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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Nathanson

6 Marketing Tips For Improving Your Channel Performance

Selling products and services through channel partners — whether they are distributors, those you've formed alliances with, original equipment manufacturers, resellers or service partners — is an established model for B2B organizations to expand their sales footprint and broaden their reach to new audiences, geographies and market segments. According to Forrester, third-party channels are responsible for more than 70% of global revenue.

These channels can be complex to manage and motivate. Partners are extensions of a vendor’s sales force (in some cases, partners are its sales force). But these relationships often exist in an environment where a vendor has limited direct influence or jurisdiction over its partner’s sales goals, pipeline or process.

Net new revenue generation is the most relevant performance metric of selling partnerships, and when expected contribution comes up short, it prompts familiar questions that reflect the fundamental challenges of every channel relationship: “Why isn’t my channel selling more?” and “How can we get partners to pay more attention to our product or service?”

The answers — along with clues to help strengthen the relationship — can often be found through a better understanding of the partner’s perspective. Drawing on my experience with channel marketing, here are some insights on that perspective, along with six tactical tips to help you shift channel performance into high gear.

Consider Your Audience

Partners are the intermediaries between vendors and customers; they often add enormous value to the customer relationship. Most represent multiple and sometimes competing brands, and sell a wide range of products and services, meaning they must understand many different solutions.

Each vendor in the partner’s roster also adds layers of paperwork and processes to the partner’s already full plate. The partner must learn to operate multiple, disparate technology types, including portals, systems and sales tools, efficiently — and keep track of competing incentive programs, sales goals and deal registrations.

In addition, a vendor often has many other channel partners selling the same products. At times, even vendors’ direct sales infringe on a partner’s deals. With an eye on the bottom line, the partner will likely naturally sell products that move quickly — those with high customer demand and good margins from vendors that don’t present a lot of conflict. Sound like a losing battle? It’s not insurmountable.


Foster the Relationship

Armed with this insight on what your partners face, you can begin to address issues to lighten their load — and stand out:

1. Make it personal: A formal onboarding process can help transition new partners and make them feel like they’re part of the team (and they are). Introduce them to your internal channels and direct sales (and marketing) team members. Welcome them in an announcement on your partner portal. Instruct them on how to access and use your dedicated partner resources. Share corporate swag — including digital partner “badges” so they can display their team membership proudly.

2. Show them the ropes: One recent survey found that 45.8% of referral partner program managers and 56.5% of reseller program managers indicated that onboarding and training programs affected revenue. A continuous, customized training program can educate partner sales teams on your capabilities, market trends, competitors and product positioning — and set you apart from other vendors in their portfolio. Consider offering certifications and learning tracks that motivate partners to learn how to sell your solution.

3. Keep things simple: Every vendor has their own set of incentives, sales goals, systems and processes. With multiple vendors to manage, it’s a lot for a partner to track. In addition, according to one survey of more than 200 North-American partners, 73% believe that “vendor channel programs are too complex.” Ensure that key stats (e.g., goals, deal registrations and market development funds) are easy for the partner to access, track and cash in on. Keep partners engaged by processing payments for sales performance incentive funds and sales goals quickly, and be proactive about helping partners use MDF so valuable dollars don’t go unused.


Create Better Engagement

Salespeople are driven by very different things. Remember who you are talking to and communicate with partners in a way that shows that you “get it” in terms of what they need to sell your product successfully.

4. Make the connection: A top challenge for 72% of salespeople and partners is an inability to connect how your product addresses buyer challenges and needs. Battlecards, competitor briefs, value propositions, differentiators and other sales tools help partners see the connections — and make better matches between your solution and the buyer. Make it short and sweet: Content that is easy to digest will be consumed and understood more readily.

5. Look who’s talking: Ensure that your product aligns with the needs of the customers your partner serves. Even more important, though, is product/market fit — or how customers view your product. If it’s in high demand and customers are talking about it, you can assume that you’ve achieved a level of success. Better product/market fit helps the channel perform, and it’s how today’s prospects are evaluating products.

6. Provide marketing “to go.”: Keep in mind that many smaller partners lack the specialized marketing resources and time needed to translate your assets and content into effective marketing campaigns. Enable your partners with customer-facing materials and turnkey campaign kits that they can co-brand and take directly to their customers. Do this consistently. Change it up frequently. Finally, focus on delivering value with assets that your partners can’t access anywhere else, such as industry research, thought leadership and premium content that’s not available on the web.


The Takeaways

It’s important to remember that channel sales are not a “set it and forget it” model. Your partners rely on you to help them understand how your product aligns with their buyer needs and challenges. This requires active support, communication and tools that enable and empower them.

It’s not much different, really, from enabling a direct sales team. Support your channel just like you support your own salespeople. Minimizing conflict and optimizing the partner experience are efforts that require tenacity but can pay you back in spades — allowing you to rise above the noise, draw the partner’s attention to your offer and ultimately improve channel performance in your favor.

 

Natalie is Founder & President of Magnetude Consulting, a full service marketing agency working with small and mid-sized B2B tech firms. Natalie is a Forbes Agency Council member where this article was originally posted.

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