Many technical-savvy MSPs will readily admit that marketing is not their company’s strong suit.
At the MSPWorld 2017 conference, held this week in New Orleans, marketing expert Angela Leavitt aimed to demystify practices for drumming up leads. In her session, “Anatomy of a Wildly Successful Digital Marketing Campaign,” Leavitt discussed two methods for designing MSP marketing initiatives. Both methods embrace digital marketing as well as a targeted approach for reaching prospects.
“The old tricks don’t really work anymore,” said Leavitt, president of Mojo Marketing. “It used to be you could buy an email list, spam the list and get a bunch of people to respond. It used to be that every email we would receive, we would open. But we don’t do that anymore.”
She added that today, because people are inundated with so much information, marketing messages can disappear in a “sea of sameness.” MSP marketing initiatives will likely miss their target if they lack a modern strategy.
Before embarking on marketing efforts, MSPs should ensure two things, she said. First, they must evaluate their website for whether it looks trustworthy, legitimate and current. If the website is weak, “no amount of campaigning is going to help you,” she said. “If your brand needs help, then that is your first assignment.”
The second fundamental piece of advice she offered is to be “a hustler.” She said her successful clients don’t “sit back and wait for marketing to magically deliver leads to them.” Instead, they are active in their outreach efforts.
The fishing method
The first method, which Leavitt called “the fishing method,” is an eight-step process that uses enticing content to capture leads. Fishing requires about one or two months of prep work, two to three weeks of execution, and one or two months of follow-up, she said.
- Research. The first step is to identify your targeted customer’s pain points. For example, many IT directors today are greatly concerned about security or considering SD-WAN’s potential. “If you can get a spin on those topics, you are going to get more attention than if you just want to talk about your XYZ service,” she said.
- Develop an attractive offer. After researching customer pain points, service providers then should craft an offer. The offer should appeals to your specific buyer and be creative, she said.
- Develop content to support the offer. Content should aim to “create intrigue and something of value and be entertaining,” she said. At the same time, it should demonstrate the service provider understands the customer’s challenges. “If you can come across as the doctor, they will naturally assume you have the answer.” Additionally, the content should be 90% education and 10% sales pitch. Formats could include videos, webinars, white papers and case studies. She said infographics are doing well at the moment.
- Create a landing page. The next step is to create a landing page for the content that has an opt-in component. A prospect might have to opt in to gain access to the content. For example, a prospect will opt in by signing up for a lunch-and-learn event or webinar.
- Create email auto-responders. After a prospect opts in, service providers should follow up with related content that the prospect might be interested in, she said. Continuing to send the prospect more relevant content is a way to “warm up” prospects and build relationships.
- Drive traffic to the landing page. There are numerous methods for driving traffic to your landing page, she said, but she noted the best way is to have a strategic partner that will help promote it. The strategic partners can lend expertise and credibility to your company. She suggested evaluating your network for someone to partner up with in your MSP marketing initiative. Other powerful methods include marketing on social media platforms such as LinkedIn. Memes with links to your content are gaining traction as a visual marketing method, she added.
- Launch your content. Service providers can now launch their content, whether it’s a webinar or white paper or educational session via a lunch-and-learn event. She advised MSPs to demonstrate authority in their content by citing partnerships and client references.
- Present the offer. Principles for presenting offers can be seen on any late-night infomercial, she said. Principles can include using “scarcity” (“Call within the next 10 minutes to double your offer”), testimonials and, if it works for your particular offer, some kind of guarantee.
After executing these steps, service providers should evaluate the impact of the MSP marketing campaign, follow up and nurture leads, and determine how the campaign could be improved for better results.
The farming method
The farming method is more of long-term play than fishing, Leavitt said. She added that it can also have a better payoff.
- Choose a niche. Niches are a type of shortcut to credibility, she said. To select a niche, service providers should think about their largest and most recognized client and how they might target similar organizations in that particular market.
- Get endorsed. With the niche selected, the service provider should then collect relevant testimonials — the more testimonials, the better.
