Being an analyst, you get a broad view of all the entities competing for the same service provider dollar. You also get a good perspective on how service providers can get the best bang for their marketing buck. And being a blogger, you also pick up a strong sense for the effectiveness of media outreach, but I'll save that discussion for another time.
There is no one-stop support shop for vendors to find and attract new clients, and influence the market – they need to gauge where they need to build influence, using both direct tactical measures – i.e. speaking at conferences or advertising, and indirect measures – i.e. influencing influencers or subliminal branding. The current pull-back in discretionary spending from vendor marketing budgets is seriously exposing the bloated array of firms feeding off the vendor marketing-dime, and with a lot less to go round, we're going to see some firms exit the market, some market consolidation, and others simply going out of business. We'll also see some boutiques linger around the industry because their owner has no idea what else to do, and his only costs are living and travel expenses, and maintaining a website. Desperate times call for desperate behavior and none more so than for many of those entities forging their living selling to IT services and BPO firms.
And spare a thought for the outsourcing vendor - it has to tackle razor-thin margins with being the smartest, the most innovative and the most operationally efficient; while having a great brand, a great corporate culture, a credible Green strategy, an advisor relations strategy, great analyst write-ups, spotless client references; while being incredibly visible to business decision-makers… and be able to do this with smart media outreach with its market-makers speaking at the best conferences.
Long gone are the astronomical sales and marketing spending-sprees of yesteryear. Now, every expenditure is scrutinized, and vendors have to demonstrate actual lead-generation attribution for every dollar that flows out of the organization – especially with firms with whom they do not have an existing relationship. Moreover, those vendors which can successfully manage the right marketing-ecosystem within a reasonable budget outlay are likely to be emerge from this slump in a much stronger market position than those who are incapable of changing their ways and learning how to tackle their market-management. So let's take a look at the current marketing ecosystem facing vendors in the outsourcing industry:
Today's marketing ecosystem for the outsourcing vendor
Marketing, Branding & PR: There are a few discreet firms which specialize in marketing strategy and tactical PR outreach. Vendors need to make tough
decisions whether to retain much of this work inhouse, or slim down its internal marketing function to use a third-party. Most vendors will not be able to afford both. With some vendors, they are going to benefit far more from a third-party marketing firm that has a deep understanding of the industry and can execute programs and campaigns that are measurable and actionable. My advice is to put prospective marketing agencies to the test and challenge them on how exactly they can bring both direct and indirect influence and visibility to the organization. Many vendors could actually save money outsourcing many of their marketing activities to a nimble marketing agency, but they need to ensure they handpick the right marketeers who can drive their marketing agenda in this climate.
Information Providers: In the past, some vendors have spent a lot of money on research firms (some call themselves "analysts", but they are really in the information-provision business). In this market, much of the information vendors need on their market and their competitors is freely available. If you have a couple of smart inhouse analysts, you can do a lot of the information gathering you need inhouse and avoid spending a lot on expensive information that you could have pulled off the web yourself. Besides, are your competitors really dumb enough to expose their competitive secrets to firms which produce publicly available competitive profiles? Like the former category, vendors should decide whether to retain this work internally, or use a third-party firm. Having both is likely to be wasted money.
Industry Analysts: Like it or not, some industry analysts have a significant amount of influence over your prospects and customers. Most of the FORTUNE 1000 relies heavily on analyst validation – they trust their advice. Analysts can be a very influential indirect channel. However, that means you need to focus on analysts that spend a lot of time with buyers, and have a lot of buyer-clients. The more you can convince them you are the real deal, and the more happy clients you can deliver up to bear all about their experience with you, the more assured analysts will be of your delivery excellence. However, that means you need to conduct some due-diligence on which analysts are actually influencing, before investing a lot of executive time with them. Some branded analyst firms only have vendors as their clients; they are not really influencing anyone, besides you and your competitors. They will really struggle in this recession, as their only real value to you is market insight, which might be superb, but is – at the end of the day – a discretionary cost. My advice: invest in analysts who influence your prospects and clients. And one easy rule-of-thumb: if they fail to impress you, they probably also fail to impress your clients…
Sourcing Advisors: As we have discussed here on several occasions, some sourcing advisors can play a pivotal role in managing outsourcing evaluations and escorting clients through to a contract. Investing in a couple of executives to mine relationships with some of the key advisors in a no-brainer: you need to ensure you are on the radar-screen of advisors when they send out an RFP. In addition, you have probably also noticed that most of them are now targeting vendor marketing dollars to supplement their revenue streams in this market, with services that can help your marketing and sales strategies. However, my advice is not to confuse investing money with sourcing advisors with influencing their "favor" with a deal they may be running – it doesn't (and shouldn't) work that way. Project directors in advisors who run individual deals are highly unlikely to pay any attention to (or have any knowledge of) the fact you have invested funds in one of their training, marketing or research programs. Judge their vendor-offerings on face-value: if they provide you with critical support, then evaluate them like any other third-party service offering, like those described above.
Media: Gaining visibility with decision-makers has never been so challenging in today's information-cluttered market place. However, in cost-constrained times, not everyone can afford sporting-heros or prime-time commercials. Moreover, broad-sheet business media (the most read by C-suite execs) is still very expensive, and the cost of buying up mindshare in the Journal is going to significantly eat into other areas of your marketing budget. Laser-focused targeting is required to capture mindshare through the media. My advice is to use micro-targeting to pinpoint specialist media that has the readership you want (which may be a step or two down from the C-suite) and also research which social media is impacting your client base (i.e. LinkedIn / Google / popular blogs). Again, evaluate niche marketing boutiques that can take on this task for you – they should know exactly where you should invest, and have the negotiation experience to get you some good media sponsorship deals.
Conferences: This is a tough year for the conference circuit. Many vendors are opting to pay entry fees to network with clients and prospects and avoid buying up expensive booth-space or paid speaking spots. This is a time to get a good discount from your conference provider. However, having the right prospect see you present could net you millions of dollars. Tough times these may be, but being at the right conferences is still a great way to meet people. Just take time to ask around which conferences will get you the client access you need. Avoid mass-marketed trade shows which tend to only attract other vendors and junior folk from clients in this market. Moreover, a good conference should still get you access to multiple advisors/analysts/clients that you can schmooze in one quick-hit, so these are still a good use of your time and money. In addition, really ramp up your webcasts this year – clients are much more accustomed to desk-based discussion is this market, and the cost-effectiveness of driving a compelling presentation and Q&A to a few hundred prospects is the best bang you will get, provided you promote it right and have interesting stuff to talk about.
Industry Associations: Some are good, some are jaded, some were jaded and have bounced-back, and some never were any good in the first place (but never seem to go away). I'm not going to "out" any on here, but ask around the industry to find out which associations still attract new members, have good leadership with passion and energy, and are respected throughout the community at large. You may be surprised…
Client Hospitality: Investing in your loyal clients and hot prospects in this market is money well-spent. It's time to get tighter with what you have, in addition to going after new business. Investing good money in entertaining your clients, have them network with each other, and meet other industry experts who can offer insight and value is very smart. I've been to several vendor-client dinners this year and can honestly say the goodwill gained from the host vendor easily outweighed the cost of the shmancy restaurant bill. Plus, who turns down good food and booze in this economy?
Direct Sales: You can't fault the old fashioned way of bringing in business, but you can't just call up firms and ask to "talk with whoever is in charge of outsourcing". Save your money and send your market-makers to the right conferences where they can talk to those "outsourcing executives".