Written by: John Black, president, Catalyst TelecomAt a recent Catalyst Telecom Partner Conference, I had a chance to speak with President John Black who had offered pointed advice to VARs about why and how they should market themselves.
Business Solutions magazine (BSM): How big of a problem is marketing for VARs?
John Black: Our research shows that more than 75% of VARs have no marketing plans. The reason for this is that most VAR business owners are either former engineers or salespeople. They understand the technology and know how to sell once they get in front of a decision maker, but they’re just not doing a good job of marketing themselves.
BSM: Besides not generating leads, what are some other downfalls of not doing marketing?
Black: When prospects engage your business and discover the message on your Web site is different from what your sales reps and/or customer service reps are saying, it lowers their trust in your organization. Another downfall of poor marketing is that it leads to difficulty recruiting. Employee candidates want to work for a company that has its act together, and a mixed marketing message can cause them to doubt your company’s stability.
BSM: If a VAR is just getting started with marketing, where should it begin?
Black: We suggest each VAR create a PowerPoint presentation that contains all the key points about its organization. Everyone who interacts with customers should reference this document. It’s also important for VARs to create a procedure for updating this document weekly so the message accurately reflects the VAR’s latest products, services, promotions, and philosophies.
BSM: Besides not having marketing experience, what keeps most VARs from doing a better job at marketing themselves?
Black: Many VARs think of marketing as only advertising or giving away merchandise. They may try these activities, but when they don’t see immediate results, they give up and focus instead on activities that produce immediate results such as sales training. The reality is that it takes 8 to 12 months to begin to generate results from an effective marketing campaign, which includes branding your company and the solutions and services that set you apart from your competitors.
BSM: Once a VAR starts doing some of the basics you mentioned, what are the next steps they should take? Also, what kind of help is available?
Black: Each VAR has to assess how much in-house expertise it has. If it’s pretty knowledgeable about what it needs to do, it may just need to work with a vendor and/or distributor partner to execute its marketing plan. For example, Catalyst Telecom helps its partners with a number of marketing activities such as creating ads, developing custom catalogs, e-mail marketing, direct mail campaigns, and even cold calling prospects. These services aren’t free, but they’re often a better alternative than hiring a full-time marketing person. If a VAR doesn’t know what steps to take, we recommend they work with a consultant and build a marketing plan. This requires a commitment to meeting with the consultant for 10 to 20 hours per month for about a year to understand concepts such as vertical markets the VAR should be selling to, customized solutions the VAR should be promoting and selling, associations the VAR should be developing relationships with, and communication avenues the VAR should use to get its message out. We have a number of consultants we work with and can recommend to our VAR partners.
BSM: What kind of a return on its investment can a VAR expect from implementing a marketing plan?
Black: VARs that understand and implement marketing plans should expect to see an average increase in sales revenue of 20%. We’ve seen some VARs do even better than that, but 20% is a realistic target.