The way B2B brands work with partners such as resellers is fundamentally changing, and driving consistent growth requires something more radical than a business-as-usual approach.
As you’re tying up your 2023 budgets in the next few weeks, spare a thought for the humble channel marketer – those who strive to recruit the resellers and other partners that are the lifeblood of many B2B brands and then help them perform their roles effectively.
Channel marketing is the Cinderella of B2B marketing – the discipline pushed away into the corner or under the stairs, albeit with no lesser expectation that it will deliver results.
But, neglected as it may be, we all know how the Cinderella story works out. Just as the downtrodden sister in the family becomes a princess, channel marketing has the potential to be the shining light of any organization. Indeed, it will need to be, as it has the task of helping partners undergo a crucial transformation in how they sell and operate.
With the need for effective collaboration and IT security moving up the agenda in an era of hybrid working, B2B brands’ channel partners will play a critical and strategic role in helping businesses of all sizes to adapt. Moreover, partners must increasingly get to grips with cloud-based offerings, online buying journeys, and elevated customer expectations.
They will need new sales and delivery models and can only achieve them with careful management by channel marketing teams, which won’t necessarily be an easy transition. It will require B2B brands to shift their focus onto channel marketing’s long-term outcomes – a focus that is often lacking.
Transforming an unsung discipline
The pressure on channel marketing teams is immense, and the objectives they are working to are so complex and varied that it takes real talent to manage them all effectively. If you are in a channel role, your responsibilities probably include recruiting and servicing partners, managing and distributing market development funds, tracking the performance of partners’ campaigns, developing programs to feed them opportunities, tracking those opportunities, tracking partner satisfaction, analyzing competitor programs and reporting on deal registrations and relevant pipelines.
Yet, in spite of all those responsibilities, you are probably also in the team with the least funding, lowest headcount, and smallest level of support in your marketing department. As a lot of channel roles are cross-region, you could also be dealing on any given day with the complexities of markets across EMEA, APAC, or the Americas – complexities that are not readily understood by the powers that be.
Even two or three of the aforementioned tasks could represent a full-time job. And in such a key area for the business – one that can be a platform for rapid and consistent growth – brands should place more focus on the long-term impact that channel teams bring.
Given the recent changes to buyer journeys, the growth of cloud-based ‘as-a-service’ products, and the move to hybrid working, you’ll only be able to maintain a consistently successful channel marketing program if it’s future-proofed. That may mean rebuilding it from the ground up, and to do that, you need time to breathe and step out of the day-to-day. Realistically, that’s a luxury many channel marketers can’t afford, so you probably need to prioritize what’s most achievable.
Build from the right foundations
Start by asking: are the foundations of your program solid? Do you have the right partners signed up in the first place? Do they have the right competencies to be able to sell your product? Do they have resources in place?
Most channel programs are oversubscribed, with the traditional ethos being "more is better". This leads to a situation where the channel team can only really know what 20% of their partners are doing, as they drive 95% of the revenue.
What if that program had 50% fewer partners for the channel marketing team to manage or engage? What if the team knew that all the partners had the right skill sets, knew the audience to target, and had sufficient resources?
Measure and compare partners
Having put these principles in place, you can take the time to benchmark partners’ performance, prioritizing those that are best able to sell, serve customers and collaborate in the ways that are required today and those ready to adapt to the new requirements of cloud-based products and work management tools. For example:
• Look at the agility of your partners’ sales teams and how quickly they follow up on qualified leads.
• Compare partners in the same country and determine their win ratio.
• Monitor partner satisfaction and engagement levels using partner satisfaction surveys and analysis of the sign-ups they generate.
• Conduct a detailed analysis of cloud consumption to identify the different partner types, how they work, and what impact their success.
Offer ongoing training and sales support
The most challenging part of the process is putting in place rolling programs that upskill partners and transform their capabilities over time.
It starts with onboarding procedures but continues through product and sales training on new propositions, shared success stories, and well-crafted marketing materials. Regularly tracking and reporting on partner pipelines will help demonstrate the business growth delivered by channel marketing transformation.
Of course, B2B brands cannot take the focus off sales-related metrics – deal registrations, who is transacting, what you can do to help them transact more – however, putting too much pressure on those immediate outcomes can prevent focus on areas that could potentially have more impact in the long run.
There has been a great deal of change in channel marketing, and much more is coming. With the emergence of hybrid work models and a shift in customer experience expectations, a strategic approach to channel partnerships offers a unique opportunity for brands to drive long-term growth in revenues and profits – and that will determine who the market leaders are in 2023 and beyond.
Would you like to talk to The Marketing Practice about your channel marketing needs? Get in touch.