Partners: Get to the Point with Your Messaging

Prospective buyers only spend 10 to 20 seconds scanning your homepage before deciding to dig in or leave, so your message had better be short and to the point.

So little time, yet so much to say. You've added all these great cloud services, disaster recovery is so important and you have great customer stories to share. As hard as it is, this is a good time to step back and distill your core value to clients. A messaging framework will help you trim down your text to grab prospects' attention before they move on.

A messaging framework is a concise description of the value that you deliver to your customers. The framework should describe your customers' common challenges and how you solve them. Usually broken down by the role of the person that makes the buying decision, the messaging framework will help you and your employees get to the point in all communications.  

Creating a messaging framework is challenging. You likely offer a variety of services that are hard to prioritize; they are all important to your clients. As you're building the framework, keep Web site visitors in mind. If you try to be everything to everyone, the message will be meaningless and you'll lose those visitors.

Focus on the specific benefits that clients get from working with you. Try not to cover too much ground with the messaging framework. Focus on what you do best, and what delivers the most value to clients and the highest profits to the business. Here are a couple of ideas to help you decide which challenges and benefits matter most:

  • At the next company meeting, ask team members to describe your value to customers in five words.
  • Ask your top customers to list the three primary reasons that they use your firm.
  • If you're focusing on a vertical, research the industry's association and publication Web sites to identify the topics that are getting the most attention.

As with most things, there's no one right structure or format for your messaging framework. However, the basics should include:

  • Summary Value Proposition: Create an overall statement, one or two sentences long, that define how you solve the top challenges for your clients.
  • Value Propositions by Challenge: Identify each of your customers' top challenges and how your solution/service addresses that challenge.
  • Value Propositions by Role: Focus on the specific challenges of the business decision makers and how you solve them. The CEO, CFO and IT director each have unique daily challenges and risks that they want to manage. Be ready to speak to each person's pains and fears.

An example for the owner of a small distribution company could look like:

Challenge Value Proposition
Worried about dependence on aging hardware. We can help reduce hardware dependence with cloud solutions.
Having trouble delivering current information to remote sales team. We can give you the tools to support mobile communications and collaboration.
Need to ensure business continuity. We deliver solutions that continually back up data and provide access to applications in case of disruption.

A Valuable Document for Your Employees
The messaging framework should be as helpful to your consultants as it is to your sales and marketing team. They are on the front line with your customers and should be fluent in all of the services you deliver. The messaging framework gives them an easy cheat-sheet to answer questions with confidence.

In most marketing interactions, from Twitter to Web sites to blog posts, you don't have much time to engage your audience. By spending the time upfront to fine-tune your messaging, you don't have to reinvent the wheel every time. With pre-written text, you and your employees can deliver a consistent message to get to the point and grab your prospect's attention.

What tactics are you using to connect with prospects quickly? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.     

Posted by Barb Levisay on January 07, 20150 comments

In Microsoft's Small Business Contest, Partners Can Be Winners, Too

Microsoft's Small Business Contest, running through Jan. 11, 2015, is an opportunity to be a hero in your customers' eyes. By promoting the contest to your customers, they get the opportunity to tell their story and win as much as $20,000. With a little creativity, you can capitalize on the contest to advance your role as a customer advocate and trusted partner.

Contest entrants submit a two-minute color video sharing the story of their business journey and lessons learned. Eligible businesses include privately held U.S. companies operating for more than six months with no more than 250 employees.

The simplicity of the contest makes this a great opportunity to encourage your customers to participate. Below are a few ideas to get you started promoting the contest with your customers and building value for your own business:

Publicize the contest. The most obvious place to start is to let your customers know that the contest is happening. Include an article in your newsletter or send out a separate e-mail encouraging your customers to enter. Entries are accepted through Jan. 11, 2015, so there's no time to lose.

Get your employees to promote the contest to customers. Your employees know the stories behind many of your customers' businesses. Ask them to suggest entering to your most interesting, qualified clients.

Support the public voting. Ten semifinalists will be selected by a panel by Jan. 19. Public voting on the finalist entries will take place from Jan. 20 to Jan. 30. If your customer's video is chosen, you'll want to help them promote to get public support.

