It used to be that marketing was basically a one-way street down which marketers directed customers so that sales could close the deal. No more.
Digital transformation has moved the channel from transactional marketing – creating awareness of and a perceived need for your product or service to facilitate the sales process – to relationship marketing, in which the focus is on creating long-term interaction with the customer and providing ongoing business value. Today’s marketing integrates a number of functions – from research and analytics to communications and education, and sometimes even an element of public relations – all working in concert to help you differentiate yourself from the competition in the bustling digital marketplace.
“In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is a failure,” said entrepreneur, dot-com veteran and blogger Seth Godin. “In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.”
|Throughout the fourth quarter of 2018, as part of our “In Focus” series, we are featuring a series of galleries designed to help partners grow their businesses in 2019 and beyond.
Content marketing is key to making yourself visible in the digital marketplace. Those channel partners that already strive to position themselves as trusted advisers are familiar with the process: engaging clients and prospects on a personal level and offering insights, information and expertise to establish your credibility and stimulate interest in your products and services. The best way to do this is with storytelling.
iMarket2’s Mary Stanhope
“Engage potential customers with a narrative,” said Mary Stanhope, founder of iMarket2, marketing communications specialists. “Our brains are actually designed to retain information provided in a story narrative. Rather than list a handful of generic data points about benefits, paint a picture with words and images that explain what it is like to use your services.”
Of course, the stories you tell have to be relevant and valuable to your audience. And even though they’re your stories, don’t make yourself the hero.
“Make the customer the hero,” said Stanhope. “Then introduce yourself as the trusted adviser, the guide that can help them achieve their goals.”
In the gallery below, we’ll consider 10 tips for creating, executing and evaluating a marketing strategy and creating a marketing plan that will make you stand out in the busy technology marketplace.
Have a Clear Understanding of What Marketing Is — and Isn't
Your marketing strategy should be based on your company's overall business goals.
"Channel partners should be matching marketing to their overall planning and priorities," said Theresa Caragol, founder and CEO of strategic advisory firm Achieve Unite
. "Overall company strategy drives priorities, that drive marketing — versus a series of tactics."
Once a marketing strategy has been developed to clearly define the goals you intend to achieve, you should formulate a marketing plan that outlines how you intend to achieve those goals and includes how results are to be measured.
While the sales team should be kept up to date on all marketing programs and be encouraged to provide feedback and observations from the field, marketing is not sales
. It should complement and coordinate with sales, but it is a completely separate function. Marketing functions take place before, during and after the sale.
Operate from a Position of Strength
In real estate, it's all about location, location, location. In marketing, it's all about research, research, research. Before you can begin developing any sort of marketing strategy, you need to determine your core strengths — whether you will focus on a particular technology or vertical, what you have to offer the client, what sets you apart from the competition, and so on.
The next step is to identify your target market and then get to know as much about them as you can. What are their challenges and pain points? What's the best way to communicate with them? Based on this information, formulate your approach and message to speak directly to your target audience.
"The biggest mistake I see channel partners making in their marketing is not targeting their message or campaigns enough — or at all," said Angela Leavitt, founder and CEO of Mojo Marketing
, which focuses on telecom, IT and cloud marketing strategies. "Gone are the days of blanket statements and 'one message fits all.' Marketing is getting more focused, precise and personalized. Partners who aim specific messages and campaigns at a clearly defined audience yield much higher results than those who don't."
Research enables you to build a solid foundation upon which to begin building your reputation in the market and your relationships with prospects and customers.
Find Your Voice
Marketing is all about communications. And to set yourself apart from the competition and establish a unique, easily recognized identity in the marketplace, determine the "voice" you will use in all communications, on all platforms. This is how you will engage and interact with your audience, so you want to make sure it's authentically you. Some things to consider:
- Speak your customers' language. Researching your target market should have given you a feel for how they communicate. Are they formal or more casual? Do key terms come up frequently? If you're working a particular vertical, are there unique terms and references you should be using?
- Keep it conversational. "Listen" to what you write. Make sure your sentences aren't too long and/or complicated. Pay special attention to tone. Keep it friendly. You want to position yourself as a valuable resource without seeming to lecture or talk down to your audience.
- Be genuine. If your communications aren't natural, you won't be comfortable, and your audience will pick up on that. Allow your sense of humor peek through. If you're excited about a topic, let it show.
Make Your Website the 'Mother Ship' of Your Marketing Contacts
Your website is to digital marketing as Tinder is to online dating. And you have less than 30 seconds to keep first-time visitors from swiping left.
Your website's landing page is the gateway to your marketing communications. And its design can make or break your engagement. Research has shown that 94 percent of initial negative response
to a website was because of design, not content.
"A great looking website is not a luxury nowadays; it's a necessity," said Mike Schmidtmann of Trans4mers
, which provides coaching for IT salespeople. "Prospective customers check out the website before speaking to anyone, and if it looks old and uncared for, they'll assume the company is out of date as well."
