Co-written by Olivier Choron
Let’s imagine your organisation has asked you to ‘look after their channel marketing’. This most probably happened because they discovered that working with ‘partners’ could bear some fruit and you have maybe shown a past interest in ‘working’ with customers or suppliers rather than just selling to or buying from them. So, you’re new to the channel and have no idea how marketing can help or where to start.
Here is your first problem. There isn’t one channel, there is a plethora of them. You’ve got those who actually will resell your product – call them ‘dealers’, ‘resellers’, or ‘value-added resellers’, depending on how much value they add to their clients. You have those who include your albeit-small product in their large multi-vendor solution - the ‘system integrators’, ranging from the small local ones to the giants - Accenture, Cap Gemini or Deloitte, amongst others. You have those who just want to influence clients and refer them to you, without getting their hands too dirty in the process; we call them the ‘influencers’ or ‘affiliates’ or ‘referral partners’ and they can include marketing agencies, technical consultants or industry experts. To complicate this further, there are some very large ‘distributors’ or ‘retailers’ who can help you manage some of these partnerships and sales, adding another layer (commonly called ‘tier’) in this picture.
Channel marketing = influence marketing
In such a diverse and complex ecosystem of channels and partners, when your products go through layers of different partners to reach the final client, you - as the marketer - have no ‘direct’ control as to what happens during the marketing and selling process, and it becomes a matter of ‘influencing’ as opposed to ‘controlling’ the messaging and overall selling process.
How can you affect this food chain?
At an organisation level, you need to make sure both your corporate and product strategies are ‘channel-enabled’ or ‘channel-ready’. If you don’t include the channel in your strategic and daily talks, you will not succeed. This means working with upper management to make sure they have bought into this venture!
Channel recruitment: You will need to recruit partners and this means you require, at a minimum, a clear, well-defined and well-documented value proposition or a full ‘Partner Program’ (for later/ more advanced stages). This also means you have to do some media/social advertising, run ‘recruitment’ events and attend industry events. You will need a ‘data’ place where you can store information about these new partners (see ‘PRM’ later). A key priority is to know your partner audience: Who are they? Who are their customers? What do they actually do/ how do they serve these customers? What do they want/ expect from you?
‘To’ Partner Marketing: Once you have recruited partners, you have to make sure you (and your organisation) engage them in your vision and ‘enable’ them; they need to understand, market, sell, implement and/or support your products. This means that you have to communicate with them, train them, support them, incentivise them and reward them. To do this you will be required to put together what are commonly called ‘business planning’, ‘deal registration’, ‘lead and opportunity sharing’, ‘incentive’, ‘training and certification’ and ‘support’ programs. You and your organisation (PAMs*) will also need to meet face-to-face with these partners, at industry shows, joint meetings or maybe your own Partner Conference.
‘Through/ With’ Partner Marketing: Of course, you want your partners to market with and for you. This means putting co-funding programs in place (typically called MDF**), delivering co-marketing programs via simple co-branding/ social media syndication solutions, or full TCMA*** solutions.
How to excel in channel marketing?
You have already guessed that a channel marketer is involved in many aspects of traditional and ‘influencer’ marketing – content, value proposition, branding, event management, social media, advertising, incentives and rewards, amongst others.
So, what does this mean to you? As your partner ecosystem grows, it means increased ‘complexity’ and ‘chaos’; also, and sadly, as it involves many third-parties (within your organisation and with your partners), it also means ‘lack of control’ and ‘lack of accountability’… so be prepared!
Make sure, especially as you start, that your whole management team is behind you; this is a ‘long-term’ strategy; don’t expect rapid results! It’s about partnerships and these require trust, which is never built in one day. Make sure your upper management is aware of your progress and success; as your channel grows (and its inherent complexity), you will need to grow your team and provide more services to your partners.
Track all your partner - and program-related data – whatever you can track… track it or plan to track it! Excel is the solution at the start but you will soon require PRM tools to support you in this endeavour.
Communicate with your partners – always and at all times! You are likely to be one of MANY suppliers ‘your’ partners work with. As long as you don’t send hundreds of irrelevant emails and focus on the right message for the right partner, they will welcome being part of the family and being informed!
Have the right tools to support your growth. Partner Relationship Management (PRM) tools are typically global and scalable off-the-shelf SaaS solutions that support your partner program requirements. They will help you in terms of tracking, partner recruitment, to-partner and through-partner marketing with a plethora of tools/ modules that can match your advancement in ‘the channel’.
Finally, treat your partners as equals and with respect – you are building an ecosystem of mutually-beneficial relationships. ‘Partnering’ is not a one-way street; it will require you to acknowledge your partners’ know-how, skills and customer presence.
We have a lot to say on this subject and our buzzing Hive of experts are working with clients to deliver this in a number of interesting ways. We’ve helped clients with Reseller-bespoke campaigns, creating a true multi-touch, multi-tactic, multi-persona campaign bringing their story into Vendor campaign kits as well as one-to-one campaigns, helping big partners, alliance partners, and big resellers to manage and run ABM programs, improve their analyst and media relationships and improve their lead conversions.
Get in touch to see how The Marketing Bee could help you.
* PAMs – Partner Account Managers or Channel Account Managers (CAMs)
** MDF – Market Development Fund
*** TCMA – Through Channel Marketing Automation