How to Use MDFs to Your Advantage

By Perry Vandell

The quote “You have to spend money to make money” holds a certain degree of truth, but has remained frustratingly vague since its inception. Pouring money into a marketing strategy doesn’t guarantee results, and can often go to waste if it’s directed toward the wrong audience.

Carbonite's Dave MaffeiWhen it comes to properly allocating market development funds (MDFs), Carbonite’s Dave Maffei says it’s imperative for partners to target the right kinds of customers. Carbonite, which provides cloud and hybrid business continuity services, targets SMBs.

“If you don’t know who you work really well with, it’s going to be very hard – regardless of who’s paying for it – to zero in on a specific vertical or type of customer or size of business to be able to deliver your solution,” Maffei said in an interview with Channel Partners. “If you’ve got 100 customers and 75 of them are hospitals and you start going after CPAs, you might not have success there.”

Maffei highlights the importance of creativity to get noticed. He said an email’s subject line often determines whether that message will be open and read at all. The message needs to be compelling, catchy and useful enough for businesses to lend an ear.

Furthermore, Maffei suggests shaping incentives to fit the individual customer to whom they’re catering.

“If I offer a discount to someone who doesn’t know the budget they probably don’t care,” Maffei said. “If I offer free consulting to someone who only controls the purse strings, they don’t necessarily care either, so it’s got to be the right offer, at the right time, for the right person.”

The first step, however, is getting the cash from vendors to support the marketing effort. Partners might have forgotten – or chosen to ignore in many cases – that MDFs are even available. Research shows that up to half of the $50 billion offered to partners each year in the form of MDFs goes unused for one reason or another. One might be the fact that, as Janet Schijns, Verizon’s vice president of global verticals and channel marketing points out, they’re just not …

… very comfortable with marketing – or very good at it.

Before devising any marketing strategies, Maffei suggests having analytic tools set up so you know what works and what doesn’t. He’s seen channel partners try to be “everything for everyone,” ultimately stretching themselves too thin; instead, partners need to manage their expectations and carefully decide where they think their money will be most effective.

When asked how companies should invest in their websites, Maffei said the content itself is more important than the way it’s presented.

“We see a lot of companies that invest a lot of time and money into making their website elegant and gorgeous and sexy, but it might not convert at all,” Maffei said. “We’ve got some partners whose websites won’t be up for any Webby awards soon, but they convert and they deliver.

“It’s not necessarily the most elegant and sexiest website that gets the job done, but you need to make sure that you’re delivering compelling content that speaks to the needs that brought that person in in the first place.”

Maffei said he’s found customer testimonials to be some of the most compelling content he’s seen. Companies often want to know their business partners are trustworthy before making any formal deals, and testimonials can provide the necessary evidence.

Once you’ve grabbed a potential customer’s attention, Maffei suggests educating them about the common problems they likely face and how your company’s product or service solves it.

“In most cases, someone who’s out there doing an Internet search to buy something is not the person who’s going to make the final decision on the buy,” Maffei said. “So you want to be able to educate that person so they look like an educated, smart and thorough researcher and employee to their peers who ultimately make the decision.”

There’s no guarantee the employee of a prospective customer will properly research a product, but giving them the necessary tools can go a long way.

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