ChannelTrends: Shifting from a Tech Business to Business Tech

Target audience-sizedThe semantics change may be subtle, but the transition behind it is huge. While terms like MSP, VAR, IT services providers continue to be used regularly in channel discussions, over the past few years the number of firms using those acronyms and titles to describe what they do for their customers has dropped significantly. Times have changed.

Many in the channel have come to realize their business is no longer about themselves and the services they offer. 20 years ago, customers would seek out organizations and people who could fix their computers and install a new server. The tech professional was in demand and the center of the IT universe. Hijacking the infamous quote from Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they would come.”   

Fast forward to 2017. Technology has essentially become the fabric of our lives. It controls many functions in our vehicles and homes, and few people go anywhere without carrying at least one mobile device. We’re connected to social media and video conferencing almost non-stop. It’s hard for most of us to disconnect for a few hours, let alone a day or two.

The point is not that we’ve become “tone-deaf” to technology. In fact, people and businesses are paying attention to innovation more than ever to improve their lives, homes and businesses. It’s just that the conversation started shifting heavily to the benefits and real business solutions more than a decade ago —yet some channel companies continued to focus on the “speeds and feeds.”      

Many, whether they believe it or not, are still in denial. Don’t believe me? Take a few minutes and peruse websites of other managed services firms and take note of the message these companies are sending. Relatively few are truly targeting business professionals — key decision makers in the IT procurement process. How does your own website and marketing materials compare? Do you have messaging that truly speaks to all potential decision makers in your target audience?  

Many IT services firms continue to rely too much on technical terminology and component descriptions. Cloud, servers and VoIP may resonate with the IT staff and the more technologically advanced employees of prospects’ businesses, but promotional materials and discussions on those topics may elicit a “deer in the headlights” look from their executive team members. They need a more comprehensive messaging approach to keep pace with today’s competition.

Put more Business in B2B Conversations
Organizations have more tech procurement options that ever before. Amazon and Best Buy — as well as a host of other online retailers — have become the go-to sourcing sites for businesses of all sizes in virtually every industry. And the direct market is still alive and well for many hardware and software companies, not to mention the bevy of new applications developers that continue to expand their reach and services offerings to new verticals.

Channel organizations still have a leg up on those companies. That is, if they choose to keep pace with industry trends. The first, and perhaps most important shift over the past decade for IT services firms, is the expansion of the group involved in the technology decisions. Virtually everyone now has a say in procurement. From the traditional IT department head to the CEO and various group leaders. The end user, in many cases, has more power in that process than ever before.

And most of them don’t speak tech. Despite the fact that many Millennials grew up with computers and were likely exposed to mobility at an early age, the vast majority of this expanding workforce are not IT professionals. They ultimately use technology for a specific purpose. The geek factor plays some role, but hip and cool only go so far when a young professional is tasked with crunching the sales or marketing numbers.

Company managers typically want to address financial concerns or meet their regulatory compliance requirements. Few know how to do it themselves and may need help streamlining and validating their processes.

The simple truth? Advice and strategy is worth more than repair today. IT services companies that can convey their strengths in those areas in their marketing campaigns and websites, as well as in their conversations with clients and prospects, will enjoy greater rewards. That’s part of a long-term strategy that MSPs, VARs and cloud providers have to take to heart.

Need a little help developing that message? CompTIA offers a number of channel-specific business resources that outline and simplify the process, including the Value Proposition and Key Differentiator Guide, which helps providers develop a stronger connection with clients and prospects. Or the CompTIA Marketing Toolkit, which offers templates and best practices for getting that message out. 

Of course, that requires more focus on the company’s target audience. Do you know who is involved in the IT procurement process and what those groups are looking for from a business perspective? Not new laptops or faster internet speeds, but from the standpoint of their company’s P&L or operational efficiency. The things that keep them up at night and reduce job satisfaction.

Those are the issues channel firms need to get a better handle on. Like most customer-oriented activities, it’s not a “one and done” proposition. Developing a greater business vernacular to better connect with various decision makers is an ongoing and critical endeavor — one that channel companies better learn to embrace if they wish to be relevant to the next generation.     

Brian Sherman is president of Tech Success Communications, a channel-related content and social media development firm. He served previously as chief editor at Business Solutions magazine and senior director of industry alliances with Autotask. Contact Brian at Bsherman@techsuccesscommunications.com.