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The Partner Channel Podcast Episode #30

How to Enable Your MSP Partners

Show Synopsis

In this Partner Channel Podcast episode, Tori Barlow sits down with Ayan Adam from CX Atelier to discuss why digital marketing is crucial for MSPs.


  • How to create a local presence digitally

  • Tips on creating a scalable marketing strategy

  • Why internal buy-in accelerates your channel

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The Script

Tori Barlow: Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, The Voice of the Channel. I’m Tori Barlow, VP of Marketing and Allbound. Excited to be here with Ayan Adam, founder of CX Atelier. Welcome, Ayaan. Thank you for being on our show. Could you start us off by walking through your background in the channel and how you ended up as the founder of CX Atelier?

Ayan Adam: Yes, thank you very much for having me, Tori. So I’ve been in the channel for something like five to six years now, and I started out as a partner. I was working for a value-added reseller, leading marketing there and operations. And then I was doing a lot of through-channel marketing with the vendors. So it was really interesting, there was a lot I didn’t know, I really come from corporate marketing. I started my career at L’Orèal and it was really brand marketing. And so when I discovered the channel, it was very different from what I knew before. I really thought it was a really interesting assignment from a marketing perspective. I learned a lot in the channel. And after a few years, I actually started my own agency and I’ve been now working on it successfully for a year now. And it’s an agency that’s catered specifically to the channel, to partners to manage service providers, and it’s really to help them with their marketing. We do have a focus on digital presence for MSPs. So that’s kind of the premise of just going very quickly to where am I situated in the channel. What do I do? A summary of it.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, you’ve definitely had a ton of experience as the partner end. As this, founder of this amazing company, so definitely excited to dive in with you. As we kind of look at the broad spectrum, we all know that the buying journey kind of starts online. I think one of the stats is 75% of buyers already make up their minds before they even talk to a sales rep. So the journey starts online and in order for companies to be discovered, they need to have an impeccable digital presence. So this includes SEO being found on local search or third-party review sites. I’m curious, how do you advise clients on developing a brand presence, and then what are the strategies that you suggest to implement?

Ayan Adam: So I’d say an impeccable online presence is something everybody would probably try to reach for it, it’s extremely difficult. I’d say that the biggest challenge was really to convince MSPs and to convince partners that they needed it in the first place. And I think that 2020 really changed the paradigm for everybody because all of the other ways of reaching out to customers, engaging with them, physical events, and all the other strategies people use to have kind of went away. So they really had to rethink everything. So starting my company and kind of that new context was super interesting because suddenly everybody was really open to thinking about what is my digital presence and a lot of them actually had no idea in terms of what’s out there about their company. Because when we think about it, we really just think about, OK, think about your website and we think a little bit about social media. Reputation management has so many different aspects to it, especially when it comes to online. So I always start with giving them a full picture of what is out there right now for their company. If we really start with the basics, sometimes we just like, look at, OK, how much of your information is actually not correct? Because a lot of the times they’re going to be listed with not necessarily the right address, not necessarily the right phone number. All that information is listed across the web and it kind of really hinders their kind of a cohesive brand presence online and people don’t necessarily realize this. So I always start with the basics, try to make people understand that they are local service providers and they should be found in local search.

Ayan Adam: And it’s not all that complicated. It’s really something that they can sell low-hanging fruit, something that we can fix. So we really developed marketing processes specifically for local search and local presence. It’s something that people really understand from a services perspective because they use it all the time, to hire any kind of type of contractor or service person or they do understand that if they want to find a lawyer or if they want to find somebody to help them with the landscaping, they will try to find them online, right? So when it comes to partners, it’s it is a little bit of the same where if you cannot be found locally, it becomes very difficult to kind of have that passive lead capturing system. A lot of the time the partners I work with have medium smaller companies and they don’t necessarily have a bunch of salespeople on staff. I tell them, your website is really the salesperson that works for you all the time never sleeps. So how can we kind of create this spread present that is going to position you to be found by the people that you want to reach out to? So we really start with the basics, and I try to demystify digital marketing and SEO. It’s something that people think is this dark art, this thing that doesn’t really make sense or you don’t necessarily know how people get ranked. It’s actually very systematic and we go about it with like processes that have been shown to work and we adapt them to the I.T. world.

