Consultants Shine and Business Follows

Everyone likes to share their expertise and knowledge with others. Your consulting team has a depth of knowledge that brings value to your customers every day -- but usually only one at a time. How can you tap into all that knowledge, take it to a larger audience and build business?

The Right Motivation
Your consultants are probably rewarded for maximizing billable time. If you want them to contribute to the business development effort, you have to offer motivation without penalty. It is surprising how often this seemingly obvious point gets missed.

Preparing content, whether writing or speaking, takes time. If you ask your employees to add to their workload without the right motivation, it won't get done. Reward them for all the time that goes into the preparation for content and presentations -- great presentations that the audience remembers.

Rewards can be delivered in many forms. Consider gift cards, comp days off, employee of the month or other creative ways to recognize the extra work or time away from family. The business that you stand to get from the work of the team will pay off in the end.

The Right Place
One size does not fit all. Some of your consultants are probably great writers, most are probably not. Some are great speakers or great networkers, most not. Each of these outlets has merit and the potential to build your reputation in the community. Help your employees match their interests and expertise with connections to your target market.

Shine the Light
Blogs are great vehicles for your writers, but what if you don't have a company blog? You can still make use of written content in the form of articles or reports. Use a Word template to format the document professionally and offer it as a .PDF on your Web site. Even better, include a blurb in your newsletter and provide a link to download the full document.

For those consultants who like to present to groups, check out Microsoft's Community Connections program. This is a terrific way to leverage your relationship with Microsoft to make a positive impression on professional business groups in your area. As a trusted representative of Microsoft, you set the tone for demonstrating your company's expertise.

Networking should always be an integral part of your marketing program. Owners and consultants alike should know and participate in the professional groups that attract your target market buyers. For those who like to network, it's probably fun, but it's still important to place value on the time that they invest.

Give your consultants the opportunity to round out their experience and build confidence. They will appreciate the opportunity to share their knowledge and help build your reputation as the experts.

How are your consultants contributing to business development efforts? Comment below or e-mail me and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on February 08, 20121 comments

Show and Tell: Using Graphics in Partner Marketing Materials

A picture is worth...well, you know the rest. Pictures and graphics really can help you explain more in fewer words. When you think about the complexity of the technology solutions and systems that you are selling, it becomes even more important to consider ways to illustrate your message. The point of adding a graphic to any document should be to simplify the concept to help the reader "get it."

When you are trying to explain a concept or feature, think about how you might turn that into a graphic to make your point. There are plenty of tools at your disposal to create clarifying illustrations for your Web site, blogs and marketing literature. Here are some examples:

  • PowerPoint: For all the bashing that PowerPoint takes, it is an amazingly easy tool to use to create nice graphics. SmartArt is a great place to start. Consider what concept you are trying to convey and find a match with a SmartArt graphic. There are helpful suggestions when you "Choose a SmartArt Graphic" that can lead to the best choice. There are multiple sites online where you can purchase PowerPoint templates to save you time and hassle when you don't want to create your own.

  • Excel: When you want to convey information about data, it's tough to beat Excel. Charting in Excel has come a long way. The options are endless and the combination of PowerPivot and Charting makes it very easy to test different combinations and sorting of data to make your point.

  • Visio: Visio is an often overlooked but powerful graphic tool for complex and connected data. The workflow and process diagrams are especially helpful at showing a client how all the pieces of a solution fit together for their organization.

  • Adobe Illustrator:While the application is not cheap and the charting function is not very flexible, Illustrator supports more complex graphic creation. Illustrator is the tool of choice for creating the popular infographics, where marketing meets data. Purchasing vector icons and graphics as the base for your infographic makes the task easier and gives it a professional look.

Get Creative, but Keep It Simple
Finding the right approach to graphically depict a concept isn't necessarily easy. Try different approaches and different tools, but keep the design as simple as possible. Clarity is the end game, so don't try to get fancy until your concept is crystal clear.

Keep in mind, your illustrations need to put concepts in perspective so people can see the big picture. Graphics can help to simplify complex concepts to generate those "Aha!" moments.

How are you using graphics to get the message across? Leave a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on February 02, 20120 comments

How One Partner Found Event Success at the Microsoft Store

While there are currently only 14 Microsoft stores open around the country, the company plans to open 75 over the next couple of years. If you are lucky enough to have one in your backyard, it's the perfect place to hold a client event with style.

