We have tried everything except pigeons to deliver information to the channel. It is a constant challenge, especially in the IT Industry, to connect with an actual person to communicate a message. There are over a dozen ways in which we communicate in the channel and we literally need all of them to get the job done.
We learnt that every VAR, MSP and ITSP (and individuals within each company) has a preference or two in which they like to communicate, and it changes over time.
With so many communication methods available to deliver information, it is a good exercise to figure out your preferences for your vendors and clients.
As you know, knowledge is power. As such, accessing the information efficiently from vendors can be a significant competitive advantage. At the same time, VARs, MSPs and ITSPs can exploit this experience to learn how to better communicate with their customers.
Here are some pros and cons of the dozen ways that the channel communicates and some tips as to how you can leverage in your business.
- Channel News Media is still the #1 source of “aggregated information”. Receiving content that is organized in bite-size chunks from one source is the most effective. Browsing news web portals is the most effective as you can quickly scan for topics of your interest. Unfortunately most e-newsletter subscribers are not reading much beyond the subject line. Taking a few 3-minute knowledge-breaks per day to digest the latest news will ultimately benefit your business. If you simply ignore everything, then you will never know what you missed. Knowledge is vital in staying ahead of the competition. As you digest the content, select some to push out to your colleagues and clients on your e-mail, blog or e-newsletter. Why not subscribe to www.varcoach.com and receive a FREE weekly 1-minute digest on various channel business information? You will find at least one tip every week to help your business succeed!
- E-mailing is the most used communication method but its effectiveness has decreased. Mobile devices have dramatically reduced the readability of e-mails to a point where it has to be less than a paragraph to be read. True spammers have spoiled much of the value of e-mail for everyone. And, since it is so simple to block an e-mail or divert to an archive folder that will never be seen, it is easy to see why e-mail communications are loosing its effectiveness. Subject matter and timing makes a big difference in open rates. Depending on where you target, getting official opt-in has become the law. For example, as of July 1st, 2014, you need to prove opt-in to send e-mails in Canada and the penalties can be huge. E-mailing is going to get more challenging!
- Video clips work extremely well. Keep it short under 5 minutes (2 minutes is ideal), but make it engaging. If you fail to capture their interest within the first 10 seconds, then you may loose your audience. VARs, MSPs and ITSPs should definitely use free services like YouTube. Leveraging dedicated channel news portals for video streamlining may be the best option to get channel-related content. Most news organizations have video content sections. Embedding video links in e-mails and your web site can have a huge impact. Learn how you can leverage video clips from vendors to help you educate your clients. Every VAR, MSP and ITSP should at least have a video profile. You can check out some channel videos at www.ecntv.ca.
- Mobile apps seem to be a good option, but this has it limitations. How many VARs will actually download and use the app? The answer may be lots when the number of vendor apps on the market is still low, however, we suspect that as the number of available apps becomes high, subscribers will drop off. It is just as easy to delete an app. Vendors will be also challenged to keep their push notifications and content relevant and engaging. So far the reviews are mixed. Done right, vendor mobile apps could be useful for their partners to access real-time information, promotions and deal registrations. While we do not see VARs, MSPs or ITSPs using mobile apps to communicate with their clients, it is lucrative business for them to sell mobile apps to their clients.
- Calling on the telephone generally gets the most results. Unfortunately, with the VARs, MSPs and ITSPs being so busy working in their business instead of on their business, getting them to talk and then to take action is not easy. It is a common courtesy to allow at least 1 minute to listen. With a quick phone conversation, you can easily ascertain if the topic is of interest to your company. Remember, a vendor would probably not call you if they felt that you could not sell their product. Ask to receive information by e-mail if you are too busy or tell them to call back. While not every opportunity will be a right fit, you will find some that will be jewels. Sometime you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince or princess! Every VAR, MSP and ITSP should use telemarketing to prospect their clients as well as survey for satisfaction levels. We have seen amazing business intelligence and ROI come from telemarketing campaigns.
- Direct mail has almost become extinct over the years, but will it be a comeback? Some vendors will use direct mail as part of their campaign, but it will be more costly and therefore put more pressure on the overall marketing budget. As such we do not expect direct mail to become a significant communication vehicle in the channel, but this may be a powerful tool for VARs, MSPs and ITSPs to adopt in limited and targeted ways. Targeted and personalized direct mail can be very effective. Many vendors may also fund such campaigns for their partners.
