B2B Marketing has changed
In the same way that the world has transformed digitally over the past two decades, so too has the profession of marketing. Think about your own tech career. Where were you 10 years ago? What about 15 years ago? And what about 20 years ago? A lot has changed right? IT has changed tremendously over this period. So too has Marketing.
My business partner, GV, is one of the most brilliant B2B Marketing operators I have worked with. We have worked together for 16 years now. He has had an illustrious career in marketing B2B Technology Service Providers (TSPs), IT Service Providers (ITSPs), Managed Service Providers (MSPs), IT vendors, distributors, resellers, VARs, systems integrators, SaaS providers, etc. He has observed the IT game from all lenses and for a long time. We talked about the skills needed in marketing when he started his career, compared to what is needed today.
As I am typing this insights piece, Resonate (the organisation GV and I started in 2017) has several B2B technology retainer clients. We are dealing with large firms, mid-sized firms and small firms. Some are ITSPs / TSPs, some are MSPs. We are dealing with vendors and distys. We are working across a wide spectrum of industry expertise within the technology sphere; from tech to HealthTech, to MedTech, to InsureTech, to RegTech, to LegalTech. It is fair to say we have a good grasp on how to market companies in the technology space.
When GV started in marketing about two decades ago, marketing was a simpler function. Technology had not invaded the function of marketing the way it has more recently. It was more about writing and design, planning events, PR, comms, etc. The skills required of marketers today are significantly more complicated than those required even 10 years ago. The evolution of the marketing profession has been greatly influenced by digital transformation, particularly in the fields of data and analytics, AI-driven automation, and social channels.
An ITSP, MSP firm could hire a marketing manager 15 years ago, and a marketing officer to run a fairly respectable marketing function. They would still need to use agencies here and there but more or less, back in 2005, you could run a lean marketing function and still achieve competitive success with outsourcing some projects. Today, to run a leading marketing function you need access to several skills. In this insights piece I am writing to the Owner, Managing Director, Investor, CEO of an IT Services Provider or an IT Managed Services Provider. I hope you gain some value from this piece. This piece highlights the precise areas of marketing expertise you need to have on board, or have access to, to run a robust and credible marketing play.
To market your ITSP/MSP well, it all begins with an appropriate strategy. A strategy suited to your firm. A strategy suited to the industry verticals you sell to. A strategy suited to how long you have been around as a firm—a strategy suited to whether professional service projects or managed services with recurring revenue is your main business. Even the most refined and disciplined tactics are ineffective when the marketing strategy is flawed.
Every ITSP/MSP entity must have a documented marketing strategy, regardless of longevity, size or industry focus. Ideally you want a documented business strategy, and then a marketing strategy built in alignment with business objectives. Expertise in developing a business aligned marketing strategy is vitally important. If you get this phase wrong, you will hire the wrong internal marketers, you will partner with the wrong agencies, you will end up bleeding a lot of cash to get your marketing function right. It will not come right without the right marketing strategist involved. This person can be internal or external but they must have IT industry expertise. Marketing strategy expertise alone will not be enough. You will need marketing strategy expertise pertaining to the IT industry, and relevant to the geography you are operating in.
Marketing strategy expertise is the most important B2B marketing competency your ITSP/MSP firm needs.
A robust marketing strategy will be aligned with your business objectives. It will target your ideal customers and how you plan to reach them. It will also yield an action plan that you will execute upon to expand your business. Every marketing team needs marketing strategists who are competent and experienced. In the absence of marketing strategy expertise, teams typically execute marketing tactics that have not been planned, strategised, or well considered.
As an investor or owner, or leader of an ITSP/MSP firm, you must give marketing strategy great focus and attention. This is where your marketing function will fail or thrive.
Advertising expertise for digital and traditional channels
As an ITSP/MSP you will need to leverage all forms of advertising. Your marketing engine will require both digital and traditional advertising expertise. You will require expertise in digital advertising for search ads, social media ads, video ads, audio ads, retargeting, remarketing, mobile ads, etc. You will also require traditional advertising expertise for print, direct mail, sales enablement literature, telemarketing, etc. Advertising in the B2B sector is effective and efficient. However, you must have the expertise to employ an omnichannel strategy for your advertising play. In the absence of deep expertise in the advertising space, you will not only miss the mark on reaching and engaging the right audience, you will also bleed cash reserves in the process.
