Driving Sales on a Budget — Part 1
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
Posted on: 01/17/2012


By Christopher Aldred

In the course of working with our channel partners across the country, I’ve learned that most business communications and IT  channel partners don’t have a serious focus on marketing, not to mention a budget and a dedicated “marketing guy" like me. There are many reasons for this: it's hard to quantify results, there's no time/personnel to dedicate to it, they don’t know where to start, etc.

However, as I often tell our channel partners, you don’t have to have a “marketing guy" (although it sure doesn’t hurt!) or a big budget to implement the three basic elements of successful channel partner marketing, or what I call the "CAR Methodology:" Continuous contact, Alignment with sales and a Results focus.

In this first article, I’ll explore why you need to have a successful continuous contact strategy and how to implement it with a minimal investment. I'll also provide some real-life examples of the benefits it can deliver. This article focuses on email, which is the foundation of any successful continuous contact strategy. Social media and live events are two other tactics we will explore in later articles.

A continuous contact strategy is just what it sounds like: a detailed plan, with timelines and specific action items to ensure you keep in regular touch with your customers, prospects and partners. “Contact" can come in many different forms and what works well can vary substantially from market to market.

Why is implementing a continuous contact strategy vital? It’s a bit cliché, but true nonetheless: If your company is top of mind with customers and prospects, they will be more receptive when you reach out to them or they will be more likely to knock at your door when the time is right. Showcasing your company’s capabilities and subject matter expertise month after month is also an easy, inexpensive and incredibly effective way to boost your reputation as an industry leader with your target audience.

Before we move on to the specifics, let me share a truism worth repeating: “You will only get what you focus on." This quote, from ETA President Craig Marowitz, simply put, reminds you that if you do not focus and dedicate yourself to your continuous contact campaign, it’s doomed to fail from day one.

Now, let’s explore the foundation of a successful continuous contact campaign: email. Contrary to popular belief in a world seemingly dominated by social media, email is not dead. Far from it, in fact. Recent statistics back this up. Here are just a few:

  • The number of worldwide email accounts is projected to increase from more than 2.9 billion in 2010 to more than 3.8 billion by 2014, according to  an April 2010 study from Radicati Group Inc.
  • Ninety-four percent of all online adults use email, according to a December 2010 report from The Pew Internet Project, an initiative of the Pew Research Center.
  • More than four times as many survey respondents preferred to receive promotions via email rather than via social media, according to a June 2010 survey from CrossView, a retail technology specialist.
  • An analysis of what people in the United States do on the mobile Internet showed email occupying more than 38 percent of their time, nearly 300 percent more time than any other single category of activity, according to a September 2010 study by Nielsen.

If you think about it, these numbers are not surprising. How many people do you see every day constantly checking email on their iPhone, Droid or BlackBerry devices? 

Even when faced with the statistics, many people I talk to view implementing an ongoing email distribution strategy as an unattainable goal. However, in reality it’s pretty simple and can be done on a very small budget.

Creating Content

The main reasons I hear that people don’t send out emails to their clients is that they can’t figure out what to write about, they’re not good writers and they can’t find time to write. Fortunately, none of these are really obstacles. The specific content of each message isn’t really the key to its success. What really matters is that you send out emails on a regular basis (quarterly or monthly) that are perceived by your audience as containing relevant information and a unique perspective.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you have subject matter experts within your organization who have a wealth of knowledge and real-world experience that your clients can benefit from. So why not use them to provide your content? I’m not suggesting that you ask them to write articles (though on the off chance they are good writers, it might not be a bad idea), just that they provide the subject matter for your emails.

So who’s going to do the writing then? Chances are, the answer is in your own backyard. Throw out the question to your organization: “Who likes to write or knows someone who does?" I’d be very surprised if you don’t get at least one response back. The process is pretty simple: Ask your writer to interview your subject matter expert about a topic that is relevant, “hot," or a consistent issue within your client base. The focus should be on educating your recipients about business problems that your technology, products and/or services can help solve. You want to subtly mention how your organization is positioned to help them overcome this problem.