- Demonstrate expertise. Next, the service provider should develop content “that indicates you have a specialization.” Content might be a landing page on your website, blogs that address the niche’s audience, social content and video.
- Develop strategic partnerships. After obtaining endorsements and content, the service provider should join relevant industry associations. Leavitt suggested volunteering on the associations’ committees and speaking at their events. “Become the go-to company for IT services within that industry,” she said. “This is going to ensure that the leads and the referrals that come into you are continuous.”
- Leverage big data and social media platforms. She said service providers should target exactly who they want to go after using social media. She noted that social media platforms are moving to “pay to play.” “There is a lot you can do for free with your own social posting,” but service providers can pay to boost their efforts, she said. Compared to traditional marketing, such as paying for an ad in the Yellow Pages or running a radio spot, social media marketing can end up costing much less and reach a more relevant audience.
- Repeat. After becoming “a rock star” in your chosen industry, she said you can repeat these steps and build expertise and authority in another niche. “You are not limited to one [industry],” she said.
Noting benefits of the farming method, Leavitt said the sales cycles can become shorter and pricing less of an issue for customers.
The market for small business IT services is large, extremely varied and challenging to address.
Those are among the takeaways from CompTIA’s research in the small and medium-sized business (SMB) market, which reveals patterns in small business IT investment and business priorities. CompTIA also spent some time on market segmentation. Tim Herbert, senior vice president of research and market intelligence at CompTIA, described the sector as “incredibly expansive,” ranging from one- and two-person shops to 500-employee companies. He discussed CompTIA’s take on small business this week at the organization’s annual member meeting in Chicago.
Breaking down the market
CompTIA breaks down the SMB market into three subcategories, the largest of which is “budget conscious” companies that represent 78% of the estimated nine million U.S. small businesses. Herbert said much of what that segment spends on IT boils down to break/fix services and other items such as web design.
At the other end of the SMB spectrum are companies CompTIA refers to as “competitive targets,” firms that employ 100 to 500 employees. Those companies represent 2% of the SMB market. Channel partners looking to sell small business IT services in this segment will find companies with a tech budget to spend and a “pretty sophisticated internal IT capacity,” Herbert noted.
CompTIA identified the “sweet spot” of the SMB market to be companies with 10 to 99 employees. Those companies represent a 20% slice of the overall market. But it’s a big slice in terms of sheer numbers: 1.8 million businesses fit the sweet spot description.
Presumably, the sweet spot companies have money to spend on IT, but smaller or non-existent IT departments – factors that make this group more dependent on external providers of small business IT services.
So what exactly are small businesses buying? A CompTIA online survey of 600 U.S. SMB executives and professionals identifies desktop and laptop computers, productivity and office applications, and networking equipment as the top three areas.
As for wallet share, resellers and technology partners are capturing 22% of the SMB spend, with local retailers (22%), online-focused retailers (25%) and direct-sales vendors (30%) soaking up the rest of the spending.
Business priorities inform IT spending. And when it comes to an SMB’s top business priorities, many channel partners will see themselves in CompTIA’s research findings. The top three business priorities for SMBs in the year ahead are renewing/maintaining key customer accounts, identifying new customers/new markets, and implementing new systems or work processes to enhance efficiencies, according to CompTIA.
A mirror image of channel priorities
That’s practically a mirror image of a channel partner’s to-do list: They need to keep customers happy and in the fold, while seeking out emerging market opportunities, and deploying automation to lower the cost of service delivery.
The ability to identify with customer concerns could help channel partners deal with the IT obstacles small businesses must confront. CompTIA’s research indicated that many firms want to boost technology investment but 40% of SMBs admit their “investment level is lower than it should be.” CompTIA also pointed out that SMBs want to engage in digital transformation, but “lack the necessary vision and strategy” to do so.
Against that backdrop, channel companies have an opportunity to provide technology strategy advice in a virtual CIO capacity. And if partners can demonstrate how intelligent use of IT made them more efficient, or how a security and compliance regimen reduced their risk exposure, they stand a better chance of moving the needle on small business IT services spending.
A new study on IoT adoption commissioned by Aruba Networks, a networking vendor and Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, has yielded some food for thought for channel partners.
The study, The Internet of Things: Today and Tomorrow, polled 3,100 IT and business decision makers across 20 countries. Among its key findings: Organizations adopting IoT have seen better-than-expected returns on their investments. Respondents ranged from a number of vertical industries, including enterprise, healthcare, industrial, retail and government sectors.
“From a partner perspective, there is obviously the need to get on the [IoT] bandwagon … because there are opportunities to be had here,” said Chris Kozup, vice president of marketing at Aruba.
According to the Aruba report, 56% of respondents had implemented IoT in their businesses, citing a 34% average return of investment. Comparing customers’ pre-adoption expectations with the post-adoption results, Kozup said the study revealed an “expectations dividend.” For example, while 16% of business leaders expected large profit gains from their IoT investments, 32% said they realized profit gains following adoption. And while 29% believed they would see their IoT projects yield business efficiencies, 46% said their projects resulted in efficiency gains.
Kozup said the expectations dividend pointed to “a fair amount of conservatism” surrounding IoT adoption. He added this is a conventional attitude toward emerging technologies. “People are unsure about what [the technologies are] going to deliver, what they are going to mean, so they take generally a conservative approach,” he said.
IoT adoption trends within vertical markets
The Aruba study also shed light on how five vertical segments are currently working with IoT technology.
Enterprises: Among enterprise respondents, 72% said they have adopted IoT devices. Top IoT uses for improving employee productivity included remote monitoring and indoor location-based services. A fifth of respondents cited remote operation of building lighting and temperature as an important use for IoT today, Aruba noted.
Seventy-eight percent of business leaders reported IoT has improved the effectiveness of their IT teams. Seventy-five percent said IoT has increased profitability.
Industrial sector: After enterprises, the industrial sector reported the highest degree of IoT adoption: Sixty-two percent of industrial sector respondents said they have deployed IoT. The study revealed monitoring and maintaining industrial functions as the most important use. Aruba also noted a projected boost in IP-based surveillance camera implementation within industrial organizations: Merely 6% of respondents said they have deployed IP-based surveillance cameras today, while 32% cited the technology as a key use case for future implementations.
Eighty-three percent of respondents cited business efficiency gains, and 80% saw increased visibility across their organization.
Healthcare industry: Sixty-percent of healthcare respondents said they have implemented IoT, with monitoring and maintenance, cited by 42% as the No. 1 use.
Eighty percent saw an increase in innovation following IoT adoption, and 78% cited cost savings.
Retail sector: About half of the retailer respondents currently use IoT technology, and 81% of those have reported improvements in customer experiences. The No. 1 use case was in-store location services that send shoppers personalized offers and product information, following by monitoring and maintenance. Forty percent of retailers cited surveillance among their top three uses for IoT.
Government: Government was the slowest in IoT adoption among the vertical segments, with 42% of municipalities currently using IoT devices and sensors, according to the study. Thirty-five percent of IT decision makers asserted little or no understanding of IoT among their executive ranks, which suggested that education is a major obstacle to mainstream adoption, Aruba said.
About half of government IT departments struggle with legacy technology today, yet 70% of those who adopted IoT cited cost savings and improved visibility across the organization as significant benefits.
Top barriers to adoption
Despite the benefits cited by respondents, critical challenges remain, particularly around security. Eighty-four percent of the organizations that had adopted IoT reported experiencing IoT-related breaches.
IoT security can be complex and unfamiliar to organizations, Kozup said. While organizations today may fully grasp the security challenges involving traditional compute devices such as personal mobile devices, many fail to understand the vulnerabilities involved in their other connected “things.” HVAC systems, for example, can create security issues. “All of sudden, you have … heating and cooling systems that are now accessing the corporate network,” he said.
The study identified several other obstacles that IT leaders believe hinder IoT’s greater business impact: cost of implementation, cited by 50% of respondents; maintenance, cited by 44%; and integration of legacy technology, cited by 43%.
Capturing and effectively using data was another key challenge. Ninety-eight percent of respondents that had implemented IoT said they can analyze data, yet 97% cited difficulties deriving value from the data. Additionally, 39% of businesses said they don’t currently extract and analyze data within corporate networks or use the data to improve business decisions.