Tori Barlow: I think that’s really important. The demystifying, because I think, folks who don’t have a ton of experience with SEO or search engine optimization could mistake it for this really technically advanced something, rather, you need a web developer. You need all of these resources. I think at the end of the day, we just need to adhere to what Google wants, and I’m sure you have a ton of strategy around that, a ton of methodology around that. It’s kind of like a plug-and-play. Do you also recommend any sort of paid search or do you primarily recommend the organic listings?

Ayan Adam: That’s actually a great question because a lot of the people I work with have already started with paid search because it’s kind of it’s a switch. You just turn on the switch and paid search can give you leads. Whereas with SEO and organic, it takes a lot of time. It’s really relative, but it does take time to kind of pick up. They generally come at it from a perspective of I want something to happen right now or tomorrow, ideally. Paid search is kind of the go-to for a lot of people. And one thing I find extremely interesting is the fact that it has become such a competitive landscape. When it comes to I.T. and when it comes to services related to I.T. and procurement for technology to do ads. If you don’t know what you’re doing and a lot of people don’t necessarily create the right kind of safeguards around their ads, where a lot of people are clicking on them that are absolutely not qualified. The money comes out, but it’s not getting them any qualified leads. That part is a bit tricky. There is a place for digital ads, there is a place for paid search. But I do believe that starting with the basics is really like planting a tree and just you watch it grow. You have to have the right foundations. If you do so, it’s something that’s not going to cost you down the line. It’s going to cost you a lot less than if you do paid search all the time. Because the thing with paid search is when you stop, it just completely stops. You’re not getting any more leads, right? Whereas with organic, it’s something that will constantly give you leads and you don’t have to keep throwing money at it. We really start with the basics of it.

Ayan Adam: I talk a lot about Google My Business, and that’s a great place to start for service providers, local service providers. We talk about the strategies to get them on the local pack to really get at the top three, places of the local pack, and then it becomes super competitive. People are like, how do I get there and why am I not there? And this guy is here? I do a lot of content, especially ungated content for MSPs to help them do this without them necessarily needing to hire a company where there’s a lot that they can actually do. I have a full guide on Google My Business for MSPs, and everything that they need to do, it’s something like 12, no 2250 words. Sorry, it’s on our website. I do also have another guide for Google ads on how to optimize your Google ads for MSPs. I really try to create content for people that don’t necessarily have an understanding of how it works. But then I’d say that you have to be you have to have a method, but you also have to be patient and really allocate the work. It’s not going to happen by itself.

Tori Barlow: We’ve definitely experienced that too. SEO is more of a crawl walk run if you ever run type of strategy and playbook. But I think it’s pretty easy to sway anyone in the MSP world or it world. Why you need this and the measurement piece behind it is also very easy to talk about. You can track this on Google Analytics for free. If you see increased website visits, that’s a really great sign and to Ayan’s point, this is all free, essentially. Just by turning on a few keywords or optimizing your home page or a few pages, you’ll start to see more traffic to your website and hopefully, in turn, more leads. I think it’s pretty easy to kind of snowball that into a strategy. All right. So they’ve talked about how to increase brand presence. Something else about brand that I want to talk to you about is, from partners that join forces to co-sell with a vendor. We know this could potentially lead to what we’re coining a brand war. So in other words, partners are less concerned about their vendor’s brand and more concerned about their own brand, which I’m sure you’ve seen a ton of. How do you recommend vendors and partners overcome this issue to find a way to co-sell? And also, most importantly, what’s in it for the partners?

