Hanson Marketing Profiled at Partnerpedia

Hanson Marketing was profiled at one of the Internet’s smartest new channel collaboration sites, Partnerpedia. Read more here.

A few weeks back, I wrote about a crop of smart channel management and collaboration tools, including Partnerpedia. (see post here)

Just curious… among readers, how many are currently using online channel management tools? Join the poll and share your answers. I’ll share the results later this week. If you want, post a reply and tell me how you’ve streamlined channel management… or how you hope to. Success stories, colossal flops, time sucks, slam dunks… all are welcome.

Ignite Exports Seminar Wrap Up, Part 2

I was invited to speak at the inaugural Ignite Exports Seminar on June 10, 2010 in La Jolla, California. Here’s a wrap up at the World Trade Center San Diego website, event hosts.

Speakers Tom Hanson and Tom Cook (l to r) at Ignite Exports Seminar, La Jolla

White House Hosts National Export Initiative Event

A fellow member of the San Diego & Imperial District Export Council participated in the July 7 event hosted by President Obama, held to promote our National Export Initiative . Kim Benson is an international business leader based in San Diego and is also appointed to the Industry Trade Advisory Center, a unique private-public partnership that plays a vital advisory role in shaping our nation’s foreign trade policy.

President Obama and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke acknowledged the gathered guests’ contributions to expanding trade, and announced re-launch of the President’s Export Council. As I’ve stated previously on this blog site, this is a commendable and challenging step.

Ms. Benson, who is vice president of Cange International, an international business consultancy observes “a shift in the government taking place now, in terms of the degree of communication among positions and agencies related to trade.” President Obama has also deemed specific members of his cabinet to be Export Promotion Cabinet Members, she notes. “He meets with them regularly and expects cooperation to reach the objectives of the NEI specifically. These efforts will now be supplemented by input provided to President Obama by the President’s Export Council. Having the National Export Initiative clearly set forth is obviously creating unprecedented cooperation among positions and agencies. I see this as something very positive, and I must say that in 20 years I have not seen this level of cooperation.”

The president’s very public and direct pledges since his State of the Union address in January are the best way to hold lenders and government export agencies accountable. Since February of this year, the Department of Commerce has coordinated 18 trade missions with over 160 companies participating in 24 countries. Further, there are eight more trade missions scheduled over the next three months, which can be tracked via Tradeology, the International Trade Administration’s blog. Secretary Locke reminded those gathered in the East Room that in March, the US reached an agreement with China to reopen the Chinese market to pork and pork products. And in June, the US agreed with Russia to reopen the Russian market to US poultry exports. These steps together are worth more than $1 billion. (That’s a start toward reaching $2 trillion in exports in five years, a key goal of the NEI!)

Watch for the Export Promotion Cabinet’s 180-day report to the president, due on September 1.

More About Industry Trade Advisory Center
ITAC is primarily comprised of leaders from small-to-midsized businesses with proven success in global trade. Formed in 1974 and jointly run by the Department of Commerce and the US Trade Representative Office, ITAC ensures that trade negotiators consult with representatives from the private sector during trade negotiations.

Read more about the July 7 White House event here, including a link to a National Export Initiative Progress Report.

Infrastructure Links Products to Markets Worldwide

KPMG’s Infrastructure Advisory Team has published its “Top 100” compiling infrastructure projects from around the globe.

International channel pros and marketing experts ought to care a lot about the quality of roads, canals, bridges and power transmission systems. It’s inspiration and creativity, on a mammoth scale. Like Hanson Marketing, infrastructure Links Products to Markets Worldwide. Read about the tidal power project in Korea, Brazil’s high-speed rail link, waste management in the UK, and more. It all matters.

Here’s a link to this excellent publication, via KPMG’s global site.

Campus Marketing: Apple, Barnes & Noble Lead the Charge

In the rarified air of US college campuses, you will find two American companies leading the charge to capture top brand loyalty and affinity. Apple and Barnes & Noble’s direct-to-consumer channels, student ambassadors, and outsourced sales and service leave their daily imprint on millions of students and staff on campus. The result is an annual crop of well educated customers with discriminating tastes and generally higher earnings potential (says the dad of a recent grad, optimistically…)

Barnes & Noble College is the outsourced campus bookstore at over 600 US campuses, touching over 4 million students and 250,000 staff daily. Through the subtlest of branding, shoppers might notice that B&N is running the place. While such outsourcing helps institutions control operating costs — I’m all for that — it’s generally difficult to unseat an incumbent retailer/outsource provider once entrenched. And, along with that comes the risk of complacency in pricing and quality of services, borne by shoppers who pay premium pricing in exchange for a convenient location. In a store where $65 hoodies prevail and the majority of customers live within a half-mile and are shopping on their parents’ dime, there will be no bargain basements.

