360: MSP Marketing Troubles, with Ayan Adam

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MSP Marketing troubles start with not knowing how to spend their allocated marketing dollars to make the magic happen.

Ayan Adam, Founder of CX Atelier, joins us this week to discuss MSP Marketing problems. Marketing for MSPs requires a different approach and a deep understanding of the industry and technology trends. Ayan offers her insights on technology-focused marketing support to answer the MSP capabilities’ prevalent gap to execute marketing activities in-house. Ayan’s specialty focuses on the customer experience and cultivating relationships with the MSP and the world of marketing. In this episode, you’ll learn why the IT reselling service layer is important and how they become the most trusted asset you can add to the products and solutions you offer.

“For the longest time, channel marketing was the “poor relative” of all marketing branches, cookie-cutter campaigns and activities, and very little focus on the end customer experience. Meanwhile, the B2B landscape is shifting dramatically, and buyers now expect high-quality digital services when making a B2B purchase.”
– Ayan Adam, Founder of CX Atelier

Ayan Adam is an experienced leader in the B2B IT Technology industry. She designed industry-recognized brands and delivered high impact marketing and branding campaigns for IT industry leaders. She has a deep understanding of the B2B technology space both from the OEM’s standpoint and at the VAR and MSP level. She is passionate about fulfilling the promise of digital marketing for B2B technology companies and meeting the next wave of digital transformation with customer-centric and experience-focused marketing.

Join the conversation in the Conquer Local Community, and keep learning in the Conquer Local Academy.



George: The Conquer Local podcast, continuing to expand, to talk about the world of managed service providers, value-added resellers, original equipment manufacturers. I’m gonna try and keep the acronyms to a minimum because those of you who’ve been listening, know that I’m on a war against acronyms. A month or so back, I had the privilege of meeting a talented woman, Ayan Adam. She’s the founder of CX Atelier and she lives in Montreal and she is a channel marketing zealot. And we are going to have her on the podcast to explain this confusing world of, well confusing if you haven’t lived in it, of IT channel and the managed service providers and the value-added resellers and the market development funds and OEM’s, original equipment manufacturer, will explain all of the acronyms. We’re going to get her to explain the entire landscape and how you may be able to take your organization and make a move into this space and find a new set of customers. And we will actually even show you how to find manufacturers that have a budget ready to be deployed into marketing. Like imagine that actual budget. Ayan Adam is coming up next on the Conquer Local podcast.

George: Welcoming to the latest edition of the Conquer Local podcast, it’s Ayan Adam. Ayan welcome to the show.

Ayan: Thank you.

George: You are the founder of CX Atelier.

Ayan: Yes.

George: How did I do?

Ayan: You did great.

George: And based in the beautiful city of Montreal, Quebec, and welcome to the podcast. I was very fortunate to have met you a month or so back. And we had a great conversation around channel marketing and the work that you’ve been doing over the years in the IT channel, and we’ve been bringing on guests recently, like Alex Ryals, who’s the Head of Cybersecurity for Tech Data. And we’ve had Janet Schijns, the CEO of the JS group, and your experience in finding a niche and then understanding that niche quite well, I think lends itself to this line where we’re starting to talk to more and more folks in the channel, but can we get your view as to what marketing in the IT channel a little different than anything else that you’ve been involved in, in your career?

