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Partner Marketing is as Important as Partner Management

The author of this piece is Peter O’Neill, Research Director at Research in Action which is an internationally recognized powerhouse for their core strength in Marketing and IT Automation.. He is also a member of the Impartner Channel Chief Advisory Board (CCAB). The CCAB is a group comprised of top channel thought leaders, analysts and consultants who each have decades of channel experience and insights to contribute to channel best practice discussions.

In my activities as an industry analyst, I talk to many B2B companies about partner automation systems and the discussions are always focused on how to recruit, categorize and generally manage their partners.

Basically, the focus is on partner relationship management. This is because most organizations continue to think of various channel partners – be they agents, distributors, influencers, resellers or eCommerce aggregators – as serving a pure distribution function for their organization. While they do often share product marketing content with these partners, it’s merely because they want to ensure that their own brand is well represented, as well as trying to govern how products are presented to customers.

But that’s only half of the partner automation story…

More-savvy B2B marketing professionals are waking up to the fact that channel partners can be leveraged for local marketing reach as well. They’re learning to open up marketing automation systems that can be accessed by channel partners. This concept of through-channel marketing automation (TCMA), sometimes called local or distributed marketing, is the practice of engaging channel partners to extend and amplify a firm’s marketing campaigns and activities. And for those willing to invest, it can be incredibly powerful.

But why set up a TCMA program? Here are two key considerations:

  • Risk management – Most channel partners now invest in digital marketing programs, but don’t always have the resources and skills to be effective at it. As a result, organizations run the risk of ‘bad marketing at scale’ when channel partners (left to their own devices) launch programs into the market without the firm’s brand, or dilute, confuse or even damage the brand image.
  • MDF investment management – The rise in channel partner marketing has made MDF applications more diverse and difficult to manage. The best way for an organization to control MDF spend is to align it to their own distributed marketing program.

TCMA is slowly being adopted across the technology industry where marketing automation investments have started to become the norm (I’m seeing it first-hand). But I also notice interest in other B2B industry sectors as well. All companies want to onboard new partners more quickly. They also want to scale partner marketing efforts and build partner loyalty, leverage partner’s promotional efforts to amplify their own marketing efforts and maintain corporate brand integrity. TCMA gives them new levels of visibility into channel marketing performance.What functions does a modern TCMA system support?

Syndicated content with agile control over messaging – Content syndication in TCMA is the ability to create a content feed for the channel partner’s website keeping authorized content in synch, effortlessly, with the manufacturer. In fast changing industries (like technology) or regulated industries (like financial services or health care) the ability to implement change quickly, but with complete control, is a key imperative.

  • Syndicated campaigns to increase customer outreach – TCMA platforms enable syndication of co-branded marketing campaigns. From simple, single-step campaigns to multi-stage, omnichannel campaigns, organizations can set a template while still allowing partners to customize some limited elements of the campaign artifacts.
  • Enablement of your most reclusive partners – Many organizations have treasured partners for their sales capacity, local presence or technical competency, but not for their marketing prowess. TCMA platforms let you deal with that reality by offering subscription marketing that allows your less sophisticated partners to ‘set it and forget it.’
  • Local-presence marketing to ensures “preferred solution” partners are found – Some TCMA vendors offer directory listing services with standardized business citations that include the name, address, phone number and URL for local partners to be deployed across hundreds of sites like Google+, Yelp and Bing. For organizations with strong brand identity and market pull, these are important features to maximize the revenue results of the investment in brand.
  • Paid search marketing connects channel partners to active local buyers – Some TCMA vendors also include managed execution of the campaign. This ensures that partner campaigns do not conflict with the vendor’ search engine marketing (SEM) programs, and that local partners do not compete against one another in the bidding for keywords.
  • DAM functions for robust content marketing efforts – Most TCMA solutions support a digital asset library that delivers storage and secure retrieval of all sorts of digital content. The assets are typically configured with metadata to enable categorical, keyword or “quick” search options that make it easy for users to find and access materials.
  • Physical asset management supporting print marketing – ‘Print’ is far from dead in local marketing, so TCMA vendors support ordering processes for printed/co-branded collateral, brochures, flyers, posters and direct mail pieces (even high-resolution files that are downloadable for the partner to print on their own).

If the benefits are so clear, why is there not more investment in TCMA?

My observation is that the main hurdle to realizing these benefits is based on organizational challenges. The word ‘channel’ is unfortunately used in marketing departments to mean communication channels and so the business partner channel is often neglected or overlooked by marketing. It’s often the case that many CMOs don’t even think of business partners in the context of a marketing channel. And many organizations still manage their business partners from within the sales organization, so marketing doesn’t feel responsible or empowered.

Once you’re ready to start your TCMA journey, how can you help ensure that the initiative will be successful? Here are some quick tips based on the projects I have seen:

  • Understand your customers’ journeys – Research and analyze the role that channel partners play when buyers are researching and ultimately deciding. Use this to define your through-channel marketing mix strategy.
  • Score channel partners by their marketing prowess – You will need to offer a range of marketing collaboration capabilities, from DIY (do it yourself) to DIFM (do it for me) to the channel partners, depending on their capabilities.
  • Work on an adoption strategy – Do not assume that all partner marketers become enchanted with the TCMA tool you have chosen. They may even have other alternatives to work with from other vendors. You need to include assistance resources and incentives in the project. You also should plan to introduce the extensive features included within most TCMA solutions in a phased manner to avoid overpowering the partners.

Peter O’Neill is a research director at Research in Action, a leading independent technology research and consulting company. He is also a member of the Impartner Channel Chief Advisor Board. Read more about Peter here or contact him at poneill@marchnata.eu or poneill@researchinaction.de

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