Follow up with your own promotion. Once the voting has ended and the winner selected, you've got a great opportunity to give your clients deserved recognition. Help your customers put the videos to good use, even if they weren't selected as winners. Feature them in a marketing campaign or write a blog post about their adventure.

Help your customers make the best possible video. The judging criteria is based on originality, composition and adherence to contest theme. A few tips to share with your customer to help them make a compelling video:

  • Focus on the human side of the business; include the challenges, as well as the triumphs.
  • Go behind the scenes and show the inner workings of the business.
  • Two minutes is not much time, so use it wisely. Edit relentlessly.
  • Recommend that they carefully read the official rules (PDF) before they get started. It may sound obvious, but far too many people seem to forget that step. For example, the rules state, "The video must be solely the work of the team, including but not limited to, the actual filming, editing, graphic design, etc. of the video."

Marketing with Social Media Contests
Microsoft's Small Business Contest is a good example of the growing use of contests to drive interest in social engagement. As many partners have found, maintaining engagement through social media is challenging. You need to give customers a good reason to come back to your Facebook page.

A contest can be an effective way to drive initial or renew interest. Of course, the trick is in the follow-up. How do you keep them coming back when the contest is over? We'll watch to see what Microsoft has in mind as a follow-up the Small Business Contest.

What better way to start the new year than having one of your customers win $5,000, $10,000 or $20,000 in the Small Business Contest? OK, so maybe winning $20,000 for your own business would be better, but that's not the deal. The contest gives you a reason to educate your customers about a Microsoft program and provide some coaching to help them create a great video about their company. Wins all around.

Have you held a contest for customers? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on December 10, 20140 comments

Microsoft Partner Puts Office 'Sway' App into Action

The tempo of new product releases from Microsoft presents a challenge for partners to stay ahead of customers.

Sway, Microsoft's new presentation solution, is getting attention from the press but is as new to most partners as it is to their customers. One partner jumped in with both feet to be the first to introduce Sway to its customers.

Like most people in charge of creating content, Greg Treanor, vice president of Atlanta-based RoseBud Technologies, is always on the lookout for relevant news he can share with his customers. Filtering through his partner newsletters, Treanor noticed that the Sway preview was open and requested access. He received the invite for Sway as he was creating RoseBud's November newsletter, so he took the opportunity to show and tell.

"I wanted to show people that we are forward-thinking and paying attention. While it may not be a core business tool, it is a differentiator," Treanor said. "And it was an opportunity to show our customers one more way that they can use the tools from Microsoft."

From start to finish, it took Treanor about five hours to create the Sway. "You have to figure out how to lay out your content and media. There is sequence that you need to follow," he explained. "It was just the initial learning curve that took so long. Next time, it will take me half the time at most."

Aside from basic how-tos, there is not much formal guidance yet available for Sway. "Like many things cloud, there isn't any documentation." Treanor said. "It took some trial and error, but the tool is well-designed and I was able to accomplish what I set out to do."

Treanor sent out the RoseBud November newsletter in the traditional e-mail format, offering readers the option to jump to the Sway version (see above) in the first paragraph. Readers were definitely interested based on the e-mail performance statistics that Treanor pulled for the November mailing:

  • Of the readers who opened the newsletter, 70 percent uniquely clicked on Sway related content.
  • In comparison to the previous two editions, clicks on links within the newsletter were up 160 percent.

According to Treanor, there is currently no tracking capability in Sway, so he does not have feedback on reader activity on the site. There are many more features promised for future releases, so that may be on the horizon.

Treanor definitely plans to use Sway again. "For us, it's been important to stay consistent with the monthly newsletter, sharing news that is relevant to our customers' business," Treanor said. "We're always looking to differentiate ourselves, and Sway was effective. I was pleasantly surprised to see to see how many customers clicked through."

There is also a logistical benefit of using Sway as a newsletter based on its native ability to adapt to any viewing device. As Treanor points out, "When creating our e-mail newsletters we have to be cognizant of how it will appear on a mobile device or tablet. In Sway, the layout will adapt on the fly to the medium that is used to view it."

Treanor sees a multitude of uses for Sway in all types of businesses. "The tool is so broad in its utility, it can be a useful across industries. A real estate agent could use it to build a flyer for a house. A construction management company could use it for project updates. It could support a board of directors' meeting. The list goes on," Treanor said. "All done easily. There is no programming involved at all. The process is all drag-and-drop."

