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In-Depth

59 Real-World Marketing Tactics for Microsoft Partners

From specialization to audience targeting, content creation, traffic generation and more, marketing consultant Barb Levisay offers proven tips for bolstering your name recognition.

  • Get more marketing tips and insights from Barb Levisay in her RCP blog, Marketing Matters.

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In the real world, making time for marketing -- especially when times are good -- is challenging. Most partners don't have a big marketing team dedicated to keeping the blog fresh and the pipeline full. New business comes from referrals, which is a testament to good work but doesn't make for a consistent flow of projects. Balancing the delivery of current projects with selling new business never ends.

Consistency Is Your Secret Weapon
Whatever marketing strategy and tactics you choose, they'll be effective if you're persistent. Consistency is the key to success in marketing. (One clarification: Consistently doing nothing doesn't count.) Choosing your tactics based on your strengths instead of what's popular will help you achieve that consistency.

There's still no silver bullet in marketing. Social media is not a replacement for the marketing tactics that have evolved over the years. It's a tool in your arsenal, joining the list with networking, e-mail, seminars and trade shows. There are plenty of partners who have never posted a blog or a tweet but continue to thrive and grow.

Decide what type of marketing tactics you're most likely to support for the long term. Even if you don't have a marketing team, identify the people in the organization who like to write, give presentations or network. Make someone in the organization accountable to "make it happen" -- whether it's sending the e-mail or posting the article. There are methods to fine-tune your marketing and improve results, but don't get distracted by details until you have an established routine.

With those guidelines in place, let's roll out some ideas to help you make marketing happen.

Define Your Target
Defining your ideal prospect will save you money and time. You can build and deliver a more-effective message when you target a well-defined group. With a clearly defined target market, you'll focus your marketing efforts where they'll be most effective, lower your cost of sales and add customers that you want to keep.

1. Analyze your past sales -- Instead of looking at the clients with the highest revenue, figure out those with the highest profits. Look for the similarities in industry, number of employees, location and other demographic characteristics.

2. Create a profile of your best customer -- It's important to articulate a concise description of the customers you want to attract. Your internal team, as well as Microsoft reps, can help you more when they have a clear picture of your ideal customer.

3. Proclaim your specialty -- Based on your analysis and success with current clients, build a message that explains how you solve problems in your chosen specialty.

Build Credibility in Your Specialization
A common misconception is that specialization is the same as industry focus. Your ideal target market could be geographic (small businesses within a 50-mile radius) or functional (business analysts of Fortune 500 companies). The goal is to define a market where you can build credibility as a problem solver.

4. Build a microsite -- Creating a specialized microsite (a separate but linked Web site) allows you to deliver a targeted message without alienating your horizontal market. You can maintain a general message on your main Web site to welcome all visitors and use the microsite to support your targeted marketing.

5. Follow industry experts -- Take the time to identify the experts in your chosen specialty and learn about them. It's easy to monitor their activities through Twitter or search alerts. Look for ways to emulate or partner with the leaders in your market.

6. Update your Pinpoint listing -- In addition to prospects searching for industry solutions, Microsoft field reps and partners use the Microsoft Pinpoint directory to find solution experts. Keep your Pinpoint listing up-to-date with links to new content you develop and ask every client to post a review.

7. Speak at an event -- Share best practices or a creative solution to a common problem with people in your industry. Submit a proposal to speak at a conference, user group meeting or SharePoint Saturday.

8. Sponsor a special interest group -- SharePoint Saturdays are a great example of educational events that build user adoption and connect a group of people using the same technology. Think about what kind of group you could sponsor -- from CIO roundtables to app developer meet-ups. You can be a catalyst to build an active community.

9. Monitor tweets -- Follow what's happening in your market by "listening" to tweets posted with hashtags that are pertinent to your prospects. Common Twitter monitoring tools include TweetDeck and HootSuite. Find hashtags through Twitter search or hashtags.org.

10. Use LinkedIn groups -- As an active participant in the LinkedIn groups that serve your target market, you can learn more about the challenges your prospects face and offer your expertise to help. As tempting as it may be, keep a lid on the sales pitch. You'll build trust and goodwill if you give more than you ask.

