With 2018 already approaching the halfway market, customer value continues to be central to partner success in 2018.
Today, customers look, think and buy differently, consuming technology in different ways through different providers.
No longer can partners live on reputation, with new competitors removing a previous right to exist, expand and excel.
During the next 12 months, customer acquisition will dominate the agenda as the leading priority for management teams across New Zealand, as the channel pursues aggressive growth plans.
But recruiting new business requires new approaches, underpinned by a need to transform. Driving such growth will be marketing, arguably the most contentious word in the channel.
Historically under-utilised and under-valued, the traditional reseller has seldom appreciated the art of marketing.
Driven by either a lack of understanding or appreciation, the concept of communicating with the customer, has for a long time, challenged a market built off referrals and word of mouth.
But as the buyer becomes more informed, more digitally savvy and more aware of the options available, partners are recognising the need to prioritise and modernise end-user engagement to drive new revenue streams.
As outlined by EDGE Research, 61 per cent of Kiwi partners are looking to invest more in marketing during 2018, with 36 per cent satisfied with current strategies and three per cent planning to decrease spending.
Overall, the consensus points to partners open to change. Yet marketing, and all it encompasses, remains the soft underbelly of the New Zealand channel.
In a healthy market buoyed by end-user investment and access to emerging technologies, marketing remains an Achilles’ heel, a weak spot born out of inadequacy and inefficacy, fuelled by a scepticism stretching decades.
For an industry forever nestled on the edge of the technological curve, marketing has seldom enjoyed such rapid levels of adoption in the channel.
Representing an area of the market that fosters mistrust for a many a technology provider in New Zealand, marketing knowledge in the channel varies from partner to partner.
But while partners acknowledge change is required, challenges remain around defining clear metrics for success, metrics that are specified, agreed upon, and then made highly visible.
Because one crucial question remains, what constitutes as a successful marketing campaign?
“Any marketing initiative that brings a positive impact on our business is deemed a success,” Softsource marketing manager, Sandi Dunn, said. “The range of success is what differentiates a campaign.
“On the top end of the scale is revenue gains and net new acquisitions and less visible, but equally as important, are the long-term gains in branding and market education.”
As outlined by Dunn, a well mapped marketing strategy can help expose partners to new revenue streams, creating new conversations as a result.
But success, in the context of marketing, can be subjective.
“A successful marketing campaign is one that aligns back to one or all of the marketing strategies set out in the marketing plan for the year, which in return is aligned to the organisational strategy,” Dimension Data head of marketing and sales enablement, Diljit Bolla, added.
“We take a balanced approach of both short-term and long-term marketing objectives that achieves one or more of the following – brand awareness and promotion, return on investment, client reference-ability and client acquisition.”
Delving deeper, Yasmiin Raiend, marketing coordinator at Lexel Systems, believes marketing priorities should reflect those of the business, mirroring management goals and strategies in the process.
“At this point brand awareness is key,” Raiend added. “We are working to ensure we are front of mind. Leads are always an important aspect, if you bring in potential business all relevant parties are happy.”
In overseeing the marketing strategy of Canon Business in New Zealand, Hannah Johnston believes success depends on the activity undertaken, and crucially, the overall objectives of the campaign.
“We try to strike a good balance between proactive campaigns to attract new customers, and industry activity to create the opportunity for conversations, as we’re in a relationship-based sales environment,” Johnston explained.
“Success is measured on the new or retained business that came from the activity. This is a combination of anecdotal feedback, and hard data to determine effectiveness seems to provide the best insight. It can’t just be one or the other.”
According to leading technology providers in New Zealand - including Umbrellar, Open Systems Specialists, SecureCom and SAS IT among others - branding remains a crucial part of any marketing strategy, driven by a desire to increase customer awareness outside of the current market.
Branding naturally evolves into a desire to create leads for partners also, triggered by a need to expand end-user horizons across the market.
“Our priorities centre around brand repositioning and audience development,” SAS IT marketing director, Ian Hight, added. “A successful campaign in our opinion will both identify and engage with an audience. But this remains an ongoing challenge for providers in the channel today.”
Today, partners are struggling to shed archaic marketing tactics in favour of more dynamic ways to communicate with potential customers, restricting growth opportunities as a result.
Marketing — or a distinct lack of — is a problem often swept under the carpet by providers, providers relying heavily on technical expertise and experience.
And while such in-depth capabilities combine to create enviable reputations locally, partners are failing to expand outside of the referral zone, with messaging trapped in a concentrated pool of current customers.
“Resource is our number one challenge from a marketing perspective,” Umbrellar marketing manager, Shavvah Aldred, added.
“Going forward, partners and vendors can both see value through ensuring the planning process is a collaborative one. It’s important to ensure we are geared up to be successful during every quarter.”
Echoing Aldred’s observations, SecureCom director, Greg Mikkelsen, said that having the bandwidth to execute on a "timely basis" remains a difficult undertaking for partners, alongside complying with the compliance rules from various vendors.
“I believe the channel would benefit from vendors having local discretion as to how funds are applied in New Zealand,” Mikkelsen advised.
As agents of change within an organisation, marketers are progressing to the boardroom en masse, creating viable business paths from CMO to CEO.
Such progression remains sluggish in technology however, restricted by management teams unwilling to sanction fundamental make-over projects, or provide resources to drive change.
“The resource required to properly leverage our in market activity is a challenge,” Johnston added. “But the biggest challenge in my opinion is that sponsorship and event activity always seems to be centred around ‘brand awareness’ and having a logo on things, and that doesn’t drive real value for our customers, or our sales teams.
“We are looking for providers to offer more opportunities for us to leverage their events and activities to create real connection and add value to our current and potential customers.”
According to Bolla, technology advancements continue to grow exponentially with disruptive technologies expected to rapidly change how businesses, and the New Zealand economy, operates.
“The digital economy is changing from being a standalone industry to being embedded in businesses across the economy,” he explained.
“These changes mean marketing also needs to embedded across all parts of the business and understand current and future trends to be able to serve the needs of our clients requirements with marketing strategies.
“Marketing in the technology sector is evolving rapidly and we’re seeing more and more marketing being a key strategic investment area.”
For Bolla, the challenges many marketers face centre around shifting the perceptions of what has traditionally been a back office function, to one that is leading the organisation to success.
“We’re seeing this as being critically important as marketing becomes more and more a critical element to every business moving forward,” he added.
In response to new buying behaviours, partners recognise the value of differentiation, yet face roadblocks in an industry comprising of more than 3,000 competitors locally.
Read more on the next page...