- Blogs and various social media tools seem logical, but there is so much out there and the audience is very picky as to whom they follow beyond their actual friends. Regardless, this is a worthy communication strategy for both vendors and channel partners. VARs, MSPs and ITSPs should at least leverage Linked In and follow their customers’ Twitter accounts. If you are going to do social media, please remember to do it right and be careful whom you hire to manage your social media brand and reputation as it could ruin your business, if done poorly. We are working with the channel to help them develop original and engaging content for their social media networks. Results take time, but the amplification effect of the message is incredible.
- Linked In groups are good vehicles, but many have become overloaded with people trying to sell stuff instead of actually helping anyone. That said, it does not hurt to join all groups that target your interests. VARCoach will be launching a new Linked In group as a community to showcase the tools and services that VARs, MSPs and ITSPs need to streamline, manage and market their business. Search for VARCOACH and join. The mission is to make this a good business resource for the channel. Without any doubt, there are several groups that can be a significant resource for your company to learn and find new prospects.
- Web seminars do work well, but they need to be exciting and repeated often to attract a wider audience. It is great to hop on and off to a 30-min web seminar from anywhere. The downside is the distractions on the viewer side can be tremendous and therefore retention can be poor. When time is limited, attending web seminars are ideal. Recorded webinars sounds great, but how many actually sit through a pre-recorded session? Channel partners can generate sales leads by hosting a variety of webinar topics featuring vendor speakers. Webinars do not have to attract a large audience to be successful. Doing a 30-min webinar presentation to just one client could justify your time, especially if you get a sale.
- Meetings in all forms are probably the most effective regardless if it is one-on-one or groups. Unfortunately this takes a lot of time from the VAR, MSP, ITSP and vendor. Travelling and being away from the office is not easy. That said it is easy to keep in touch with the office from anywhere with mobile devices. Attending events may be well worth your effort. We know that delegates who attend our channel events tell us that they get at least 3 ideas to make money. It is clear that the vendors with the most face-time in the channel will most likely beat their competition as nothing beats face-to-face relationship building. Channel partners can also learn from this to run their own seminars or exhibits in conferences. Find clever face-to-face ways to bring some of the key messages directly to your end-users.
- Partner portals have been around a long time and they hold a huge amount of content. Truth be told, it is probably the most important resource for partner information. Unfortunately most of these portals have become overwhelmed with content and navigation is too clumsy for the partners to easily find what they need. When you compound the problem with the large number of partner portals and multiple login accesses to remember, it is easy to understand why partners are abandoning such portals. We have seen partner portal usage numbers as low as 7%. Most channel partners tell us that vendors should clean up and simplify their partner portals. Similarly, VARs, MSPs and ITSPs should pay very close attention to their web sites to ensure the navigation and content is good. If your web site is weak, consider one of the VAR Office Suite tools to help you fix the problem. If you are not sure, request a web site evaluation. We have found that the vast majority of VARs, MSPs and ITSPs have weak web sites, scoring an average of 4 out of 10 from professional assessments.
- Mobile e-learning in 10-minute bite-size chunks seems to be an emerging communications trend. Seems like most people can find 10 minutes to learn something new. One of our VAR Office Suite partners has a mobility solution that will teach skills to VARs, MSPs and ITSPs on a wide variety of business topics. Vendors can actually brand and customize with their own content. Channel partners can also rebrand the content and offer the same value-add to their end-users. It is worth exploring as some channel partners already include it as part of their value-add service package to their clients.
How the vendors communicate information to you is very important because some of that information can be vital to your business. You need to ensure that the various lines of communication are open to reach you. However, what you do with that information is just as important. Having information flow to you that simply gets piled up in a folder and never gets reviewed is not good for you. You should consider consolidating important information into one spot including sales and technical (ask about one of the VAR Office Suite tools that can help your team to easily access and exploit the information that you gather to benefit your business).
Hopefully this article helps you to review and improve all of your communication methods with your vendors, staff and customers. There is a lot you could learn from the way the channel communicates and apply the best methods to your business.
Remember that there is no such thing as having just one communication tool. Think of communications as a pie chart and every type of communication method adds a piece to the pie. The more you do, the more you will cover a bigger piece of the pie and therefore communicate better with more of your audience. At the core, business is all about its ability to communicate its value proposition and attract buyers. It is wise to be a master of your communications.