Competition in the technology and software industry is becoming more intense every day. Creating and executing a well-rounded IT marketing strategy is essential to stealing a march on your competition.
The importance of effective marketing in the modern IT industry
IT services have become a commodity. With tens of thousands of US-based IT firms and many more international options, IT is a buyers’ market. The choices consist of traditional hardware resellers, service providers, and systems integrators.
Many of these firms overlap to produce compelling offerings, and service levels are generally consistent. IT firms are also usually good at digital marketing and using a range of tactics to stand out. The challenge for IT marketers is to get noticed above this intense competition.
How can a marketing strategy make a difference?
We have given you the bad news! The good news is that with a carefully developed strategy, IT marketers can make a big difference.
Getting in the top-3 search results on Google is a must. Gearing your entire marketing strategy around this is a great place to start.
Another important consideration is whether to use an in-house or an outsourced marketing team. Of course, both approaches have pros and cons, but outsourcing the work reduces the costs of permanent employees and ensures you can benefit from top marketing talent.
Even with an in-house marketing team already in place, it can pay to outsource some technical aspects such as search engine optimization (SEO) to maximize Google search results. However, the time and focus it takes to achieve top-3 listings on Google means it is unrealistic to expect marketeers to juggle SEO along with email campaigns, event management, etc.
The Top Challenges Of Creating An Effective It Marketing Strategy
IT marketing professionals’ main challenges generally fall into three main areas — inbound, outbound, and nurture.
Inbound marketing pulls interested, relevant people to your business. These hot buyers are the ones that meet the right buying criteria that your firm needs and are actively seeking solutions. Inbound marketing is a targeted approach to capture these hot prospects’ attention and build connections or, ideally, conversations with them.
The job of an IT marketeer is to ensure that when these prospects arrive at your website, they can easily find the information they are looking for. They are seeking advice, education, and thought leadership to help them make their buying decision.
In short, inbound marketing:
- Acts as a ‘pull’ to bring people into your website.
- Seeks to answer prospects’ questions.
- Builds a connection with website visitors.
- Provides useful, thought-provoking content to inspire prospects to buy from your firm.
Examples of inbound marketing are:
- Informative content such as eBooks and blog articles.
- Search results.
- Social media posts.
- Opted-in emails (i.e., emails the recipient has asked to receive).
Outbound marketing aims to reach larger numbers of people with information about a firm’s products and services. Unlike inbound marketing, it is not as highly targeted and is a one-way conversation to promote the value of services.
Examples of outbound marketing are ‘push’ platforms such as advertising, broadcast media adverts, telesales, direct (postal) mailers, or email blasts to large databases.
Although outbound marketing can be targeted to some extent (e.g., adverts in IT-related publications), they are designed to create a more general awareness. Outbound marketing:
- It aims to sell products or services to a broader audience.
- It is a one-directional advertisement or email.
While salespeople hate the term, brand awareness is still a vital part of marketing. It might not always be possible to trigger a buying decision, but positioning your firm front and center of target buyers’ minds is essential when they reach the stage of researching potential solutions.
Inbound and outbound marketing focuses on bringing new prospects into your firm. Nurturing is about providing existing contacts with useful information if they have not yet made a purchase.
Nurturing is a vital element of an effective marketing strategy because you have invested time and dollars to bring a prospect to your website. However, only a small percentage of inbound leads are ready to make a purchase immediately. This means there are potentially thousands of contacts in IT companies’ databases that need some extra work before they are ready to buy. Not nurturing leads after their initial contact potentially risks losing the opportunity to connect and turn them into a paying customers.
Good nurturing programs seek to provide relevant information based on a prospect’s interests. For example, sending a storage or backup campaign to a prospect who recently enquired about cybersecurity may not be the best approach. With nurture programs, the idea is to build on the prospect’s initial information, provide further information as required, and lead the person on a journey to becoming a customer.
How to drive a successful IT marketing strategy
Focusing on content, data, channels, and ROI is key to driving website traffic, convert leads and visibility. Combined with a proactive sales team, all those aspects of marketing will combine to build a healthy opportunity pipeline.
