Marketing Masters: Heard Above the Crowd

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Technology resellers and CPAs need to provide steady, consistent, quality marketing.

By Carly Lombardo

Technology resellers and accounting professionals often confuse marketing with sales. Sales gets someone to buy a product or service. Marketing develops the leads needed to get to the sale.

Partner Insights

Confusing the two—or forgetting to market altogether—is no longer an option for those who want to succeed, says Chris Ashby, chief operating officer of Pro-Active Solutions. “The market is always changing and resellers must realize marketing is no longer just an option, but a must,” adds Ashby, whose firm has offices in Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois. Ashby and Judy Thornell, president of Baytek, presented two sessions at Best’s recent Insights conference designed to help partners distinguish the differences. Both Pro-Active and Las Vegas-based Baytek focus on consulting and implementation of Best Software’s Peachtree, Act, and MAS 90 applications.

Grow Your Business Using the Marketing Mix

A successful marketing formula doesn’t have to be complex, says Susan Sheridan, Accpac’s general manager.

“With a well-constructed marketing program, the total impact is truly greater than the sum of the parts,” she notes. “The keys are simple: Choose the elements that reach affordably to your existing clients and prospects, then use them consistently over time,” says Sheridan.

With that advice in mind, Sheridan offers the following suggestions for building a successful mix of marketing techniques.

Vendor programs. Spend just 60 minutes analyzing all of your vendor’s programs and you’ll probably find a gem you’ve overlooked. Secret tip: Don’t be afraid to ask for a special program that’s “off the card.” If you can show how the investment will pay off, vendors have more flexibility than they let on.

Customers. It is far easier and cheaper to keep a good, solid relationship with an existing customer than it is to find a new customer. Use your customer database and market to your customers. Stay in touch with customers, whether by newsletter or electronic communications. Remember that maintenance marketing only works if it is done on a regular basis. Return calls promptly, show you care using customer questionnaires, and be responsive to your customers’ input; that will set you apart from other businesses and create customer loyalty.

Prospects. Your business can’t grow unless you spend at least some of your marketing time and dollars on finding new customers. Narrow your focus. Decide which industries, in which locations, in what sizes, you’ll pursue. Then, buy that list and mail, call, and market relentlessly. Over time, you’ll be included in their review cycles as they get ready to buy. Keep your target list small enough so you can afford to touch each prospect four to six times yearly.

Your network. Relationship marketing has tremendous value at the local level. People prefer to buy from people they know. Be involved in your community; become the resident expert. Write a column in your community paper or specialized publication. Participate at the Chamber of Commerce or give presentations to other local business groups. Give a little time and you’ll get back a lot. Plan on two years of dedicated, regular activity to build your reputation.

Know your competition. If you don’t know who you’re up against for a sale, then you will not be able to properly position and promote your products and services. A quick and easy way to stay informed about vendor products that you compete against is to set up keyword news alerts at Google.com.

Public relations. You may be able to obtain free “advertising” through public relations if you have an offer that is considered newsworthy. Local business newspapers are interested in knowing about successful local ventures and often report on office relocations, an addition of a training room, a significant client win, a local sales promotion, and similar news that tells readers there’s a success in their midst. Writing a press release is easier than you think, and you can find the formula in any good “PR how-to” reference book and on many Web sites.

“We’re in a unique business and partners need to be able to identify the ideal customers and have a marketing plan,” says Thornell. As a measure of the need for education about marketing, 250 resellers attended each session.

Branding, Thornell told the group, is one of the primary marketing issues. Her own firm trademarked the name Baytek. Using her own name would have reduced the future value of the firm, she says. Thornell also registered the URL www.baytek.com in 1994. “So many small firms don’t take that [registering a URL that includes the firm’s name] into consideration when they do branding,” she says. To successfully brand a company, an owner must understand what the company looks like to outsiders.

Baytek works many angles. It offers seminars and online forums through its allied SoftwareUsersOnline.com site. It has a formal alliance with other reselling operations, such as hardware and networking VARs.

Ashby, whose firm was named Business Partner of the Year for Best’s Small Business Division, says Pro-Active had great success focusing on installed-base sales, getting Peachtree users to move to Peachtree Premium and to MAS 90.

The mechanics are basic.

“It’s delivering a consistent message to the customer,” says Ashby. “If you don’t talk to your customers, someone else will. If you talk to them frequently and use a consultative approach, they will buy more stuff.” The company’s goal is to contact customers personally three times a year, outside of mailings and other more anonymous marketing approaches.

Allies for Marketing
To boost its channel’s marketing skills, Best initiated the Marketing Alliance Program in June. Thirty resellers signed up, even though it was not formally announced then.

Under the program, resellers can receive a 70 percent co-op reimbursement with a rolling 12-month co-op expiration for marketing activities that Best authorizes, and can get approval a year ahead in order to plan marketing activities. The firm must also commit from 5 to 10 percent of revenue to marketing.

“If the revenue is $1 million, the partner must invest $50,000 to $80,000 per year, and this might include a marketing person, and a variety of activities,” says Taylor Macdonald, Best’s executive vice president of the channel and partners.

Macdonald advises resellers to determine how many leads they need to acquire one new customer per month. Suppose the VAR calculates that the firm closes one sale for every three presentations conducted. It might also need three calls to be able to make a sales presentation. That means for every sale, it needs six leads. “Once the partner establishes the number of leads, they must decide on the types of leads they want,” says Macdonald, who says the ratios are just an example.

Beyond that, resellers must conduct a wide range of marketing activities every month. “There is no one activity that seems to work everywhere, that is the silver bullet,” says Macdonald. “What is the silver bullet is a wide variety of activities, done consistently every month.”

One area most businesses ignore is getting leads from their client base, because they don’t ask for client referrals. However, clients must know the reseller wants referrals, what kind of referral is being sought, and must get some incentive for making referrals, says Macdonald. Best is helping in that effort by soliciting end-user referrals. Participating customers will get referral fees, which will be split with VARs.

But while Best can help resellers improve their marketing, it cannot do the job for them. “The software publisher can create brand awareness, but we’ll never be able to create enough leads,” say Macdonald.

Brian Sittley, president of South Bend, Ind.-based Productivity Management, buys into the message that firms must have both constant and consistent efforts if marketing is to work.

“It’s important to be heard above the din of the crowd. Steady, consistent marketing allows the firm to present itself in a manner it defines for itself, and then promulgate that presentation over time, so that the message can eventually become one with what the firm is trying to deliver,” says Sittley.

PMI, which resells Accpac, MAS 90, and Navision, uses several tools, working for consistency with its branding, look, theme, and message—even in its paper stock. “Over time, it sticks in the customers’ minds,” adds Sittley. “Consistency and branding are key factors. We’ve sent the same style newsletter out every quarter for a dozen years to over 8,000 business customers and prospects. We send out monthly e-mail updates of common format to 400 customers.”

Sittley’s organization spends about 2 to 4 percent of annual revenue on marketing. It also assiduously tracks results using SalesLogix to determine optimum lead sources and average lead costs, and to segment email blasts.

“With marketing, just like anything else, it’s hard, gritty, consistent work—sticking to your knitting—that at the end of the day gets the job done, and proves the effort worthwhile,” says Sittley.

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