The Rise Of The E-Channel – Traditional Channels Beware

 

Lurking in the tech channel shadows are the various manifestations of the newly emerging e-channel: online application stores, online communities, group buying sites, and e-purchasing services. For example, the number of small to medium-size businesses (SMBs) that sourced software products from online application stores increased almost 40% from 2009 to 2010. (I’ll publish the 2011 channel numbers next quarter.)

Joining the application store ranks of Intuit Marktplace, NetSuite SuiteApp.com, and salesforce.com AppExchange this year have been Adobe Marketplace, Cisco AppHQ, Constant Contact Marketplace, Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace, and Microsoft Office 365 Marketplace. Online communities OfficeArrow, OpenForum, and Spiceworks now offer software products. You could imagine e-purchasing services, like Rearden Commerce and Concur, expanding their travel services domain to other B2B products and services (like software). And this is just the tip of the iceberg – believe me, there are a lot more tech vendors and communities that will launch e-channels in the next six months.

All this e-channel activity, from both the provider and customer sides, has got to toll a warning bell for traditional channel companies – and their vendor partners, who have to keep them appeased. Perhaps most vulnerable are the DMRs (direct market resellers) (although the DMR gorilla, CDW, is taking strategic steps to expand its services portfolio in becoming more of a solutions provider).

I’ll be researching the impact of this emerging e-channel further, so if you have ideas or perspective to help guide my research, please share.

The Who And How Of Customers’ Technology Decisions

 

Tech marketers often fret over their marketing mix, but it’s usually couched in terms of “how” – e.g., “How do customers get information about us?” or, “Do we have the right mix of web content, events, blogs and [now, of course] social media conversations?”

We know that all those “how” things are not equal. Customers utilize web content more than events, and events more than blogs. But every bit as important (if not more), and sometimes not taken into consideration, is the “who” of the “how.” In general, customers highly value tech vendors’ websites and events, industry analysts’ research reports and blogs, channel partners’ online videos, and social media conversations with peers. But customers’ go-to information source preferences vary by industry, company size, and geography. [For more information, see the Forrester report on “The Who And How of Influencing Customers’ BT Decisions.”]

With social media stacked on top of websites stacked on top of events stacked on top of collateral … well, I don’t have to tell you how complex marketing-mix allocation budgeting has come to be. But designing your mix model on a “who-what” framework simplifies the model, and goes a long way to ensuring that you’re investing in the information sources that customers are tapping. 

What's Happening With Forrester's Battle Card Standards?

For those of you following Forrester’s project to create industry standards for battle cards, I want to give you a glimpse into the group’s progress and remind you about Forrester’s public webinar on September 7, where I’ll touch on battle card standards in more depth.

Each member of the standards group has success stories with their battle cards, but each member also struggles to change battle cards from being “random acts of sales support” to providing consistent, reliable support that helps sales reps win more deals. The purpose of our standards initiative is to do just that – identify and repeat how battle cards help sales reps win competitive deals.

Last week, the standards group reviewed the first draft of specifications for battle cards. Getting these definitions correct is important because all the downstream work we will do depends on these specifications. Our working document defines for battle cards the:

  • Purpose. Battle cards help sales reps anticipate and respond to competitive obstacles in the later stages of competitive deals.
  • Scope. Battle cards build on a point-counterpoint structure by identifying the competitor’s claims and equipping sales reps with responses.
  • Intersections. Battle cards must be consistent with competitive positions established in market overviews, pitch decks, and “marketectures,” RFP responses, and other sales tools.
  • Design point. Battle cards fuel customer conversations by addressing competitive issues through the lens of solving the customer’s problem, focusing topics that are core to the customers purchase decision.
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