Creating compelling content is crucial to getting noticed and cementing your firm’s credentials. As a result, content creation is going up. For example, 86% of organizations use content marketing to create leads, and 79% use it to educating or nurturing their audience.
Generating qualified leads is about getting the right content in front of relevant readers at the right stage in their buying cycle.
Content is still king from six-second videos for LinkedIn at the beginning of a prospect’s journey to whitepapers and customer testimonials later in the buying cycle. In addition, organic content is vital because only 15% of Google clicks are on sponsored ads. This means good content and optimized landing pages are vital for getting your content seen.
Building a complete IT marketing strategy will focus on producing good content at each stage of the funnel.
The first step to getting more aggressive with your content strategy is to plan a content funnel. This guides prospects through a three-stage buying cycle from early-stage interest to validation.
Stage one content includes
- Social media posts
Stage two content includes
- Use cases/case studies
Stage three content includes
- Comparisons with competitors
- Datasheets/product specifications
- Customer stories & testimonials
- Proof of concept
- Free trial
- Consultation sessions
The good news about content marketing is that you have a great opportunity to stand out by doing it well. Many surveys show that IT marketing professionals believe they are sufficiently proficient at content marketing. For instance, this survey showed that only 42% believe they are currently doing enough.
The first step is to assess your current content and build a realistic schedule for filling gaps at all three funnel stages.
Build your database and platforms
Once you have content, you need to get it to the right people. Choosing the right promotional platforms and building a qualified database is vital to distributing your content effectively.
You can have the best content globally, but if the right people do not see it, then it is worthless. With a tech-savvy audience willing and able to use different platforms to find information about new products, it is no longer sufficient to rely on traditional cold calling approaches.
Some quick wins to building your database are as follows:
- Offer a subscription incentive for your newsletter.
- Post your content in relevant LinkedIn Groups.
- Use a website traffic tracking tool to identify website visitors.
- Carry out an SEO audit on your website.
- Get backlinks to your website by sending quality articles to relevant websites and publications.
- Run some targeted Google Ads with a special promotion or extended free trial.
- Seek out some influencers such as recognized consultants to promote your brand.
When planning your marketing investment, you need to decide how to apportion your budget to target your buying personas best. Generally, it is wise to invest around 50% of your marketing budget on Google AdWords campaigns.
The remaining 50% is split a lot more evenly among different platforms. Consider 15-17% on Facebook Ads to circulate content and videos. 10-12% should be invested in SEO tools and keyword research to keep organic traffic flowing into your website. You will also need to find room for content creation, sponsored Twitter posts, influencers, and PR.
Working with partners is also an excellent way to scale up your marketing efforts. In a nutshell, channel marketing is working with partners on joint go-to-market initiatives. For IT firms, good examples of partners can be:
- Other IT firms with different skills (e.g.,, cybersecurity-focused firms could partner with a networking specialist to tap into different customer bases).
- Independent consultants looking for different solutions to offer to their end-users.
- Larger vendors or systems integrators looking for localized provision of IT support services to their clients.
Alongside direct marketing activities, well-executed channel marketing with partners can have many benefits for IT companies.
- Cost-efficient: Different partners often have relationships with end-users to create much cheaper and quicker leads than direct marketing. Partners can also agree to split the costs of a campaign or make a contribution towards it. Channel marketing can also bring extra resources without hiring extra staff, as channel partners will often have marketing teams or business development reps to help out.
- Increase reach: Simply put, working with an ecosystem of partners means that there will be more people talking about your services than simply your own staff. If trusted consultants positively refer to your products, this can only be a good thing. Even simple things like posting articles with backlinks on each others’ websites and sharing social media posts can greatly affect brand awareness.
- Tap into different marketing platforms: Channel partners run their own campaigns for their customers and prospects. Integrating your products and services into these campaigns is another way of getting your content in front of different people.
Working with sales
Working with sales can be challenging for IT marketing professionals. The sales versus marketing conflict are prevalent in many organizations. It can be a major, non-productive distraction if not managed correctly.