Aside from their outsourcing services, B&N is masterfully marketing their Nook-based technology resources straight into the college market, wherein its NookStudy is positioned as the online reading and study platform.

Apple grabs incoming students and their folks with promotions, displays and kiosks. Educators and students are the only set of consumers on the globe who can enjoy discounted Apple products, it seems. So, again, the college campus marketplace is an ideal channel for such a globally cool and technically powerful brand as Apple.

Besides the books and bits market, popular food and beverage makers such as Naked Juice deploy college ambassadors, stocking dorm room fridges and social gatherings. Ambassadors are generally vivacious, friendly students who are fun to be around… hence their products are fun to drink/eat. We see early evidence of campus ambassador marketing in grades 7-12, wherein clothing and shoes are test-marketed on the backs and feet of good-looking, popular people who are nice to look at and fun to be around.

Apple, Barnes & Noble, Naked, and other friendly brands know that campus marketing channels are insular, price-inelastic, and ideal breeding grounds for successive generations of brand-conscious shoppers.

Everything Channel: 2010 State of the Market

Today, I attended Everything Channel’s 2010 State of the Market presentation, a great annual scorecard on the state of technology solutions provider channels. The typical survey respondent books about $3.5 million in annual revenues, in b-2-b transactions (no retail data here) so it’s a real-world look at issues facing technology solutions providers across many vertical markets.

Interesting trends:
– upward trend of professional services as a total % of earnings, now sitting at 54%. It is through specialized services that Solutions Providers can differentiate themselves, whether in vertical sectors or via enterprise-vs.-government customer bases. Margins are great, and it’s the truest unique value proposition a channel provider can pitch
– highest growth trends are among small customers. Annual revenue per client is lower and there is risk in extending terms, but solutions providers enjoy faster sales cycles, loyalty and willingness to innovate
– customers seek solutions that reduce costs, cut budgets and streamline processes. That’s where those professional services come into play!
– SaaS and cloud computing affect overall service revenue more than anything. Many small businesses may resist outsourcing data storage and software licensing, but the ROI is too hard to ignore
– not surprisingly, storage and security lead the pack of most-sought after solutions.

Also, seems that alliance-driven marketing is edging out MDF- and coop-funded programs in importance. Solutions Providers in the channel who join programs offered by Cisco, HP, Oracle, RSA and others perceive themselves as being closer to the decision maker. I have personally found alliance programs to be a blessing and a curse for a small ISV or hardware manufacturer. Selling cycles of 18-24 months may be too little, too late for a startup and try the patience of the most supportive CEO. And, most of the selling effort is aimed at the alliance’s own decision makers, vs. at end-user customers.

I appreciate Everything Channel’s methodology because, in the most recent survey, they double-polled respondents after 6 months, as a reality check on hoped-for vs. actual. This has been especially valuable during the fallout over the past 18 months.

The annual State of the Market is a must for every solution provider and channel marketer who relies on SPs for their revenue. Since our leading tech companies now realize most of their revenue via channels, we all need to pay attention to trends. Learn more at Everything Channel’s website. Or, check out these additional web resources:

2009 BtoB Media Power 50
for the community
tools for channel partners – coming Aug 1

Japan’s Online Mall Rakuten Makes Global Bid

Japan’s largest online shopping mall is making a bid to become the leading global online shopping mall. With 7 million+ registered members in Japan, Rakuten already has a beach head in the US (they own buy.com with its 12 million members) and the EU (just bought France’s Price Minister with 12 million members) On the way to their planned 27-country expansion through end of 2012, they’ll bump up against eBay and amazon and myriad regional power e-tailers.

The world of online retail is fragmented and de-centralized, with neighborhood boutiques jostling alongside Rakuten and those other behemoths. I foresee success for Rakuten in enabling a highly personalized “shopping bubble” experience, wherein each of us are in constant contact with our own personal shopping mall; but in the form of an anonymous back-end engine. That will mean a complete absence of a Rakuten brand, in favor of a “[Your name here]’s Store” approach… even bypassing the home page banner that we now see on eBay, Buynow, or other sites.