Ayan: Yes. So it’s really different than what I used to know. Like, so I started my career in traditional marketing, marketing for L’Oreal back in Paris, and that’s as traditional as it gets. So it’s really branding with like all the bells and whistles of like a big brand and kind of understanding branding guidelines. And so it’s pretty straightforward in terms of marketing. And then I was kind of catapulted into the world of IT and IT channel marketing. And it’s pretty different because the actors are different. It’s an ecosystem. So to sort of channel sales, what we call channel sales, IT reselling is done through partners. So it’s an ecosystem of like different tiers of distribution. So you have your, we call the OEM, original equipment manufacturer. So thinking somebody like Lenovo or Microsoft, they do the technology. And then there is kind of an ecosystem of other actors that distribute the product. So you were talking about Tech Data, that’s a big name in the distribution space or Ingram Micro. So they generally do take care of everything, supply chain management, and then you have the people that are facing the client on a day-to-day basis. So those are the value-added resellers. So, and the managed service providers. So they do attach their own set of services to these products to best serve the end customer. So already there is a lot of different actors in this, and we’re talking about one product or one brand, and you have all of these different actors that are kind of touching upon that brand that are representing that brand, that are marketing to end customers around that brand. And when it comes to talking about marketing for that specific industry, it has its intricacies. And it’s been super exciting for me to kind of navigate that space and serve end-users and serve IT resellers and OEMs to kind of fulfill their vision for marketing. So it’s a very interesting space, a very interesting niche. People don’t necessarily know about it, it’s really the B2B space. But just so to give context all the equipment, all IT, everything technology is only done through that, to that ecosystem through the channel.

Value-added Reseller

George: Well, it’s interesting because I get introduced to this space about two years ago, and we’ve been doing some intense learning around it as our organization is dragged into this space. That’s the line that I’ve used over the years. And a Lenovo laptop, let’s say, you can get that piece of equipment from a number of different places. So the service layer that the value-added reseller, the service layer that the managed service provider, the service layer that, well, if I don’t say it best buy, which is one of the places you could buy that product or service, that service layer is a very important value proposition for the buyer. Because if it wasn’t the service, I just go get the product. I just buy the product, figure out all the rest after. And I think there is quite a bit of that happening, but these organizations that are in the value-added reseller and the managed service provider space, they layer in something that adds value there. And how hard is that sometimes to get them to really be able to articulate the value proposition or to get them to understand the marketing technology that could be used to help them to make the end-user aware of the things that they’re able to offer? Like it seems to me like it’s a bit of a challenge.

Ayan: Yes. So it all comes down to, so why is this business model? Why does it make sense for a Lenovo or a Dell to sell their computers through a third party? And then, like how does that make sense? But it actually totally makes sense. Some companies like Dell, for example, used to have a more direct approach when it comes to their products, but now they’re leveraging the channel. It’s actually a different business model. If you know how to do the product, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you wanna be in charge of the sale of the product or to support that product. So they’re leveraging people that are great at what they do. And what is super interesting with these other actors with the value-added reseller or the MSP is that they’re really in touch with the client. They know what the client needs, and we’re talking about deploying technology at the enterprise level, or even medium, or even small-business level. It’s becoming more and more complicated. And it’s not just one laptop. It’s kind of like having equipment for a workforce and making sure that the software goes with the hardware. Now there’s a big trend around unified communication with everything related to communication or collaboration software. So all of that has a level of complexity that people are willing to kind of leverage the channel, to help them rationalize that and take advantage of it.

IT Customer Relationships

George: I had lunch with a local managed service provider a couple of months back, and we were discussing all of the various products and service lines that he could offer to his customer base. And I was blown away. Like it’s thousands of skews that him and that organization would have access to. Is this one of the problems that you’re finding is like, how can one salesperson understand a thousand skews and be able to speak to them intelligently and how they all fit together? It seems quite daunting.

Ayan: So yeah, it’s actually a super tight ecosystem. So it’s not just one salesperson that’s able to understand all these different evolving technologies, but what they do is that they leverage the ecosystem there. So, for example, we were talking about Tech Data or Ingram Micro. They have their own people that are dedicated to helping those salespeople position those products explain the value-added of these products. And even the OEMs, they will have their own, their own salespeople on top of the salespeople that are kind of interacting directly with the client to position your product and why it makes sense. It’s a very interesting space because it used to be very competitive, but at the same time, it’s pretty sheltered in terms of how people go about selling. Because the thing with technology is that everybody needs technology. And a lot of the companies out there, are kind of locked into relationships with their value-added resellers MSPs, and they stay with them. They’re pretty loyal. And it’s a very interesting space in terms of marketing, because there’s one thing that people don’t understand. Like I’m saying that it’s a kind of a blanket statement, but marketing is not necessarily a priority for them, right? Because when we think of marketing marketers, marketers are people that are kind of attached to their brand. They’re very much about their brand. So you’d find marketing and traditional ways of marketing at the OEM level. So at the channel marketing level, for example, somebody like Lenovo, they would be very much about how do you talking about their brand? Are you respecting branding guidelines? And it goes all the way down to colors of the logo and things like that. But when you talking about the VAR, they’re not really interested in all that, right? They’re interested in sales, they’re interested in what makes sense for the client. So I found that the way to arbitrate all that is to make it about the end customer because everybody wins when the end customer’s engaged.