Cloudy with a Chance of Sales in Atlanta
Located in Woodstock, Ga., just north of Atlanta, RoseBud Technologies has held five events since the Atlanta Microsoft retail store opened in May 2011. While all the events were successful, according to Greg Wartes, director of marketing for RoseBud, the Nov. 9 event was over the top. Co-hosted by Microsoft, November's cloud services-focused event attracted over 200 registrations with approximately 150 attending.

"If I had to put a check mark by the most successful marketing tactics, it would have to be the LinkedIn groups," Wartes said. "From the tracking we could do with such a large crowd, it appears that over half of the attendees found out about the event through LinkedIn." Wartes and other RoseBud team members spent the weeks before the event finding and announcing the event to LinkedIn groups that were local to Atlanta with potential interest in cloud computing.

The strong relationship that RoseBud has built with the regional Microsoft team also helped the event gain attention and drive attendance. Greg Treanor, vice president at RoseBud, cited the relationship with Microsoft reps as critical to the success of the event.

Event Content
The November event was billed as a continuation of the Office 365 launch, and also included Windows Intune and CRM online. Treanor presented O365 and Intune, while Atlanta-based Zero2Ten presented the CRM online content. Using real-world examples, the partners were able to demonstrate their knowledge and experience to the crowd.

The 9 a.m. pre-opening schedule was helpful in accommodating the crowd before the store opening. Even though the event was held early, the audience was interactive, asking plenty of practical questions that helped build interest. The topic of cloud clearly resonated with the audience.

Treanor said, "The event was very positive. We got the chance to meet about 150 people who we hadn't met before. Our cost for the involvement was low and we developed more than a dozen really good leads with immediate needs. We have closed most of those opportunities.

"I am really in awe of the reach we were able to achieve through this event, even though we are a small partner. This was beyond anything we could have done on our own. The fact that partners can use these regional stores -- which are a 'destination' for a lot of people -- gives them the chance to meet people they would not otherwise have the opportunity to meet."

Lessons Learned
While most partners may not hit registration numbers like 200, the RoseBud team shared some lessons that partners can use to prepare for a better experience:

  • Staff up and be ready for questions. Have as many staff on hand as possible to talk one-on-one with prospects at the end of the event.

  • Take plenty of business cards.

  • Plan ahead so you can manage the details that make an event flow smoothly.

  • Go to the store in advance to meet with the Microsoft store management team. Map out the logistics with the Microsoft team and take advantage of their experience.

If have a Microsoft retail store in your town, contact them right away to get your event on the calendar. Schedules fill up quickly. Across the country, the store management teams have proven themselves to be very supportive of partners and their events.

Did you have a great event at a Microsoft store? Comment below or tell me about it so we can share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on January 26, 20120 comments

Microsoft Launches Dynamics Marketing Services Bureau

The Dynamics marketing team recently launched the much-anticipated "U.S. Microsoft Dynamics Marketing Services Bureau" (MSB). The site, located on the Dynamics partner portal PartnerSource, is a unique listing of marketing services delivered by Microsoft-approved vendors. The variety and depth of services -- as well as the accompanying 46-page MSB Guide -- is impressive.

Strategy to Execution
Thirteen vendors with experience servicing the Dynamics partner community offer up everything from strategy session to sales leads. The MSB Web site is divided into three sections, including:

  • Outbound Marketing: Demand Generation
  • Inbound Marketing and Social Media
  • Marketing Consulting and Content Creation

"We've assembled vendors that can offer something for everyone -- affordable services for smaller partners and programs that can fill gaps for larger partners," said Allison Dawson, Dynamics Partner Marketing manager.

Some of the unique services include:

Even More Services in the Guide
The MSB Guide is arranged a little differently than the Web site, with additional services and much deeper detail on the vendor offerings.  According to the guide, Microsoft says it has "assembled a wide variety of marketing services, learning opportunities and other resources to help you make the most of your marketing investments, such as:

  • Microsoft Dynamics-savvy vendors to save you time usually spent on ramping up the vendor on your practice and your offerings.
  • Best-practice marketing offerings based on "what's working right now" for other Microsoft Dynamics partners.
  • Testimonials from Microsoft Dynamics partners for both the services and the vendors to give you "real-world" feedback.

