Distributor CEOs Agree: Emerging Technology Sweet Spot for VARs

More VARs Should Sell Mobility, Virtualization
When the Global Technology Distribution Council gathered in May, the CEOs of the major distributors spoke out on what they believe their VARs should sell. The perspective of each one is as follows:

  • Tim Dolan, Chairman, Westcon Group: Video
  • Bob Dutkowsky, CEO, Tech Data: Mobility
  • Roy Vallee, CEO, Avnet: Unified computing or converged infrastructure
  • Kevin Murai, CEO, Synnex: Virtualization and server consolidation
  • Kia Hong Lim, CEO, SiS Technology Group: Mobility and Data Storage
  • Fabian von Kuenheim, President & CEO, Magirus: Storage Virtualization and Storage de-duplication
  • Meinie Oldersma, CEO, 20:20 Mobile: Mobility

The overarching theme – sell emerging technologies. Why? That’s where a VAR can add the most value and extract the highest profit. Enterprises don’t need VARs for commodity products – they can, and do, buy those products from DMRs, eCommerce or retail. They need VARs when technologies are complex and when those technologies need to integrate into existing network infrastructure without disrupting users.

Vendors – Make Your Technologies Easier for VARs to Sell!
Now, the trick for vendors is to make it easier for their VARs to sell emerging technologies. Easier said than done. Most vendors treat emerging technologies the same as a commodity technology. These vendors forget that VARs have to be taught how to sell the new technology. Not the speeds and feeds but instead the VAR needs to know:

  • How to recognize and qualify an opportunities
  • How to present technology benefits to the end user
  • Why the end user should buy
  • How to overcome objections
  • How to win against competition
  • How to identify purchase timeframe, budget and decision cycle
  • How to upsell to higher value solutions
  • How to cross sell to add higher profit to the sale
  • How the technology applies to various vertical markets such as education, healthcare/HIPAA, public section, etc.

Build the Right Go-To-Market Tool Set for Partners
VARs need all the same go-to-market tools as your direct sales force. Look to leverage these materials for quick time to market.

  • Selling skills training (prospect identification, overcoming objections, competition, etc.)
  • Technical skills training (pre-sales, installation, troubleshooting and post sales
  • Demand generation tools (lead generation and nurturing, co-brand collateral, MDF, etc.)
  • Product oriented tools (ROI calculator, product configuration tools, demo program, trade-in program, etc.)

Selling emerging technologies is a winning strategy for both VAR and Vendor.  It just takes work on both sides to make it successful.


The changing role of marketing in a consumer-driven world

By Sarah Sorensen
It should have come as no surprise when Twitter, one of the most popular sites on the Internet, introduced advertising to try to start to monetize their traffic. So why did it make news? I believe it’s because their advertising model epitomizes the seismic shift currently taking place in marketing. In today’s hyper-connected world, the advertiser has less influence and control; it’s all about the consumer.

Through Promoted Tweets, advertisers will be able to target any of the millions of Twitter users that conduct a search relevant to their products and services (e.g. if a user’s looking for coffee, a Starbucks‘ Promoted Tweet will show up in the results; similar to the Google model). However, it’s not just about getting the message of the promoter out; these Tweets need to be useful to the visitor, and if they are not, they will stop being shown.

This is the Marketing 2.0 model; in all communications, companies need to engage and address the needs and interests of the consumer or risk losing credibility and quickly becoming irrelevant. Marketing is less about generating one-to-many discussions, in the form of advertisements or press releases, and more about creating an ongoing dialogue with customers. This is because success hinges on being able to develop a productive relationship with the consumer that allows companies to stay on top of customer preferences and concerns to understand how best deliver on evolving requirements.

It’s not about talking TO but WITH the consumer.

No longer can you carefully craft your message, buy ad space or radio or TV time, and assume your message will be heard by a quantifiable audience. Today, the audience is fragmented, and they want to hear from you on their own terms. You need to figure out where your customers are spending their time. Perhaps they are on Facebook, where users post more than 55 million updates a day and share more than 3.5 billion pieces of content weekly, or maybe they’re on their phone sending one of the 2.5 billion text messages that are sent, according to Blackberry, every day in the U.S.?

Then, you need to determine how they want to hear from you on a regular basis. It could be they want to come to you. This was the case for more than 93,000 people who submitted questions to a new “Open for Questions” section on within just forty-eight hours of launching. Or it could be they would like the convenience of your information embedded in their regular activities, as in the aforementioned Promoted Tweets.

