Like many software companies, Mindbridge Inc relied on a network of resellers for its lower end sales -- roughly anything in the $15-$20k range.
However, when you work through on resellers, you can lose a vital direct connection to the marketplace. The intermediary makes it harder for your marketing team to touch the market's pulse and create high-impact campaigns and materials that really help sales reps close more effectively.
“We not only had no clue who our customers were, we also had no real market strategy. Our resellers, in effect, were creating it for us,” says COO Scott Testa.
Nevertheless, Mindbridge's management team set a goal of increasing reseller-driven sales by 15-20% for 2005. Now Testa's team had to figure out how to do it....CAMPAIGN
“The program strategy wasn’t fancy,” says Testa. “We basically went out and talked to our resellers and solicited their feedback. The difference this time around – because we’ve done this in the past – is that we listened to them. And, we kept real data. We decided to get serious.”
Step #1: Survey Resellers
Testa sent a “help me” email to 600 Mindbridge resellers that read, “We want you to make more money but we need to know what you need. What are our strengths and weaknesses? What verticals are you going after? What do you need from us to do your job better? Please fill out the attached survey.”
For those who didn’t respond, Testa's team followed up with a phone call and then a direct mail letter with a hard copy of the survey.
Step #2: Present Findings
“Once we had the survey findings in hand,” says Testa, “we presented the findings and proposed changes to the management team, including the CEO, CFO, CIO, VP of Sales, etc.” Although buy-in was high, it wasn’t complete. “Sales knew it needed to be done, but other groups resisted the changes. Let’s just say that once results started coming in, people began to drink the kool-aid.”
If you’re a channel marketer thinking about conducting a similar program, Testa advises you get buy-in from all the groups involved before you start. The last thing you want is to have your campaign abandoned mid-process. Testa’s CEO gave final approval to the proposed marketing program.
Step #3: Focus on best-of-breed resellers
Testa and his group determined which resellers were in the strongest markets and pushed more resources their way, including technical resources, co-op dollars, and “spiffs” (small bonuses like cash or gift cards) paid directly to sales people.
Resellers who didn’t respond to the survey, had low sales figures, or who didn’t “seem to be into the program” were cut. Testa reports they cut 20% of the reseller channel.
Testa also removed the 'Become a Reseller' link from the Web site. “We purposely don’t have a reseller link because we don’t want people to become ‘partners’ by simply filling out an application and emailing it in. We want to know who our resellers are and what value they’re bringing to the marketplace. Hence, they have to contact us directly – and we really scrutinize them.”
Step #4. Improve the Website
Resellers had stated on the survey they had a “hard time” selling the product. One reason was the site didn't support them enough. So, the team improved the site in five key ways:
- Add Flash Demo: Resellers specifically requested a Flash demo that could easily be found on the Mindbridge website. The resulting animated six-minute demo with sound is located on the homepage, as requested, and also under the “Products” tab.
- Make trials easier: Resellers can click “Sign me up!” under the Products tab and be taken to a form for downloading a free software evaluation. Once downloaded, the salesperson can walk the prospect through the trial on the spot.
- More accessible product info: Now, all product information is “drill downable” – meaning, the reseller can click on a piece of information and if they want more, click again for additional details. For example, visitors can view full-sized screen shots by clicking on thumbnails.
- Promote customizing options: Resellers said they'd make more sales if the site featured a section showing how the software could be customized – something end-users really wanted.
- Increase support visibility: One thing resellers were especially vocal about was the support function. One, they didn’t want the support number hidden on the website and two, they loved the support function and didn’t want it changed one iota.
Says Testa, “We found out from the surveys our resellers and end-users love our support function because when they call us, they get a ‘real person’ who is very knowledgeable about the product. We spend a lot of money training our support people, all of whom are based here in the U.S.”
In response to reseller feedback, Testa added a Support tab to the website where the telephone number, email address, and link to real time Instant Messaging are easily accessed.
Step #5. Create (and obey) an ongoing reseller advisory board
“We took 5% of our strongest resellers and made them our focus group. We showed them our work in progress and tweaked everything based on their feedback.” These changes included removing the pricing from collateral.
Revamping of print and electronic materials took approximately six months, but resellers were willing to wait because they felt involved in the process.
Step #6. Tweak vertical market strategy
Based on survey results and advisory board feedback, Mindbridge began focusing its marketing efforts on marketplaces it hadn't considered before, while pulling back in others.
In just three quarters the program has helped Mindbridge's reseller sales to grow by 40% -- yes that's after they cut the lowest performing 20% of resellers.
The initial email survey got a 30% reply rate. An additional 20% of resellers replied when prompted again by phone and/or postal mail.
Before doing the survey, the Mindbridge team was concerned that resellers had focused in “weak” markets. In fact, survey results showed Mindbridge was weak in markets where they wanted to be – such as pharma.
“We learned our resellers were selling into markets where we didn’t know we even had a competitive offering and that our price points were lower than they should have been,” says Testa. They also discovered the software was great at helping companies comply with Sarbanes Oxley, so they began emphasizing this benefit in the product literature.
“Our resellers are very, very happy,” says Testa, “as are our CEO and CFO. And, as I said, once results started coming in, those who resisted the program came into line.
“We started out not knowing who our customers were – and indeed, not even knowing how our product was being used. We know now who they are – and we’re very in touch with our installed user base. However, we’re not done. It’s like painting a bridge – you start at one end, paint the bridge, and then start all over again.”Useful links related to this article:
Mindbridge's new Flash demo:
Past MarketingSherpa article, 'B-to-B Channel Marketing in Crisis – Top Three Pain Points' http://library.marketingsherpa.com/sample.cfm?contentID=308