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Marketing communications need to change to attract and retain MPS customers

As the market continues its transition from transactional business models towards providing print-as-a-service, Mike Anderson, Head of Marketing at Brother UK, examines how marketing communications need to change to attract and retain MPS customers

Mike Anderson
Mike Anderson

Managed print services are continuing to grow in popularity among SMBs, with Brother alone seeing its MPS business increasing by an annual rate of 90 per cent in the UK. It’s a result of more businesses recognising how printer leasing solutions with outsourced maintenance, can help them to boost productivity, increase efficiency and reduce costs.

By implementing MPS, businesses can transform print infrastructures to realise benefits including increased transparency in terms of print usage, which in turn helps to reduce costs by as much as 30 per cent. Of course, there are many other benefits that MPS can bring to an SMB, so it’s no surprise that we’re seeing a shift from vendors and the channel towards supplying print systems via contractual value-added services, rather than transactional business models.

As the market continues to move in the direction of services, it represents both a huge opportunity and a challenge for channel resellers to get to grips with. It’s a transition that will require carefully considered change across key business functions to successfully attract, service and retain customers.

Shifting to services requires a refreshed approach to marketing. Brand messaging and tactics need to be revised to effectively communicate the value that a reseller can deliver through services. It’s a different approach to the box shifting of products and needs to encompass the entire marketing mix, from direct marketing through to personal selling.

Changing the conversation
Fundamentally, the shift to services requires marketing communications to change from a product focus to solutions messaging. Then, a variety of platforms may need to be employed to deliver meaningful content to current or potential customers.

In Brother UK’s own transition towards services, for example, we’ve worked in collaboration with titles including The Telegraph and The Guardian, to deliver insightful, trusted content about MPS that’s useful to both IT managers and a broader business audience.

While platforms don’t have to take the form of national news outlets, channel frms need a pedestal, like their own website, social media feeds, or a customer’s trade media, to provide insight on areas of interest, be it vertical expertise or broader market knowledge. In doing this, they should take the focus off ‘product pushing’ and salesy language to become a trusted source of information, sharing knowledge and advice about the challenges or opportunities facing their end-customers.

Increasing visibility across digital platforms is also important for channel partners to be seen and heard as service providers. For example, we’ve adapted the content on Brother’s website to outline how our solutions can solve common pain points in businesses, like productivity or cost burdens.

One of the key channels by which we distribute meaningful content is an online hub called Spark. The Spark hub is a platform for us to share business solutions focused content, that isn’t necessarily focused on Brother. We currently have content aimed towards SMBs, healthcare, education and retail, so when seeking out information, IT managers are able to find relevant and useful content whatever their sector. We also write about hot, on-trend topics which are highly talked about, such as collaboration, productivity and efficiency, all key things that businesses want to know how to improve because of the benefits they can bring.

By going through a digital transformation and changing the conversation between the company and its customers, channel partners will be able to directly speak to desired verticals and grow their profile as a trusted, key source of information in the sector.

Shifting tactics
A revised content strategy needs to be linked up with search engine optimisation (SEO). SEO is equally as important as channel firms switch to services, but the terms that we’d want to rank for are of course different. Dealerships need to develop website content that helps them to be visible for search terms like ‘benefits of managed print services’ rather than just ‘office printers’, for example. While the market remains in a transition period, SMBs will be doing a lot of research about print-as-a-service, and this is a great opportunity for the channel to be seen as having the answers, which is the first step in being viewed as a trusted services provider.

Once an informative, relevant, timely content strategy has been developed, a social strategy also needs to come into consideration to disseminate content. Social media is of course a great platform that businesses can use to reiterate their brand values and what their company stands for. By spreading awareness of things like corporate social responsibility credentials and the skilled people in your organisation, you can develop a great perception around your brand which will leave a customer feeling more confident about doing business with you.

Before customers will invest in a service, they are perhaps more likely to consume more content surrounding the potential hardware, system, price, service levels and benefits before choosing a supplier. Therefore, channel partners need to maximise their presence in the marketplace outside of a content strategy too, by executing other types of brand building and reputational work relevant to their target market.

The evolution of personal selling
Outside of communications tactics, price will always be paramount when decision makers are selecting a product or a service, but a service-orientated company may be less reliant on sales discount tactics to secure new business, in comparison to transactional businesses. The focus of a customer who is interested in investing in MPS, will be mainly on the problem solving solutions that it offers and the long-term benefits it can bring to their organisation.

The role of personal selling is a key part of marketing communications that will have to change. People are less receptive to traditional sales techniques, but instead they want to speak to experts who know what they’re talking about. Hence, recently, salespeople have become more like consultants, who can advise a customer on a solution or product.

IT managers from different verticals want to speak to someone who has equal knowledge about their sector. The method of selling of products has moved on dramatically due to the nature of the sale. By offering a continued service, trust needs to be built between the channel partner and the customer. This can be achieved by training staff available to become consultants and to advise customers on the service they’re receiving.

Channel partners should be able to look at the customers’ business and create a bespoke service, tailored to their needs and which will in turn bring the most benefits to the company. They should also be able to advise post-implementation, making small tweaks to the service when needs be.

Personal selling shouldn’t stop after the system has been installed. Channel partners implementing MPS will be offering an ongoing service where a business development manager should constantly be touching base with the customers’ business. This means when the time comes to renewing their contract, there won’t be any doubts as they’ve received such an outstanding service and saved on office running costs throughout the agreement.

Channel opportunity
When it comes down to fulfilling this service, it is important to realise that it comes with a considerable amount of added benefits. Therefore, it is vital that channel partners take marketing communications, digital messaging, SEO and personal selling tactics into account. Deals can take up to twelve months to finalise and come through, so you need to be able to forecast incoming wins in advance.

The choice of offering MPS might not be possible for a lot of vendors and channel partners as they simply might not have the in-house expertise to provide the high quality service. However, many vendors are 100 per cent reliant on their channel partners, selling all of their products and services through resellers. Taking this into account, vendors and channel partners should have conversations to see if they could collaborate and share in-house resources so the relationship will become beneficial to both parties.

We’d like channel partners to view us as a fundamental extension to their business, as by collaborating we’re able to add extra value to the partnership.

With the growing success of service proved solutions, vendors and resellers have recognised the opportunities that come along with acquiring and maintaining an ongoing relationship after implementation. It especially offers the safeguarding of revenue by entering into a long-term agreement, as well as providing other opportunities with the replenishment of genuine consumables to guarantee maximum product uptime and warranty integrity.

However, for channel partners to gain these long-term relationships, they need to become successful in winning contractual business. This can be done by looking at their current marketing strategies and adapting them to suit the shifting marketplace.

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