For digital advertising to work you will need access to skills of analysts and people who are mathematical in their approach. Traditional advertising requires very different skills. Those skills do not translate and transfer to digital advertising skills. The expertise needed for digital advertising is more analytical, mathematical, and less creative. For success with advertising in traditional channels, you will need access to copywriting, design, and creative skills.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) expertise
Just as AI is gaining momentum in IT Service delivery, so too is AI making its way into Marketing. In IT Operations, you are seeing use cases such as Predictive Maintenance, Threat Detection, Root Cause Analysis, Capacity Planning, etc. In Marketing too there are numerous applications of AI. As AI gains momentum, marketing must figure out precisely how to effectively employ AI, and which use cases to deploy. Traditional marketers shy away from complex MarTech solutions. As time goes on, shying away from technology opportunities such as AI is a mistake. The organisations that leverage AI and ML will pull ahead of the competitive landscape.
You will need the deep know-how and strategic expertise to determine precisely which AI use cases will yield business benefits. To leverage AI, you will need relevant technical expertise to translate the strategy into effective execution. Both quantitative and qualitative research experience will be mandatory. You will need the ability to analyse data and transform it into information to make well-informed business decisions.
Analytical and analytics expertise
Marketing as a function has a plethora of technologies underpinning it. Each year, more applications join the gamut of the MarTech space. Several point solutions are introduced into Marketing each year, and marketers embrace new technologies to help their employers gain a competitive advantage.
The pressure on Marketing to produce results has never been higher. As an investor, owner, leader or executive of an ITSP/MSP firm, you likely have made a significant investment in your marketing function. You want to know it is working for you. You want to know marketing is yielding a return for your business. Marketers must be able to analyse, evaluate, measure, and report on marketing campaigns to demonstrate to leadership that they have a firm grasp on marketing. This requires business analysis (analytical) skills and analytics (software application and technology skills). Marketers must have expertise to analyse what is working and what is not. Equally, they must have the know-how to leverage analytics software applications and technologies to assess where precisely changes are needed.
Events (traditional channels) expertise
The ITSP/MSP industry is famous for in-person events of varying sizes. From small and intimate get-togethers of 16 CIOs sitting at a round-table and sharing ideation, to 150 CIOs coming together at a CIO event hosted by IDG, to large events such as Microsoft Inspire or Dreamforce or AWS re:Invent, the IT industry loves getting together at events. It is where people network, learn, share ideas, socialise, and even prospect in person. To be successful with traditional events you will need the relevant skills and expertise to make the in-person event yield commercial outcomes. To be successful with traditional events, you will need event management expertise. Also, to ensure the event yields returns, you will need digital marketing expertise before and after the event.
Events (digital channels) expertise
The ITSP/MSP industry is synonymous with in-person events. Events in the tech space range from small, to mid-sized, to large events. But the IT industry is not limited to in-person events. Even prior to COVID, webinars were very popular. They ranged from tech-focused webinars that served a tech audience to webinars for a business audience that educated the attendees of a particular offering. ITSPs and MSPs today need access to expertise that can take a webinar from thought process, to strategy, to pre-webinar tactics, to event support, to post-webinar tactics, and all the way through to commercial return. The skills you will need to make your event strategy will include strategy, design, copywriting, MarTech, CRM, email marketing, analytics, etc.
Content development expertise
When I use the term content, I do so somewhat loosely. I am referring to content for social media channels, video marketing, white pages, reports, use case development, the website, award submission, event and conference agendas, webinar and seminar topics, etc. I refer to all aspects of the term ‘content’. I am referring to whatever the intended audience interacts with, be it audio, still images, animations, or videography. You will need relevant content development expertise to create content in various formats and for different channels.
Content marketing expertise
Once your organisation has developed ‘content’, irrespective of the type of content, the next phase must be to market the content. There is no point investing organisational time and resources into developing content if you don’t market it. It would be like creating a well-guarded secret – an exercise in waste. Example: if your content writers publish a blog, the blog must be promoted through a planned distribution schedule via your emailed newsletters and social channels. If your team produces a video, it must then be marketed through the appropriate channels. If your content team develops an eBook, it must then be marketed through various inbound and outbound channels.
Successful B2B marketing requires content development and content marketing skills. Whether it’s content for a website, social media posts on LinkedIn, scripts that underpin videos on YouTube, event and webinar agendas, or blogs, content is the backbone of how your firm communicates with, engages with, and educates your audience.
Your company requires access to advanced and refined copywriting skills. Most ITSPs and MSPs write, but many do so poorly. Whether you use one of the engineers on the bench (between projects), or a pre-sales resource who writes well, or an in-house writer, a freelancer, or an agency to develop your content, you will need best-in-breed copywriting skills to complete the writing work to a high standard. Copywriting is most beneficial for establishing thought leadership, establishing the value you provide and generating organic traffic and inbound leads.