As Dawson says, "This is one of the first places that Dynamics marketers and partners should go as they build their marketing programs." Especially helpful for marketers new to the Dynamics channel, the vendors know the products and the markets. No time wasted educating the writers or telemarketers on the product set and target markets. It's well worth the time to download and review the guide."

While the MSB was promised some time ago, the depth of offerings justifies the delay. Dynamics partners could transform their marketing programs tapping into services offered in this directory. The MSB is definitely worthy of your attention.

Have you used any of the MSB services?  Leave a comment below or tell me about your experience so we can share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on January 23, 20121 comments

Is Your E-Mail Acting Alone?

E-mail remains at the top of the list for effectiveness for business-to-business marketers with high return on investment. According to a 2011 Forrester Research report, promotional e-mails are getting a better reception from consumers than they were in the past. But even with these star qualities, your e-mail can't do the job alone.

Here are four pointers to keep in mind to make the most of your promotional e-mails:

1. Click-Through Is the First Step
As you write and design your e-mail, your primary goal is usually to connect with prospects and motivate them to click on a link that will take them to more information -- the "offer." Through your e-mail marketing services provider, like Constant Contact or MailChimp, you can track who clicked the links and follow up with them. All good, but are you also making the most of their click-through destination experience.

2. Dedicated Landing Pages
If you send prospects to your main Web site to find the offer that interests them, it may be hard for them to find it. Even if it seems obvious to you, it may not be so obvious to your prospects and you sure don't want to confuse them. A dedicated landing page allows you to deliver the offer without clutter and to focus their attention on the next step that you want them to take.

3. The Next Step
Your prospects have made it to the landing page and downloaded or watched or read the information they were looking for. Now what? Don't miss the opportunity to invite her to take the next step. While you don't want to muddy the water with more offers, you might include a link to the main Web site that provides deeper information specific to the offer.

4. Follow Up
There is no substitute for quick, polite follow-up. Whether through a phone call or e-mail, thanking someone for visiting your site and asking if they need more information is good manners -- and good marketing. If prospects came to your site, they have some interest. Follow up.

Don't let you e-mail carry the full burden. When your Web site and sales team support your e-mail, whether it's your monthly newsletter or a specific campaign, you will see better lead results.

Have you run a clever e-mail campaign lately? Post a comment below, or e-mail me and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on January 12, 20120 comments

The 6 Essential Elements of a Successful Marketing Campaign

Your monthly newsletter is humming along, but you want to run a special campaign to feature a new service. What are the necessary pieces that you need to assemble to build an effective marketing campaign?

1. The Target
Probably the most overlooked (but most important) step in the process of planning a marketing campaign is defining your audience. Who do you want to appeal to? The more narrowly you can define the person -- remember you are talking to a person, not a company -- who will benefit from your service, the better results you will get. From industry to role to age, define who you want to reach and why they need your services.

2. The List
Once you have the target definition, you need to identify a set of contacts that fit that profile. First, look inside the organization for contact lists.  You may have more than you realize. Salespeople's contact lists, opt-in lists gathered from your Web site, other departments and existing customers are all sources to turn to first. People that you already have a relationship with will be more likely to read your message than a stranger.

The number of sources and variance of quality for contact lists are as complex as Microsoft licensing. Don't let it overwhelm you. Focus on your target definition. Professional organizations or publications that serve the market can be a good source of rental or purchase lists. The Microsoft Ready-to-Go Services site includes several sources to help you find the right lists.

Keep in mind that you want to build a relationship with these contacts. If you execute your campaign as a one-time event rather than to build long-term relationships, you are going to be disappointed. To that end, ownership of the list is far better than rental if you have the option.

3. The Value Proposition
To get your message right, think about the target audience you have identified and stand in their shoes. What are the problems that they face and how can you help? Your value proposition is just that: What value can you deliver to help them improve their business or solve their problem? Tell them, clearly and without jargon, how you can do that. Make it real to your prospects by giving them actual examples of how you have helped organizations similar to theirs.

4. The Offer (Call to Action)
Don't leave the conversation without offering more to those who are interested. A call to action helps you identify the prospects who need more attention. Not everyone on your list is going to buy; it's a very small percentage that will read your message and a smaller percentage that will have any interest. Give them a reason to ask for more information. Case studies, whitepapers, videos, webinars and any other educational content that you can offer are all great calls to action. Asking them to call you for more information is not.