George: Well, it’s interesting when we talk about the end customer, and we talk about the level of trust that the value-added reseller or the managed service provider has. And in some of my investigations in the last year, I’ve asked a couple of questions. Number one, how many media reps do you deal with, or agencies call on you at your local business? And they’ll usually give a number between 10 and 20. That’s a lot of people trying to eat that lunch. And then when you say, well, how many IT professionals, then you probably don’t use value-added reseller or managed service provider because the end-user doesn’t refer to them as that they, well, one actually said I got a guy. And the guy or the woman in the truck with the ladder shows up and installs the wiring and hooks up the servers and has been doing it for quite some time. And in fact, one business owner, it scared me a little bit, but then they said, you know, to be honest, the person that does my IT has all my passwords. And I found that that level of trust for the people that handle that level of technical ability for a business is very, very strong.

Ayan: It is. It is, that’s one thing, actually, they’re pretty great at its customer relationship because that’s what they do. So it’s kind of when you’re starting with that and you, so my approach to this is, so I talk a lot about customer experience and that’s the name of my company. So when we think about customer experience, we think about it from a marketer perspective. So we’re thinking about marketing automation and ascending customer data, email automation, and kind of like all the different touchpoints at the website level, and like all the different channels that the customer is getting engaged at, but they have firsthand knowledge. All of that knowledge is not even recorded. It’s nowhere. It’s just know-how and that’s pretty fantastic. And I help them leverage technology to make their life easier. And just to kind of sustain the way they are very hands-on with their clients, with technology, so that it helps them keep track of that.

MSP Marketing Troubles

George: We’ve found in some other research that managed service providers and value-added resellers, the vast majority of them have less than 10 employees. And so you’re looking at that going, boy that’s a smaller business, but they actually can be very large organizations that drive large top-line revenue because they use this general contractor concept where they reach out and use a number of other people or organizations or product sets to fulfill the needs of that customer of theirs. It seems to me like they are very consultative in their approach. And maybe don’t have a lot of loyalty towards the brand, they’re looking for something that can actually truly solve the problem. And this is where I’m going to segue into this concept of market development funds. So the brands that are out there like a Dell or a Lenovo or a Cisco, they have these funds available to make sure that their brand is the one that’s thought of when the VAR or the managed service provider goes to put together their program for that customer. And you come up with a great way to leverage some of those dollars. Now, for those our listeners that have ever heard of the term co-op advertising funds, that’s what this is. This is the old co-op advertising dollars, but this is on the manufacturer side, on that OEM side where the original equipment manufacturer is saying, “I’ll put up some dollars here to move these skews if you adhere to these guidelines.” So how did I do on my explanation there?