Regardless of the communications channels you choose to pursue, the key is to not just talk, but listen. If people have problems, acknowledge and learn from them. That’s what Frank Eliason, a customer service representative for Comcast, did. He saw that many Comcast customers were on Twitter posting their frustrations, so he decided to reach out to them with a simple question “How can I help you?” He then responded to each and every Tweet he received and tried to resolve their issue. He now has close to 42,000 people who follow him and has become one of the go-to resources for Comcast customers looking for help.

It’s not a CAMPAIGN but a CONTINUUM.

The Eliason example highlights another important point; marketing shouldn’t be about the latest buzzword or trend, but rather about how you live the brand promise in each and everything you do. It’s about creating an ongoing relationship with the consumer, and every communication and touch point with the consumer is an opportunity to further develop that relationship. Ever get frustrated when you call customer service, punch in some information and then get asked for that exact same information when someone comes on the call? Or maybe you are one of the more than twenty percent of people who stopped their online purchase because of a lack of company information. These are marketing issues and opportunities.

Look at everything you do, all the intersections you have with consumers and determine how you can enhance the experience and provide additional value to the customer. Financial institutions have found the loyal customer is the one they can help with their overall finances. It’s about creating a relationship with the customer that supports them in all their financial planning and decisions, regardless of whether there is an immediate transaction or profit to be made; customers who use an institution’s tools to track their spending habits, pay their bills, create a budget, and manage their debt are much less likely to switch banks and will ultimately do a lot more business with them long term.

This is critical, since consumers are going to be turning to a lot of different voices to get their information on you in this digital age. An ecommerce survey by Squidoo found that more than 70 percent of customers looked at online reviews before buying. Intuit revealed that out of every ten sales, eight are due to word of mouth. The lesson is to ensure that you are consistently delivering value to everyone because you never know who or where that critical influence will be.

United Airlines learned the hard way how, in this digital information age, the impact of each and every consumer can be amplified. When Dave Carroll’s Taylor guitar was damaged during a flight and United refused to reimburse him ($1200) to get it fixed, he wrote and sang a catchy song about the incident that he posted on YouTube. Within eight months, more than 8 million people had seen the humorous video, with “pass the buck” and “don’t ask me” phrases attributed to their customer service, along with the refrain “should have flown with someone else or gone by car because United breaks guitars.” What do you think 300 media interviews, a Top 10 viral video, and a Harvard Business Review Case Study cost their brand? I would venture it’s more than $1200.

There’s no such thing as CONTROL.

One critical mistake that many companies make is that they are obsessed with trying to control each and every interaction, which means they can’t develop a real relationship with the customer. Employees following strict guidelines and policies, such as the one United probably had around luggage, have no room to consider the context of the interaction, or create solutions that are unique to the specific requirements of the customer, which means their ability to deliver value is significantly diminished.

The reality is that gone are the days when formal statements and copy that’s reviewed by legal can be the voice of a company. Customers are dubious of “spin,” they are suspicious of anything that looks contrived or too “corporate;” they want transparent and genuine. Going back to Eliason, when he reaches out to customers, it is not formal or rehearsed. He is not working off a script. You can tell he truly cares and that makes people want to listen to him and work with him, even when he can’t actually solve their problem.

Customers want to know you are aware of issues and actively working to solve them. Just as in all relationships, there’s the good and the bad. Companies that are open and honest about their problems have earned the trust of their customers and they are rewarded with their pocketbooks. Just look at Nike or Wal-Mart; they have both been able to successfully recover from issues within their operations (supply chain and human resource-related, respectively), in large part because of their willingness to openly address them with the consumer.

But it’s important to understand this relinquishment of a perfect façade and control may manifest in surprising ways. For example, some hospitals are letting their patients read the notes their doctors write about them during exams – of course, there’s the worry that patients might react badly to a statement that points out they are “slightly obese” or “appears stressed,” however, it’s a step towards a more transparent relationship. The initial reaction has been positive; patients say it takes some of the fear out of the process (you no longer have to worry about what the doctor knows that you don’t), often confirms what the patient already knew, and ensures they have all the information they need to make better decisions about their health.

Businesses that can look across their extended operations and open themselves up to communications that are real and not always comfortable can build trust with customers. Those companies that can relinquish control and instill confidence in their employees to represent them well will be able to engage consumers in authentic, ongoing dialogues that will build the relationships that pivotal for the success of companies in this consumer driven world.


For the IT Technology Market Vendor Go to Market Plans, the 4th C=Cloud!

By Ken Rutsky

This ones bursting out like a rainstorm (pun intended) exciting stuff…

Eucalyptus, according to GigaMon, appears to be on the verge of raising a round with a post valuation of $100M on best I can tell revenues in the $0M range! (Granted, a big name CEO joined, but still, 100M valuation??) When I saw this, it really got me thinking of 1) are we entering a cloud bubble and 2) why, even if we are, how the cloud is changing the business that I and my clients are in. I’ll leave topic 1 for another day, but let’s take a look at #2.

