Marketing Skills for IT Professionals
Shrinking IT budgets, savvier customers and a saturated market have created an environment where IT professionals working in customer relationship management (CRM) and e-commerce have to add marketing to their growing list of required skills. Marketing skills have become a necessary component to success in this competitive industry.
A recent survey by the IT Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) showed that IT customers are driving IT professionals to develop different marketing strategies. The survey showed that in addition to being more proactive about contacting IT service providers, today’s customers are more specific about what they want.
“They’ve done more research, they understand what’s out there, and they’re more educated,” said Tony Sciacca, vice president of sales, bTrack Inc., a company that offers a CRM product design for medium-sized businesses. Sciacca said that ease-of-use and simplicity of the application, along with customizability, are important things to customers.
“There are so many players in the marketplace that you can’t be everything to everyone. You have to pick either a vertical market or a specific problem area that people have and focus on that. Our product is designed specifically for customers who want to install locally, want a Web-based application and want to be able to customize that to their business needs,” Sciacca said.
The climate has changed since the first CRM and e-commerce packages were introduced. Over the years, customer needs and expectations have evolved along with technology. “What customers have really realized over the last six years has been that they are no longer looking for the magic pill. They just want basic functionality to work properly. They’re no longer looking for all the bells and whistles. They want reliability in their products, so their expectations are more realistic today about what the technology can do for them,” said Paula Moreira, vice president of learning, New Horizons Computer Learning Centers.
Bill Hoffman, director of hosted services and partner development for Sage Software Mid-Market CRM Solutions, agreed that today’s IT customers are more educated than in the past. “IT-savvy customers understand technology and how to implement it, but since CRM is really about connecting people with process, they still require some assistance to understand the human element and how to bring everything together.”
Reaching Today’s Customers
The ITSMA survey revealed that technology innovation, customer success stories and thought leadership on the application of technology are the top types of information that interest IT customers. Customers are no longer wooed by pitches of a high ROI. They want real-life examples of how solutions have helped other organizations.
“There are so many players in the marketplace that you can’t be everything to everyone. You have to pick either a vertical market or a specific problem area that people have and focus on that. Our product is designed specifically for customers who want to install locally, want a Web-based application and want to be able to customize that to their business leads,” explained Sciacca.
Moreira said that IT professionals working in CRM and e-commerce need to focus on things like the basics of the impact of usability and of being able to tie back any applications to business processes and business flow. “By focusing on that, IT pros are able to speak the customer’s language and are able to serve as consultants,” she said.
CRM/e-commerce service providers have to focus less on features and more on providing solutions to individual customer challenges. “It really needs to be switched to more of a consultative kind of approach in terms of what kind of problems do you have, where do you see your challenges, and what are some of the things that our product can do to help you solve those problems and challenges. Instead of saying here are all of my features, they have to become more of a solution to a client’s problems as opposed to taking a feature type of a marketing approach,” explained Sciacca.
Moreira added that IT professionals benefit from doing so many different customer implementations, and that they can use that knowledge to build better products. “If they can incorporate customer best practices—all of the lessons learned from previous implementations, how people customize the product, as well as how they’ve been able to get better usage out of the product—then their product is going to be superior because it’s building on the best practices of all their customers versus relying on the customer to have to dictate every step of the way how they want the product to work,” she said.
Developing Marketing Skills
“The most successful CRM business partners in our channel are well-rounded, not only from the technical perspective you would assume, they also demonstrate business acumen spanning all functions—marketing, sales, service and support. Frequently they do not market ‘products’ up front, but rather their ability to analyze businesses, their unique process and/or industry needs, and then develop solutions addressing their individual issues that may or may not include a technology component,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman explained that his company has business partner advisory councils, which divide into subgroups that focus on marketing and new feature development. They also offer training and marketing programs that their partners can use to further develop their marketing skills.
In addition to seminars and continuing education classes that teach marketing skills for IT professionals, Hoffman suggested that entering into mutual marketing programs with vendors may be a good way to further develop marketing skills.
Although Moreira agreed that marketing skills are important for IT professionals to develop, she cautioned that it is not necessary to become a marketing expert. She reiterates that today’s CRM/e-commerce customer is more concerned with the challenges that they have today and want realistic solutions that are supported by real case studies.
“We’re past where they have to create awareness for the product with broad marketing statements,” Moreira said. “We’re now really focused on how to achieve the really important results—whether it’s increasing sales, making a product easier to use, streamlining buying processes for e-commerce products on the Web, being able to tie back with internal systems—things that are now time savers and productivity enhancers.”
Kamilah Cummings is editorial intern for Certification Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.