With the pace of change in our industry, the winners will be those who seize opportunities and boldly lead the way for customers. Perhaps all of this provides a unique opportunity for partners like RoseBud, which has 10 employees. There is no lag time between decision and action. Through Treanor's quick response, RoseBud demonstrated to its customers that it continues to lead the way in technology.

One note: If you want to use Sway soon, apply for your invitation right away. It has been over a week since I requested one, and while I got an immediate acknowledgment of my request, I have yet to receive access. 

How do you introduce your customers to solutions? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on November 19, 20140 comments

A Partner Lesson on the Value of a Strong Social Presence

Billed as the northeast's largest business trade show, the New York Business Expo (NYXPO), held last week in New York City, attracted 8,826 business owners, executives and entrepreneurs. Landing an invitation to lead a session at such an event is a coveted engagement for any business owner. For one Microsoft partner, attendance-driving clout through a loyal social community earns him a regular place in front of big audiences.

Carl Mazzanti, CEO of eMazzanti Technologies, is in the enviable position of being able to choose speaking venues that will reach broad audiences like the NYXPO. He attributes the success to the social community that his 39-person IT services company has built. "Because eMazzanti has a lot of followers, I get these speaking opportunities," Mazzanti explained. "When we send a message out about an event, people sign up."

Of course, building that social following is the hard part. Mazzanti sees that being especially hard for technology companies. "Computer people don't like to talk about what they do. They don't like to toot their own horn," Mazzanti said. "My firm is susceptible to that same behavior." 

But build it, the company has. eMazzanti's Facebook page has 5,683 likes. It has 1,414 followers on its LinkedIn page and 2,079 on Spiceworks. "It's a slow, arduous process to build your reputation," Mazzanti admitted. "Each follower is a person who has had a good experience with you. But once it starts to happen, it builds. Millennials care a lot about your 'crew' -- those people who follow you becomes an important component in selecting your organization."

"Every firm has raving fans. The dollars spent by customers are votes. You just need them to take it the extra step and do something publicly," Mazzanti added. "A follow or a post is your customer's way of saying thank you."

For eMazzanti, Hurricane Sandy in 2013 was a pivotal social moment. "We worked very hard to get our customers up and running within 24 hours, and we got a lot of posts thanking us," Mazzanti said. "We genuinely tried to help out the region, that's our culture, and we got raving fans as a result."

One of the lessons that eMazzanti has learned is that social networks are not static. "You have to be where your customers engage. In our public venues, LinkedIn has taken off, Facebook has dropped off and Spiceworks has been a rocket ship this year," Mazzanti said. "Spiceworks is a community of givers."

Building on the Presentation Opportunity
At NYXPO, several hundred attended Mazzanti's "Your All-Access Pass to the Industry's Most Stylish and Sophisticated Technology Yet" session. Mazzanti focused his message on how small and midsize businesses can use enterprise-class systems for a small amount of money. Mazzanti spent a third of the time explaining the latest technology, a third interpreting what that technology means to a smaller business and ended with how to get started. Mazzanti tries to deliver something for everyone in the audience, from those with no idea how to get started to those who have done extensive research.

To capitalize on any speaking engagement, eMazzanti also exhibits at the event. At NYXPO, the eMazzanti team scanned over 1,000 badges at its booth and will spend the next weeks following up. Leads are prioritized and split up among the sales team, with Mazzanti personally following up with top prospects.  

While Mazzanti is quick to give the credit for his success to his customers and staff, it's clear that he takes a hands-on approach. The monthly eMazzanti newsletter is sent from Mazzanti's direct e-mail. A client can hit reply and connect directly with the CEO -- a personal connection point that more business leaders should try. 

As eMazzanti has found, a strong social presence makes a statement that you have a voice that is valued by your community. When you build a following of raving fans, they can do far more than just provide "likes." Your social community validates that there is an audience for your message -- which can open some pretty big doors.

How do you capitalize on your social community? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on November 05, 20140 comments

Catch the Microsoft ModernBiz Campaign's Momentum

Microsoft's ModernBiz global marketing campaign aimed at small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) is gaining traction -- and just getting started.

