Channel Call

Make a Mark with Your Marketing

As the economy improves this year, partners should have differentiation in mind -- starting with marketing.

If last year had a theme in the IT channel, it was survival. In 2010, as the economy improves, there are opportunities for solution providers to make tremendous gains in both revenue and market share. The challenge is to stand out.

Over the course of this year in this space, I will provide ideas and examples to help you differentiate your business from those of your competitors. It's not like I'm shouting in the wilderness here -- Microsoft is realigning its entire Microsoft Partner Network this year to better differentiate partners by verticals, customer size, capabilities and competence.

To differentiate yourself from those companies with similar capabilities serving similar markets, areas of special focus should be making your marketing stand out and becoming a go-to expert within the industry you serve. This month and next, I will share the ins and outs of how you can start positioning your firm to put your unique qualities on display externally.

Also, it is critically important to create an internal culture that employees can embrace and customers can experience. I will give examples of solution providers who have outstanding work cultures. Additionally, I will dedicate several columns to the notion of thinking outside the box with your offerings, vendor relationships and go-to-market strategies.

Differentiation is not the only thing a solution provider should be thinking about this year. I'll also tie in core business practices around working with vendors and channel programs and aligning to new technologies.

What we have all learned over the course of the last decade is that change is inevitable and that solution providers can always use guidance in how to react to changing market conditions or shifts in technology. Dealing with a vendor in 2010 is very different than dealing with a vendor in 2000.

This month, let's look at ways of standing out with your marketing -- all with the goal of staying ahead of the competition in 2010.

The advent of the Internet brought forth many, many good things for marketing -- one of the best was the use of webinars to market products and services. The approach has become a mainstay for salespeople. Vendors expect solution providers to conduct regular webinars and solution providers expect vendors to provide expertise in support of these webinars. Sounds efficient, right?

Well, the answer in my book is: no. Because everyone does webinars and nearly everyone does them the same way, customers have become absolutely numb to the messages we're sending out. Abandoning webinars is not an option because they're expected, but you must avoid putting on webinars that look and feel the same as everyone else's.

A few months ago, a solution provider I know was frustrated with its marketing efforts. The company had fallen into doing cookie-cutter webinars that matched the competition's and varied little from month to month.

The firm decided to conduct an in-person seminar for a C-level audience, and then followed up with a webinar for people who worked for the C-level executives who attended the in-person event. In addition, the webinar was a hands-on session, allowing attendees to actually work with the software.

This approach was quite different from what competitors were doing and it provided measurable results. And by presenting something that was creative, interesting and targeted, the solution provider got extra attention and respect from the software vendor involved. As you can tell, the amount of good that came out of doing something different was tremendous.

As you consider your marketing plan, always try to stand out. With a unique marketing program, you will earn customers' attention in a crowded field and potentially set yourself up for additional resources from your vendors.

About the Author

Keith Lubner is Chief Business Strategist at Sales Gravy, the sales acceleration company, and managing partner of C3 Channel, a global consulting organization focused on channel strategy, design, enablement, outsourcing and training for growing companies. For more information about Keith, visit www.c3channel.com, www.channeleq.co or www.salesgravy.com.

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