VAR Marketing, or in this case VAR Demand Generation is one of the more difficult areas of demand generation. This happens for several reasons and in this Blog I am going to tackle the issue from two distinct angles.
The first place I want to start is demand generation for the VAR itself. Resellers want to get branding and recognition within their locale. That means that they want every potential prospect, which in the case of infrastructure VARS is generally every organization over $50 Million in revenue . Recognizing that infrastructure VARS provide a service, integrating and building out infrastructure, that classifies infrastructure Partners as really service providers. As a service provider VARS confront the same challenges as we face at Toltec Global Services: no one actually knows how good you are until they use you. That means that creating a brand around a VAR requires making that reseller human to the prospect. It can’t simply be any of the following: we have better systems engineers; we have better understanding of how to integrate our core product lines; we have extensive post sales support; we only care about our customers success; we have a unique methodology of handling post sales; we are better than our competitors at supporting our customers…….no you’re not wrong, it is about these things. Unfortunately every VAR has the same themes both small, medium and large resellers. They all put up the same slide ware except the large guys put up how big they are as if that means that they are going to be better. They might be, they might not be. How can customers distinguish one from the other in this potpourri of similar messaging.
The Partner wants to be recognized for their unique skills and operating methodology in a world where their competitors say the exact same thing. I know this from having sat through hundreds of presentations as a buyer of infrastructure. So how does a Partner build their own brand in a world of look the same resellers? By building a relationship using new technology (marketing automation) to do an old fashioned sales job. That means the reseller has to stand out in terms of what their values are, how they execute those values and what that means to the prospect. Perhaps the greatest story I ever heard that helped sell 100’s of millions of dollars of servers and storage, came from the CEO of Sequent Computer, Casey Powell. In that story, Casey described Sequent customer Burlington Coat Factory. BCF bet their data center and transaction processing WW on Sequents’ server and storage technology. One day, in the middle of the Christmas retail season, 4 out of the 12 Sequent servers supporting BCF went down. Literally same day, Sequent manufacturing built out 4 brand new similar servers and shipped them overnight to BCF. By the end of the 2nd day Sequent had brought up all 4 machines by racing a crew of SE’s to the BCF HQ location the night before. BCF came back up on full capacity that third day in the heart of their busiest retail season, they were back to full capacity. Casey then mentioned that to this very day he had no idea who authorized that, but it was the right decision. The moral of the story is that Casey had built into Sequent a culture of doing the right thing for customers. A culture where a major client went down and rather than making it the clients’ responsibility to figure it all out, the culture understood that it was their responsibility to make their client succeed. So when you were buying Sequent, you weren’t just buying a server, you were buying a culture. A culture built to make its customers successful without arguing with them about terms and conditions, payment, or whose fault it was. A culture that cared so much about doing the right thing that it wasn’t the decision of one individual, but the reaction of an entire company.
Now I know some of you will point out that Sequent wasn’t a VAR, that they were an OEM. However the story remains a powerful one. The larger question is: Do IT customers really care about this kind of service? The answer lies in how often they change their suppliers. If they have a history of burning through vendors and resellers, then you know what you are dealing with. However, at the end of the day, most people, whether they are in IT, or in marketing, don’t want to have a failure on their hands. What they are willing to pay for, once proven, is risk mitigation. At the end of the day they can’t tolerate failure. It can lead to job loss or the end of a promising career. What people really want is to mitigate risk. The more you make them look good, the better they will treat you.
Partners need to build personas about who they are, what values they bring to the table, and most importantly, success stories about what they have done and continue to do for their customers.
Whew, that’s demand generation case #1 for Partners. Now let’s go to case #2.
The OEM’s: they don’t really want to pay to brand the reseller because that is touchy feely stuff that doesn’t put $$$ into their pocket today. So while they have “co-branded” programs, the main purpose of the programs is to get leads that present more opportunities to sales so that they get more sales. This is where being a “wedge” product is very useful for a reseller. However, most OEM’s can barely withstand the patience to for a demand generation campaign that lasts a quarter, produces pipeline, but no sales that quarter.
What’s a VAR to do?
Glad you asked. The best approach is generally multi-layered, but in its most consistent form has two basic approaches. The first approach is the one outlined above for communicating your culture, people, and values to the market. That is your own branding campaign. Sure many of the e-mails will get deleted. However over time, people will start coming onto your website. All IT departments get into trouble in specific areas at different times. Virtualization has been one of the best things to happen to infrastructure resellers in a long time. From performance challenges of the VDI to the loss of storage management as VM’s tie down different spindles (array groups) to the destabilization of hosts as VM’s are auto-migrated…….a potpourri of complex issues that can take resources off many projects. It’s also great opportunity to get in the door and start fixing things. So the long terms approach that will pay off handily over time is to communicate your findings and solutions to the market proving to your prospect base that you do have subject matter expertise. That’s saleable. You can even go to local Virtualization user groups and present your case studies and use that as an event to add contacts to your database. Done correctly, a presentation of findings to a user group should lead to near term sales opportunities. The number of opportunities will get larger as you become known as the expert in whatever topic you were presenting about. If you message that success in your marketing automation campaign, and support it with the case study you presented at the User Group you will be the beneficiary of an uptick in new clientele over a year. Including companies that you could never crack open with point product campaigns.
The second thing you have to do is point specific campaigns that generate pipeline and forecast for your vendors. These need to be combination campaigns that are Marketing Automation based as well as Call Center based programs. The challenge with Calling programs is the number of dials it now takes to get infrastructure people to answer. The numbers range from 1/80 to 1/210. Why pay for so many dial attempts? It makes no sense. The challenge is how do you do a campaign for 3 months and get results from a marketing automation campaign AND using calling to follow-up on high lead scores?
Part of the challenge is the program funding that comes from the OEM’s. The quarterly driven funding that demand gen campaigns need to prove themselves in one quarter or less is highly problematic to resolving the VAR demand gen challenge. The other challenge is the amount. Marketing Automation Campaigns can be expensive or $n>$5K/month including licenses, content creation, campaign set-up, design and execution. This is generally way beyond the funding of most Partner demand gen programs.
In conclusion, to build a demand generation engine for infrastructure VARS requires two ongoing and complimentary campaigns: the first is specific to the reseller. The second is specific to point products that can be used as wedge products for your OEM’s. You follow this recipe and over time you will penetrate your market substantially.