What is it that you think makes one tech company stand out from another? “My product is better than your product”? Not anymore. “My salespeople are better than your salespeople”? Possibly. “My channel is better than your channel”. You’re getting warmer. How about, “My marketing machine is better than your marketing machine”?

For example, 41% of customers identify “the vendor’s (not including its salespeople’s) ability to understand our business problem”, compared with only 21% who identified “the vendor’s salesperson’s ability to understand our business problem” as the most important vendor action factor when selecting a tech vendor. Marketing is clearly the difference-maker.

But cloud computing changes everything. The implications of cloud computing go far beyond its technology delivery/consumption model. It seems I get questions from tech marketers about all things cloud these days. A few examples:

  • “How can I use the cloud more effectively to market our solutions?” (Answer: It’s not what you read in USA Today about Facebook and Twitter. According to the results of our 2011 B2B Social Technographics® survey, discussion forums and professional social networking sites (read: not consumer social sites) outpace Facebook and Twitter ten-fold as information sources for informing businesses’ technology purchase decisions.)
  • “How does cloud computing change the channel?” (Answer: Dramatically. More than three-quarters of channel partners either have or are planning a managed services business, and over half either have or are planning an application hosting business. Who owns the NOC or data center – and more importantly, how they get evaluated and certified – is going to be an increasingly critical factor in customers’ decisions on who they provision cloud-based services from.)
  • “Does the cloud commoditize our product[s], and if so, what can I do about it?” (Answer: Yes. Product marketing is dead . . . or, at best, on life support. Let me use a simple example – when was the last time you heard salesforce.com touting its products’ features and functions? A new age of tech marketing is nigh; and it’s time for tech marketing to grow up and act more like its other B2B industry brethren. Specifically, there are two new tech marketing models about to be borne: business outcome (the long-term gains in customers’ competitive position, market share, and customer value) marketing and customer experience (the customer’s experience with tech vendors and channel partners across all six stages of the technology adoption lifecycle) marketing.

The bar has been set higher for tech marketers. Groundswell technologies, like cloud, mobile, social, and video, put tremendous power in the hands of customers. Like expert jugglers who go from two to three to four or more balls (or chainsaws), tech marketers will need to learn how to successfully weave in new techniques, technologies, and channels to put their companies on top.

By the way, you can learn more about all the above – and more – at Forrester’s IT Forum in Las Vegas next month (and in Barcelona the week after) from the Technology Marketing analysts. Hope to see you there, and as always, let me know what you think.