While some companies have struggled to react, others have enjoyed swift growth by deftly adapting to the new global it landscape. Enhanced marketing efforts are a natural result of this expansion, and many of the solution providers recognized on the 2017 Fast Growth 150 -- CRN's annual ranking of the fastest-growing solution providers, technology integrators, IT consultants and strategic service providers in North America -- are putting more emphasis on marketing as they look to continue feeding revenue growth.
CRN caught up with executives at four companies on the Fast Growth 150, which is ranked by two-year growth rate and requires gross sales of at least $1 million, to discuss their respective marketing philosophies, how their strategies have changed over time and the success they've achieved.
Though their general outlooks differed, sometimes significantly, all four solution providers find themselves facing the near-universal challenge of tracking ROI back to marketing-related activities.
Jessica Garrett, vice president of marketing at Atlanta-based VeriStor Systems (No. 54 on the Fast Growth 150), was hired specifically because of her digital marketing expertise. She said she has seen thousands of new digital marketing tools become available over the past few years, and noted the tremendous difficulty associated with stitching several different resources together to demonstrate ROI.
"Marketing is changing," Garrett said. "There's such a shift that's happened over the last five years or so. The traditional way of doing marketing is not enough anymore."
The issue goes beyond charting impressions or how many leads a campaign generated. To prove their effectiveness, marketing teams are often expected to show how they affected an opportunity that resulted in deal closure. Showing the direct impact of digital marketing isn't easy, Garrett said, because winning any deal is a collaborative effort influenced by sales, effectiveness of technology and customer preference, among other factors.
The question exists even at the more basic levels of marketing activity. How does a company determine and compare the business values of two different white papers?
For Garrett, the answer partly involves the use of digital tools that can estimate the weighted contribution of marketing to a given sale, based on when a prospect interacted with it in the buyer's journey.
But there's no silver bullet when it comes to tracking tools. She believes marketers still need to pair ROI-measuring solutions with a wide array of other tools, such as Wistia, which tracks time of engagement for video content. Being able to differentiate a prospect that watches five seconds worth of video from a prospect that watches two full videos, Garrett said, can be huge.
She added that her team has tripled the number of digital marketing tools it uses since she joined VeriStor nearly a year ago. The company's digital marketing spending has increased from zero to 30 percent of the overall marketing budget during that same period.
"The thing about digital marketing is we're having to figure all this out because none of us went to school for this. We didn't hear about these tools in Marketing 101," said Garrett. "We're all learning this from each other, and from online resources. You have got to be connected. You have got to talk to peers. I want to know what tools they're using and how they're using it. It's like a patchwork quilt."