Given the amount of daily ‘marketing noise’ hitting buyers’ screens, the ability to write copy that cuts through and copy that converts is essential expertise. You will need to ensure that the copywriting expertise addresses various use cases – LinkedIn posts, blog writing, white papers, reports, eBooks, case studies, project success sheets, PR, communications, website copy, email marketing, newsletters, campaign copy, etc. You can see that you will need excellent copywriting skills aboard.
Whether you’re designing for offline/traditional marketing channels in the physical world, or digital marketing for the online channels, you will need access to excellent design capabilities. A multitude of use cases will require design expertise, including a website, custom landing pages that aid in lead generation, eBooks, seminar invitations, webinar presentation decks, etc. A modern B2B Marketing team requires design expertise that can be applied to various existing and emerging design applications. You will want things to look aesthetically pleasing. You will want the design to be consistent with your organisation’s branding guidelines. You will need the design to be ‘on-message’ and to achieve the intended communications purpose. Best-of-breed design expertise is essential to creating a memorable brand and aids in generating impact.
Email marketing expertise
Email marketing remains one of the most effective channels available to B2B marketers. Email lends a hand to a plethora of use cases to communicate with, engage, and educate the target professionals; welcome emails to new subscribers, client onboarding emails, monthly newsletters, drip campaigns, event emails, survey emails, announcements regarding new service capabilities, feature releases, etc. Exclusive content for top-tier clients, from the field updates, event invitations, re-engagement campaigns, cross-promotional emails, blog distribution, white paper/report announcements, case study emails, etc. You get my gist. Email marketing can be applied to a very wide portfolio of use cases. To execute an email marketing portfolio effectively and efficiently, you will need expertise in email marketing automation, design, copywriting, HTML, CSS, analytics, and testing.
Influencer marketing expertise
Although Influencer marketing has been a prominent B2C marketing channel for some time, it is gaining prevalence in the B2B scene. Modern MarTech, social media, and digital channels enable B2B-focused organisations to leverage influencer marketing intelligently, efficiently, and effectively. Creative marketers have numerous influencer opportunities, including guest blogging, speaking engagements, and casual mentions during a keynote.
If your organisation is in cybersecurity, then building a professional association with a cybersecurity influencer, someone seen as a subject matter expert in cybersecurity will come in handy. If your organisation is in the CX technology space, then building a professional association with a CX influencer, someone seen as a subject matter expert in the CX space will come in handy. If you are in the modern workplace services arena, then building a professional association with a modern workplace influencer, someone seen as a subject matter expert in the modern workplace will come in handy.
To leverage influencer marketing, you will require PR skills. You may also require a budget to court influential figures in niche industries.
Lead acquisition and lead nurture expertise
As the leader of an ITSP/MSP firm, you are likely asking your marketers and sales leaders questions such as, “How many prospects did marketing generate?”, “How was the quality of the leads?”, “How much revenue have we closed from the leads that marketing has generated?”
For marketing to be a commercially viable entity and to provide a yield, marketing will need a lead-generating engine that supplies your sales team with high-quality leads. The lead generation strategies and vehicles for each organisation will differ. It will depend on your product, service, or offer. It will also depend on where your organisation is in its lifecycle. In many B2B sectors, lead acquisition can be arduous and convoluted. Nurture, even more so. You will need deep expertise in lead acquisition and nurture for your firm to see a return on its marketing investment.
To effectively obtain and nurture leads, you will require wide and deep lead acquisition and lead nurture expertise. The expertise you need will vary based on the channels utilised. If your organisation gets leads through events, for instance, you will require event planning, design, copywriting, and project management expertise. If you generate leads through a high volume of outbound calls, you will require sales development expertise to make the calls and sales enablement resources to support the outbound effort. If your organisation generates leads via digital channels, you will require the relevant expertise. In addition to compelling design, the ability to write persuasive content to market your product/service/offering is essential for digital lead acquisition. In addition, extra nurturing materials, such as drip email campaigns, will be needed.
Marketing technology or MarTech expertise
This is the sector of marketing that has experienced the most disruption and innovation. MarTech is the sector of marketing expertise that is most distinct from conventional marketing skills and the most difficult to develop, and acquire. Traditional marketers are not particularly adept at MarTech. It does not come naturally to marketers. With the direction that marketing has taken, a lot of complex technology has invaded the function. Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Data Analytics, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Social Video, and various facets of complex Digital Marketing are just a few of the MarTech facets on the rise. To acquire a competitive advantage from these disruptive and innovative technologies, you will need to invest in MarTech expertise. You will need access to expertise in a wide array of marketing technologies.