11. Attend a trade show -- Trade shows give you the opportunity to talk to and learn from your prospects -- but make sure you listen more than you talk. Following up with in-depth individual responses to the people who are really interested is far more important than a generic e-mail sent out to everyone who picked up a pen.

12. Create a packaged service -- One of the benefits of serving a defined market is that you deliver repeatable solutions to clients with similar problems. When you create a packaged service, you simplify the decision process for the prospect. They know exactly what services they get and what problem is solved.

13. Build press relationships -- Identify and follow the journalists who cover your market. Instead of sending generic press releases, send an e-mail with an idea for a story. Even if they don't use your idea, they'll remember the gesture when they need to interview an expert.

Build Valuable Marketing Content
A sound content-marketing strategy should educate buyers and help them move through the buying decision process. Whatever the form of your content, the end goal should be to engage and educate buyers. Make all your content easy to scan for fast reading -- use descriptive subheads, short paragraphs and bulleted lists.

14. Update your Web site and collateral -- It's probably time, or past time, to update your Web site and collateral. Use bigger fonts and less text to achieve a modern look. The syndicated feeds on the Microsoft Ready-to-Go site can help you keep the Web site fresh.

15. Offer a white paper -- White papers do not have to be long, boring tomes written by experts. Write your own, using graphics to engage readers and simplify complex topics. You can also find Microsoft-sponsored white papers on the Ready-to-Go site.

16. Post an e-book -- The only rule in content marketing is that you create something of interest and valuable to the reader. Call a white paper an e-book if you want. Design it landscape or portrait, and have some fun with it. Your readers will appreciate a unique approach.

17. Transform a PowerPoint into an e-book -- With just a little work you can turn your PowerPoint decks into e-books. Edit the deck down to the key slides and add text to explain concepts. If the PowerPoint is longer than 15 slides, edit more. Give it a snappy title, make it a PDF and presto ... An e-book.

18. Create an infographic -- Infographics use data, words and graphics to engage prospects with a quick overview of a topic. Use infographics to raise awareness, explain complex processes and demonstrate your expertise.

19. Commit to case studies -- Setting a goal of one per month or quarter will help you actually get those case studies you've been planning done. An effective case study doesn't need to be long -- two pages at the most. There's a simple case study template on the Microsoft Office template site that will give you structure and professional-looking formatting.

20. Make a video -- Consider where you want videos to fit into your content strategy. Where will they help the prospect the most? Screencast videos that demonstrate your solution help buyers understand possibilities. Testimonial videos of your customers validate your expertise and value.

Nos. 21-40 >>

Drive Traffic to Your Web Site
Commonly referred to as inbound marketing, there are many ways to draw visitors to your Web site and move closer to the top in search engine results. The content on your Web site is the foundation of your inbound success. People will be drawn to your Web site if you can help solve the problem that motivates them to search for answers.

21. Start a blog -- To be effective, a blog needs frequent updating. Partners who make daily posts to their blog report significant improvement in search results. A growing trend and common technique for daily bloggers is content curation, citing and adding commentary to other articles posted on the Web.

22. Join or start a group blog -- When posting every day is more than your marketing and consulting teams can handle, consider joining a group blog. Collaborate with other companies offering complementary products or serving different regions to spread out the work.

23. Take on Twitter -- Use the hashtags your prospects are likely to follow; announce your blog posts, new content and events through Twitter.

24. Make the most of your Pinpoint profile -- The Microsoft Pinpoint directory is your opportunity to get a piece of the action from the millions of prospects visiting Microsoft Web sites. There's a direct correlation between the value that partners get from Pinpoint and the time spent improving their profiles.

25. Start a cartoon series -- Do you have someone on staff with a great sense of humor? Put their talents to work with a cartoon series posted on your Web site and promoted through social media.

26. Use Microsoft Ready-to-Go syndication -- It's easy to use, validates your relationship to Microsoft and keeps your Web site fresh without requiring your time. What's not to love?

27. Add live chat to your Web site -- Give prospects the opportunity to talk to you instantly with live chat. Some of the Ready-to-Go banners and microsites include Microsoft-supported live chat -- an awesome service for busy partners.

28. Add a newsletter sign-up form to your Web site -- This is an easy and sometimes surprisingly successful way to add to your prospect list. It does mean, however, that you actually need to send out a newsletter regularly, the more frequently the better.

29. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) -- There are many aspects to SEO, from keyword analysis to Web site structure to link strategies. Hire an expert with proven experience to help you.

30. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) -- Ad word campaigns that use pay-per-click banners through Bing or Google are widely used by partners. As with SEO, work with an expert to get the most out of your investment.

Build Local Presence Through Networking
For many partners, especially those serving a community or regional market, their most effective marketing is done with a handshake. In-person events are regaining their former popularity and provide a perfect platform for partners to ride the wave of new releases.

31. Organize a seminar -- Use the content that you've developed for your Web site or take advantage of the event tools on the Microsoft Ready-to-Go marketing site. The Ready-to-Go event registration process has been improved, eliminating the Windows Live ID requirement that kept many partners from using it.

32. Get active in a local professional organization -- While attending regular meetings of the chamber of commerce or technology council is a step in the right direction, active participation will deliver more returns. Earning a position on the board can build your reputation and give you access to higher-level business leaders.

33. Start a CxO networking group -- Whether your target is IT or business managers, people who share the same challenges such as to get together and exchange ideas. By organizing and sponsoring the meetings, you provide a valuable service and build goodwill.

34. Hold a Microsoft Community Connections session -- Designed to connect professional organizations like chambers of commerce with technology speakers, the Community Connections program gives you instant credibility as a partner with Microsoft.

35. Partner with local businesses -- Cosponsor a campaign or event with other local businesses that serve the same market. Even if your cosponsors are in a completely different industry, such as a printer or commercial realtor, together you can offer a seminar on a variety of topics of interest to business owners. More content will attract more prospects.

36. Sponsor a technology award -- A $500 or $1,000 scholarship can make a world of difference for a student. Contact your local community college or chamber of commerce to see how you can sponsor an award. Make the presentation at the annual meeting to build goodwill and inspire others.

37. Meet at the Microsoft Store -- Microsoft Stores are proving to be a great asset to partners as a venue for meetings and seminars. The setting is high-tech yet fun, and will attract both young and mature audiences.

Nurture Your Current Contacts and Prospects
Most partners have e-mail contact lists that have been accumulated over time through webinars, seminars and telemarketing. Those lists are gold -- maybe a little tarnished, but gold nonetheless.

38. Clean up your house e-mail list -- It might be easier than you think to clean and augment your current list. The Ready-to-Go site has services providers to help. The more segmentation you can achieve, the more effective you can make every contact with individual prospects.

39. Spend time on your e-newsletters -- The better the information that you offer in your newsletter, the better your results will be. It really is that simple. And, yes, that means you need to make it a priority and spend the appropriate time putting the newsletter together.

40. Hold a webinar series -- A webinar series gives you a reason to contact your prospects multiple times and helps you build content that you can deliver to attendees and non-attendees alike. Turn each webinar deck into an e-book and offer them through your newsletter.

Nos. 41-59 >>

41. Include a call to action -- In every contact with your prospects, offer them something to help them take the next step. Asking them to call you is not a call to action. Offer them educational content, a special service package or a coupon.

Existing Customer Activities
The old rule of thumb says that the cost to acquire a new customer is seven times more than the cost of selling more to an existing customer. Whatever the true ratio, selling additional services to customers who trust you is clearly beneficial to both parties.

42. Send a handwritten note to one customer every week -- There's no better way to stand out from the crowd than to take the time to write a note thanking a customer for their business. It's a great habit that takes very little time.

43. Include a gift card with your invoice -- Thank your best customers with an occasional gift card included in their bill. You'll create a bit of buzz with the customer and maybe even get bills paid faster.

44. Hold a customer-appreciation event -- Thanking your customers for their business in person builds goodwill that lasts long after the event. Social events can be expensive and a lot of work, but vendors are often happy to pitch in.

45. Hold regular webinars for existing customers -- Enlist your vendors and ISVs to help you educate your customers on current trends and new technology. Work closely with presenters to ensure they prepare an educational webinar, not just a product demo.

46. Introduce new customers to the company -- When you add a new customer or complete a big project, share the news with your entire company. When every employee understands the kind of clients you attract and takes pride in your work, you have a powerful sales force.

47. Interview your customers -- Put your clients in the spotlight and let them tell your story. They'll appreciate the attention and provide validation for your services. You don't have to hire a professional to make a fine video, but use a microphone to make sure you get decent audio as well as video.

Help Your Channel Partners with Content
ISVs that take the lead in creating marketing tools and content for partners will build stronger relationships and control the conversation with end users more effectively. Ask not what your channel partners can do for you, but what you can do for your channel partners.

48. Write a series of blog posts -- As the expert on your subject, you can provide better insight into the problems your solution solves than anyone else. Use specific examples, without company names, to help your partners educate prospects on the value of your solution.

49. Provide collateral that can be personalized -- Partners have enough trouble keeping their own overview up-to-date, let alone ISV solution brochures. Give them powerpoint slides and Word versions of collateral so they can add their logo and contact information.

50. Create an e-book, infographic or video -- Partners are on a never-ending quest for valuable content to use as a call to action for e-mail campaigns and newsletters. If you provide content with real value to their customers, not just self-serving product slicks, they'll use it.

Make the Most of Your Microsoft Partnership
While gold and silver competencies have become more meaningful through the efforts of Microsoft, many customers don't yet appreciate the differentiation. According to Microsoft, only 5 percent of partners have attained competencies, putting gold and silver partners in an elite group. Microsoft is increasing education efforts, but partners should take responsibility to explain the value as well.

51. Explain your silver or gold competency -- There's a full marketing campaign with copy, Web banners and videos on Ready-to-Go to help you promote your status.

52. Nominate a customer for a Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) Award -- It might seem a lofty goal, but if you can demonstrate quantifiable business benefits resulting from a project, why not try? Ask for input from your Microsoft rep and talk to partners with previous wins to help you improve your submission.

53. Participate in the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) -- Get involved with the IAMCP to meet Microsoft reps and partners with complementary service offerings. The IAMCP fosters partner engagement and education to help you get the most from your Microsoft partnership.

54. Win wires -- When you close a big service opportunity that helps a customer use the licenses of products that they already own, tell Microsoft about it. Microsoft reps are focused on license sales, but they care about customer deployment as well. Let your Microsoft connections know that you're helping them win.

55. Use Microsoft marketing resources -- Microsoft Ready-to-Go and the Dynamics Marketing Services Bureau sites are full of content and tools to help you with marketing. If you have limited resources to devote to marketing, get some help. There are listings on both sites for services providers to get your marketing on track for a reasonable fee.

Test Your Current Systems
All of your marketing efforts are for naught if you don't make it easy for a customer to contact you when they're ready. Test every entry point into your company and make sure that your prospects won't hit any dead ends or frustrating loops.

56. Enlist a friend to call your office -- Find out what it's like for a person to contact your company. Enlist the help of a friend to place a call or send an e-mail requesting information about your services.

57. Be a prospect -- Visit your Web site and download a white paper. Do a keyword search on Pinpoint to see where your company lands, then read your listing from the prospect's perspective.

Move Beyond the Ordinary
Your prospects are bombarded from every direction with the same old sales pitches and promises. You need to be different to stand apart. Think outside the box, test creative approaches and let your personality shine.

58. Be bold -- You can't stand out from the crowd if you look like everyone else. Use the Ready-to-Go tools as ingredients for your marketing instead of the main dish. Add some zing and kick it up a notch.

59. Have fun -- The services that you deliver are serious business, but that doesn't mean your marketing has to be lifeless. Show your personality and have fun with marketing. Everyone likes to smile.

Marketing for the Real World
Most marketing discussions are over-hyped and over-complicated. The reality of marketing is simple: Consistently deliver a clear message to the appropriate audience and you'll attract new customers.

Whether you have a dedicated marketing team or a one-man show, make every moment you spend on marketing count with a clearly defined target market and consistent activity. Don't get sidetracked chasing the latest surefire lead-generation technique or mimicking what other partners are doing.

All of the tactics listed here are valid methods to help you build your business, but your business is unique. Evaluate your choices in terms of your team's strengths. Find the marketing tactics that fit your company's personality, and it will be far easier to keep the marketing engine humming.

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Excellent article by Barb. This is a perfect list of action items (not that a company needs to tackle ALL of them) to get marketing going and keep it going.

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