Ayan Adam: Yes, this is a super interesting topic, I’ve seen the changes happening lately in the channel, in the past few years. There used to be this dynamic where partners would hide behind the vendor brand and they would actually try to leverage the brand recognition that was associated with the bigger manufacturer. It would be kind of how they went about it. And there were rather comfortable with that because they were kind of in the mindset of we sell technology. So if we sell technology, we care that, this is a technology you need to hear about. This is the brand, this is the manufacturer. But they went from that mindset to resell technology or we helped with technology to we sell ourselves. We are selling services, we’re selling people and we’re selling a brand.

Ayan Adam: So there is kind of this shift that happened where they see that the thing that resonates more with the end-user is really to know who they’re working with. Who they’re buying from and the partner really realized that if they put the spotlight on themselves, if they’ve really differentiated themselves and if they were not only talking about technology, they actually had a lot more success from a sales perspective. The shift kind of happened that way in terms, from a cultural perspective of them. From a marketing perspective, I think that the ones that are kind of slower to change are actually the vendors. The partners are really on the train to talk about themselves. There you can see that there is a huge amount of partners that kind of invested in the social media space. Linkedin has become really flooded with MSPs and owners and I.T. people that are really presenting themselves. Taking the spotlight, talking about what they do, talking about their company, talking about their own personal brand, this is a very like it’s a very different landscape than what we used to have before, right? They’re seeing success coming from that. There’s kind of a shift in mentality. I think that the vendors should really follow the partners and they should adapt because the strategies were before we used to create campaigns. They were really about brand placement and kind of these logo placement type of campaigns. I think that we should kind of come out of that paradigm and go into a new world, really follow what the partners want and let them lead because they know how to reach out to their clients. Follow their lead and kind of a little bit I’d say, dial back on the logo placement type of marketing that we use to do. Co-marketing is not just a co-logo, co-branding in that sense, it’s more about a movement in terms of selling that is really has a center, the end-user. What does the end-user care about? He doesn’t care about logos they really care about if you can articulate how your solution is going to help them and having the partner kind of lead that conversation. I think it’s beneficial for both the partner and the vendor as well to be successful.

Tori Barlow: I think that’s a really great point, and, we have a ton of customers who love to co-brand with their partners, but I think it just starts there like you’re mentioning. Really what I think you’re recommending is, you have to have this cohesive relationship. It’s not transactional. It’s not just about placing your logo on a piece of content and giving it to a prospect. It’s really how do you jive with this vendor? First and foremost, how do the vendors jive with each of their partners, and what’s best for the partner in order to sell? I think that’s a really key piece that is lacking in the industry, but to your point, maybe headed in that right direction. As we continue to work from home and you have to make these connections, you can’t fly to a partner to really have lunch with them. How are you going to have this cohesive selling relationship outside of just co-branding? Our final question, comes from our first-party data. We just did a really interesting analysis Ayan with all of our customer data. What we found was fifty-six percent of channel programs report into sales. Typically, we’ve heard they report into marketing, they report into sales, they kind of live on an island. But what our data showed was 56% reported the sales. So with that, you obviously have different silos of teams, maybe not a cohesive sales and marketing team quite yet. We all know if you’re in the partner world, you need to have buy-in from the marketing team. You need their resources and they help you with content. How do you recommend teams get buy-in from the internal marketing team to build a cohesive content strategy?

