Solution providers need to re-evaluate how they reach and engage prospective clients, especially as companies have sped up how quickly they make decisions about technology purchases.
That was the main message from Michael Lomonaco, director of marketing and communications at Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Open Systems Technologies, this week at The Channel Company's XChange 2017 conference in Orlando, Fla.
"A trade show and different types of events can be extremely valuable," Lomonaco said. "I will contest, if 60 to 70 percent of your budget is based on events and trade shows, you might want to rethink that."
Lomonaco argued for a balance between live events and inbound marketing – attracting customers via web site content, social media and search engines, and use those avenues to develop a unique brand. Citing research from Gartner, IDC and the Harvard Business Review, Lomonaco noted that B2B buying decisions now involve more people, they often start on social media and that cold calls and unannounced visits seldom work in modern sales.
Lomonaco said about 60 percent of the sales cycle is complete before a prospect first engages a salesperson. Buyer persuasion, he said, is happening on the customer's terms.
"They're not answering to the email blast," Lomonaco said.
Lomonaco highlighted a few potential marketing pitfalls for partners, such as relying on product pitches – something he called "old school and potentially unnecessary" – or merely trying to beat a competitor on price.
Instead of letting a list of services define the company, Lomonaco said solution providers need to understand their buyers better, cultivate thought leadership and establish themselves as a true source of business value and insight.
Effective approaches can include executive-authored blog posts and guest blogging, he said, or they can be as simple as sharing industry research or an article of interest with the prospect. One way solution providers can go about creating original content for their websites, he added, was by outsourcing the work to journalists.
If the customer approaches with a specific request, such as a storage refresh, Lomonaco believes channel partners need to understand why and use that knowledge to leverage their expertise, as a consultant might do.
Lomonaco's urged companies to make their marketing message focus on the customer and not completely self-centric. In order to fully benefit, solution providers need to create experiences that their potential customers would value and capture their interest through persuasive storytelling.
"Provide ideas, thoughts and relevant content," Lomonaco said. "Being all about you and a list of services, it won't move the needle anymore. Old school methods alone don't yield results."