Positioning, Differentiation and Segmentation for IT Resellers

A digest of recent web posts and trends related to the strategic marketing imperatives facing channel partners

Positioning, differentiation and segmentation… big marketing words. They all point to a simple concept: strategically setting your company apart in an environment that is highly competitive and rapidly changing. The expectations placed on IT resellers both by customers and by OEMs are becoming more specialized, and the criteria for proving your effectiveness with MDF dollars is becoming stricter.

It isn’t enough to offer general IT solutions, or to say that you’re different because of your customer service values. Particularly with pandemic-induced supply chain shortages, IT resellers are being squeezed to find innovative ways to connect with customers and hold attention when inventory is stuck on a loading dock in Los Angeles. If it’s not just about moving SKUs, what are your customer conversations about?

We’ve had several IT resellers tell us, “We sell IT solutions, and that’s all we’ve ever needed to advertise.” That may be true, but in a tightening hardware market, companies need to embrace the challenge of being innovative and different. Many IT resellers are embracing this successfully; let’s talk about why.

Successful IT Resellers Commit to Their Target Audience, and Know Them Well

The balance of power is shifting, says Lauren Nuttall at Axon Garside. Buyers can get a significant amount of information online about what they want before even considering speaking to a salesperson. Outbound sales and marketing strategies are increasingly considered invasive and treated with suspicion. Customers want to feel listened to, not sold to.

54% of internet users don’t click ads because they don’t trust them (yikes), and there are over 18,000 complaints about telemarketing every year. 

With inbound marketing, it is much more likely that you will be found. Google’s latest algorithm changes are prioritizing topical content like blog articles, which are part of a much larger inbound strategy. Instead of continuing with old methods that aren’t performing, tech companies should focus on B2B blogging, engaging with prospects via social media platforms like LinkedIn, and even posting on online forums to provide solutions to common IT or tech woes. The trick is to make sure that you are offering solutions, not just interrupting your prospects.” 

Successful IT resellers are focusing more on positioning themselves to offer specific solutions to an audience that they have invested time and resources into understanding, such as an industry vertical or market sector whose specific challenges they can speak to with experience.  

“Generic marketing messages around implementation methodologies, special features, and highlighting your partner status mean very little to the buyer. They know about the product, and they know about your partner status. What they want to know is how you can provide added value. Buyers want to know that your company can be trusted to take responsibility for issues, and have the information and knowledge to fix them. You can demonstrate this expertise using content, and building a relationship with potential buyers.”

Successful IT Resellers Define Their Value Proposition

Pulling from our own SocialRep blog, our CEO Chris Kenton emphasizes that many companies make the mistake of spending a ton of money on expensive marketing campaigns before answering fundamental questions about what they’re trying to accomplish, and for whom.

“Just as you frequently check a map to see where you are in relation to your destination, it’s important to frequently check your basic assumptions about your product and market to make sure you still see a clear path to your objectives. Those basic assumptions should be crystallized in a good Value Proposition.”

In a competitive, rapidly changing market, really digging into defining your position and what differentiates your brand will help you to spend your marketing funds where they’ll actually be useful. Chris breaks the Value Proposition down into four simple questions:

“Customer: Who is going to write you a check?
Imperative: Why are they willing to spend money?
Product: What are you delivering to solve their problem?
Value: Why is it better than the alternative?”

As Nuttall argued, buyers have more access to information about your products and services—and your competitors’—than ever before. Differentiating yourself can come from many angles, as long as you choose an angle that is relevant to your target audience and that you can authentically claim.

“As one best-selling marketing book put it: Differentiate or Die. If something is keeping your customers up at night and they’re driven to find a solution, you need to make your solution stand out from the rest. You can position on price, features, service or a host of other factors, but you need to differentiate on something relevant to the buyer, and ideally relevant to their compelling reason to buy.  Price and features are the most obvious choices, but other differentiating points can help you stand out more. If the imperative is urgent, being able to deliver faster than competitors might matter more than a robust feature set. If the problem they’re trying to solve is complex, experience with a track record might matter more than price.”

Successful IT Resellers Leverage MDF Dollars to Differentiate

Receiving MDF support gives resellers two big advantages: for one, it strengthens the relationship with their OEM partner, opening the door for more opportunities down the road. Second, it gives the reseller the chance to experiment with messaging and audience targeting with money they get for free—that’s the point of MDF programs. But more than just the money, those funds come backed with the strategic support of a large OEM that is trying to crack the same code for the market you’re trying to reach. Instead of blindly taking MDF in return for running canned advertisements, resellers should pull on marketing input from OEMs, asking: What segments are most critical to you this quarter that we can reach? What is your Go To Market strategy and what resources can you share?

From Renee Cancro at CDI:

“I found a few industry sources that suggested billions of dollars in vendor funding remains unspent each year. Don’t let your opportunity slip!…

It is important to value the role MDF plays in the product launch and sales cycles. Through the magic of MDF, the big brand names are calling on their partner network to wave the banner, promote awareness, increase lead gen, and drive sales.”

Cancro further supports the argument that intentional planning and meticulous measurement are essential for a successful MDF program. Choose a clear target audience and provide them with a personalized solution. Define success up-front, track and demonstrate progress to your OEM. Beyond that, planning and measurement will give resellers highly useful information about their customers to continue refining their marketing strategy.

“Understand the history and motivations driving your customers and design your MDF campaigns to appeal to them. Share some of your insights with your MDF vendor. Impress upon them that you are a valued strategic partner and worthy of their continued MDF investment.”

This week, we have an in-depth article about meaningful differentiation on our blog, laying out some of the pitfalls of misunderstanding today’s marketing challenges, with examples illustrating why getting up to speed and sharpening your competitive edge matters.

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