Sales-marketing conflict usually comes down to a lack of communication. In addition, personality clashes are common, with salespeople often outgoing risk-takers, while marketing can be more methodical and process-orientated. Overlapping roles can also be an issue, particularly about lead definitions and who is responsible for following up or nurturing prospects.
Whatever the cause of the disconnect, getting sales onside makes sense for marketing teams and the wider business. This can be achieved in a few simple steps:
- Clearly define roles and responsibilities: Establish KPIs for marketing and sales that align with a common revenue creation goal. This removes the “it’s not my job” syndrome and ensures everyone knows their role in winning new customers.
- Emphasize collaboration: It sounds simple, but remind all teams that they are working on the same common goal of winning new business. This helps to ensure a smooth buyer journey from initial interest through to nurturing and lead qualification.
- Create a top-down strategy: Failure is almost guaranteed if marketing is chasing leads in SMBs while sales are focused on government or large enterprises. Although this is an extreme example, it is not unheard of. So instead, focus the strategy around the customer and figure out each department and individual’s role in winning that new business.
- Communicate: Although it sounds simple, some sales and marketing teams only communicate in the monthly meeting or via email. That environment is not conducive to collaboration, information sharing, or two-way feedback. For remote working, use modern collaboration tools to share information efficiently. In the office, encourage sales and marketing teams to sit together to foster better collaboration and break down the ‘us versus them mentality.
- Create communication and resources channels: Although it is still common, email is not the best way of communicating within teams. Instead, share important resources and updates via platforms such as Microsoft Teams, so everyone can access information when they need it.
Understanding the value of each activity or promotion channel is the bread and butter of good marketing. It is essential to deliver consistent ROI and to articulate it within the business.
ROI needs to be measured both in terms of content and distribution platforms.
- UTMs to track where links were clicked.
- Google Analytics to measure your website traffic.
- Trackable links on content such as LinkedIn Smart Links or Pardot custom redirects.
- A/B testing on email campaigns to test which subject lines and other variables are most effective.
Measuring ROI is not just about reading metrics but following the data and using it to guide future investments. Therefore, any tips for IT marketing should include analyzing and presenting ROI data within the business.
Steps to create a game-changing IT marketing plan
Creating a game-changing approach is essential for modern IT firms. Sticking with the traditional methods of mass email blasts and cold call follow-ups is outdated. This is proven by Forbes’ finding that buyers review more than 11 pieces of content in the average sales cycle.
To create a game-changing IT marketing plan, implement these significant steps:
- Define top-level objectives such as new customers per quarter, revenue targets, upsell, cross-sell, etc.
- Build a high-level plan that includes marketing and sales activities with quarterly deliverables plus checkpoints.
- Get sales and marketing teams aligned on KPIs, roles, and responsibilities.
- Implement inbound, outbound, and nurturing marketing programs.
- Create content to entice potential buyers at each stage of the sales cycle.
- Consider working with channel partners and develop joint go-to-market plans to access their customers.
- Measure ROI to ensure you focus on the content and platforms that deliver the best results.
A well-planned marketing strategy is not a nice-to-have for IT firms. But, as competition becomes increasingly fierce, it is an essential ingredient for finding and winning new customers.
Building in the time to sit back and analyze the results is vital for understanding what works – and most importantly, what converts. Although one platform may create hundreds of leads, this can be a wasted spend on generating and qualifying them if they are the wrong type of persona.
It is also important to remember that any paid advertising platforms and SEO tactics are only as good as the content you are promoting. With this in mind, IT marketers need to stay in constant touch with what makes their customers tick – talking to clients is not only a job for sales. Solicit feedback from friendly customers on what ma,e them buy, what challenges they were looking to solve, and what value they get from your firm. Doing so will help you craft new content and messaging that speaks the language of your potential prospects.
As with all marketing programs, some things will work well, while others will disappoint. With a well-balanced IT marketing plan, you can make adjustments accordingly and use the data to make refinements.