IT Channel Companies Taking Ownership of Branding, Marketing

A majority of channel firms plan to up their marketing game, including individualizing their branding and fine-tuning their messaging to customers.

CompTIA and IT channel

IT channel companies are becoming more self-reliant when it comes to branding, marketing and sales activities, according to a new study released today by IT industry association CompTIA.

A majority of channel firms plan to up their marketing game, including individualizing their branding and fine-tuning their messaging to customers.

According to the report, more than four in 10 companies expect to accelerate social media activities to reach customers, drum up new business and promote themselves.

"Social media is the top activity that channel firms expect to leverage as part of their efforts to polish their marketing approach in the coming year," Carolyn April, senior director of industry analysis for CompTIA, told eWEEK. "Marketing has never been a strong suit for the majority of channel firms, lagging far behind their technical acumen for obvious reasons and also trailing their sales skills. But there’s been a wake up call for many in the channel as they move their businesses away from a product focus, which is tied tightly to vendor brand, and more to services, which requires much more emphasis on their own brand and reputation."

The study suggested to position themselves as skillful, unique providers of technology services rather than simply product resellers. A net 47 percent of companies surveyed said the addition of new business models would increase the complexity of their sales and marketing structures.

"The main challenge is their current starting point. As mentioned above, especially for marketing, it’s never been a strong suit. Solution providers start businesses because they are good at technology and passionate about it," April said. "Sales techniques are often learned on the job, and marketing, well, it’s an afterthought. The typical channel firm with $1 million in revenue and 10 or fewer employees is a rare bird if they have a dedicated marketing professional."

In addition, a net 74 percent added to their sales forces in the past 12 months, while nearly as many (72 percent) added marketing talent.

Among companies that added new sales reps in the last year, two-thirds of firms hired from outside the IT industry.

Three-quarters of channel firms report at least some degree of business transformation going on in their organizations, with cloud computing being pegged as the primary catalyst behind business model changes that include overhauls to sales and marketing operations.

"IT buyers are changing too and more and more channel firms are having to sell to non-IT line of business executives in addition to or instead of the CIO or IT department," April explained. "Selling to the vice president of marketing, for example, is a very different kind of conversation to have."

The company’s Fourth Annual State of the Channel study examines the size, shape and growth factors impacting the IT channel today, with some 350 IT companies surveyed for the study.