If your business serves SMBs, this is a tremendous opportunity to roll out marketing activities of your own that build on Microsoft's momentum. By aligning with the ModernBiz messaging, you reinforce your partner status with prospects and, as an added benefit, you can use content that you don't have to create from scratch.

"We've tried to make it easier for partners to have a single campaign to execute while we are driving demand generation around the world with ModernBiz," explained Cheryl Kelly, general manager of SMB marketing at Microsoft. "It's a great opportunity for partners to piggyback on what we are doing."

Microsoft's multimillion-dollar demand-generation investment for ModernBiz will focus on the digital world with banner ads, videos and viral promotions all focused around the "For Your Business" campaign hub.

"We're already starting to see good results," Kelly added. "We've had over a million responses during the first four weeks of the campaign."

Build Your Distinct Messaging
To build your campaigns, there are Microsoft Ready-to-Go (RtG) resources that you can tap and tons of additional content on the For Your Business site. It is worth paying particular attention to the content on the For Your Business site. Microsoft has done an excellent job of writing content that is business problem-focused instead of product-focused.

The ModernBiz messaging supports four primary business needs of SMBs:

  • Business anywhere
  • Growing efficiently
  • Safeguarding your business
  • Connecting with customers

As you build your own messaging and campaigns, add your own experience to the topics you cover. The message will be more effective if you address a specific challenge of your target audience. If you focus on a vertical, combine the RtG content with your own industry message.

Instead of trying to touch on all four topics in any of your own marketing, focus on one benefit at a time. Send four e-mails, each covering one topic, instead of one e-mail with all four. In the campaign materials on Ready-to-Go, there are copy blocks that expand on each point.

Choose Your Tactics
There is no right or wrong here -- just be consistent and follow through. Seminars, webinars, e-mails, inbound marketing and social networking are all viable alternatives. A few ideas:

  • Hold a series of seminars, focusing on one of the four benefits at each session. The full ModernBiz Thru Partner deck of 59 slides is too much to show at a single sitting and was certainly meant to be split up. Add some real-life experience by asking a customer to speak about how you helped them solve a problem.

  • Write a series of posts for your company blog and promote them through your monthly newsletter and on social sites like LinkedIn. Use the whitepaper, infographic and video as additional calls to action in your newsletter.

  • Create an e-book by combining text from the RtG copy blocks with a high-level description of projects that you have completed for your clients. No need to include names -- just explain the service you delivered and the benefits the customer received. Providing a real-world example helps prospects see themselves and imagine what the solution would mean to them.
Prominent call-outs invite readers to find a partner.

Update Your Pinpoint Profile
Front and center on many of the pages within the For Your Business hub is a "Talk to a Microsoft Certified Partner" button that prompts for a location-based search of the Microsoft Pinpoint directory -- a great reason to update your Pinpoint profile. If you need some guidance on how to update your profile, check out this advice from other partners

One of the biggest benefits of being a Microsoft partner is the validation that comes with your association with the software leader. With ModernBiz, Microsoft is giving you the tools and the opportunity to clearly show prospects and customers your alignment. There has rarely, if ever, been a better time to build on a global Microsoft marketing initiative. Let your SMB prospects and customers know what a ModernBiz looks like.

How are you going to build on ModernBiz? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on October 22, 20140 comments

How To Translate Technology into Opportunity for Customers

At a recent networking event in Charlottesville, Va., a panel of business owners talked about their challenges with technology. During the presentation, one of the panelists said, "Every business today is a technology business." That simple statement should be at the core of your marketing, sales and service.

Until recently, businesses used technology primarily to record transactions and report the past. Not anymore. To stay relevant, every business needs to figure out how technology moves them forward and helps them engage at a deeper level with their customers -- which is exactly where technology providers can build their value.  

The challenge for many organizations, especially small businesses, is that they hear about the latest technology but can't translate how it could affect their operations. Then, when they are looking for solutions to specific challenges, they don't know the name of the technology that will help them. That means Web site text focused on the features of SharePoint or the cost savings from managed services aren't connecting with them at either level.