4Ps and 3Cs – A Cloudy View
Let’s pull out the trusty old standard and QUICKLY examine how these change or might change because of the cloud….

Product – The cloud opens up new delivery options for just about any hardware or software offering or capability. IT vendors MUST rethink their product plans and at a minimum better have good reasons NOT to be in the cloud.

Pricing and Cost– In IT mind, cloud = subscription, but does cloud = cheap? That’s one of many open questions. The move from perpetual to subscription business is a very tricky one the bigger you get, but the cloud is accelerating an already present trend. Services = subscription. IT products = services…get it…How do you price cloud offerings relative to your traditional on premise/package ones…

And on the cost side, the good news, it’s really cheap to get into business, no more hardware, no more datacenters, no more test labs, no more power bills. Ahhh, that works great for new start-ups. But aren’t you ISVs used to zero marginal costs on sales. Sorry!, get ready for COGS, more users = more COGS. A great example of a business model issue that helps new entrants move faster than existing ones.

Worried about margin cannabilization, well, guess what, the yCombinator start up down the street built hosting COGs into the model from day 1. They don’t expect 95% margins, but you do, oh, no wonder their offering is cheaper. Oh, and by they way, they’ve been built for low cost scaling too, while it’s going to take you a year to get there. Price for scale now and take a margin hit??? Oh so many great marketing problems to solve!

Place – How do you spell “disinter-mediation?” C-L-O-U-D. As product become services, product providers become service providers. Distribution is “free” and market friction goes away. New geos open without friction. At least that’s the theory, but the reality is much more complex and the channel will not go away without a fight and transforming itself…

Promotion – Try and buy, freemium, SEO, Social Media, Viral spread. The Cloud accelerates ALL of these trends. Time to learn some new tricks???

Customer – Who’s your customer, where are they, what do they expect. What are they thinking, what are their habits, who cares about you? How do they find you (see P=Promotion) and how do they expect to be found. As more customers can easily try your product is it right for them, are you missing new growth segments that you just aren’t looking for???

Company – Is the company ready for change? Is the executive team engaged or scared. How high is the sponsorship of cloud inititatives? Is it genuine of lip service. Do you understand the business model barriers to transformation? Sales quota and incentives, rev rec, HR policies? This type of change can hit every corner of the business, you’ve got to be ready.

Competition – New competitors, more cloud ready, new substitute products, new pricing models to compete with and on and on. What Hosting provider or Telco would have ever predicted Amazon as a competitor???

OK, have I convinced you or is the cloud all hype? I’m ready to add the 4th C to the old model, CLOUD! Are You????


Installed Base Marketing –Focus on Your Company’s Most Important Asset!

When I work with clients to build their outbound programs I always start with first things first…their installed base. The reasons to do this are two-fold. First, it demonstrates where they’ve been most successful and, if your know where to look, provides a blueprint to their ideal market. The second reason is it’s one of a company’s MOST important assets. Let me expand on this with some statistics from a CMO Council study*.  Beware — these statements are a little scary.

  • The average American company loses 1/2 its customers within 5 years
  • Acquiring new customers can cost 5X more than retaining current customers.
  • A business is 2X as likely to successfully sell to a lost customer than a brand new prospect
  • A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect on bottom line profits as cutting costs by 10%.

Given statistics like that, it only makes sense to interact and market to the people who buy your product.  Here are the rules to live by:

  1. Segment your database by product and solution or vertical market and size of customers
  2. Know and understand your market and market to their interests (not what you think they are interested in)
  3. Build a quarterly plan and target goals by segments
  4. Build your communications plan to “Touch” your customers every 6-8 weeks (make sure they’ve opt’ed in to hear your message)

What kinds of materials and messaging are good to “push” to your customers?

  • Newsletters that consolidate information such as PR and white papers, and news into one place either monthly or quarterly so you’re not spamming your customers all the time.  Make sure you have a place for them to sign-up for your newsletter whenever you communicate with them.
  • Promos and specials that are offered to your customers first
  • Free product training to your top customers.
  • Software or product updates or trial offers of new products

Social Media Keeps You Close to Customers

Use the Internet to interact with your customers and to monitor the health of your relationship.  By using social media, you’ll know right away if there’s an issue that needs to be addressed.

