Jennifer Anaya has a unique combination of roles as VP of Marketing at Ingram Micro. She runs a large in-house marketing agency, servicing external clients, and runs community marketing and channel enablement programs.
Like many large B2B companies, you may not have heard of them but you’re very likely using their products in some way. Ingram Micro is the largest global distributor of technology in the world. Ingram has global reach in terms of technology and distribution.
Anaya estimates that 89 percent of technology being used comes from Ingram, through Ingram, or is Ingram serviced in some way. According to Anaya’s observations, companies have historically bought technology to become more productive and efficient. Today more and more companies are buying technology to give themselves a competitive advantage. In this changing landscape, Ingram Micro needs to be very good at helping channel partners understand their value-add in the value chain.
Through channel enablement activities, Anaya’s marketing agency helped customers completely rebrand themselves in light of the changing market and value chain ecosystem. All of which, shows her team’s marketing expertise.
This interview story explores marketing strategies around technology distribution and supply chain services. Here is Jennifer Anaya in her own words.
How is technology procurement changing? What role does Ingram Micro play in the ecosystem?
A lot of people probably have never heard of Ingram Micro. Until recently we were a large publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange. And our revenue last year was about $43 billion, so we’re a large company. But we primarily spend our time working behind the scenes for the largest technology brands that you definitely have heard of, like Cisco, Microsoft and Dell.
We also support about 40,000 technology solution providers who put their own expertise or service around those technologies. These providers innovate or implement those technologies for their business customers, governments, and public organizations.
Globally our count of retail customers is approximately 200,000, so Ingram Micro is a company that is in the middle of this giant ecosystem for how technology gets built, how it gets pulled together in a solution, and how it’s delivered to an office environment or data center.
Traditionally our customers were selling to technology leaders, i.e. people inside a company that owned the purchasing of technology in some way. They either were a CIO, a Director of Technology, or an office manager in a smaller size business who does procurement for office technology.
But in the last three years technology became more than an efficiency tool and more than a means for getting work done. It’s become a tool that is either allowing a company to become completely digital in terms of services or products that they offer or a way for them to differentiate their customer service and customer experience.
Technology has also become a way to transform in order to conduct business on a global basis efficiently or effectively. Today there are different people who weigh in on technology purchases and most of those people are not technologists.
They’re people like me, they’re heads of marketing who are responsible for the customer experience or they’re people who are working in customer service who need those tools that are automating that customer service experience. Or they’re finance people who are using more and more tools to automate data analytics and analyze large data sets themselves.
Companies are creating their own clouds and their own ecosystem of technologies and using data that they’ve gathered and procured over many years to help other companies learn and understand how to better serve a bigger collective of customers.
For example, it was really interesting to hear what John Deere is doing with all the data they collect from the machinery in their agriculture businesses. John Deere have products used across the agriculture vertical, in every part of the life cycle. They’re using cloud technology to provide data and learnings to their customers. John Deer is also using this data to be advisors and leaders in the agriculture industry. So that is an example of how companies are transforming into technology brands, which is counter intuitive when you think of a brand like John Deere.
How do you think about segmenting the market?
Ingram Micro is a business partner for companies that are:
• Building new technology
• Creating ways to deliver technology in digital formats, mostly cloud companies
• Building complete solutions for business customers to consume that technology
We’re in the middle of all that. Ten years ago we had really cool matrices. You had names, qualities, firmographics and demographics on the segment. It was all nice and tidy.
Now it’s really about using data. We have a business intelligence team in-house that has a tremendous amount of data on the products we ship. We ship directly to an end-user business about 90 percent of the time. And we’ve collected data on those companies and we purchase data to append that data that we collect. So we have a really clear idea about who our partners are, their areas of expertise, and the markets they serve.
For clients where we want to target and segment, we do a lot of research. What we want to understand is who they target and what they are trying to do with that target. Are they trying to go after a net new market or go deeper into an existing market?
So it’s been very, very important that we connect with very specific business objectives that those companies are trying to achieve. And we build our segmentation around those business objectives. It can be very different from client to client. They can each have very different segmentations. To do our own segmentation we need to understand theirs.
For segmentation we look at our actual partners and who they are and what they care about. And then we’ll look at what markets they serve. We do a lot of marketing that helps our partners understand what their business opportunity is in their respective categories. This can range from adopting a new technology expertise to going after a new market.
Our partners have long been used to talking to technology people, but now they’re not, they’re talking to the business decision makers and strategists. Ingram Micro helps partners market more effectively to those end customers they’re selling to.
We’ve put a lot of tools in place with digital marketing and content delivery to help our customers rebrand themselves and understand how to tell their story in a much more effective way. It’s about helping partners understand who they are and why customers need them. We’ve done a lot of work with that. Over the last two years we helped nearly 40 customers rebrand themselves. So we’re like their branding agency.
We’re helping our customers get access to not just credit but financial tools that allow them to be put these different kinds of technologies together. There’s complexity because they all have different business models. Products are bought and sold but cloud is done on an ongoing monthly recurring billing structure.
Our partners get stuck sometimes trying to figure out how to report cash flow for all those different business models. So we serve as a big bank in the middle of that.
We call our customers partners. Our partners are experts in certain technology categories, like security or storage, and they partner up with other partners who know other areas of a solution. And then we add in people who can help with giants rollouts of technology that has to get implemented in 1200 locations at the same time.
Ingram Micro has services and resources that compliment what our customers are offering down to their customers. So we’re integral in the way that technology companies do business.
What kind of challenges do you see associated with marketing through a channel vs. marketing directly to the end-user?
One challenge is around channel influence. Partners need to be convinced on why they need to be a part of our sales channel.
So whether it’s a large retailer or large consulting firm, both of them market to the end-user. And if you can market to the end-user and also convince those partner firms that we are a part of delivering on their brand promise, that we’re readily influencing those end-users, then prospects will be all in on your solution.
Often times sales channel marketing involves sales incentives aimed at the sales people in the channels, and not aimed at the customers they’re going after. But if you can tie a brand promise and say, “This is what we deliver and this is what is added at the end,” then you’ll move that prospective partner along so much more quickly.
We spend a lot of time creating co-branded messages so that those partners understand how to see themselves, and where to impart their own value proposition as part of another company’s value prop in the channel.
What kind of technology will soon help marketers navigate market complexities?
I’m excited about how technology will change how marketers do their jobs. Artificial intelligence and machine learning is going to change the marketing landscape. This will be nirvana as a marketer, truly understanding who you’re marketing to at an individual level. And machine learning is probably going to get us the closest we’ve ever come to answering those questions on an individual basis and not just on a mass market basis.
For example, we have a customer in Del Mar, California called DataScale. And they’re using artificial intelligence and machine learning to help a local advertising agency understand intent and sentiment when they’re building and designing new campaigns.
They take any kind of unstructured data, for example, social media posts or PDFs, voice messages or voice conversations that are collected through sales calls. They turn that into structured data. These results and insights are different than what you would get out of a structured database approach. So those are the things companies will be adopting and we’re looking at that for our own use and understanding how we can be more relevant to our customer, and the customers they serve. And I’m sure other companies are either very excited about implementing this or looking at their options right now.