Try to keep the message relatively brief. I suggest 300 words or so for the text you include in the email itself. It’s OK if the entire message is longer; simply post the content on your website in its full form, and include the first two or three paragraphs in the body of the email with a link to the full article. Though the email is not about style and form, it’s vital that you take an educational tone and don’t make a sales pitch. (To view examples from ETA's campaigns, visit www.expertta.com/ebulletins.)

Even if you don’t have resources within your organization that can write content, there are other inexpensive options you can try. Post an ad on Craigslist. Talk to your local community college’s business office for names of students who would be willing to take on the challenge. Ask your family and friends. There’s bound to be an accessible resource out there that would be willing to help, especially if you’re only talking about four messages a year.

If you’re still stuck, another option is to “borrow" relevant content from other sources. In this case, I suggest writing a brief opinion on why the article is worth reading and link to the article. Though less desirable than content you created, this kind of message is still valuable because it shows that you are not only keeping on top of industry trends and information, but that you’re looking out for your customer and prospect base by sharing the information with them. Be sure you clearly cite the source of the information and make it clear that it’s not your own language. It’s OK to quote from the story in your introduction, but don’t copy and paste the text into your email. Linking to it is the best and easiest way to go.

Formatting Content

After you’ve gotten over the hurdle of creating content, how do you make it look professional and distribute it without breaking the bank? This is another hurdle that often prevents companies from implementing email campaigns: It’s too expensive and difficult to get it to look good. Thankfully, this simply isn’t the case. There are a slew of low-cost, easy-to-use email management systems. Constant Contact is one example. (Note: I don’t use Constant Contact or have any interest in promoting the product.) It has many professional, prebuilt templates you can copy and paste your content into; no design or formatting expertise is needed. It also is inexpensive — Constant Contact charges $30 per month for up to 2,500 individuals on your distribution list. There are many other providers out there with similar models and pricing, so finding one shouldn’t be a challenge.

Setting Expectations

So what results can you expect from instituting email marketing as a component of your continuous contact campaign? Enhanced customer loyalty, increased prospect engagement, better attendance for your events and even sales. Yes, it’s possible that your emails may lead directly to sales. In fact, it’s almost inevitable that emails will lead to sales over time.

Let me temper your excitement a little bit though. If your sole purpose for engaging in email marketing is to increase sales, you’ll probably be disappointed — at least at first. There are hundreds of studies that show that people need anywhere from five to 10 “touches" before they become stimulated into taking action. In addition, if you’re relying on email as the sole source of contact, you’re setting yourself up to fail. It takes a comprehensive effort, as well as sales integration, to make email marketing effective as a lead- and sales-generating tool.

That said, let me share one real-life example of how email marketing created sales for ETA during a recent Lunch & Learn event we hosted about the differences between hosted, on-premises and virtualized VoIP business phone systems. Following the presentation, I sat down and ate a sandwich with one of the attendees. After chit-chatting for a bit, he  told me the only reason he came to the event is that he had been reading ETA's emails for a year and half and finally was ready to put in a new system. Music to a marketer's ears, right? Well, of course I immediately introduced him to one of our senior sales reps, and long story short, that conversation turned into a $50,000 sale!  Not bad ROI, huh? It may be worth putting some effort into creating that content that seems so challenging, after all.

In the next article, I’ll explain how social media fits into the continuous contact equation and why you don’t have to be a recent college grad to be successful doing it.

Christopher Aldred is marketing programs manager for Expert Technology Associates , a full-service business communications provider serving more than 1,800 customers throughout the United States and abroad. ETA designs, implements and manages voice and data communications solutions, including premises-based virtualized and hosted IP business telephone systems, voice and data services from more than 50 carriers, audio and Web conferencing, unified communications applications, tools that enable mobility and collaboration, call center management systems, managed business continuity and network security services, and more.