Are you a Microsoft reseller clone?
There is no doubt that Microsoft has successfully managed the transition from shifting licences to selling services. Office 365 is a great product set and growing. Customers love it. People think Microsoft is good again and there is even talk about Microsoft being cool. Microsoft has been many things over the years but cool hasn’t been one of them.
Building a business selling Microsoft products has long been a solid approach for IT services companies. Yes, there has been a difficult transition from making a margin on selling products to having to make more out of providing services, such as migration, but most partners have grown in this market.
But there is one thing that Microsoft do struggle with and that is their marketing, and the marketing services they provide to their partners.
Personally, I don’t like the TV advert for Microsoft Surface, they are all American, actually, I actively hate them, I think they try to find the most annoying people in America and pump them into my living room. Do remember that click advert, painful. And the Microsoft Cloud adverts are big picture things that don’t really relate to the UK. The rare ads that are localised have the most annoying music, am I just being grumpy, I don’t think so. Microsoft is a beast and it fails on localising marketing.
Microsoft does provide marketing for its partners. But if every partner access the same marketing resource how do you differentiate yourselves from the competition. I have seen people simply rebrand the Microsoft marketing material. If a customer is speaking to a few companies, they may well see exactly the same material from multiple partners. Microsoft partners should work hard to differentiate themselves.
Around 10 years ago Microsoft was working with its early cloud service providers who were selling Hosted Exchange email. Microsoft ran workshops with the larger partners and these workshops talked about the research they had to why customers bought the product. After these sessions, most of the partners changed their marketing message to the one suggested by Microsoft. And the result was everyone had exactly the same message. They even provided a video that went up on the hosted exchange partners websites. That might have been what Microsoft wanted but in a competitive market looking identical to your competitor isn’t going help you win business.
I was working with one the UK’s largest hosted exchange companies at the time, we followed suit and relayed the Microsoft messaging at first but quickly realised that it was a mistake.
We worked on our own benefits lead messaging, it went on to be expanded on the new cloud services such as hosted desktop that we launched. we created what I called our 5 pillars of wisdom, which were the 5 key benefits customers would get from adopting cloud services. Ten years later these 5 messages are everywhere but at the time we had to research what our customers thought and look at their priorities. We got it right which is why the 5 pillars of wisdom would be very familiar to anyone selling cloud services as they are the sales message, in various forms that we all give now. I am not claiming that everyone copied what we wrote, they just came to the same conclusion (actually some did directly copy us, 2 word for word!).
But what we did do is move us away from the pack and make our messaging unique. We were selling the same as our competitors but we moved the conversation away from technical discussions to business discussions. We had successfully created a new approach that differentiated us.
Now, whenever I am working with a company who are selling highly competitive services I look at how we can differentiate them. If you are selling Office 365 you could talk about how great your support is but that’s exactly what other companies will be doing so you need to think a little harder and be smarter than your competition.
The value you offer your customers is the understanding of all the elements that combine to make up a solution, however, complex or simple. This needs to be conveyed to your customers. Most companies stop at case studies, case studies are a fantastic way of breathing life into they way you present your company. And many companies have realised the value of having video case studies, letting the end customer be the face of the company. But there is far more that can be done.
If you understand your customers buying journey you can start to produce relevant material for each stage.
If the prospect is very early in the process that will be just forming ideas, at this stage it’s up to you to get inside their minds and help them form these ideas. But they won’t have even contacted you. I doubt you can read minds but you can prepare for this by producing content that is relevant for this stage. And for different audiences. Create a technical piece of content, a piece about cost benefits etc but separate them and make them for the right audience at the rights stage of the buyer’s journey. If you are trying to sell me Office 365 (I already use it so I won’t be buying from you sorry) I’d want to know the benefits my business would get, but if m colleague was investigating he’d want to know about the integration with third party services and so on.
And if customers are a bit further down the line I am a big fan of telling end customers exactly how they can do what you offer for themselves. Does that sound crazy? I have a Haynes manual for my car, it tells me how to do all the maintenance on my car, and if I did I would not pay garages to keep my ageing Mercedes on the road. But I don’t I do little more than top up the fluids and keep they tyres pumped up. Anything else and it goes off to the garage. I don’t have the time, skills, experience and tools to do it myself. So even if you tell someone how to pull together a Microsoft based solution only a handful will do it for themselves, and those guys would have never paid you what you deserve anyway, and the other will think these guys know what they are talking about, let’s go with them.
I could go on and will do in other posts but you start to see that to win your customers in a competitive market you need to differentiate yourself and not just look like yet another Microsoft reseller.
Also published on Medium.