By Neal Bradbury, VP, Channel Development, Intronis
Branding is a great differentiator, but there are conflicting schools of thought regarding how to go about it. Some VARs and MSPs (managed services providers) market their alliances and status with top-tier vendors. Other assemble IT bundles, solutions, or services that they rebrand and resell for an upcharge. And a small, but growing number of channel partners brand on the business value they deliver to their customers.
If you’re looking to clearly and effectively your business, your brand must focus on the business value and customer experience your company delivers. In most cases, that will be your biggest differentiator. Of course your advanced technical experience is important. Yes, the fact that you’re an award-winning MSP or solutions provider is relevant. Absolutely your specialization in a vertical market could be the deciding factor in a high-profile deal. But above all is the customer experience your company delivers, the business challenges your services address and the goals you can help them achieve.
Once you’ve uncovered the real reason your customers do business with you — market the heck out of it! Solicit customer testimonials. Incent customers to offer up referrals. Create positive buzz around your brand. Sure, it takes a little time, but it is well worth it.
Two other quick pointers — more so on advertising versus branding: Don’t promote pricing on your website. It will lead to price shopping and commoditize your service. On that same line of thought, don’t detail the components used in your service or solution bundle. When you do it opens up the conversation for picking and choosing, and again, leads to a commoditized discussion on price.
By keeping the focus on your own brand and the experience, you reduce the likelihood of having to deal with these discussions or sales objections. Gartner VP and Distinguished Analyst Tiffani Bova commented on this topic recently at the 2014 Ingram Micro Cloud Summit, using a coffee analogy.
“When you sell coffee beans, you can only charge one to two cents per cup,” she says. “But, a Starbucks beverage sells for between $2 and $5 per cup because they’re selling an experience and not just a product.”
Your brand plays a key role in whether you’re selling the coffee beans (individual products) or Starbucks (a true IT experience). Just like millions of consumers who are willing to splurge for Starbucks, there are many prospects willing to pay a little more to relieve them from having to think about IT and get all they need from one trusted advisor.
The second pointer: Learn to lose and use the vendor brands. When you sell a white-labeled IT bundle, all the vendor management details stay where they belong: between you and your vendors. There’s no need to explain things to your customers or change the messaging on your website every time you want to explore your options and make a change. On the flip side, if the RFP requires a select vendor and you happen to be a premier partner — market your expertise and go the distance to get a supporting quote from that vendor for inclusion in the proposal.
One of the biggest frustrations and challenges many IT solution providers discover when they transition away from selling IT hardware to selling services is that these, too, can and will become commoditized.
When you lead with your brand, solutions and the customer experience, you’re offering up a completely unique value proposition that stands on its own and cannot be replicated.
Neal Bradbury is VP of Channel Development at a Co-Founder at cloud-based backup and disaster recovery provider Intronis. Working closely with the company’s MSP partner community and alliance partners, he is responsible for generating greater business value for the company’s MSP partner community and alliance partners.