Ayan: It’s a great way to kind of place it ’cause that’s exactly what it is. So the Ciscos, the Lenovos of the world, they wanna take advantage of that face-time that the reseller or the MSP has with their client and they wanna their brand right. So they will put aside just like you said, market development funds for the reseller to position their brand and they come up with different programs. They call market a partner program, and it changes every quarter. There are some rules to follow up with. It becomes more and more complicated, but at the end of the day, what they want is face time with the client and kind of being top of mind when it comes to their brand. So how does the VAR or the MSP kind of navigate that right. Because if they wanna be successful to a certain level, they have to be brand-agnostic because they are the client, a trusted advisor. So their job is not to push a specific brand. Their job is to get the work done for their client, with whatever technology makes the most sense for them at that time. So one thing that is interesting to understand as well is that it’s kind of the reverse way. You are starting with the money in the bank, and then you’re asking yourself what you’re gonna do with it, which is something that was very new for me coming from the marketing space, because generally you have to fight for budgets. And what happens with MDF is that there are different ways to go about it, but you would at least have a program where depending on the number of sales that you have, you will have allocated marketing funds and kind of like buckets of money. And then you’d have a specific timeline that you have to spend it. So I had this kind of reverse problem where I had this very short time and I had to spend that money. So you have to spend it because that’s how you adhere to the partner programs that you signed, and that’s kind of how you make your OEM partner happy.

Ayan: So it’s very tricky. I think that it’s not something that can be very systemized in a way. You have to kind of know your way around these different programs. And it comes down to two relationships. You have to understand what is important to them? So what is important to the OEM is not necessarily what’s important to the VAR. So you have to arbitrate that. But the end of the day, the only thing that matters is what is important to the customer. Because if you are doing a campaign and there’s no engagement, nobody’s winning. So the way I approach this, I really try to tell my clients that they have to be mindful about MDF. They definitely have to use them because that’s how they stay compliant in the partner programs that they have adhered to, but at the same time how do they leverage that to succeed at marketing for themselves? So, one way to do it is to make sure that you are setting up your marketing program for the year. And you’re like, okay, this is what I have available. This is what I see coming. And how can I budget that? How can I leverage these MDF to be successful at doing marketing for me, for my company? And then what is the best way? Can I align myself with this specific vendor for that type of technology? So that’s one way think about it. So it could be okay, I’m gonna be thinking about Cisco, for everything networking, I’m gonna be working with them. And it actually is super interesting because if you go in depth with one manufacturer, it’s not a bad way to go about it because to be successful, you do need them to support you on the presale side as well. So the relationship there is super important as well. So when you’re doing events or you’re doing things like that, you’re building your network, you’re building trust with the brand. And that means that maybe you’re gonna get referral from Cisco if something comes up, if they have an interesting lead for you, you will stay top of mind because they know that you’re successful or branding for them that you can actually represent their company in a way that makes sense for them.

George: That’s an extra win I wasn’t even thinking of. First, you had me at there’s budget. so we’re not fighting to get budget. We’ve got the dollars. We know that we we’ve got X number of dollars. We’re marketing our organization. We actually, here’s another problem, content. No, you’re gonna, there’s some content here too. I think Cisco’s got some pretty good content, but then you align yourself with the regional manager, whoever it is that you’re contacting. And they happen to have somebody raise their hand and say they wanna buy 15 of X. And they look to your organization as saying, that’s the one that’s aligned to our brand. So that’s awesome. I wasn’t even thinking about that. It’s interesting how you’re leveraging this universe to help these players. And I have had the privilege of meeting a number of these organizations over the last year. And I find that they’re very, very smart people, technically savvy that do not understand the power that exists with certain pieces of marketing technology to drive more scale in their business. But yet when you talk to them, they want to grow their business. So it’s not like they’re sitting there going, “Oh, I have too much work.” No, they’re very laser-focused on growing their business. It just might be opening up their minds to some of the things that they might do. And this is really that customer experience that you’ve been out professing to these organizations. What sort of uptake have you been getting from the value-added resellers and the managed service providers that you’ve been working with?

