Ideas Blog

To Market or Not to Market, That’s Not the Question

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity of speaking at the Baptie Channel Focus Conference, an event that features the IT and telecom industries’ most effective channel sales and marketing strategists. I was a speaker at one of the very first Baptie conferences, held many, many years go. And through the years, I’ve continued supporting the conference as a sponsor (via an agency I owned), speaker or both.

As part of the conference, attendees participate in sessions that address some of the industry’s most pressing topics; I sat in on the workshop regarding how channel partners can better market manufacturer products and solutions. Recalling, it seems to me that this very topic has been an agenda staple nearly every single year.

During the session, I asked those in attendance how many had actually owned a small business? Of the 30+ attendees, comprised mainly of major IT manufacturer representatives, can you guess how many actually ever owned a business? Well, besides myself, none! Yup. Not a single person had ever experienced what it’s like to own a small business–i.e., find customers, invoice, collect, pay bills, hire, fire and meet payroll. Oh yea, and do some marketing with the time and energy left over.

To be clear, this is not an IT industry issue. We see this across all our customers in the various industries we work in. Manufacturers are manufacturers and the channel is the channel. But one thing is clear, the vast majority of those “channels” are very resilient, small business owners. They’ve built a business on hard work, savvy and pure determination. Call them VARs, MSPs, Retailers, resellers, SIs or whatever, their drive and desire amazes me. Compared to the trials and tribulations of a channel partner’s reality, being a channel/sales representative for any type of manufacturer is a walk in the park!

So why don’t channel partners do more marketing? Is it because marketing is so complicated? Is it because they can’t possibly understand what it takes to find new customers? Is it because Twitter, Facebook or Instagram is only for young people? Hell no! It’s simply a matter of time and priorities. Once you understand what it takes to run a small enterprise, it’s easy to understand why marketing mistakenly takes a back seat to just about any other activity for the business.

So, the age old debate rages on: It is the responsibility of the manufacturer or the channel partner to drive demand? In my opinion, it’s the responsibility of the manufacturer. With fat margins and as the owners of the brand, it’s unfair to put the responsibility of demand generation squarely on channel partners. Now, this is a blanket statement.

The reality is that partners that do marketing and create or seek out opportunities as agnostic “trusted partners” do drive better margin opportunities, especially with services they provide. Waiting for manufacturers to do this for them, puts partners in danger of lower margin business and at the mercy of manufacturer leads, which are typically poor. So with good reason, there are channel partners who can and will drive marketing efforts, but this should not be the expectation of manufacturers.

Manufacturers can deploy all the channel partner marketing portals they want. They can continue to throw MDF/Co-op funds at the issue. And, they can continue to hope that the average channel partners will somehow become great marketers overnight. But, the reality is that on a daily basis, marketing does not even register as a top-10 activity for the vast majority of small business owners. It’s not that they can’t or don’t want to market; it’s simply a matter of time and priorities.

So, the next time I hear complaints about a partners’ inability to effectively market, I want that manufacturer’s employee to think about having to meet payroll with not enough money in the business bank account. How’s that for perspective?