Mobile marketing expertise
Marketing to mobile devices through channels such as SMS and WhatsApp (mobile marketing) has created tremendous success in B2C marketing for a long time. However, in the B2B sector, many marketers believe that direct messaging to mobile phones is intrusive and improper. You can execute numerous B2B marketing strategies via mobile messaging, including reminders for seminar/webinar invitations, announcements of new product/service launches, and reminding recipients of a freshly published newsletter/blog. Although not a complicated skill set to master, B2B mobile marketing is a credible one to leverage, and it yields great returns for the right use cases.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) expertise
Positioning towards the top of Google search results for chosen keywords is a cherished goal for all businesses. To rank at the top of search engine results, much in the way of expertise, is required. High-quality copywriting, landing pages that are well designed and developed, backlinks from credible sites, etc., are required to achieve ranking dominance. With organic search, persistence pays off. This necessitates the production of consistent SEO-optimised blogs that fit the purpose of searchers as well as a good backlinking strategy. To succeed with organic search, you will need access to a very wide skill base and domain expertise.
Paid Search expertise (for channels such as Google)
Organic search is a rather difficult mountain to scale. It demands a wide portfolio of expertise from a wide array of specialisations, such as design, web development, copywriting, search marketing, PR. etc. Paid search or search advertising is a great alternative to organic rankings and can rapidly assist with high web rankings. Paid search advertising can be a high-yielding component of an integrated B2B marketing campaign with the correct planning, monitoring, and management. Paid search campaigns cannot be successful without the expertise required for the campaigns to be effective. Improving the performance of a paid search campaign requires continuous adjustments. Knowing which specific elements to adjust (landing page quality, use of long-tail keywords, etc.) to ensure a paid search campaign is both financially viable and profitable is essential for running a successful paid search campaign. There are numerous factors to consider. A successful paid search campaign includes a variety of capabilities, such as domain experience, copywriting, design, programming, software, and in-depth analytical and mathematical abilities. Without the necessary expertise, paid search advertising initiatives are ineffective and waste substantial advertising funds.
Paid Social Media expertise (for B2B social channels such as LinkedIn and YouTube)
Paid social can yield returns as part of an integrated B2B marketing strategy. Various factors influence the budget, visibility, and success of a paid social media campaign. It is crucial to regularly evaluate your analytics to ensure the campaign is on track. For a paid social media campaign to be effective, you will need a strategy, copywriting, design, and analytic expertise.
Social Media expertise (for B2B social channels such as LinkedIn and YouTube)
Contrary to popular assumptions, social media channels are an effective vehicle for B2B companies. But you must utilise the appropriate B2B social channels in an apt manner. B2B organisations can utilise B2B relevant channels such as LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter for various use cases. Even Facebook and Instagram can play a relevant role in B2B social media marketing. Note that you will require design, copywriting, social media marketing, and advertising expertise appropriate to each social media channel. You will need expertise in social media strategy. In addition, you will need abilities in analytics, measurement, and reporting.
Partner and IT vendor relationship management expertise
If you are in the B2B space, you likely work with vendors, distributors, resellers, VARs, and partners in general. Whether they are supply chain partners, organisations that help you deliver a complete value equation, or firms who distribute/sell your products/services, the B2B space involves working with partner firms. You will need to manage these partners and suppliers effectively in all areas, including marketing. Partner/channel management is valuable expertise to possess in the B2B marketing sector.
Public relations expertise
The capacity to strategise, plan, and implement a Public Relations (PR) campaign is essential for enhancing the visibility of an IT services firm, and that of its leaders. PR is the planned and proactive management of an organisation’s reputation, and that of the executives. It is the management of the communication process designed to generate favourable perceptions among the target audience and customers. PR aims to guarantee that people think and speak favourably about your company. The reputation of an organisation is the sum of the reputations of the company and its key figures. It is the sum of everything your company says and does, as well as what others say or write about you. Whether you desire one or not, all businesses have a reputation – so does yours. Your reputation is already public. As a business leader, you must shape your company’s reputation. PR expertise can assist you in managing your company’s reputation and fostering strong relationships with internal and external stakeholders. To be competent at PR, you will require strategic acumen, subject knowledge, research skills, copywriting abilities, design skills, industry connections, etc.
Video marketing expertise
Both long-form and short-form video expertise is necessary for B2B marketing content. Traditional video skills such as scripting, storyboarding, lighting, sound, and direction are still necessary, especially for educational content for websites and internal training for larger companies, etc.
Web design and development expertise
Whether you are marketing to B2C (Business to Consumer), B2B (Business to Business), B2G (Business to Government), or B2D (Business to Defence), your website is your 24×7 storefront. Your firm will be in a position to engage with and sell to prospects around the clock if you have a cutting-edge website that gives a world-class experience regardless of the device. Being online with the proper website fabric will boost your company’s exposure and help you acquire more customers. Best-in-class websites require web strategy, design, development, and copywriting expertise. In addition, you will require Search Engine Optimisation expertise to ensure that your website gets discovered for market-relevant keywords.
Next steps for the ITSP/MSP leadership to consider
As an owner, CEO, MD, GM, or leadership executive of an IT Services firm, you might be somewhat startled about how many roles make up a robust Marketing unit today. Yes, B2B Marketing has become a rather complex function, especially since technology has made its way into the marketing function. Each year, new marketing technologies, software applications and systems are added to the marketing mix, further increasing the complexity annually.
I hope that this article has shed some light on the various expertise and skills an ITSP or MSP needs access to today. If your marketing efforts thus far are not yielding a return, a part of the reason could be that you are only leveraging a part of the expertise or skill base needed to make marketing a success. Some examples for you:
- You cannot do social media marketing on LinkedIn without the necessary domain experience, technical expertise, copywriting prowess and design capability. If you only have two of those four skills, your LinkedIn content will be somewhat compromised.
- If you want to run a webinar with a vendor, you will need the relationships and ability to secure Market Development Funds, put together the content of the webinar, the necessary copywriting, design skills, email marketing skills, social media skills, etc., to ensure that the webinar is successful from your customer’s perspective, the vendor’s perspective, and yields a commercial return for your firm.
- If you are putting together an advertising campaign to launch a new services capability such as cybersecurity, or, the modern workplace, you will need the technical writing capability to put together an asset, and the journalistic editing capability to ensure that it reads well and is a market worthy document, the design skills to ensure the document has aesthetic appeal, and then the Google advertising expertise to ensure that the asset becomes a strong lead magnet without burning up more budget than required.
Hopefully, you can see that marketing an ITSP/MSP requires many skills. Some of the expertise requires a long tenure in technology sales and marketing, some require an intermediate track record, and some require a lot of groundwork that a junior can do.
Note also that the expertise required is in a diverse skill set, not necessarily skills that can be found in one or two people. Designers spend 5-10 years becoming really good at design. Copywriters take the same duration to become adept at writing copy that suits a variety of use cases. Web developers spend a lot of time training, certifying and executing their learnings to become competent web developers. Vendor/channel marketing professionals spend an entire career building networks and relationships to navigate the vendor world. Email marketers who are good at their craft do so over a decade of working. You will rarely find a developer who is also a great copywriter. You will rarely find a designer who is a great email marketer. You will rarely find a vendor/channel marketing professional who is also an expert at Google analytics. Essentially, you need a very wide array of expertise to make a competent marketing team, and it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to build an internal marketing function that can perform all of the aforementioned marketing skills at an affordable or justifiable cost point.
IT services firms exist in a very competitive environment today. They need to amass a lot of technology skills in rapidly evolving areas (such as Cloud Computing, Robotic Process Automation, cybersecurity, etc). They must gain these skills to continue winning business and looking after their clients. It is tough enough to find people for their core operations, let alone adding the stress of finding marketing expertise, which, let’s face it, is not the business of an IT services firm. Leaders of IT services firms wish to grow in the tough competitive market, with an abundance of disruption facing them. They need marketing expertise that can help their salespeople win business.
Industry-leading B2B tech-focused marketing is essential to attaining the short-term and long-term growth objectives of every IT services organisation. This is exactly and precisely what Resonate brings to the partnership. We are subject matter experts in B2B technology marketing. 100% of our customers are B2B tech firms. We look after Software Vendors, IT Services Firms, IT managed Services Firms, IT Resellers, Value Added Resellers, SaaS providers, Distributors, etc. Our leadership team has worked in the Australian IT scene as technology professionals, marketers and sales professionals for the last 25 years. We bring the entire mix of the above-mentioned marketing skills at a price point that is far lower than what firms would spend if they were to hire the team internally.
I am the CEO of Resonate. My name is Raul Kumar. Please contact me (email@example.com or 0412 517 237). Let’s have a chat about how Resonate can help your IT services / IT products / SaaS firm. I have no doubt we can add significant value to your organisation. Let’s chat.