Ayan: So it’s a very exciting time to be in the industry, to be in the channel because there was an acceleration in the past years in the B2B space and the B2B technology space coming from BC. People had to catch up with the trends a lot faster because the challenge used to be a lot more sheltered in terms of keeping up with marketing. Cause like I said, things were coming. It was a lot more easy to navigate in terms of what to do. And they were basing their growth based on referrals and things like that. So now what’s happening is that I’m getting calls where, or having meetings with clients where they’re like, okay, I have to pivot everything. I have to become digital, especially now because it’s an industry that has been relying heavily on trade shows and meeting people face to face and doing in-person events. So now it’s how do I keep my clients engaged? How do I educate them? So it’s super interesting what’s happening right now in the space. So my role is to really help them navigate their business goals. So I don’t necessarily make it about marketing. Marketing is means to an end. And I know that what they’re interested in is growth and sales, and it’s really how can marketing help you achieve your goals. And sometimes it’s unnecessarily what you think, it’s like, so if I talk a little bit about what used to exist in this space when I was on the other side of this, when I was myself working for a VAR, I would have a lot of offers around marketing that would be very cookie cutter. So it would be a lot of campaign in a box, things like that. Though I will never use, even if the MDF was available, even if the OEM was like, okay, go ahead, and this is all paid for, just use it. It was still not worth my time. So what I really try to do for my clients is doing marketing that is gonna help them fulfill their goals. So get away from performative marketing. So there you go. This is like, I did it. So now I should get paid. Instead of having that way of going about marketing, it’s really about, these are your goals and we are delivering on them and that’s how you kind of measure success, not just getting it done, right?


George: No, and that is where we are today, where we have this ability to show that ROI and to show the performance metrics and really deliver that to our customer. And you’ve done a great job at explaining a very complex, I wish you would’ve met you year and a half ago ’cause you’ve could’ve saved me a whole bunch of trial and error because it is a very complex world, but there’s an enormous opportunity here in this world to help these organizations improve their buyer’s journey. Well, thank you Ayan Adam, the founder of CX Atelier. And we’re really happy to have you join us today from Montreal and explain the world of market development funds and managed service providers and value-added resellers and original equipment manufacturers. See, I’m trying to get rid of the acronyms ’cause I’m on a war against acronyms lately. But thanks for joining us on the podcast with those learnings and insights, I’m sure that our listeners have enjoyed them and have a great day.

Ayan: Thank you so much for having me, George. Have a great day.

George: Well, when I first met Ayan, I wanted to have her as a guest to the podcast because there’s just so many learnings in there around the idea that we could take those market development funds and we could deploy them with customers like managed service providers, value-added resellers, is such a fascinating area. And you think back to the Janet Schijns episode, a number of months back where Janet talked about the convergence of the channel. She says to the people in the IT channel that the digital agencies are coming to eat our snacks and then eventually there’ll be eating our lunch. And then on the other side, we’re finding value added resellers and managed service providers that have an enormous amount of trust with their customer base. And they’re looking to do other things. And now that we need e-commerce in order to just run our bloody businesses, those two worlds are even more closely combined because we’re going to have cyber security threats the minute that we create that e-commerce portal. The minute we put any sort of IOT into our networks, we’re gonna punch holes in the firewall. Now we’re gonna need a managed service provider, or we’re going to need hardware from a value-added reseller. And then if we want to make that e-commerce site look beautiful and have search engine optimization and have some beautiful graphics and things like that, we’re gonna need a graphic designer from a MarTech Agency. So you could see where the two worlds are really starting to converge. And I believe as we move forward in the next three to five years, you’re gonna have these super agencies or these super managed service providers that have this whole stable of professionals that they can bring together to really bring that complete solution home for their end-user. So thanks to Ayan for sharing all of that great information and insights in this week’s edition of the Conquer Local podcast. You can continue the conversation with Ayan or any of our guests on the Conquer Local community. And we’re seeing these conversation threads go on and on. It’s absolutely fantastic. And our guests love it. You can speak to Ayan or any of the guests in the community, or you can speak to Brent, the sound engineer or producer Colleen or myself, and give us some suggestions for season four. We’re planning season for the 2021 episodes of the Conquer Local podcast right now. And we’re looking for your feedback or insights on topics that we should cover, potential guests that we should reach out to. We’re looking for all of that today as we start to plan Q1 two, three, and four of 2021 and season four of the Conquer Local podcast. My name is George Leith, keep conquering. I’ll see you when I see you.

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