IT companies for years have been urged to use what they sell — how can tech purveyors expect customers to take the leap of faith when the sellers have yet to make the same commitment? The same kind of thinking holds true in the cloud computing era, and one example of the internal use philosophy is ServiceNow, an enterprise software as a service and platform as a service provider.
ServiceNow, based in Santa Clara, Calif., launched in 2003 in the IT service management (ITSM) space, but has since become a more generalized cloud platform for automating workflow in a range of corporate departments. ServiceNow deployments, moving beyond the IT organization, span corporate departments including human resources, legal, field services, marketing and facilities.
That expansion is mirrored in ServiceNow’s own experience. Continued »
Data management vendor Informatica has signed a North American distributor agreement with Avnet Technology Solutions, a move the vendor said advances its revised channel strategy.
Under the agreement, Avnet Technology Solutions will provide North American partners with access to Informatica’s portfolio of data integration, cloud, master data management, big data and security technologies. The partnership builds on Informatica and Avnet’s existing relationships in Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Singapore and the U.K. Informatica, which also partners with Tech Data and Ingram Micro, in January authorized Arrow Electronics to distribute its portfolio, as well.
Informatica currently derives about 5% of its total revenues from the channel, said Rodney Foreman, senior vice president of worldwide partner ecosystem. Foreman said Informatica aims to increase that number to 40% over the next five years.
“We’re well on track to make that happen,” he said.
Foreman came to the vendor about five months ago after having led IBM’s global cloud channel business. “I joined Informatica with the mission to grow our channel business worldwide by establishing a new channel program and building our partner capacities,” he said.
Under Foreman, Informatica has established a two-tier structure and will officially launch an updated Informatica partner program on Feb. 6. The program introduces a 15% frontend margin for partners and 10% backend rebates for bringing in new customers and selling cloud-centric products. Infromatica will also offer incremental rewards for selling into the midmarket.
He said one of the biggest opportunities for the Informatica partner channel is around its recently released data security product, Secure@Source. The data security market is a new area for the vendor.
“We want partners in the security space to help us grow our revenue and market share because it’s an area that we have not been before,” he said.
Infromatica partners with global system integrators, value-added resellers, managed services providers, cloud service providers and ISVs.
Startups increasingly tap channel partners for help with product sales and marketing. It’s a logical combination: The early-stage company gets access to the partner’s established customer base and the partner gets access to emerging technology and a potential point of differentiation.
This approach also lends itself to young software as a service (SaaS) companies as they branch out into international markets. OneLogin Inc., a San Francisco company that offers a cloud-based single sign-on and cloud identity and access management platform, provides a case in point. The company, founded in 2010, is partnering to establish its presence outside of the U.S. OneLogin, for example, works with T-Systems in Germany and NEC Solution Innovators in Japan.
T-Systems is an information and communication technology (ICT) service provider and subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, while NEC Solution Innovators, also an ICT company, is part of NEC Group.
“The reasons we decided to go to the market this way are really around scale,” said Marcus Mueller, managing director, EMEA, at OneLogin.
Citing the example of T-Systems, Mueller said OneLogin can tap into the company’s numerous sales people in Germany and thousands of consultants and technicians. He said T-Systems has around 3,000 sales people and 45,000 employees, overall, many of whom are technical staff.
OneLogin believes partnering provides an edge over the direct model of establishing and staffing oversees offices.
“How much easier it is to enable these local partners who have relationships with existing customers and very large field [sales] teams,” Mueller said.
The alliance-building method, however, takes a bit of effort to get off the ground. Mueller said the task involves locating channel partners in each geographic area that understand the company’s market space and are either investing in or already have a cybersecurity practice. Once partners are identified, OneLogin then builds a “partnering stack” for each geographic area, consisting of tiers of large national or international partners (such as T-Systems and NEC), mid-sized regional partners that might cover parts of a country, and smaller boutique value-added resellers and consultancies with significant local influence.