Your landing page should be simple and focused on the basics: A quick summary of what you are and what you do. Don't overwhelm the visitor with frantic animation, annoying pop-ups or too many options.
Contact information and social-media links should be clearly and prominently displayed, and navigation tools should be highly visible and easy to use.
In this age of digital marketing and the educated buyer, it's safe to assume that many of your prospects will know about you long before you're aware of them. That's where content marketing comes in — white papers, blogs, videos and other resources containing information gauged to address different stages in the prospect's buying journey. Having these resources available from your website enables prospects to access them 24/7/365, and by gating a few of them, you can get contact information for those who are seriously interested.
Web design sound a bit daunting? That leads us to …
Outsource What You Can't Do
You can't do everything yourself and, honestly, you shouldn't even try. Focus on what you do best and let others do the same. Web design in particular is an area that requires specialized skills, expertise and training. In the long run, outsourcing can save you money by allowing you to pay for web design on an "as-needed" basis. It will also give you access to the latest tools and technologies in web design
You can work with the web designer to make sure that all the elements you want included on the website are there and that all communications are in your "voice."
Consider outsourcing for any marketing function you can’t or don't want to do, such as content creation, email marketing, writing and distributing newsletters, social media management, and so on.
And speaking of social media …
Put Social Media to Work for You
Social media involves what channel partners do best: networking. Social platforms allow you to become part of a community where you can build familiarity and trust with your audience.
The top three social networking sites for B2B are LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, in that order. In researching your target market, you may find that they prefer a different site, such as YouTube or Instagram. If so, become a part of that site so that you can put yourself in front of your target audience. Just be sure to pick only two or three sites, so you don't spread yourself too thin, and be diligent about making posting regularly.
In using social media, it's important to remember that the goal is engagement — to get to know your audience and for them to get to know you. Don't promote your products or services; instead, interact with other members on the site and provide relevant, valuable and engaging content in your posts. You're working on enhancing your reputation, not your revenue.
Use Your CRM as a Prospecting Tool
Channel partners should expend "at least an equal amount of effort to strengthening relationships and selling to existing customers as they do focusing on net-new," said Kathryn Rose, a senior adviser at Achieve Unite. This is the heart of relationship marketing — needs change, technology advances, and your clients will always value you as their trusted adviser.
Make sure to keep customers' information up to date and to check in with them regularly, even if it's just a quick "hello." Use your CRM to integrate with other marketing tools such as emails and newsletter mailing lists.
Go on Beyond Customer-Centric — Align Yourself with the Customer
Tremendous shifts have taken place in the marketplace and the buying journey. All aspects of the marketing process today must focus on the customer, not the service or product. But being customer-centric is just the beginning. To be a trusted adviser, you must, of course, know the customer's business — and that means the big picture of how everything interrelates. Your focus is on the technology, but you also need insights to the corporate structure and operational hierarchy, to understand how the solution you are proposing will impact work up and down the ladder. Helping your customer with change management is also an important element of being a trusted adviser.
Learn how to see things through your clients' eyes and evaluate the situation from their perspective.
"Put yourself in the place of the customer and understand what they want relative to what you offer and how not having it is making them feel," said iMarket2's Stanhope. "People look to solve an external problem but make buying decisions on solving an internal one. Once this is understood as a customer, a channel partner can communicate that they understand the problem and they care about the buyer's success. This grabs the attention of the potential buyer and allows a conversation to start.
"There is so much marketing noise today; the best way to grab the attention of a potential buyer is with authentic, empathetic communication — not broad-brush headlines."
Harness the Power of SEO
In digital marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) is vital for being found online. Google, by far the largest and most commonly used search engine, offers a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide
that outlines the best practices for of SEO.
"Search engine optimization (SEO) is often about making small modifications to parts of your website," the Google team writes in their introduction to the guide. "When viewed individually, these changes might seem like incremental improvements, but when combined with other optimizations, they could have a noticeable impact on your site's user experience and performance in organic search results."
While the guide provides a complete overview for using SEO, even its authors acknowledge that you might want to enlist the services of an SEO expert. This is another area where outsourcing might save money in the long run.
Historically, most companies have measured the effectiveness of their marketing is by looking at how it is contributing to the bottom line. Did it increase/accelerate the sales pipeline? What was the cost per lead? What were the conversion rates? How did sales perform for the same period last year?
But with the advent of digital marketing, it has become just as important to track online metrics. Monitoring the effectiveness of your online presence lets you know how your website and social media content are performing — what does your audience seem to like the most? The least? What should you be doing more of and what needs to be improved or perhaps even eliminated? Performance metrics enable you to be flexible with your strategy while remaining focused on your goals.
And just as with SEO, Google can help with online metrics. Google Analytics
has free tools for analyzing website data as well as tracking your social networking sites.
"Use data to make better decisions about what to do next, where to spend more or less money," said Ginger Clay, marketing architect for strategic marketing specialists IgniteRM
. "Create a data baseline of how you are performing today to make incremental improvements."