Insights From The Inside: Softcat Channel Marketing

Hayley Roberts
Hayley Roberts

Softcat Account Director Hayley Roberts talks to Stewart Hayward, Head of Marketing and Michael Bird, Digital Marketing Manager about their channel marketing activity.

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If you work in the channel, or indeed just in IT, I’m sure you will have heard of Softcat. The challenger IT reseller that has more than doubled its revenues in the past five years and climbed the charts to become the 2nd largest reseller in the UK.

Famous for its culture; vendors want to work with them, and other resellers want to be them.

I’m lucky enough to get to work from Softcat HQ once a week, catching up with vendors or kicking off projects and campaigns for the new IT Priorities. Recently I took 30 minutes out and cornered two of the marketing team - Stewart Hayward, Head of Marketing and Michael Bird, Digital Marketing Manager – to find out what it’s really like to work at the famed reseller and what it takes for vendors to succeed at Softcat.

Why do you love working in the channel?

MB: Being a reseller we’re slap bang in the middle of the channel, so the sheer breadth of customers and vendors we deal with is vast, which makes it much more interesting.

Two projects are never the same: we get to work on videos that are a bit technical; webinars talking about different concepts; or blog posts that pose questions that end users have to think about. It just feels a bit more like you’re at the sharp end of things. And at Softcat, it’s a lot of fun, it’s a lot more interesting.

How has Softcat’s approach to marketing changed in the last five years?

MB: In the last five years the marketing team has been transformed. We have gone from a purely reactive, sales delivery function, to pro-actively generating opportunities and supporting the sales team through the entire sales cycle. Using a more intelligent, integrated approach when it comes to campaigns, so considering email, events, social media, paid advertising, landing pages, podcasts etc.

What role do you think marketing has played in Softcat’s rapid growth?

MB: We control the ‘face’ of Softcat, so if we do a bad job promoting a new service or product - if it’s not easy to find on the website or from a Google search - if the customer can’t find it then we don’t sell it.

We also have an important role in helping to raise Softcat’s credibility as a technology company. We position ourselves as a company that customers can trust to buy their IT from. And we do this in several ways. Firstly, creating pages like the IT Priorities pages and having a space dedicated to the vendors we work with to show our expertise and the breadth of our vendor offering. Secondly, building a healthy pool of thought leadership content such as blog posts, videos, and more recently, podcasts.

A lot of vendors want to get in front of the Softcat sales team, what do you think makes a vendor campaign really stand out?

SH: A good place for vendors to start is to think about how their campaign messaging fits with our IT Priorities because they represent our areas of focus for at least the next 12-18 months. The campaigns that do work well will be speaking the ‘Softcat language’ and will be easy to digest.

At the very core, it’s the messaging and how relevant it is to Softcat. No matter how it’s dressed up, that’s what makes it stand out from the crowd.

What type of vendor campaign doesn’t work at Softcat?

SH: If a vendor tries to run a campaign that they’re already running industry wide and it’s not specifically targeted to Softcat, they don’t tend to work as well. There are vendors that are a bit stuck in their ways, (I'm not going to mention any specific vendor names!), but the vendors that don’t listen to suggestions on how Softcat work best and don’t tailor their messaging to suit Softcat are less likely to see the results they want.

What is your favourite vendor campaign and why?

SH: I would say my favourite vendor campaign so far was the Microsoft Surface one. There were lots of different elements to work on which was quite interesting - it had social, digital, and out of home advertising as well, which is something we hadn’t done before so that was really cool to see.

What has been your favourite incentive?

SH: Probably the recent Dell one. It was the biggest incentive launch that I've experienced at Softcat – with the online portal, the digital display, the live scoreboard, the photoshoots, the push internally. People are still talking about it! When it has been brought up, it’s usually triggered by seeing the content on the screens. Conversations start as a result of people saying, ‘Oh my god, is that Dan on the screens in lycra!’ Hilarious!

MB: The Dell one! It was very very Softcat, it’s just funny and stuff like that really stands out for our sales team. Generic, corporate looking vendor stuff just doesn’t cut it. When stuff is a bit different, looks creative, looks like Softcat created it for its own staff, people sit up and pay attention. We get so much corporate vendor material and the reaction is usually ‘I’ve seen this before, and I’m bored of it’.

Dell Incentive

And finally, what do you like about working with Miramar?

SH: Getting access to a wider team of marketing experts and leaning on the experience you guys have.

MB: Miramar understand what we like and we work closely together, which means we can be a bit more efficient with things.

There have been a few occasions where we needed to turn stuff around very very quickly, and what’s been good is that everyone has banded together, not as an agency and a client, but as one team.

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