Align Your Message to Business Issues that Technology Solves
Helping your prospects and customers understand that you can help them translate technology into opportunity requires a different type of messaging. Instead of talking about the device, software or service that you support, take your customer's perspective:

  • The HVAC company doesn't know they need to support tablets, but they want to make their employees more efficient and create a better customer experience in the field.
  • The retailer doesn't know they need e-commerce integration, but they want to reach more customers through multiple channels. 
  • The distributor doesn't know they need a backup system, but they want to make sure that they can keep the business going if the building is flooded.

As a resource to help you transform your marketing messages, the ModernBiz campaign on Microsoft's Ready-to-Go marketing site is a start. Microsoft still seems to be struggling to fully let go of the product message, but there is some good material. You'll be more effective by adding your knowledge of the challenges of your target industry.

The Resurgence of the Free Consultation
There was a time when free consultations were the marketing staple: "Give us an hour and we'll provide a free network analysis to show you how to save money." Perhaps it's time to bring the consultation back: "Give us a morning and we'll show you how to engage with your customers at a deeper level."

The Microsoft Experience Center (MEC) program is a great foundation to bring technology alive for your clients. As we've covered before, these hands-on sessions are a powerful way to give customers a glimpse into what their businesses could look like. 

Partners have never had a better opportunity to become more than a technology provider for customers. Every business owner knows that they must use technology to better engage with their customers, employees and vendors. Many of them simply don't know where to start. Change your messaging to show them that you can lead the way.

How are you helping your customers evolve through technology? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on October 09, 20140 comments

Microsoft Partner Taps Multiple Communities To Build Business

Every startup faces the challenges of having too much to do and too little time to do it. Balancing customer-service delivery with business development in the early stages is especially tough.

But Nikkia Carter, CEO and owner of Carter-McGowan Services LLC, makes the time to not only build the business but to advocate for others, as well.

Partnering Connections Through IAMCP
Carter serves on the board of directors for the Washington, D.C., chapter of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) as the advocacy chair. She recently launched the D.C. Women in Technology (WIT) community, a subgroup of the IAMCP.

"One of the best ways to grow your business is through networking. The IAMCP meetings expose you to a lot of people in your partner community," Carter said. "As those people get to know you, they are more likely to remember you when they need help. When those partners get flooded with work, they will call you to help out."

Through her connections at the IAMCP, Carter has built several working relationships with partners in the Mid-Atlantic region. With each of those partners, Carter has found a complementary service relationship. She provides SharePoint, InfoPath and Office 365 development and training expertise to augment their services and then enlists their help when her clients need their specialties.

"I fill in gaps for them and vice versa. We complement each other's businesses," Carter explained.

Becoming involved locally leads to larger circles of relationships, according to Carter. While attending her first Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in 2013, IAMCP associates helped Carter expand her connections both inside and outside of Microsoft. This year at WPC, Carter was able to pay it forward by introducing new members to her connections.

Multiple Channels To Stay Informed and Build Community Ties
In addition to the IAMCP, Carter is active on social media, following the #msuspartner, #mspartner and #WPC14 Twitter tags, among others, to stay current and support the greater partner community. Participating in U.S. Partner Yammer Community and virtual communities helps catch opportunities in the information overload of Microsoft.

"Microsoft is so vast that it's easy to miss important announcements," Carter said. "The Yammer groups share information that, when you catch it early, can be gold."

A recent example was finding out about a special "Office Hours" event focused on Microsoft's FastTrack. The session included a presentation, followed by a Q&A segment that gave partners a unique opportunity to get specific questions answered.

Carter actively participates in the real-world SharePoint community, her technical specialty. Through SharePoint Saturday speaking engagements and sponsoring SharePoint Users Groups, Carter keeps those connections fresh and growing. She's currently working with Microsoft employees to create a Mobile First, Cloud First user group in D.C. 

Carter also extends her community involvement into her passion for teaching technology to children, especially girls and the disadvantaged. She works with Microsoft and other partners to participate in community tech advocacy whenever time will allow.

Through all of this involvement, Carter admits that the balance is challenging. Downtime is important to family and for personal well-being. But the time investment has paid off, as Carter is looking to hire a first employee to help her handle the rising volume of work. While there is no doubt that getting started as a Microsoft partner is overwhelming, Carter is proof that immersing yourself in the community can build the foundation for growth.

