Before the whole world got the memo that software consulting and implementation is the road to riches, early value-added resellers (VARs) and channel partners that were fortunate to represent legacy publishers like Great Plains, Sage, Microsoft and many others could close deals just by getting referrals from relationships, networking, telemarketing, and yes, sales staff. Only basic marketing was required (can you spell Tchotchke?)

Fast forward to the doorstep of 2020, it seems everyone and their brother is in software. With channel partners often competing with the publishers they represent. To say business software is a mature and competitive market is an understatement. 

With that set-up, sit back and take in some perspective on such thought-provoking questions as:  Are VARs relevant? Are VARs successful? And how can VARs be more successful? This last question answers the title: Secrets to VAR Sales Success with the Top 10 Marketing Tactics to Improve Lead Generation, followed by several, relevant resources. You can thank us after you take it all in. 

Are VARs Relevant? 

Our perspective from working in multiple software ecosystems is that while business software is more competitive than ever, VARs are not only relevant, but critical to the success of most business software publishers. No question, publishers can go market directly, through channel partners, or via a hybrid direct/partner sales model. Publishers choose to use channel partners to scale rapidly and gain market share while focusing on technology, development, finance, and corporate marketing. Publishers rely on channel partners for sales, implementation and local marketing. VARS might offer proprietary expertise in a vertical market, or complimentary (software) point solutions that can be integrated with open APIs. Yes, VARs are relevant.

Are VARs Successful?

Software ecosystems with channel partners have top resellers and implementation consultants that are killing it. Subscription software is the gift that keeps giving, ala annual renewal profits, which makes for a lot of successful channel partners. Which is also why the number of channel partners continues to grow. But due to increased competition, VAR success is not automatic. In 2020, the ultra-competitive business software market requires more effort. Or more effective efforts. Many previously successful legacy VARs that never did (effective) marketing are no longer successful. And many VAR startups struggle without (effective) marketing.

Telemarketing doesn’t work (decision makers screen with voicemail). Advertising doesn’t work (decision makers consume media electronically). Networking doesn’t work like it used to (more competitors doing the same networking). Sales doesn’t work like it used to (decision makers are deluged with sales calls and communications, no time for entertainment). Safe to say, only a small percentage of VARs are wildly successful.

How can VARs be more successful?

Modern Marketing Partners (MMP) has the unique perspective of working in multiple software ecosystems. Working with software publishers on corporate marketing, developing channel marketing programs, launching VAR startups that become leading VARs, and providing marketing to large, established VARs and IT service providers of all types. MMP also supports several small, established VARS.

Back to the title of this advisory, Secrets to VAR Sales Success. As you may suspect from a marketing consultant, the secret to VAR sales success is effective marketing. That said, the bridge from marketing to sales success is Lead Generation. So how can VARS improve Lead Generation? No simple answers. Effective Lead Generation requires a combination of marketing tactics, all working together. As mentioned, many traditional marketing and sales tactics no longer work, or don’t work like they used to. So how can VARs do effective marketing to improve lead generation, and ultimately sales?

MMP has all kinds of advice on effective marketing that drives lead generation including content marketing, SEO, event marketing, Micro-Vertical marketing, Paid Search, Account-Based marketing, In-Bound marketing, Digital Marketing Transformation, Thought Leadership Marketing, and more. Get some coffee and see recommended reading below. 

To get to the point, following are the Top 10 Marketing Tactics to Improve Lead Generation that apply to VARs, or any information technology or professional services provider.

Top 10 Marketing Tactics to Improve Lead Generation

  1. Website Optimization
  2. Content
  3. Prospect R&D
  4. Email
  5. Awareness Building
  6. Paid Search 
  7. Social Media
  8. Event Marketing
  9. Sales Tools
  10. Advanced marketing wizardry

Website Optimization is the foundation to all success! To be competitive in 2020, every website must be mobile, secure (SSL/HTTPS), with both on-page and off-page search engine optimization (SEO). Local SEO is now critical including GMB, citations, and local markup code. SEO is getting more complex, so likely you will require expert assistance. Of course your website should be aesthetically pleasing, with a good user experience (UX), and have great content, the next subject. 

To be successful in 2020, you must publish or perish. That is, Content Marketing is critical. In software, technology and professional services, content should be educational, and have good frequency. Content types include website landing pages, blogs, case studies, white papers, video, infographics, and more. Don’t forget to use Calls-to-Action (CTAs), and put registration forms in-front of really great content (this to elicit a sales lead).

To get leads in 2020, every marketer and salesperson should be constantly researching and identifying prospective customers. Prospect R&D for short. Today there are many sources for doing just that including LinkedIn Sales Navigator, online databases, associations, and trade magazines. Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is a hot topic, and is basically identifying multiple decision makers in large companies or complex organizations (and of course marketing and selling to them).

