Traditional marketing doesn’t work like it used to for the IT sector. Channel enablement programs are struggling to maintain the same results they did ten years ago when deal registration programmes actually worked and when partner compensation bonuses were compelling enough to chase.
Yet vendors often continue doing the same thing. They like using the same approaches and engaging in the same partner marketing activities. And even resellers themselves aren’t stepping out of their comfort zone when it comes to marketing. The whole system is creaking at the seams. And if it’s true that buyers are making decisions about their IT online; researching blogs, articles and forums about enterprise technology before they make a purchase, then you need to develop your own presence online with the right content that is going to compel people to buy from you instead.
A recent report from Linkedin found that 78% of IT buyers require education to sustain, or make a change to, their IT environment. Let’s think about that for a second.
What that means is that over ¾ of your contacts making decisions about their IT environments are looking for information and guidance in order to make the right choice. This is where many vendors, resellers and service providers are missing a trick when it comes to communicating with their buyers.
IT buying has changed over the past 10 years, and purchasers are engaging with sales reps much later in the sales cycle, or are looking outside of the traditional vendor:buyer process for guidance when making a decision. Of the 10 million+ IT buyers on LinkedIn, 83% use social media for IT news and information on tech developments each month. Of that group, 75% are visiting LinkedIn for information (compared with just 32% on Twitter).
Content marketing for the complex IT sector
This is perhaps due to the fact that in such a complex market as enterprise IT, multi-level sales messages that span across departments and topics are harder to convey in short posts on Twitter compared with long-form publishing on LinkedIn. Content has to be credible and useful; sales-focused, “pushy” messaging doesn’t work, in fact LinkedIn’s survey found that 59% of buyers are most interested in non-branded, non-sales focused content about industry developments and trends. Many people get LinkedIn publishing wrong by only sharing company focused content which promotes a particular company rather than mixing messaging to look at broad topics, key industry themes and posts that guide buyers rather than just sharing pushy marketing content.
Using content to differentiate
Content marketing is particularly suited to the B2B technology businesses who are always looking for new ways to connect with audiences, and to differentiate their company from the next. This is not a simple thing to do; differences can be difficult to explain and products can seem very similar without in-depth comparisons and critiques of products.
E-shots often fail to get this message across and brochures don’t provide any real-world or market context. Content marketing, on the other hand, allows you to put your solution into any ‘story’ and get all of those critical messages across.
For example, say you are releasing a new low-energy server, using 10% of the power that a standard enterprise processor would use. Using e-shots, you can send your partners or customers offers for buying the new server by email, offering low introductory prices. Or you might throw in a few features/benefits such as “10% of the power – saving you 90% of the cost”. But are these features/benefits that you’ve been relying on for so long, enough to make a customer change their direction?
In the enterprise IT industry, short-term offers rarely work
Years ago I worked with a retailer who was looking to launch a new online ordering system for all of their stock. The task was ginormous. It was so ginormous that the word task doesn’t do it justice. It was a project of epic proportions that relied on hundreds of staff within the retailer, across the departments of IT, finance, product development, buyers, marketing and more, to come together to move the project towards completion. There were thousands of decisions that had to be made over the lifetime of the project, and many different components that had to be purchased. IT was just one part of that project, and the underlying servers were an even smaller part. Even if we had given away the servers for free, we couldn’t have made that customer move their project along any quicker, which is why short-term offers, discounts and low-level feature marketing often don’t resonate and encourage a change in the buyer behaviour.
Content marketing cannot make the servers in that project seem any more important, but it can trigger an interest in buyers’ minds so that when they do embark on projects, they are informed and armed with information to make a more favourable decision about your product.
So in this scenario, if the manufacturer had uncovered that online retailers would benefit hugely from these low-energy servers because they could reduce costs whilst speeding up processing time due to the high numbers of servers in each farm, then the vendor could have started a content marketing strategy that involved regularly engaging with the retail community via magazines, online retail-specific sites, their blog, social media etc, about using these servers in a retail environment. The vendor wouldn’t just talk about the servers, they would talk about trends in the industry, challenges being faced by retailers and the struggle to control costs in competitive environments. They would share their own recommendations and stories of what other retailers were doing to combat these issues – their low-energy servers would be just a mention or two throughout the article. Over time, this builds credibility across the retail market, enabling the vendor to be positioned as the go-to IT leader in that space.
Even for smaller resellers, it’s amazing how quickly a niche can be carved out with content marketing – capitalising on the work already being done by the reseller in specific sectors so that potential customers know about it too.
Lead generation or validation tool?
Content marketing needs to be seen as a validation tool. So that when your sales reps are calling out to clients, the customer is able to look you up and see instantly that ‘yes, you know what you’re talking about’ – or ‘you understand my sector’. Or, it might act as an introduction to your company, easing the path for a future sales call. Finally, it might be useful further down the sales cycle when the client is considering options. If they had to weigh you up against someone who said they were an expert in a specific sector yet had nothing to show for it online or within specific industry publications, then who do you think the customer would choose?
If you were a health organisation purchasing a new document management system, would you want to know if the vendor/reseller had had previous experience in the health industry? If one vendor had lots of case studies and information online about their work in that industry, in addition to their perspectives on the future strategic direction of the health industry and how that impacted on document management processes; would that sway your decision?
It’s not a coincidence that once a product takes hold in a particular sector, then by default other customers within that sector follow suit. It’s because of credibility. And content marketing helps to shine a light on that credibility, and to also build your own knowledge and thought leadership.
I work with tech resellers and vendors to help guide and create their content marketing strategies and output – and often, the intel is already there within the organisation, it just needs the right questions to be teased out or the right context to take it from being just a few facts to a compelling story.
Content Marketing Checklist
If you haven’t already got a working content marketing strategy in place then the first few questions to get you on your way are:
- Who do you want to target? Which sectors, what size of companies and also what job role are you aiming for. There is no point writing about the amazing cost savings of your low-energy servers if the ultimate buyers tend to be the web design team within the company who don’t have an IT budget to consider.
- What is the outcome that you want to achieve? Obviously, you want to sell your product. But what is the outcome of each stage of your content marketing strategy? You might want to focus on building a presence in the manufacturing sector, or you may be wanting to establish yourself as an expert in connectivity. Different objectives require different approaches and content.
- At what point of the buyer journey are you targeting customers? There are different content approaches for different stages of the sales cycle. At the prospect phase, you may be focusing on getting high level pieces out about your ideas around IT solutions for SMB. Or you may be talking about how cuts to councils’ budgets are affecting the services being delivered. This helps to spark an interest. If you’re trying to convert a customer further down the sales cycle, then long form case studies may be what they need to make the final decision, or comprehensive business cases that point to where savings could be made and how your product will change the way they operate.
Content marketing can be as simple as a one-page battlecard for a telesales team to help them get skilled up on a new product. Or, it can be a multi-year approach to building a thought leadership position in a certain sector. One thing is for sure, it is a great opportunity for IT companies who are trying to get long, complex sales messages out to buyers. If buyers are reportedly making most of the decision online before they speak to one of your sales reps, then you need to make sure that information was written by you or is about you. Why leave it to your competitors to win the business?
If you enjoyed this post then have a look at some of my other posts on sales enablement best practice: