A Bright Future for the Channel, From Digital Marketing to Blockchain

Powerful Tech Topics from the Toronto Canadian IT Business Community Meeting                                                                                                                         
For many channel professionals, technology is the easy part of their IT services operations. The most difficult challenges are often business related, having little or nothing to do with service delivery. In general, MSPs tend to struggle more with the sales and customer service side of their operations — though most learn to get by (if not excel) with some training and support from peers and industry experts. Marketing and finance are especially challenging and those functions are usually left up to those, as Liam Neeson would say, with a very particular set of skills. 

CITBgroupEven when certain responsibilities are delegated to others inside or outside the business, owners and managers need to understand the basic concepts and requirements. How can you measure the potential success (or failure) of something you know absolutely nothing about?

That is one of many reasons for the CompTIA Canadian IT Business Community’s success. In their latest quarterly meeting near Toronto, the group dove into educational content that pushes the limits. Speakers challenged attendees to assess their own business models and capabilities, and look into the future to identify potential gaps in customer solutions and support. Will they be able to meet their needs and expectations in one, two or even ten years? On the flip side, will MSPs have the tools and expertise required to grow their own businesses over that same time frame?

There may be no definitive answers to those questions, but members of the CITB Community are working hard to enlighten and educate on key issues. While this week’s meeting agenda was packed with those types of topics, two of them were particularly engaging:  

Marketing Moves into the Digital Age   
In the machine age, many companies have lost that personal touch and the customer connections that used to be part of every pre-sales discussion. “Behind all the clicks, computers and websites are people, and businesses tend to forget that,” emphasized Marie Wiese, founder and president of Marketing CoPilot, a digital marketing strategy firm located in Toronto.

She walked the audience through the development of the latest lead generation and promotion tools in her keynote, including the use of social media and online search methodologies to find her own classic Volkswagen camper. Her story highlighted a major shift that’s occurring in process: “Not one minute was spent with a sales person.”

Wiese CITBBy empowering consumers with new technologies, businesses need to start thinking differently about how and when they engage with their target audience. “The good news is everything we’re doing online today can be tracked and measured and that allows us to serve up better content, websites and programs.” That’s digital marketing, engaging people online a more “human way” and evaluating your value proposition on a continual basis.

Wiese also highlighted the need to find the largest addressable, qualified audience possible. Where can target prospects and influencers be found? You can’t be everywhere, but the right content strategy can get you in front of those you care about most —and entice them to take some interest or action.

“They may start to think about your service, or do one thing, like share an article or download a document. It’s like kicking the tires, it does not mean they are or will be your customer.” That initial engagement allows businesses to begin a conversation of sorts, to entice prospects and move them further along in the sales cycle and to eventually make a purchase. “Could subscribing to your email list move them to think more about it? How can we next get them to care?”

You get them there with a comprehensive digital marketing campaign using email, newsletters, social media, public relations and blogs. Paid online media and advertising may play a role as well. The trick is finding out which of those options (or combination of options) works best to engage your target audience. 

Blockchain Technologies
The complexities of finance can be just as confusing for IT services pros, especially when the discussion turns to the digital money system. It’s unfamiliar territory to many in the small business community who often deal primarily in cash and credit. But channel professionals need to get familiar with terms like Bitcoin, Blockchain and cryptocurrency. These cashless exchanges are growing rapidly and could become a common way to pay for goods and services in the IT industry within the next few years.SDryallCITB

Steven Dryall of Incipient Industries gave attendees a high-level overview of the digital money system during his CITB meeting presentation, and shared additional details in a subsequent workshop. “Everyone has a use for Blockchain technology, whether they know it or not. The currency can be transferred instantaneously, is reliably and easily confirmed, and is completely tamperproof. You’re dealing with a digital ledger that has been encrypted and distributed using a secure network, so it’s resilient.”

The other side of the coin (pun intended) is the opportunity cybercurrency could bring to the IT industry. “Distributed ledger is a new fundamental technology that will lead to the creation of new business models and new economies. At this stage, digital currency reminds me of the internet in the 90s.

Will channel firms get the opportunity to participate in Blockchain and cryptocurrency? The early reports look positive…