“It takes a little bit longer in the short run to get these [partnering efforts] going, but, in the longer run, the accelerated scale from this model more than pays off for us,” Mueller explained.
Partnering does more than offer an established customer base and feet on the international street for product-selling purposes. Overseas channel partners provide the added benefit of local implementation resources and technical personnel for post-sales support.
International alliances with brand-name companies also provide customers with the assurance of stability. If something unexpected happened to OneLogin, T-Systems, for instance, would have the legal and fiduciary responsibility to replace OneLogin with a substitute technology that would deliver on the same service-level agreement, Mueller noted.
In addition, alliances help SaaS startups comply with international regulations. OneLogin said its offering in Germany is hosted on Deutsche Telekom’s Open Telekom Cloud public cloud infrastructure, an arrangement that lets it “fully address German data privacy and compliance requirements.”
When a German enterprise signs up to use OneLogin, the technology will be delivered locally in a German data center operated by T-Systems personnel. Such localization is becoming more important in light of European data privacy law.
OneLogin has been working with T-Systems for about four months and is now set to do business in Germany. OneLogin signed a contract with T-Systems in September 2016, began running on the company’s cloud in October and passed its security audit in December, Mueller said.
“Everything is place, and we are ready to sell to customers,” he said
A SaaS startup’s international partnering strategy reinforces the benefits, in general, for early-stage companies that are quick to the channel: The ability to scale using a partner’s sales and marketing muscle, the credibility of an established name and the availability of localized post-sales support personnel.
SearchITChannel’s 2017 technology outlook article identified a number of cybersecurity trends affecting channel companies.
Among those developments are an anticipated rise in security operations center automation, the adoption of machine learning as a security technology and greater customer interest in integrated security suites.
SecurityScorecard, a cloud-based security rating platform provider, this week launched its first channel program.
The new program aims to help value-added resellers (VARs) offer continuous security rating services in what the company believes is an emerging market. Using the company’s platform, VARs can assess and monitor their customers’ security postures, assigning grades to the organizations based on their risks and vulnerabilities. Importantly, the platform assesses the security risks of customers’ third-party vendors.
“[The platform’s] primary use case, from a sales and value-added reseller perspective, is focused on enabling companies … to have visibility into the security posture of their third-party vendors, consultants and suppliers,” said Michael Rogers, vice president of strategic alliances and channels at SecurityScorecard, headquartered in New York.
Rogers added that VARs can potentially use SecurityScorecard ratings to identify opportunities for bolstering customers’ security capabilities. This, as a result, opens the door to providing professional services and cross-selling security-related products.
SecurityScorecard’s channel program offers access to deal registration, qualified sales leads, sales and technical training, co-marketing funds, and joint business planning. Additionally, partners can also connect with white hat hackers for guidance on designing product sets, the company said.
The program right now is by invitation only, Rogers said. “My feeling has always been, ‘Let’s go with the right ecosystem with the right partners.” Current partners include Gotham Technology Group, Optiv Security, GuidePoint Security, Bayside Solutions and Sycomp.
Gotham Technology’s use cases
First, the platform helps Gotham’s highly regulated customers audit their subcontractors, he said. These customers typically send their subcontractors multipage questionnaires and spreadsheets, allowing subcontractors to perform a self-evaluation of their security capabilities. “They’re spending a lot of time and energy trying to evaluate the efficacy of the security programs within the subcontractors,” Phelan said. “I think [the SecurityScorecard platform] is a great way of approaching that.”
Phelan said he also sees the SecurityScorecard platform helping customers who need to communicate their security postures to board members. The platform’s ability to continuously monitor an organization’s security health can offer critical insight. “Having a running metric of what we look like on a day-to-day basis is a really valuable thing for customers to … [understand] where they [stand] from a security perspective and how it changes every day.”
While Phelan sees Gotham’s partnership with SecurityScorecard as a promising opportunity for 2017, he said he hopes the vendor will develop more of a managed services play around its offerings.