Ayan Adam: That’s a great question, I think it really all comes down to. So it’s really like we have to not necessarily reverse the motion, but have it both ways. Where instead of being a conversation from the top-down, it’s really a two-way conversation where both are learning from the field. I don’t think it’s actually I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing that channel is kind of linked with sales. Because it’s more a question of fieldwork and really being there with the partners and the people that are the most invested within the partners are generally their account managers or the people that have one on one relationship with them. I really do believe that they do have very important data that they can share back with the marketing team and tell them about how their products are received by the partners, how it’s also received by the end-user through the partners. If there is an efficient way to collect that information, to collect that first-party information from them, it is definitely something that can feed into the marketing machine and help them make better decisions, potentially. Because we think about a product from a product development and product marketing perspective, but then the way it’s received, it’s digested by the channel is extremely different. The motions are extremely different in terms of the partners don’t necessarily sell the product the same way. They don’t necessarily refer to it the same way, they don’t explain the features in the same way, and oftentimes they bundle it with other products, right? It’s something that is a bit hard to understand marketing people, for internal marketing teams because they really think about the product as living in a silo. The reality is when it’s presented to the end-user, it really comes from a more complex solution. This is also why the channel has its place and is extremely important that there’s so much improvement that’s happening through the channel because organizations definitely need channel partners. They definitely need people that can create solutions that are unique to their organization. The way they go about it is not necessary to align with one specific vendor it’s to bring a host of solutions together. Thinking about it from that perspective. Thinking about it from the perspective of building ecosystems and finding the place for your product in an ecosystem. Thinking about how it’s received from the partner side and how it’s pitched to the end-user, it’s sometimes absolutely not what you think it’s actually going to be. It’s not how you think it’s going to be talked about. So when we come to and I’m saying we but because I also understand it from an internal marketing perspective. This is also my background, how I started. We really think about a product as living in a silo and then we’re like, OK, these are the selling points. These are the talking points that the salespeople are going to care about. This is how you pitch it. This is how you talk about the product. Then when you see how partners are actually taking it and how they’re talking about it in the field, it’s absolutely different. I really do believe that it’s a two-way conversation and internal marketing teams should really have their ears on the channel. The channel is growing more and more. These ecosystems are being more and more crucial for procurement, and I think that this is really a trend we’re seeing. We’re seeing with the explosion in marketplaces really seeing the expertise of partners is more and more needed. So I really do believe that internal marketing teams should sit down with the camp managers, with partners. They should just, put their ear on the ground, really, listen to what’s happening and how the product is received and is being pitched. From there, they will have amazing ideas of how they can actually support them. I also do believe that marketing initiatives should also come from partners as well. I really do believe it should be the other way as well. So we used to in my previous role, we really used to come up with ideas in terms of marketing activities. We would be the one pitching them to the vendors and be like, I do believe that if we do this event or if we do this campaign, this is what we see. We were ready to work with them in terms of branding guidelines, sales goals, that makes perfect sense. But in terms of how we execute it, that is our prerogative as a partner. We explain to them, okay and sometimes it would be very uncomfortable with the fact that there were not the only vendor there, with the fact that we were presenting the product in a way that did not necessarily imagine. It’s if we have that kind of flexibility if we kind of put our barriers down a little bit, I think we can really work together better.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, that’s interesting about the partner partners marketing for themselves, and it’s almost like making a business case to the vendor of Hey, this is what we want to do. We need a few dollars for it and this is what we expect to see. I really like that because that really ends the transactional relationship and that is the more fruitful relationship. Then what would you say, you recommend a percentage breakout that internal marketing teams be dedicated to direct response marketing versus partner marketing.

Ayan Adam: I’d say that we should really think about it more from a perspective of field marketing and a perspective of kind of a higher-level view on where the kind of the marketplace is going and how to position the product in kind of the larger landscape of competing products. One thing that the partners don’t necessarily have, they might have the knowledge of their very specific local area or their very specific practice. But this is one place where marketing teams could really help because they do have potentially the power to do market research to understand how the product works within verticals like they can really bring data to the partners on the field and give them information that they don’t necessarily have because you’re potentially very specialized in what they do. And on the other side of it, partners can give them information on how are things actually going on the field and how are people receiving the product. I think that it’s really a two-way conversation and we should have better mechanisms in terms of collecting information from the partners. I remember I would do these surveys that vendors would send us, and that would be like once a year. What do you think about, do we work together? What do think about our campaigns? What do you think about our PRM? I know we have that conversation and I wish that would be more of a conversation and that would happen more often.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, so interacting with them more with surveys and really touching base with them, almost probably quarterly on what they’re thinking and what they recommend, I like it. All right. Ayan are you ready to go into the hard questions?