5. The Delivery Method
How are you going to deliver the message to your target audience? There is no right or wrong here, and using more than one method is always better (commonly referred to as multi-touch marketing). Different people respond to different types of contact. Include e-mail, snail-mail, Web advertising, social avenues like LinkedIn or professional organizations, and even traditional advertising in your list of options.

6. The Follow-Up
Your campaign is only as good as your follow-up. Just like you, your prospects are busy and get hundreds of marketing messages each day. You need to continue the dialogue with them until they opt out or buy.

Most partners don't have the resources to test messages, track and report on the results of each campaign. Yes, you should test and analyze to maximize results. There are probably a lot of things that you should be doing. It is far more important to keep marketing going than it is to make it perfect.

That said, pay attention to the response that you get in terms of the vehicles and the message. Ask your new customers how they heard about you. Track as much as you can, but don't stop because you aren't getting the results you expected. If you have a good message targeted to the right prospects and keep the dialogue going, you will connect with them.

Marketing campaign planning isn't just for big marketing departments. Work through these six steps and you'll have the pieces in place for an effective campaign. Most importantly, keep it going. There is no magic marketing technique that will get you tons of new clients in three months, but persistence will pay off.

Have you executed a creative marketing campaign recently? Comment below or e-mail me and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on January 04, 20120 comments

Take a Prospect's View of Your Web Site

When was the last time that you visited your Web site and read the copy? How about your Pinpoint listing? However you want to look at it -- end of the old year, beginning of the new -- now is the right time to sit in your prospect's seat and visit your online presence.

First Impressions Are Hard To Overcome
No matter what kind of marketing you are doing, from networking to e-mail newsletters, your Web site content should be fresh. When you make a connection with an interested prospect, the first thing he is going to do is check your Web site. If you have outdated events, references to old software versions or dated stock photos, it is not going to make a good first impression.

It may not be easy to be objective about your site, but pretend you are a typical client looking for a solution to a problem. Does the homepage include:

  • a clear statement of the services you provide in the first paragraph,
  • easy-to-understand navigation,
  • short paragraphs with bold subheads that lead the reader to pertinent information, and
  • easy-to-find contact information, including e-mail and phone number?

Click on page links to ensure they are still valid and send a test e-mail through contact forms. If you have whitepapers, try the downloads to make sure they still work.

Stay Competitive
While you are taking a look at your site, take a look at your competitors' as well. Does your site do well in the comparison? Does your content help to differentiate you from similar firms?

While this may all seem elementary, it's easy to forget to attend to the Web site when you are busy working with customers. As the first introduction to your prospects, your Web site doesn't need to have lots of bells and whistles, but it does need to be informative and up-to-date. Take the time this week to look at your site through your customer's eyes.

How do you keep your Web site fresh? Leave a comment below or tell me about it and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on December 21, 20110 comments

How Partners Can Build Business with Microsoft Community Connections

Building connections with your community through presentations to business and professional groups is not a new idea, but it's still a good one. There is no better way to position yourself as an expert in the eyes of your prospects than to show them how you can improve their business. Combine that with a partnership with the sponsor organization, like the Chamber of Commerce, and you have a powerful combination.

Microsoft's Community Connections Program
The Microsoft SMB team has made some adjustments to the Microsoft Community Connections (MCC) program -- which we've written about before -- to make it easier for partners and organizations to engage. The program helps partners connect with local professional organizations and deliver educational presentations.

Program materials and guidelines are posted on the MCC Web site. Organizations can sign up to request an event and will be paired with a partner if they don't already have a connection. The MCC team will follow up with the organization and then use Microsoft Pinpoint to find partners in the area with the appropriate expertise, or they'll pull from a list of MCC alumni partners.

Cindy Bates, vice president of the U.S. SMB organization at Microsoft, highlighted MCC's value to partners, saying, "Microsoft Community Connections helps Microsoft partners reach more small and midsize business customers in their community by hosting technology-based events with local business organizations, like Chambers of Commerce. MCC enables partners to share their expertise and connect with new customers who are seeking insights and solutions to address various technology needs. This connection point, in turn, generates increased sales leads for our partners. Last year, MCC efforts helped more than 1,200 partners engage with 225,000 customers. Feedback from partners has been extremely positive; nearly half of our partners are choosing to hold even more sessions with local business organizations."

