VAR & IT Channel Marketing

The availability of MDF provides a great opportunity for IT channel partners to expand their marketing efforts for very little money out-of-pocket. This is welcome news for most MSP owners, who are typically faced with small marketing budgets…and an increasingly competitive industry.

Are you taking advantage of MDF in your marketing?

(Be sure to read all the way to the end for our Five Hacks for Getting IT Channel MDF!)

What Are Market Development Funds (MDF)?

MDF is money (or sometimes other resources) that a vendor distributes to their partners to help them pay for a marketing campaign or promotional event.

In essence, this allows vendors to increase their reach and exposure without the need to coordinate and staff events or execute campaigns themselves. There’s also a “social proof” factor in play, as vendors benefit from being showcased by established IT professionals (the MSPs), especially when trying to enter a new market. 

Of course the benefit to the MSP is additional money for promotion. This can be invaluable for companies that want to host events, such as lunch-and-learns, but are finding the costs of doing so prohibitive. As long as the MSP can devote a certain amount of time during each event to a specific vendor, they may be able to have much of the expense subsidized through an MDF program.

How Do I Qualify for MDF?

There’s no simple answer to this question as every vendor sets their own MDF program requirements. We recommend taking the following steps to start using MDF:

  1. Identify the vendors that you’ve proven yourself to. MDF requirements are often based on revenue that you’ve already generated for the vendor. Choose three to five vendors that you’ve generated the most revenue for and start there.
  2. Research these vendors specific MDF requirements.  These programs aren’t always publicized. We know more than a few vendors that have MDF available but don’t go out of their way to broadcast as such. You may have to call the vendor and ask someone on their marketing or business development team.
  3. Be prepared to show your stuff. Vendors want to know that you’re capable of executing a marketing campaign before they disburse MDF. You should have evidence ready of past successes to show them — email metrics, event photos, contact lists. This is where working with an established IT Channel marketing agency can be beneficial.
  4. Have a plan. You want to have a clearly-defined purpose for the funds before you make a request. MDF must be approved — usually by several people within the vendor’s organization — and you must be able to show them a complete breakdown of your intended use.

Remember that you’re teaming up with this vendor for mutual success. Your campaign or event should be as big of an opportunity for the vendor as it is for you. Think about what you’re planning from their perspective. If you were being asked for money to fund this initiative, would you see value in it for the vendor?

A Few MDF Best-Practices

Our experiences in the Channel have revealed a few universal truths when it comes to securing and using MDF:

  1. Flexibility and agility go a long way. We’re not talking about yoga — we’re referring to the ever-changing and often chaotic world of partner relations. Things can change on a moment’s notice, and vendors appreciate working with MSPs who can roll with those changes.
  2. Follow the vendor’s marketing guidelines. Every company has rules for how their brand should be represented. Be sure to adhere to them!
  3. Co-brand effectively. Vendors typically provide designs for sales slicks, emails, and other marketing assets that MSPs can white-label for their own use. These assets are almost always designed in a very generic fashion so they can be used by IT providers all over the country. Work with the vendor (and your marketing team) to produce co-branded materials that promote both their offering and your business effectively.
  4. Follow up with the vendor. Once the event has taken place, follow-up with the vendor.  When you’re running successful promotional campaigns, the vendor will want to work with you again. Reporting back and discussing the details is the best way to make sure this happens. Discuss the event, review the preparation and execution. Discuss the things that went great as well as areas that need improvement. Explain your plan to address those issues and make the next event even more successful. Discuss your plan of action for closing new leads. Remember that this is a partnership, so share what you’ve learned with your vendor!

Five Hacks for Getting IT Channel MDF

1. Network! Network! Network!  Sometimes it’s all about who you know. (There are some MDF programs we wouldn’t even know existed if not for the people we know in the Channel!) MDF involves a trust relationship between MSP and vendor, and having friends on the vendor side is never a bad thing.

2. Track your sales and marketing. You will need to demonstrate both your ability to generate revenue for the vendor and your capabilities as a marketer. Being able to show the vendor on paper just how much you’ve done for them is a great way to get your foot in the door.

3. Partner with a marketing agency within the IT Channel. Getting MDF can be a lot of work, but a marketing agency like Your Sales Energy that knows the industry can be an immense help. (Especially when it comes to tracking and demonstrating your ability to generate leads!)

4. Build your vendor relationships. You should have close relationships with your vendors if you want to leverage MDF. Make sure you’re an expert in their products and complete any certifications they may offer. Attend their events and demonstrate your ability to be their “brand ambassador”.

5. Assign one person on your team to oversee MDF. If you’re not working with a marketing agency, your organization will need to spearhead any plans to acquire MDF. This can be a time-consuming project with a lot of moving parts, so it’s a good idea to make one person accountable for reaching out to vendors, tracking sales and marketing at a vendor level, and making MDF submissions.

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