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Top Five channel marketing tips for 2008

It's time for channel partners to start spending some money updating their online presence, and other trends to know for next year

Miami – Cisco Systems Corp. realizes it is a networking and advanced technologies product manufacturer, and not marketing geniuses.

The company is hosting a channel marketing conference called Velocity that has only one Cisco speaker, Wendy Bahr, and no company pitches.

According to Luanne Tierney, senior director of US and Canadian channel marketing with Cisco, the next generation of marketing is upon us because of Web 2.0 and the channel is both frightened by it and uninformed.

“We want to teach them how to do marketing,” she said.

From her research and partner feedback when creating this event, Tierney was puzzled by some of the questions coming from the channel such as “why should I hire a marketing person?” The second most popular question was “What should a marketing person do?” Tierney believes that a low percentage of channel players, between five and ten per cent, really understand marketing.

“They don’t know about sophisticated techniques with interactive Web marketing or how to take advantage of it. The world is changing and there is much more online and it is interactive. This is not the radio or TV or PR,” Tierney said.

With that, Wendy Bahr, Cisco’s vice-president US field channels, compiled a list of five top channel marketing trends for 2008.

Bahr said that these five tips are not ranked and are all equally important.

1. Revamping partner Web sites

Bahr believes that 2008 should be the year for partners to revamp their Web site and make them up-to-date and professional. She suggests hiring a consultant. “Your Web site is your online reflection of your company and it is important to keep it up to date graphically, with colour and display because you are competing online.”

2. Easy content creation

Channel partners do not have a lot of resources, bandwidth or the skill set to develop content that can resonate with potential customers. The vast majority of channel partners are small businesses so creating content has to be easy. Cisco has created a new tool called Shared Vue that provides pre-packaged content on hot topics such as unified communications. Shared Vue was made to be simple for the small channel partner to use.

“You do not need a Web expert,” Bahr said. “If a question comes in from a potential customer your Web site’s pop up bar will have the information.”

Shared Vue integrates with partner Web sites via access from MAP (Marketing Acceleration Plan), which Cisco released earlier this year.

“Partners can pick and choose content and that content is automatically updated for them. It is hard for a small partner to keep up with. This makes it happen in a super easy fashion,” Bahr said.

Bahr suggests that channel partners look for these types of tools for easy content creation.

3. Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization directly relates to Google. When you type a phrase such as “Accelerate your sales cycle” on your Web site the number of times it appears is ranked by Google, which lists the top items in its search. So the way it is written in your content is important. Key phrases and words will engage end users through search to visit your Web site.

Bahr suggests re-working partner mission statements and value proposition messages so they contain key words. End users customers are using Google to search for ways to solve their own problems. The best key words in Bahr’s opinion are “return on investment” and “total cost of ownership.”

4. Hosting smaller events

Holding huge seminars or trade shows are old school, Bahr said. Events are changing to smaller groups with intimate settings. Other types of events that are becoming more popular are roundtable discussions and off-site dinners.

The goal is to create an intimate level of conversation that is valuable to your guests rather than a shot gun approach, Bahr said.

Getting the right participants will be a challenge, however. “Who do you invite?” A tool such as Shared Vue can provide information such as on how many times someone has clicked on a topic. That can become a high qualified lead for these intimate sessions.

5. Green is big

Finally, anything surrounding the Green IT initiative is hot. Some of the best partners are already taking advantage of this buzz and sponsoring local activities. But, it does not have to be green. It can be any charity event, Bahr said. “Something that tells the community that you are giving back,” she added.

“We are going through a generational change. College students who are entering the workforce today are concerned for the environment. They have a different approach to business, whereas our generation was all about success and the drive to reach that success. This generation has a business balance approach. And they are becoming part of the buying criteria and partners need to have a green or giving image,” Bahr said.

Bahr leads Cisco’s U.S. field channel organization. A major part of her job is to develop new strategies to keep partners profitable.

“We have a continuous commitment to the partner and its growth and profitability,” she said.

But today’s environment is changing because billions of people are communicating and collaborating using all forms of human expression though data, voice and video without regard to location. The Web, Bahr believes, is similar to the Guttenberg press, Morse code and the telephone in terms of personal impact.

“We are not marketing about a computer network anymore, but we are marketing to a human network,” she said.