Prospect identification supports our next tactic, email. As websites are foundational to marketing, email lists are critical to effective email. Lists must be accurate and verified to ensure high deliverability. Tools like Hunter and Email Verifier are recommended. Ideally lists are segmented with relevant codes, and support personalization. As email open and click-thru rates (CTRs) decline over time (due to end user fatigue and spam blocking), lists must be larger to achieve results. Email service providers (ESPs), CRM and marketing automation software have good features and reporting that help marketers nurture prospects or marketing qualified leads (MQLs) through the sales cycle, and identify sales qualified leads (SQLs) based on actions. Email Tip: post-campaign click-thru reports are Lead-Gen Gold! 

In 2020, the aforementioned digital marketing can achieve lead generation, but software is an expensive purchase, so prospects will be risk-averse with channel partners that they have never heard of. Building brand awareness is important. Most large firms enjoy brand awareness. Other firms have to work on it using publicity, advertising, sponsorships, and speaking engagements, and more. Supporting and participating with a local, regional or national cause can bring awareness to your firm.

Achieving organic (free or natural) search authority is complex and takes time. New and small websites are at a disadvantage compared to mature (domain age is a search ranking factor), and large websites. Paid search is a way to rank in top positions of a search engine results page (SERP), before you can rank organically. Such positions are typically pay-per-click (PPC), but other paid search options include remarketing and display advertising. That said, software and IT services are very competitive, often competing with the publisher for both paid and organic rankings. Cost-per-Click (CPC) will likely be expensive, so often paid search is used only until organic (ranking for keywords) can be achieved. On the positive, PPC provides robust reporting, so campaigns can be optimized, and sales conversions measured.

Social Media is a critical element of both marketing and sales initiatives. Lets start with social media marketing. Your brand will require LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. LinkedIn includes company page, optimized personal page, possibly LinkedIn Groups, and SlideShare which integrates with personal profiles. YouTube is owned by Google and has been called the second biggest search engine. YouTube video descriptions is meta code that ranks high in search results. Tip: Have a YouTube video(s) for every, important keyword. Use YouTube videos on website landing pages, emails and more via embed codes. Facebook Business pages are a must have, and Twitter can reach audiences the other social networks cannot. Heard of Social Selling? Sales and all customer-facing staff can augment and piggyback off corporate social media, and use LinkedIn to target individual decision makers for the aforementioned Prospect R&D, along with direct outreach.

Event Marketing can be effective in driving lead generation if done effectively. Whether live events or webcasts, events can be successful if the topic is interesting, and real customers or peers are used (not just the vendor). Event marketing can include sponsoring an association or trade show event with speaking or networking opportunities. Live events can include entertainment aspects, but should still include a presentation. Regardless of event type, each require time to execute multi-channel promotion and recruitment. For more details, check out the MMP Event Marketing Checklist.

All this high-powered marketing will generate sales leads that will result in sales presentations, proposals, and ideally contracts. Sales Tools are required to manage this process including CRM software, Marketing Automation, lead management, presentation decks, and more. Channel partners must manage contact and registration form submissions quickly, ideally being the first to talk to a prospect that has a software requirement. Other sources of leads include email click-thru reports, IP tracking, LiveChat, and more.

Advanced Marketing Wizardry includes other, more strategic marketing that can differentiate channel partners from competitors, and in some cases, publisher’s direct efforts. Micro-Vertical Marketing is all the rage in software circles, and works best when the channel partner has developed proprietary processes or Intellectual Property (IP) for a market niche. Check out MMP’s Micro-Vertical Marketing Guide to learn how to execute Micro-Vertical Marketing. Thought Leadership Marketing is another approach that can involve copious amounts of content, ideally branded as a educational entity that is sponsored by the brand. New York VAR MIBAR.net sponsors the Business Software Education Center, while SAP sponsors the Digitalist Magazine. See Thought Leadership Marketing Guide in Recommended Reading below. Finally, Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is a hot topic for marketing and selling to large enterprises. See ABM Marketing in Recommended Reading below.

More Secrets and Some Nuances to VAR Sales Success

Extreme competition has changed the landscape for Value-Added Resellers (VARs) and channel partners. Prospect identification is critical, and often a race to “register the lead” with software publishers before a competitor registers.

A discussion about software sales would be incomplete without considering  Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs), Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs), and conversion rates that can be predicted within each software ecosystem based on average sales price, competitive and economic environment, and other factors. Check out Lead Conversion Rates for Software for more information. Finally, average sales cycle (length) should be considered. Generally, the higher the price tag, the longer the sales cycle with 100+ days common.

The future is bright for VARs and channel partners to achieve extraordinary sales success, but only if marketing becomes a top priority, and effective, ongoing marketing implementation is accomplished. A shake-out awaits channel partners that do not invest adequately in marketing excellence.

Recommended Reading:

25 Lead Generation Tips and Types (MMP)

Software Marketing Guide (MMP)

Thought Leadership Marketing Guide (MMP)

Top Account-Based Marketing Marketing Tools and Tactics (MMP)