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How Channel Partners in India are Adopting Online Tools to Drive Business

Its a whole new world out there and the Webs become the first port of call for customers looking for partners to give their business to. But how would you know? The sad truth is that most channel partnersbogged down by the daily grinddont really leverage the Web to raise their companys profilesand drive sales.

Channel partners who decide not to make the time to explore and leverage the Internet to grab more of their clients mindshare, have to be willing to pay a very real price. This can come in the form of lower brand recall, untapped opportunities, and less accurate leadsand the price associated with chasing them.

Its very critical for SIs to have a positive image of their brand online or risk customers not considering them, says Jagdeep Kapoor, CMD, Samsika Marketing Consultants, whose client list includes names like Godrej, Kotak Mahindra, Aditya Birla Group, and Ddamas.

Also Read - 7 Ways of Marketing Online

The benefits of using the Web exist say analysts. Today, online tools can help establish a partner organizations knowledge credentials and market it to a much wider audience, says Neha Jalan Goenka, senior associate at AMI-Partners, who believes the medium in under utilized by the partner community in India.

The good news is that there is a growing number of enterprise channel partners who realize what they are missing out on. One of them is K.V. Jagannath, MD and CEO of Hyderabad-based Choice Solutions. The Weband the wide repertoire of things it encompassesis a powerful tool. I admit its been a weak area for us, but we are consolidating our work in this area. We plan to work on this ASAP because weve realized the importance of online marketing campaigns, he says.

Ayan Mitra, AVP marketing at Mumbai-based Omnitech InfoSolutions is another convert. The time has come. Our entire general marketing activities will be wholeheartedly focussed online. Its imperative that we reach our external stakeholders, and prospective customers, through different online tools and target them for our promotional activities, he says.

There are other channel partners who have wised up to the potential of Web-based marketing earlier on. Take the case of Chennai-based Kaar Technologies, which under the leadership of CEO Maran Nagarajan has already put in a place a strategy to leverage the Web and all its marketing tools. Key pillars of that strategy include a budget of Rs 50 lakhaimed solely at its online marketing activities for 2013and a team of four dedicated to online promotions and associated tasks.

Our organization has already gone through the evolution cycle. All these years, we have tried and tested various online tools and have focussed on what suits the organization. Almost half a percent of our top line is allocated for online marketing activities, says Nagarajan.

Folks like Nagarajan say they have already begun to see the value of using the Web to sell their brands more intelligently. Omnitech InfoSolutions, for instance, increased the response rate to its marketing activities when it moved to new-age online promotions. Where its earlier, non-Web-based marketing campaigns resulted in a 1 percent response rate, its online ones gets it 12 percent.

For those who havent got onboard with the idea of Web-based marketing, its not too late. Channel partners like Nagarajan and Mitra offer five ways to maximize your chances.

Go Video

Consider the facts: 70 percent of B2B marketing done in 2012 used videoup from 52 percent in 2011. And over the next five years, a third of all online advertising spend will go into online video production, says Borrell Associates, a research and consulting firm.

You get the picture: Video is big and its only going to get bigger.

Yet, there are many channel partners who dont see it that way and havent bought wholeheartedly into video. There is a lot of buzz around this, says Ravi Verdes, MD, Frontier Business Systems, and we might see such things happening in the next financial year. But we are still in a trial-and-error phase where we are trying to find out the best options for us.

Others have grabbed the opportunity with both hands. At Kaar Technologies, Nagarajan has plenty of video plans already lined up. We have already identified about 50 promotional activities we want to use videos for in 2014, he says.

Much of Nagarajans enthusiasm stems from the real benefits Kaar Technologies has seen from using the medium. The company has had great success using video, especially among its clients in the Middle East. We have done video promotions for SAP events directed at our customer base in the Middle East. And its helped create enormous visibility for our organization, says Nagarajan.

One of the most important benefits of using video is its ability to allow customers to grasp key messaging much faster than any presentation. You know that thing they say about a picture being equal to a thousand words? Video takes that idea to the next level.

Then partly because of its novelty value and partly because of the use of dynamic visuals, videos help create longer brand recall value in the mind of prospective customers, say channel partners. Video promotions help build a perception about us for a longer period in the customers mind, says Nagarajan.

Say what you might about branding, but over the long term it adds new accounts. Thats what Gaurav Mathur, MD and CEO at Filix Consulting believes video can do for channel partners. Having an online video presence is not just for customer interaction; it also builds an overall brand and Web presence. It also helps gain prospective customers, he says.