How are you taking on the challenge of building your business? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on September 24, 20140 comments

6 Steps To Build Presence in a Vertical Market

Microsoft has long beaten the drum for partner specialization, and the cloud is amplifying the call further. Partners that pursue a vertical market strategy consistently report higher sales win ratios of opportunities within their specialty.

With all the pressure and evidence, it's surprising that most partners still don't have a strong industry focus. One hesitation is the concern that there will be missed horizontal opportunities if you focus on one industry. But industry focus doesn't mean that you have to stop horizontal marketing. They are two separate approaches. You can continue your horizontal marketing -- just carve out a segment of your prospect base that fits your industry criteria.

A Systematic Approach to Industry Specialization
While there is no magic formula, by taking a systematic approach, you can build your reputation to become an industry specialist. It takes commitment across the company because it will affect every aspect of the business. Identify a committee to work through these steps and hold them accountable for reporting on progress.

  1. Choose the industry, and be as specific as possible. While that may sound obvious, it seems to be the biggest stumbling block for partners. There are countless technology providers who claim to be "Distribution" or "Retail" industry leaders. Find a smaller pond to fish in with a more specific definition. For example, "Food and Beverage Distributors" or "Sporting Goods Retailers."

  2. Tap into your internal resources. You will be much more successful in the long run if you have employees who are genuinely interested in the industry you target. Do you have employees who already participate in industry professional groups? What kind of projects really get the team fired up?

  3. Do your research. You likely already have some insight into the industry you choose to pursue, but you need to do your research. At a minimum, buy the First Research report or other current market research that is available. Find and follow all of the professional Web sites that serve the industry. Identify someone to monitor these regularly to get to know the hot topics, as well as industry leaders and social influencers.

  4. Define your value proposition and solution set. To be successful in sales and marketing, you need to have a very specific value proposition. What problem does the client have and how are you going to solve it? Identify the components of the solution set and define the entire set in terms of the benefits to clients. Validate with current customers in the industry. Ask them if they think your value proposition is compelling.

  5. Build specific content. Create a Web site that is specific to the industry. It doesn't have to be a complex site, keep it simple and direct. If you have the resources, start a blog and update it often. Make sure all content, including Web text, collateral, e-mails, e-books -- whatever you create -- directly supports your value proposition.

  6. Participate in the community. Immerse yourself in the industry's professional community, both virtually and in person. Join the professional association Web sites and LinkedIn groups that serve the industry. Follow the common industry hashtags on Twitter. Listen and learn before you start to participate. Attend industry events to meet people face to face. Seek meetings with the industry influencers that you have identified to see if there is a way you can work together.

There are good reasons that many partners can attest to for taking a vertical approach to sales and marketing. Win ratios, project size, referrals are all likely to increase when you build your reputation in an industry. Be systematic, genuine and looking for ways to give back the community so that everyone is more successful.

How are you approaching vertical markets? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on September 18, 20140 comments

5 Ways Partners Can Tell Customers About New Services

Business models are changing and most partners are expanding the number of services that they offer to customers. Unfortunately, your customers don't clairvoyantly know when you add a new service line, like backup and disaster recovery or business intelligence. You need to tell them -- which requires marketing.

Fortunately, it's the easy kind of marketing. Your customers know you and will be open to hearing from you. Their contact information is already in your CRM system. There's nothing to hold you back. Here are some ideas to kick off your existing-customer marketing program.  

1. Monthly Newsletter
Sending a monthly educational update to your customers is undoubtedly the single most effective marketing tactic you can use to build deeper relationships with them. Through a monthly newsletter, you can provide valuable updates that demonstrate your knowledge and tell them about the benefits of the new services that you offer.

Find relevant, interesting material to share in every issue so that your customers look forward to opening and reading the email. There is plenty of great content that you can tap into, including:

  • Microsoft's Ready-to-Go marketing site, which has tons of content -- some obvious, some not.
  • Vendor and ISV blogs that you can link to.
  • Contributions from customers or complementary businesses that are creating content. They will appreciate the additional exposure.

