Every September and March, people in the IT industry is subjected to a publicity blitz. Newspapers are flooded with ads announcing discounts, special offers and road shows. City streets become awash with banners that scream the same message. Ads, exhibitions, mailers, special offer, the works! It looks as though vendors and resellers are waiting to release the pent-up marketing budget.
This spectacle partly reflects reality because the industry believes that theirs is a cyclical effect on sales. At the same time, it is tragic as well because the entire marketing effort ends up revolving around a few months of what are considered as ‘productive selling months’. They lose sight of the need for a sustained marketing.
This skewed pattern of marketing efforts seems to apply to resellers as much as to vendors. It is not unusual to find resellers putting out ads themselves — big and small — during these ‘peak’ months, and competing for attention. Whether it is small ear-panels (e.g. IT&T), or larger ads (e.g. Accel, Cerebra, etc), resellers do try and make their presence felt.
The mad rush to capitalize on these months often creates a herd mentality. Everyone thinks he or she should spend money at these times because every other reseller seems to be doing so. Not enough time is spent thinking about whether the limited marketing budget each reseller has, can be better spent.
Is there an alternative way?
In this article, I’d like to suggest (even at the risk of inviting criticism), that resellers can utilize their money more intelligently. The basic argument runs something like this : every reseller has a small amount of marketing money at his disposal, whether from his own budget or from a co-op budget provided by one of the principal vendors he is dealing with. Currently, this budget is spent almost entirely on a few ads & exhibitions. It makes more sense, from the reseller’s point of view to give more thought to how this money should be spent.
Let me offer few suggestions in this regard !
Build relationships with existing customers.
Rather than spending money on ads, which may have a lot of ‘wastage’, make a focussed effort on existing customers and other active prospects. Build special relationships with this audience using the following ‘tools’ :
- Compile a simple database (name/address/decision makers/past buying behavior/response to special offers, promos etc) of customers and prospects using something like DBASE or FoxPro to begin with, and then move up to a RDBMS.
- Use this information to make the customer feel special . E.g. send a card on his birthday; or if the last batch of Pcs bought by him had a 133mhz processor, offer him a special deal (through a simple mailer/flyer or even a letter) on upgrades because processor prices have just dropped. The former will enable the reseller to build a lasting relationship while the latter will get business.
- Each such offer may get just a one to two percent response, but sustained efforts will pay rich dividends.
<subh>Put a telemarketing resource in place.</subh>
Use this simple, low-cost, personalized, and highly efficient method of conducting business. Just one telemarketing person on a reseller’s rolls can help to open new accounts as well as to service existing business. How exactly does this help?
- Your competitor may be spending big bucks but you can stay in touch with customers more effectively.
- You will save on cold calls. Sales persons can meet prospects short-listed by the telemarketing resource.
- This step can help to troubleshoot minor customer problems right from your office. You don’t need to send a service engineer every time the customer’s printer jams!
Become an ‘image leader’ by using PR effectively.
An IT reseller has exciting media opportunities. Especially with the Internet being a hot topic, media loves to focus on personalities or companies who have something new to say. It is here that a savvy reseller can play his cards right and acquire a ‘larger than life’ public image. Every reseller can aspire to what someone like Microland has done successfully, viz. be perceived as an exciting company.
A few simple tips:
- Develop and maintain sustained contacts with a few key journalists and editors in your town. They are usually hungry for information. Also, companies with accessible public faces get written about more.
- Issue regular briefings and press releases about the company. Only continuous activity can build mind share.
- Have a continuously updated website that constantly reinforces the same messages.
Create noise and visibility through promotions
During a year, there will be several opportunities for a reseller to run exchange offers, price-off, bundled offers, etc. These would either be created by the reseller himself or supported by one of the distributors/principal vendors. In either case, with proper planning and execution, the reseller can leverage this successfully everyone, and that means absolutely everyone in the organization ( sales staff, telemarketing person) needs to understand and focus on the products covered in the promotion.
- Send simple mailers/letters to customers and prospects.
- Based on the reseller’s geographical area of influence, create a small road show in the market or commercial center where customers and prospects can be invited.
- When prospects walk in, pay attention to them and consider giving them a small gift as well.
Build a retail presence. Now!
The SOHO market is growing fast and the SOHO customer wants to see the product before he or she buys it. Today’s reseller must be able to convert his outlet into a RETAIL outlet in order to attract this new breed of customers.
Make a start with a few simple steps:
- Put up an attractive signboard, clean up the shop exterior and use it as a show window.
- Display products in a manner that is easy to view, and also attractive. Have a few demo products available.
- Use any merchandising material (posters, display stands, etc) that any of the vendors may have provided.
- Hire a good salesperson with previous retailing experience.
Make the most of exhibition opportunities.
From time to time, most resellers participate in exhibitions or road shows, either of their own accord or because one of the principals has taken space and allocated space to their resellers. Particularly when spending one’s own money, it makes great sense to check out the sales at the same exhibition in previous years.
Other things to keep in mind:
- Use bright colors, posters, and banners to create a display.
- Create an exciting offer for the duration of the event.
- Deploy the best sales staff who should be equipped with literature, visiting cards and offer leaflets
The basic premise behind the above recommendations is that a reseller needs to get long-term benefits from the marketing money he spends. Squandering this money on just ads will not yield these benefits. A well-thought package of simple marketing tools is likely to work much well in enhancing the overall outcomes. The benefits are likely to accrue both in terms of long-lasting customer relationships built around trust & confidence, as well as short-term sales.
– Srikant Shastri
Views expressed are those of the author who is the Managing Director of SOLUTIONS, which provides channel consulting to technology companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org