With that potential benefit, however, comes a real-world challenge. If your video is going to be the first point of reference for potential clients, then its important that it reflects the sophistication of your brand and your messaging. If your sales people make a pitch in a suit, then youre videos better be just as dressed up.

Thats where the challenge of production values comes in. The inability to create good video is one of the reasons channel partners say they stay away from it in the first place. Producing corporate videos requires developing a story board, having a script, adding animation, checking the quality of your sound, and having fairly slick post-production values.

If promotional content is not articulate, potential customer could give it a miss, says Kapoor.

You need expertise to create industry standard videos and while internal staff can take care of certain things, its difficult for them to churn our professional video services, says Nagarajan.

To get around that challenge, Nagarajans outfit outsources its video needs to a specialized agency. The primary reason is that they produce industry-standard video and bring a certain assurance of quality to the table, which our internal team cant be expected to furnish, says Nagarajan.

Mathur from Filix Consulting, too, has adopted a similar approach. The videos we promote require a professional agency because as a team we are not well-versed with the technicalities of these things and industry-standard camera work requires professionals, he says.

Others like Allied Digital, however, have found a way to spin out videos using internal staff. We have an in-house team that shoots and produces videos, which makes the cost relatively lower, says Dhara Shah, marketing manager, Allied Digital.

An added benefits of not outsourcing, says Shah, is speed of turnaround time. The pre- and post-production of professional video services requires a lot of time; we normally need videos much quicker, he says.

As tough as it may seem to create video, it certainly has its upsides. Take this one for example: Because videos are so much easier to digest than whitepapers, case studies or brochures, they increase the chances that a potential client checking up on a channel partners offerings and solutions portfolio before an actual physical meeting. That, in turn, ensure that channel partners are getting their hands on more serious leads. Having video, in effect, can sift out false sales leads.

Using video has worked well for Mumbai-based Allied Digital. When the company received complaints from its customers that they werent aware of the breadth of Allied Digitals portfolio of solutions, the SI decided to do something about itusing video.

We made our customers aware of our strengths through videos. So now, even before our sales people meet prospective clients in person, they are already aware of our offerings through video customer testimonials, says Shah.

For channel partners who want to test the video waters, it helps to know that there are multiple content types that are possible to convey with video. These include case studies, testimonials, and videos that promote a channel partners products, solutions and capabilities. Some, like video cases studies are harder to do, and the trick it to match what you want to get out of a video before you invest the time and money.

That applies pretty much for anything you decide to do online. No matter what you do online, its important to understand what youre doing and why youre using a particular tool to promote yourself and what you intend to get out of it, says Jalan at AMI-Partners.

For those starting out on video, among the easier content types to produce are video testimonials. Positive testimonials from customers talking about an SIs project capabilities, for instance, can go a long way in ensuring you make it on to a CIOs shortlist, as they scan dozens of other companies.

Thats what VDA Infosolutions has learnt. After the system integrator implemented V Blocks for a customer a couple of years ago, it ensured that it got customer testimonials on video and promoted it.

We got a lot of enquiries from other customers regarding the cloud and V Blocks, says Deepak Jadhav, director, VDA Infosolutions. This major project got us a lot more deals from other new clients. We got good business value and added mileage to our brand, he says.

For that project, VDA Infosolutions only got customer feedback post the project. But it helps, as the company learnt later on, to get the customer in front of a camera even before a project has started because it lends a sense of before and after.

Immaterial of the type of video a system integrator decides to create, they all need to take care of a couple of important aspects. First, the length of any promotional video should not be more than two minutes. Our target is 90 to 120 seconds, says Nagrajan. This allows the audience to grasp the content without spending too much time on a video.

Another best practice is to upload videos on a variety of sites including Youtube and Vimeo. You have to be present where people expect you to be present. If a prospective employee or customer searches for us on Youtube and were not therebut our competitors arewe lose out, says Mathur from Filix.

Finally, a well-produced video with quality content is of no use if its not equally well promoted. First, channel partners need to get those video links uploaded on their homepages. A good second step is to go down the social media route and promote videos

on Facebook and LinkedIn. Social media sites get a large number of footfalls. We have individuals who visit our pages regularly and take interest in the videos we promote there, says Shah.

Video links can also be carried on an OEMs site, just like VDA Infosolutions did. The company promoted some of its videos on an OEMs site, its own homepage, and on the customers site. Its a three-way promotion which gives us added mileage and raises our brand image, says Jadhav.