Remember the “We’re Beatrice” campaigns of the 1980s? Sometimes, when a conglomerate tries to step out front and win brand loyalty, it comes back and bites them. Annual sales of Beatrice, mega-holding company, were roughly $12 billion by 1984. It was during this year that the corporation ended advertisements for its products with the catchphrase “We’re Beatrice”; the red and white “Beatrice” logo would simultaneously appear in the bottom right hand corner. It was determined that the campaign alienated consumers, calling attention to the fact that it was a far-reaching multinational corporation, and the campaign was pulled off the air. (read more here).

Channel leaders and brand marketers can succeed in the online shopping mall by maintaining focus on brand personalization. That means direct-to-consumer promotions that goose shoppers toward Rakuten-driven, personalized shopping malls. If you’re a brand manager for a consumer manufacturer, you don’t worry so much about who owns and runs the shopping mall, as who its tenants are. By the same token, you’ll continue to focus on reaching consumers through personalized online shopping portals with little regard to the Rakuten engines running in the background.

Can any one provider ever really claim title as The World’s Online Mall? If anyone can, Japan can. I feel Japan’s expertise in in-home shopping will push them to the front of the pack — already, Japan Travel Bureau offers vacation souvenirs for sale and delivery to its travel customers BEFORE they leave on their trip.

Of note, Rakuten has become the first significant Japanese company to nominate English as the official in-house language, including among staff in Japan. CEO Hiroshi Mikitani states that this will be practice by the end of 2012… which coincides with the company’s ambitious expansion plans. Read more at a blog post on this topic.

Let's Shopping! 🙂

Cisco Brands Span Prosumer & Consumer Sectors

Cisco is plowing ahead with solutions for strictly business to prosumer to consumer, hardware products that scream “smart, connected, portable.” The company is backing into new WiFi-enabled video and in-home utility metering consumer markets without the hoopla and noise of brand-building consumer product launch advertisements… at least not to the degree that we see from GE, SONY, and other mega-brands.

Cisco’s Flip brand of portable video camera is juiced with WiFi and will soon have improved, on-the-fly editing. The brand was acquired in 2009, and it’s the first chance we’ve had to see how Cisco runs a purely consumer integrated marketing plan into and for a channel structure that’s comprised of all the leading consumer electronics resellers, online and in-store. The majority of Flip-ers won’t know or care who makes it, which is why I was surprised to see Cisco advertising the product, minus the brand name, during World Cup matches. See its airy, clean, uncomplicated, un-Cisco website.

Cius by Cisco Equips the Mobile Workforce

As for Cisco Cius teleconferencing tablet, it’s one new product that’s squarely in Cisco’s business solutions and prosumer comfort zone. Cius is an easy add-on for the company’s behemoth reseller channel to accept and promote. I like what Cisco’s done with Cius: they truly get the hassles faced by today’s prosumer knowledge workers, who make their living both on-site and remotely. While leading a go-to-market launch at an enterprise software developer, several times a week my teammates and I would clutter a conference table with assorted notebooks, smart phones, intercoms, video hookups, journals, and water bottles. Tablet-sized devices for prosumers would streamline such meetings, and remote participants would be much more easily accommodated. A friend who works at Cisco has told me for years how their regional offices are focused on “hoteling” work spaces… walk in, plug in, work, leave. (no Dilbert cartoons or Pretty Pony collections here!)

Home Energy Controller by Cisco

The Smart Meter solution is a tablet-like interface that promises smarter use of utilities and powered devices in the home. Unlike Flip and Cius, the channel strategy for this product is comprised of utility providers and related systems integrators, on a regional and local basis. It will be a partner-led, “referral” sale to end-user consumers by these utilities, and by specialist contractors in the building trade. The market space looks wide open for Cisco to grab top share right away. If prompted, consumers have preconceptions of which leading electronics manufacturer would be best in class for such a remote monitoring product – GE, Siemens, Motorola – but it’s first-in, best-dressed when it comes to grabbing top brand share in a new market. Channel resources from Cisco will have to be strong on consumer education and revenue-building rebates and incentives.