Ayan Adam: Sure.

Tori Barlow: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

Ayan Adam: Mm-hmm. I’d say probably compassion, I don’t know how that would look like if I had the ability to really understand others. It probably wouldn’t be reading people’s minds because that I find that very intrusive. I really want to understand their point of view and be able to be in that space without putting my own prejudice on others, like if I was really capable of receiving and learning from others. I think that’s what has been the thing that I always try to strive for in my career and in life in general. I wish I could do more of that and be better at it.

Tori Barlow: That’s beautiful. A better perspective with people and I agree. I think sometimes when people say one thing, they really mean another. It’d be interesting to see what they actually mean and probably a good intention at the end of the day. All right. Well, it’s one mistake and one success you’ve had in the channel.

Ayan Adam: Oh, OK, so many mistakes, many mistakes. I think the biggest mistake I probably made in the past years actually starting in the channel, is to not really grasp how interconnected the channel is, and how I could actually reach out to people. People would actually talk to me or I could actually help them or learn from them. Being in my bubble and especially when you work within a company and you’re just in your bubble and you’re just doing your thing, not realizing how much of an amazing ecosystem the channel is. The fact that I could actually just reach out to a whole lot of people, learn from them and be more open like I wish I had done that earlier.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, that’s a good answer. I like it. Then what’s one business book you recommend to someone that aspires to be a channel leader?

Ayan Adam: That’s a great question. I think I read one book on the channel. It’s probably the only book that was written by about channel marketing ad. I actually reached out to the author, and we actually spoke about it. It’s just to tell you how much of the space is still not written about enough and people don’t necessarily know about it, right? So I’d say that it’s what I would recommend people to read about would be, not necessarily about the channel, but really about personal development. Just trying to grow as a person, because the people that I’ve seen, who’re the most successful in the channel are people that have that people’s approach and are able to add to others. I’d say that if you want to be successful in the channel, learn from those people and be able to be a giver and also be able to take as well when people give to you because sometimes we’re not necessarily good at that either. I don’t necessarily have one book. I’d say learn from the people. There are so many amazing people that I didn’t know before that I learned so much from. And like I said, I wish I had the courage to reach out to them before or to put myself out there. So I’d say, yeah, the people are probably the most important part of the channel.

Tori Barlow: I like that. I think that’s really great. And then last one, five years from now, what will be the major changes in the channel that people should know about?

Ayan Adam: And I say that in terms of a trend, and I think there were people like Jay McBain that had kind of really talked about this in the past and he’s been preaching it and it’s so true. I think the channel still hasn’t really embraced that reality, and I think it’s probably going to come on top of us, like a ton of brick. It’s really the move to marketplaces. The move to procurement that is not necessarily transactional in a sense of, actually is transactional, sorry, but from a digital perspective. It’s not necessarily the old ways of transacting, it’s really embracing that world. It’s something that we are still resisting, I find. It’s a place where we’re going to be taken if we want it or not, and we should be more ready. I wish we would have those conversations. I find that there is fear still in the channel in terms of change of how things used to be. There is a bit of resistance, but it’s going there. I think that more and more if also vendors could help their partners find a way to not only, so we’re talking about digital presence, but also digital procurement would be something that is extremely important. This new generation of buyers, this new generation of influencers that are actually influencing the technology acquisition decisions within their organization. They want all the information available to them without having to talk to a salesperson. We are very sales heavy, a sales heavy industry, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s also why we have great levels of success. But I think we should think about it differently from a more hybrid perspective.

Tori Barlow: I think that relates to your first point about brand presence, and it is all coming full circle now. It’s been a pleasure talking to you, Ayan. Thank you for being a guest on our show. Ayan Adam, founder of CX Atelier and thank you to you, the listeners, for joining us here at the Partner Channel podcast. If you like what you heard, subscribe to our podcast episodes wherever you like to listen to podcasts.