XChange: Solution Providers Are Seeing Big Gains With Cloud Era Marketing

Solution providers are mastering cloud era marketing with aggressive new initiatives that are driving significant sales gains.

That was the big takeaway from a "Master Marketing To Drive Your Business To New Heights" panel hosted by The Channel Company CEO Robert Faletra at 2015 XChange Solution Provider at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Dallas.

The Channel Company research shows that marketing is the strategic differentiator that powers cloud business model transformation, said Faletra. In fact, he said, 70 percent of partners said marketing is a critical "strategic" driver to power cloud business transformation.

[Related: XChange: 10 Common Mistakes That Are Hurting Your Company Brand ]

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That said, The Channel Company research shows that only 40 percent of solution providers have comprehensive marketing plans; 13 percent only have marketing plans when the vendor asks for it; and 8 percent of partners are doing no marketing, Faletra said.

The four solution provider panelists that have made significant marketing investments said they have seen firsthand the sales payoff from mastering cloud era marketing.

In fact, CloudStrategies LLC was able to weather the loss of its only salesperson last summer because of the sales pipeline that continued to grow due to the company's two-year marketing investment, said Pete Zarras, founder and president of the Morristown, N.J.-based cloud solution provider.

Without that marketing investment, CloudStrategies would have been dead in the water, said Zarras. "After the loss of that salesperson, our pipeline was growing -- we were selling more, closing more, delivering more," he said. "Ultimately, it forced us to figure out what was working, what was not, and where the source of our pipeline was coming from. That investment in marketing allowed us to do that."

Jed Ayres, chief marketing officer for MCPc, a $262 million, Cleveland-based national solution provider ranked No. 89 on the CRN Solution Provider 500 list, said he oversees a team of eight marketing pros who are delivering sales gains with innovative marketing initatives.

MCPc, for example, takes a group of Cleveland-based CIOs regularly on a four-day Silicon Valley tour, hitting the major vendor executive briefing centers for updates on the latest and greatest technology from companies like Hewlett-Packard, Cisco and Dell. "Those have been an unbelievable sales pipeline and relationship builder with these customers," he said. "It's amazing what happens when we get customers together like this. They open up in a way they would not otherwise."

MCPc also has launched an innovative social media pilot marketing program with 20 top salespeople using LinkedIn as a sales driver, said Ayres. He said LinkedIn is changing the social sales landscape the same way it changed the recruiting game three years ago. "We are already seeing some amazing results in terms of new customer engagement," he said. "It is profound."

Michael Lomonaco, director of marketing for Open Systems Technologies Inc., No. 168 on the CRN SP500, Grand Rapids, Mich., oversees a team of four marketing pros that have increased sales by being integrated as business plans into the company's 12 technology practices. "Each plan has an executive sponsor and a business owner that is challenged with driving that plan to success by working with all areas of the organization," he said.

Key to Open Systems Technologies' marketing success, Lomonaco said, is that tight integration with the sales and technical teams. "We believe strongly that marketing plan is going to be a veneer if you are not harnessing the rest of the organization," he said.

Open Systems has seen great success with that tight marketing integration, with sales and technical driving explosive growth in its custom application development business where it now employs 55 developers, up from only four several years ago, said Lomonaco.

Aaron Zeper, vice president of sales and marketing for Signature Technology Group, Phoenix, said his company has generated a significant sales pipeline by focusing on ad word web searches. That ad word search optimization has been driven by a marketing executive who came on board from the travel industry where the level of sophistication around those marketing strategies are much greater than the IT industry, said Zeper.

"We are generating leads that I am really surprised by," said Zeper. "We generate a handful of leads every single day, and we have already seen customers buying 60 days into this program."