So, Cisco has two new ways of selling products (mass retail, utility providers) for three new product ideas, which means shifting how they sell and support products. And, how they educate and motivate a more complex, multi-tier channel sales and support ecosystem. Of the 3 releases, I think they’ll have the biggest challenges in dealing with the tumultuous electronics retail channel… the Flip product idea is up for grabs, and Cisco may turn out to be loss leader during the next three to five years. No matter, though.. a portable, video-driven solution will only strengthen Cisco’s place in the connected workplace, and completely jives with its broader product portfolio. Win-win, eh?

Sales Pipeline or Prospect Funnel? Channel Leaders Need to Know

Run a Google Image search on Sales Pipeline Diagram and you’ll see what I mean. I did, and saw lots of funnels, flowcharts, and decision trees, none of which convey the accurate function of a productive pipeline. Having fallen in this same trap myself once upon time, I want to convey a concept that I recently read to help get my point across.

Take a look at your own company’s sales activities, starting now through the next 12 months, and envision a pipeline. At that left edge are potentials — prospects, referrals, qualified leads from outbound marketing — that you’re FUNNELING into the pipe. They’re outside the pipe because it’s going to take you a while before you qualify, win contracts, and see any revenue from these potentials. Then, inside the far left (“in-12-months”) end of the pipe, you’ve got long-term projects that you’ve already signed and sealed, waiting their turn to be implemented. Your client may not be ready, or you may not have bandwidth to start until then.

Further into the pipe, at 6 months or so, these become short-term projects, and here is where you also have side input funnels through which will flow opportunistic deals (bluebirds, quick-cycle projects, limited-time promotional offers with quick turnaround, repeats from current clients) Finally, at the right end, closer in, are your projects that are kicking off or are about to be implemented.

Your first reaction when reading this may be, “but wait… I don’t know where my revenue is coming from 3 months from now, let alone in a year. Those side pipes are my only funnels!!!” That’s your first clue to get off the dime and start a series of marketing outreach campaigns, even as you are implementing projects. That is a big challenge, especially for sole proprietors and partnerships. But, who else is going to find your projects? No one but you.

For a great explanation of a true sales pipeline vs. funnels, buy the same book that I keep close at hand, written by Alan Weiss, called Million Dollar Consulting. (ISBN 978-0-07-162210-3)

The complexity of pipeline management grows when you’re forming and leading a partner channel. Your pipeline contains your collective deals, with multiple inbound funnels, each requiring exhaustive, continual assessment and implementation. The funnels often contain projects in government and enterprise settings, making for a very long decision cycle.

Your influence and impact as a head of channels is put to the test here — you might find your close rate to be lower than if you were courting the end-user directly. But, keep reminding yourself how many more feet on the street those channel partners give you!

Maintaining a disciplined, well-insulated funnel+pipeline system will always separate potential from actual business. We all know that Happy Ears are a common problem when forecasting, and need to temper optimism and competitive edge with real-life assessments. Marketing activity should always be aimed way out at that left end, where all the funnels are. Any contact within the pipeline should be process-oriented customer or account management, vs. image-building. Don’t oversell yourselves, rein in optimism with level-headed assessments, and you’ll succeed even more!

How Fluent Are You? Hone Language Skills to Gain Competitive Edge

I am in the midst of being assessed for an international business opportunity, during which I’ve been asked to submit to rigorous but objective assessments of my foreign language skills. It’s not often that professionals get to gauge perception vs. reality regarding claims of proficiency or fluency in any skill set, so I welcomed this chance to put my dinero where my boca is. Here are a couple options for you to find out how fluent you really are:

Self-Assessment: the Interagency Language Roundtable publishes a concise set of self-administered tests. Click through to learn your ranked score in reading, listening, and speaking your chosen foreign language. I like the progressive, ladder-like approach… when you can’t answer Yes anymore, you’ve reached your rank number.

Live-and-In-Person Assessment: For a modest fee and by prior appointment, agencies such as Diplomatic Language Services provide exceptional proficiency-based foreign language testing, in person (or via phone and web). Professional and experienced native-speaking proctors and assessors conduct a battery of skills assessments and provide results almost immediately to you plus whomever else needs to know. The session is challenging, but yields a realistic assessment of how you’ll fare speaking non-English, in real-life work and social settings.

Rigorous but objective exams are challenging to undergo, whether for professional skills certification or for testing your language know-how. But a measured assessment from the pros, one that you can share with confidence and pride, gives you an edge in your global business bag of tricks.

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