. We recognise the fact that some IT shops are not marketing professionals so we make every effort to provide back-up support in addition to funding. For instance we have pre-prepared collateral or can provide custom-created content. We have found that approaching vertical markets - such as the education sector - works particularly well as resellers have that specialist knowledge that is industry specific. A well-designed marketing initiative helps our partners differentiate themselves from their competitors.”

An on-going process

Marketing isn’t a one-off exercise.

“While a specific marketing initiative has to show a good return on investment you should be looking at a consistent programme to keep yourselves in your client’s mind-set," says Pinchin. "You need to constantly drive home the message that you have specific skills and services, your unique selling proposition, that can provide concrete benefits to your prospects. The narrower you can craft the message to specific classes of prospects, the better your results will be. Vendors reward success and, as your marketing initiatives gain traction, your vendor partners will be more inclined to continue the process.”

There are dozens of different strategies for generating leads, building the pipeline and closing sales. Some take more money than time and others are labour-intensive. Some solutions are easier to sell than others, some products are commodities and others are just entering the market. But regardless of the context, intelligent marketing is absolutely necessary to let prospects know that you can add value to the particular solution. “While the technology has changed the individual marketing tasks,” says Bob Pinchin, “the process hasn’t changed. You have to understand the requirements of your clients, know who within the organisation makes the purchasing decisions and then craft your marketing to address specific challenges. Marketing is all about creating a point of difference and a well-thought out campaign, partially-funded by vendor resources, is an excellent way to get your message out there.

Marketing mix

Gerard Fitzgibbon has identified the three components for getting your message out to prospects. A successful marketing initiative can include any or all of these types of marketing:

Paid: Advertising, pure and simple. You control the media and the message. Plus you can leverage the reputation of the medium. For a broad market but somewhat difficult to quantify returns.

Owned: Your website, blogs, newsletters and collateral. You control the message and the delivery. The advantage is that you can build momentum and maintain steady communications. However, you need to keep everything up-to-date. Also includes telemarketing and events.

Earned: Marketing nirvana. Word-of-mouth, recommendations, referrals, success stories. Hard to come by, but perhaps the most effective marketing you can utilise. People trust what their colleagues have to say. Plus these conversations take place near the ‘buy’ stage of the sales cycle.

Co-op funding can be used to support any or all of these types of marketing.

A case in point

Co-op funded events are an effective medium to promote new technologies and reseller capabilities. A good example was this week’s client seminar on software-defined networks (SDN) co-hosted by virtual networking vendor Brocade and Asnet, a Brocade Premier Partner. “Clients will be adopting SDN virtualised networks over time,” says Jo Graham of Merge Marketing, coordinator of the event, “and an event like this, targeted to current Asnet Limited clients, provides an overview of the benefits and a roadmap for phased adoption. In addition, it reinforces Asnet’s forward-looking approach and role as an IT advisor.”

Planning for a 50-plus attendee event takes a fair bit of coordination and effort. “There are very specific vendor guidelines for funding that have to be carefully fulfilled,” says Graham. “Plus you need to ensure that the co-hosted collateral is specific to the event, vendor and client base. And then there is the actual running of the event with invitations, venues, speakers, services, etc. It’s a big investment.”

If value-added resellers don’t have the marketing expertise in-house to coordinate a co-op funded event or campaign, those tasks can be outsourced to IT marketing professionals.

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