2. Educational Events
Nothing replaces talking to your customers face to face. Topics should be business problem-focused, not product-focused, to appeal to a broad audience. There is no reason that you can't hold a combined event for new and existing customers. A few ideas to help you build an appealing event:

  • Organize a panel of local business leaders to discuss how they are handling a common challenge.
  • Invite a topical expert or university professor to address the future of business.
  • Partner with complementary service providers or businesses to help build out content.

3. Business-Planning Sessions
If you would like to make the transition from vendor to business partner, you need to understand where your customers are headed and help them get there. Make a list of the customers that you think have the greatest growth potential and request a meeting to discuss their growth and technology plans. You can add value by advising them on the best technology to support their growth.

The business review should be all about your customer's business, not a sales pitch. Ask questions about their plans and challenges. Listen and prepare recommendations based on their needs.

4. Networking Events
Many of your customers face shared challenges. You can position yourself as an advocate by sponsoring regular networking events that bring your customers, and potential customers, together. Networking events can be as simple as get-togethers at the local sports bar every month. Tip: Make it the same day each month, like the second Tuesday, so that it's easy for people to remember.

A side benefit of networking events is that you get regular updates on the challenges that your customers are facing. By finding solutions, you can expand service offerings to meet their needs.

5. Customer Portal
You may already have a support portal for your customers. Take it a step further and make your Web site a central hub of information. You'll need active engagement from your employees to monitor and interact with customers to keep them coming back. Some of the ways you can build engagement include:

  • A forum where customers can share problems and ideas.
  • Frequently asked questions maintained with current answers.
  • A local resource page with trusted business partners you can recommend to customers.

A key ingredient to your success in expanding service offerings is to educate your current customers. Regular marketing programs that connect you to customers will build deeper, more profitable relationships. Most of your customers will be happy to hear from you. Just try it!

How are you building relationships and sales to existing customers? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on September 02, 20140 comments

Microsoft Adds Marketing Best Practices to Ready-to-Go

A new section on the Microsoft Ready-to-Go (RtG) marketing site rounds out an impressive set of resources for Microsoft partners. The Marketing Best Practices portal takes away the last excuse that partners had left for not making a full commitment to marketing. Campaigns, sales tools, Web content and event management resources now combined with guidance on how to use them -- that should do it.

"We heard from the partners that while they appreciate the RtG resources, they wanted to know how they could market better. They were looking for some education to help them use those RtG resources more effectively," explained Karey Bakker, content manager of U.S. SMB Marketing for Microsoft. "We had been doing marketing training webinars, but wanted to make it really visually appealing and available on demand."

Sound, Practical Marketing Advice
The Marketing Best Practices section of RtG includes training videos and supporting resources, plus links to outside sources of marketing information. Your first stop on the page should be the videos. Short and to the point, the videos deliver sound, realistic marketing guidance on the foundational elements of an effective marketing program, including:

  • marketing planning and ROI
  • digital marketing
  • SEO and SEM
  • event marketing
  • social marketing and blogging
  • nurture marketing

Supporting each of the video topics are "Getting Started" guides that provide examples and step-by-step recommendations. For example, the Event Getting Started guide includes a timeline of all the tasks that will make your event more successful. That's a very practical tool for a partner holding its first event. 

Further down the best practices page, there's a list of marketing-related articles and blogs. The RtG team promises to regularly update that list with new material relevant to partner interests.

[Click on image for larger view.] Event Marketing Best Practices Source: Microsoft

Something for Every Level of Marketer
The best practices hub is a particularly great resource for marketers who are new to the channel or just getting started. Between the campaigns, Web content and best practices, RtG provides a strong foundation for an effective marketing program. But even the most seasoned marketer can benefit from watching the videos and checking out the guides and resources. They're bound to remind you of something you were meaning to tackle or spark a new idea.

"We understand that there are a lot of different types of marketers in the channel. The owner that works on it after hours, the dedicated marketing person, as well as sales reps working on their own," Bakker said. "We wanted to make it easy and valuable for each of them."

Bakker promises that this is just the beginning and that content will be expanded with regular updates.

Microsoft has made huge strides in the past couple of years with the RtG marketing resources for partners. There's simply no excuse left. The content, tools and guidance to establish a consistent, professional marketing program are all there. Making it happen is up to you.

Have you executed a great campaign using RtG materials? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on August 13, 20140 comments