  1. Twitter is useful for tech support and company news- make sure you FOLLOW your customers…so they in turn follow you
  2. FaceBook allows your customers to join your Fan page and enables communication whenever you want.
  3. Live chat on your website creates a two-way conversation and makes it easy for customers develop a conversation with your company.
  4. YouTube enables you to show a “demo” of your products or present your opinion to millions of your customers 24X7.

Getting Started

Start by acknowledging that your customers are your most important asset.  Identify the segments within your installed base.  Implement marketing programs that foster on-going, interactive customer relationships.   Follow these simple rules to KEEP from losing your companies’ most important asset.

*Business Gain From How You Retain Executive Summary & Full Report, Addressing the Challenge of Customer Churn & Marketing Burn, CMO Council,


Waxing Poetic on the Virtues of Data Standards

After days and days of working with our team on getting data cleaned for analysis or lead generation, it’s time to constructively vent. Tech firms need to practice what they preach and have their IT departments create data standards.  Our marketing colleagues really should to encourage IT to adopt them and encourage sales to adhere to them because today’s spreadsheet grows into tomorrow’s biggest corporate asset – your company’s customer data.

Why are data standards important? They provide an objective set of structures to ensure consistency of data element usage throughout an organization.   They also provide important guidelines regarding data element definitions and entry to everyone in the organization,  so the business can effectively access and use data. Let’s look at an example.  Take my pet peeve.

  • International Business Machines
  • IBM
  • I. B. M
  • Itty Bitty Machines

Or in other words, all the same company but depending on who inputs the information, you wouldn’t know it’s all the same company unless you look at each line of data and clean it into a standard format.  A standard format is one where you agree how punctuation, capitalization, abbreviations are consistently handled. Even basic standards on just contact information can enhance data quality and assist in creating data that is more easily:

  • Understood
  • Comparable
  • Usable
  • Accurate
  • Complete
  • Consistent types of information included (important dates, synonyms, etc.)
  • Consistent with business processes

Due to the nature of our industry, where companies start in spare bedrooms and grow very quickly, it’s easy to see why data standards are an afterthought.  Most technology companies’ databases start life on a spreadsheet.  Customer databases begin with the hasty set-up of a few seats in

Even using a spreadsheet, technology companies would be well-served by a few tips:

1.  Set up a form in Excel by adding the Form button to your quick access bar.

2.  Think about what that form should include.  Instead of contact name, split out the contact name into first name and last name.  Address should be two fields to accommodate a suite number.

3.  Establish common naming conventions and be consistent in how text fields are completed.  For example, if it’s a State… stick to using the two-letter abbreviation, like “CA” instead of writing “Calif” or “California.”

4.  Establish common and consistent date formats and stick to using them.

5.  Establish customer or partner ID numbers, so you’re less dependent on getting company names 100% consistent and correct.

6.  Develop a product numbering scheme that goes along with your product names, instead of having to rely on text fields alone.

7.  Complete every item or field in your form when you add an entry, so the record is complete.

8.  From time to time, review for your spreadsheets for consistency in text fields.  Fix what isn’t consistent.

9.  Spot check your data base every so often to be sure folks are entering data correctly.  It’s easier to clean as you go then to tackle it once it’s gotten away from you.  And, it’s easier to correct mistakes folks are making quickly than to let bad habits get entrenched.

10.  Encourage and reward sales people for good data practices.  After all, a prospect information quickly entered into today’s spreadsheet grows into tomorrow’s biggest corporate asset – your company’s customer data.


Marketing on “ROIDs” Takes a Different Look

Take a look at Dick Patton’s blog

“Putting Marketing on “ROIDs” 

It’s a great new way to look at marketing.  Customer-centric view to supplement the traditional marketing mix of “4P’s” (product, place, placement and promotion).


  • Customer-centric view will driven by new analytic techniques for “Insight about customers”.
  • You can’t be “Responsible” or take “Organizational leadership” if you don’t know and thoroughly understand your customer’s care-abouts
  • Mastering “Digital marketing” is great, once you know what you want to say.

Analytic services such as Know Your Installed Base help companies understand who their customers are, what and how they buy (by vertical, geo, time, purchases in relation to other products, channels of acquisition, etc).  Done correctly, analytics should move beyond basic demographic to detect underlying relationships not easily identified by simple analysis.  Analytics should enable you to identify underlying groups of established technology product users, how they’ve changed, whether they are solutions-oriented or ad-hoc buyers, size and breadth of your products’ deployment or anything else you need to know.

Analytics is more than data in an Excel pivot table.  Using the ability to transform data into the most suitable forms for analysis, combined with analytics,statistical and quantitative analysis allows you to explain, explore and predict markets in completely new ways.  Reliance on data and quantitative analysis simply means no more guesswork or assumptions.  It gives you the power to know.