Create a Microsite

Microsites arent new but they are relatively popular. A microsite (also called a minisite) is like a website within a website. A channel partner, for instance, could have a microsite of one of its principles on its website. Microsites are also great for short promotions, in which the microsite looks like a separate website, complete with its own URL and navigation bar.

Allied Digital is currently working on a microsite with an OEM and plans to showcase the principals products and Allieds solutions together. We are jointly going to deliver the solution to the client and so we are promoting this objective together. We will promote the microsite using targeted e-mail campaigns and EDMs, which will contain information and a link re-directing the customer to the microsite, says Shah from Allied.

Allied Digital reports that it has been able to generate a lot of leads through such promotions and uses a dedicated internal team to create its microsites.

A microsite can be a single page, or multiple pages with add-ons including flash-based promotions or links to other case studies and whitepapers. Microsites generally fall into three types: The system integrator themselves build it using their own man power and investments. The other type deals with microsites built in joint collaboration with vendor and an SI. The third type of microsite is built in joint association between an outsourcing agency which handles the technical part of the sites design and the SI who provides the content.

Mumbai-based InfrasoftTech, too, had used microsites to promote wealth management solutions differently. It also used microsites successfully to market its move from a product company to a services-based organization. (Each new service it offered had its own microsite.) We used our own money and without making physical contact with so many prospective customers, we were able to generate a lot of leads irrespective of location, says Hanuman Tripathi, group MD, InfrasoftTech.

Use Blogs

Blogging and marketing is more or less the same thing. Both are required to circulate information to an audience. Channel partners in India have used this medium frequentlyoften ranging from twice a week to once a month. Omnitech InfoSolutions uses blogs to share information with employees. We send out links to blogs twice or thrice a week to our database. It generally contains information about the organizations activities or news related to technologies we deal with, says Mitra.

Blogs are mostly focussed on the client and market requirements. The belief is that original content in blogs increases brand awareness, improves SEO, enhances engagement with existing and potential clients, and referral partners. Blogs are a way of establishing ones professional credibility and allows value addition to my subscribers, he says.

But all said and done, the flavour of each blog irrespective of its frequency has to be appealing to the targeted audience.

Newsletters and EDMs

Both newsletters and targeted electronic direct mailers (EDMs) are cost-effective options which SIs use extensively. The use of these tools is simple, but its important to promote the right content to the right customer base, says Kapoor. For the most part, they are used to promote customer case studies, events, and whitepapers. While newsletters are only sent upto three times a month, targeted mailers are shot out twice a week on average.

The success rate of targeted EDMs is far higher than mass mailers. Mass mailers are sent to an entire database, irrespective of geography and vertical, but as has been observed, it is often ignored by the targeted audience.

Other e-mail marketing campaigns tanked and hardly generated a percentage response. But when we sent targeted EDMs and mailers to a select audience, we saw good response at around 12 percent, which is huge for event marketing, says Mitra at Omnitech.

Its important to break down your database by geography, vertical, and technology before sending out newsletters and EDMs. We send newsletters which contain information on new technologies, white papers, or links to case studies only once every quarter. Its worth the exercise, says Jadhav at VDA Infosolutions.

Theyd be better served if they ensure greater frequency. Thats according to Kapoor at Samsika Marketing Consultants. System integrators should choose a tool they can competently manage so that they can update it regularly. Its important for SIs to make interactions a regular phenomenon, he says.

Try Out Social Media

Social media is a much abused word. Over the past couple of years channel partners have not done much in this arena except for ensuring a basic presence on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. SIs use their pages to promote microsite-related links, case studies available on their websites, and videos from Youtube. For many, it remains a trial-and-error proposition.

Many organizations are attempting to adapt social media into their business sensibilities by extracting suitable bits from their popular personal-networking avatar. We have experimented with these media, but the next financial year will see us using it in a comprehensive manner. We will try and execute more campaigns on LinkedIn, and hope to get more leads and clients from it, says Verdes at Frontier Business Systems.

SIs can create a group or community through which they can build their brand image on the platform or airbrush an existing image. Its also a cost-effective way to remain in the limelight unless one is willing to pay for ads or profiles to reach out to a select audience. Shah from Allied re-asserts the importance of paid ads.In terms of leads, if we have a paid page on LinkedIn, we can get more business deals. We need to scale up our LinkedIn account with banner or display ads on the homepage of the companys LinkedIn account.

It is evident that narrowing down the tools to just a few will not help an organization. Success can be achieved only by utilizing a dedicated combination of tools and platforms that can widen their corridor of reach.


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