Citrix Summit 2017 kicks off today in Anaheim, Calif. Here’s what channel partners can expect the company to emphasize at this year’s meeting:
Craig Stilwell, vice president, worldwide partner strategy and sales at Citrix, said 2017 will be the year when the company “walks in the cloud.” The company, he said, began to crawl in the cloud in 2016 and looks forward to running full force in the cloud in 2018.
This year, Citrix will focus on talking to partners about how to make the cloud transition, providing technical enablement as well as coaching on positioning and sales motions around the cloud, Stilwell said. And, of course, there will be discussions on how to make money in the cloud. Indeed, the Citrix Summit 2017 opening keynote outlined three ways for partners to make money in the cloud: transactions for new cloud licenses, services (installation, configuration and managed services) and renewals (partners sell Citrix Cloud packages in a per-user, per-year subscription model).
As for the latter, Stilwell said he plans to design a renewal program for partners. He noted that once a customer makes a cloud purchase, the channel will play a key role in making sure usage is high and customers are satisfied. He said his goal it to have the renewal program figured out by the Citrix Synergy conference, which will take place in May in Orlando.
Other partner go-to-market priorities outlined at Citrix Summit 2017 include:
Secure deals for Citrix Workspace Suite
Stilwell said the objective is for Citrix sales personnel and channel partners to lead with Citrix Workspace Suite, a set of Citrix products for delivering secure access to desktops, data, applications and services.
Win with networking
Specifically, the Citrix game plan is to attach NetScaler and SD-WAN technology to every Workspace Suite, XenApp and XenDesktop deal. He said SD-WAN sales benefit from a close association with desktop virtualization and application virtualization user experience.
“We find the most uptake on SD-WAN … where resilience and uptime are of primary importance to the end user customer,” Stilwell said.
Win together with Microsoft
Stilwell said Citrix is asking its channel companies to become better Microsoft partners and focus on key use cases such as Skype for Business, Windows 10 virtual desktop infrastructure and NetScaler for Azure.
Citrix Summit 2017 will run through Wednesday, Jan. 11.
As channel partners mull over business moves for the upcoming year, many executives may consider IoT as a potential play — and for good reason.
“There is so much demand for IoT within SMBs [small and midsized businesses],” said Anurag Agrawal, CEO and analyst at Techaisle, a market research firm that closely follows the SMB market. Techaisle expects nearly three-fourths of midmarket businesses to adopt some form of an IoT initiative in the next year. At least one third of small businesses, which Techaisle defines as having one to 100 employees, will launch one or more IoT initiatives within their organizations.
“There are many different benefits of IoT that the SMBs are starting to see, and they’re starting to embrace it,” he said.
That’s not necessarily the channel’s fault. For example, many firms continue to grapple with cloud computing, mobility and security, making IoT an impractical next step. Additionally, traditional vendors experimenting with IoT products opt to sell direct to customers. “[Vendors] are all experimenting, and the best experiment is to sell it themselves,” he said. “That, in turn, drives channel partners to say, ‘How do I learn by myself?’ They don’t have enough time to be able to do it.”
First steps to the IoT opportunity
The first step involves what partners “already know how to do today” — selling and installing hardware. Selling and installing sensors and data-collecting devices is a practical way to get started.
From there, partners can move up to managed services, proactively managing and monitoring their customers’ sensors and devices. “I think this could be a potential sweet spot for MSPs that start investing in that area today,” April said.
Partners can then harness and analyze the data collected from customers’ devices and advise customers on running their businesses. “That is really the cream of the crop right there,” she said, but added that the channel is “a ways off from this.” Only a segment of the channel will acquire this type of expertise, she said.
Charles Weaver, CEO of MSPAlliance, suggested MSPs may play a more vital role in IoT when security issues begin to emerge. “I think that IoT is going to be a major … problem-solver and then it’s going to be a major problem — in that order,” he said. He said we will likely see massive adoption, followed by breaches and attacks that will bring greater attention to IoT security.
But Weaver also noted that MSPs should start to explore the IoT opportunity. RMM tools in the market today can handle the task of monitoring IoT devices, he said. “If it’s connected to the internet, generally speaking, I think it can be monitored. If I was an MSP, I would be definitely looking at that for the future.”