Demonstrate the Benefit for the Organization
While the MCC program will give you the tools to deliver the presentation, it still may take some work to convince an organization to invite you to present. Some organizations, especially those in small communities, are always searching for event presenters and will jump at the chance if you offer a Community Connections program.

But it won't always be so easy and you should take the proactive approach to show the benefit for the organization. There are several ways that you can demonstrate this, including:

  • Offer to promote the organization to your customers with a newsletter announcement and posting on your Web site.

  • Feature a local business as a case study in your presentation to show the real value of the solution, not just the technology.

  • Make it easy for the organization to promote by providing a description of the content for their Web site and newsletter. Focus on the value to their membership.

Above all, focus all of your communication and the presentation on the value to your audience, not yourself. The best way to maximize the value to your business is to prepare thoroughly (practice the presentation) and present with confidence.

Have you held a Community Connections event? Tell us about it in the comments section below or e-mail me and let's share the knowledge.

See Also:

Posted by Barb Levisay on December 15, 20110 comments

New Year, New Market Approach

Business opportunities often appear from the most unexpected places. As the new year approaches, it's a great time to step back and look at the business that you've won over the past year. Identify the common problems that you solved for customers to identify market opportunities that you could build on in the coming year.

While Brenda Luper was working for Franklin Computer Services in Ohio, she noted that customer relationships were often built or strengthened when Franklin supported business moves. Office moves stress the business and people, requiring a unique set of IT services. The project management skills of IT service providers are well-suited to smoothing the process and limiting transition issues.

Luper saw an opportunity and set out to serve those customer's moving needs. In addition, she recognized a unique opportunity to partner with other IT service providers through Franklin Moves.  

Franklin Moves, a division of Franklin Computer Services since 2001, is a company fully focused on helping small and mid-sized organizations manage the chaos of moving. Luper provides the tools and project management to support the moves and -- here is the unique twist -- she matches Microsoft partners across the country with Franklin Moves clients to support their IT needs during business move.

Each of the organizations that Franklin Moves supports needs IT services to ensure backup, move hardware, configure the new office and reconnect systems. Partners get the opportunity to demonstrate great support and project management to earn the future business of the organization, as well.

The system works from both sides. Partners can engage Franklin Moves to assist with the project management for a client move. When Franklin Moves is engaged to support a move, Luper contacts a local partner to provide the IT services and build a relationship with a new client. 

As Luper explains the partner value, "By breaking your business out of its traditional box and assisting those planning a move through Franklin Moves, you can help the customers feel at ease with all the changes that come with relocating. As the hero of the move, you build an alliance with your customer that your competition can't shake!"

As partners look for new ways to build service opportunities and competitive differentiators with customers, creative thinking is a must. Franklin Moves is a great example of out-of-the-box thinking that builds a win for clients and partners.

Have you found a unique way to expand your services? Leave a comment below or e-mail me and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on December 08, 20110 comments

How To Engage Customers Even During the Holidays

Marketing usually slows down during the holiday season, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't keep talking to your clients. The holidays can present unique opportunities to build relationships with customers and give back to the community. Here are four ideas to get you started:

  1. Include Customers in Holiday Giving
    In recent years, there has been a rise in the number of companies replacing the expense of holiday cards with a donation to charity. Those companies e-mail their customers a holiday message and tell them about the donation. Great start -- but how about taking it one step further and engaging with your customers?

  2. Highlight Nonprofit Organization Customers
    This is a wonderful time of year to shine a light on these organizations and let your other customers know they are part of the family. You could feature your nonprofit clients at a holiday event or tell their stories in the newsletter.

  3. Support Your Employees' Community Efforts
    If one of your employees is active in supporting a community organization, take the opportunity to tell the rest of your team and your customers about their dedication. The personal connection can inspire others to get involved.

  4. Give Customers the Opportunity To Join In
    If you sponsor a volunteer day to make bikes or deliver food, invite your customers to join you. Many small companies don't have time to organize a volunteer event but their employees would love to make a contribution.

Whether your clients are located across town, the country or the globe, they appreciate knowing that you give back to your community. People enjoy doing business with people they like. This is a great time of year to share with your customers the good things that you do and invite them to join you in making the world a better place.

How do you engage customers during the holidays? Comment below or e-mail me and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on November 28, 20110 comments