A New Years Resolution

Marketing is among the channel's missing skills.

Its that time of year when everybody makes some sort of resolution about improving their business, only to see it go by the wayside before January is over.

Given the fact that many solution providers are run by people who turned a technology avocation into an actual vocation, many of these people find themselves short on business skills, and chief among those missing tricks is marketing. The skill set often gets ignored as the business grows, as technologists can easily measure and justify the return on investment for an additional salesperson or engineer, while marketing is viewed more as an unreliable black art that is difficult to quantify.

Yet as 2007 starts, the one thing that nags at the back of the minds of most channel company chiefs is not only how to get the company noticed in 2007, but also how to differentiate it in a field where just about everyone expects to see fewer but stronger players.

Those needs mean that the days when you could rely on your wifes cousin to help out with marketing or some college kids willing to work on lead generation activities in exchange for college credit are pretty much over.

What solution providers need today is a systematic approach to marketing in which every activity is designed to simultaneously drive brand awareness and lead generation as a set of hand-in-glove activities. Unfortunately, the number of experienced marketing people with those kinds of skills is pretty limited, so even if most solution providers had the will to improve their marketing, there is significant scarcity of resources.

This is why channel executives might want to take note of a new set of outsourced marketing services for the channel that are being launched in the new year by Circa 65, a consulting company with a long history of working with solution providers.

Spearheaded by company President and Chief Operating Officer Jim Markisohn—who, prior to joining Circa 65 earned his channel marketing stripes working for distributor Arrow Electronics—the new services take a structured approach to marketing and gives VARs access to experienced marketing professionals at a fraction of the cost of hiring their own staff. The services allow solution providers not only to systematically measure their marketing activities but also to leverage a more targeted approach with marketing professionals.

The end result of this is that marketing services are deployed only on demand rather than having to add the costs associated with full-time employees to the payroll.

Of course, outsourced marketing is nothing new in the channel. Exponential Marketing Services has been billing it out for years, and distributors such as Ingram Micro have extensive practices to provide the service. But the on-demand services approach from Circa 65 mirrors an SAAS (software as a service) approach to billing for those services that may prove to be more attractive than approaches that bill by the hour regardless of what was specifically accomplished.

Whatever strategy solution providers ultimately employ in 2007, one thing is clear: It is high time solution providers took a more professional, systematic approach to marketing efforts that not only will create sales leads that can be easily monetized but also will increase the overall value of the company by expanding the base of customers that regularly do business with the company.

Michael Vizard is editorial director of Ziff Davis Medias Enterprise Technology group. He can be reached at michael_vizard@ziffdavis.com.