IBM finds midmarket via social media

Andy Monshaw IBM

IBM midmarket GM Andy Monshaw

When IBM put a push on the midmarket last year, it knew where to turn to build its business in that space – its channel partners. After all, its own research showed that small business customers wanted to buy from a trusted local partner, and wanted it to do in a dominantly consultative way.

But it was still IBM’s responsibility to provide the air cover for the partners in that space. And providing that air cover meant reaching and finding the midmarket.

Finding that midmarket audience proved to be tougher than expected, but Andy Monshaw, general manager for the midmarket at IBM, said they found it online.

Speaking at last week’s IBM PartnerWorld Leadership Conference in Orlando, Monshaw told press and analysts that to reach out to midmarket customers, it had to “turn our thinking upside down on marketing.” The company’s Smarter Planet marketing was great, he said, for the IBM brand. But it didn’t really resonate with the midmarket. So a new campaign was needed to address the midmarket audience. And thus was born a campaign that focuses on midsize companies as the “engines of the Smarter Planet.”

Now it was just a matter of knowing where to do that marketing. In enterprise IT, Monshaw explained, it was relatively easy – there were specialist blogs and forums for specific areas of technology like servers, storage and networking. But in the midmarket, where the IT staffers are generalists at best and non-existent at worst, and IT decisions often come from the C-suite, it’s a much different game.

“They have a wildly distributed and fragmented buying process,” Monshaw said. “We needed to connect not with the place they go, but the way they find information.”

And the way they find information is increasingly social media. But taking up active presences on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, Big Blue found it was more capable of getting in front of midmarket customers. And it did so with a typical for social media “paid/owned/earned” campaign.

  • Paid refers to online ads and other bought-and-paid-for online marketing like search engine marketing.
  • Owned refers to company-branded online presences keeping active on the major social networks.
  • Earned refers to mentions and coverage generated by outreach to and relationships with influencers like press and bloggers.

Another major marketing change Big Blue noticed when dealing with the midmarket was that as much effort as it may pump into building its own brand – that brand mattered a great deal less to small business owners. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Brand matters to midmarket owners. It’s just that vendor brands – and hardware brands in particular – don’t matter nearly as much.

“Clients think of their partner as the brand – not IBM or EMC or Oracle or HP,” Monshaw said. “It’s the partner who provides the brand equity.”

The other big challenge the company faced in the space was a perception of complexity. Dan Cerutti, general manager of Smart Business at IBM, detailed how it got past that particular hurdle with the Smart Business lineup – a lineup of pre-integrated solutions that include ”everything that’s required in the box, pre-configured, certified and under one SKU.”

Rather than a vast array of configuration options, the Smart Business lineup focuses on offering Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large versions of solutions, as well as rack-mounted and tower options when it comes to configuration.

“That’s complexity in my book,” Cerutti quipped.

So far, the star of the Smart Business lineup has been Virtual Desktop, a hosted VDI option introduced late last month. Including pilot projects, Cerutti said the company has had 30 orders in the first 60 days, as well as 40 customer trials underway. It’s also signed up 300 business partners for the solution.

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