Sharing a spark and common interests gets a marriage off the ground but it’s not enough to sustain it. That takes thoughtful communication, an understanding of each other’s goals and a commitment to work together for the success of the relationship.
If you’re a technology marketer, the same holds true for your relationships with channel partners. But there’s a difference. Whereas people in a personal relationship may take turns calling the shots, in vendor-channel partner relationships, there’s no question the channel partner has the upper hand.
“A fun part of marriage is arguing over who deserves to use the charger in the car. PROVE IT, SHOW ME YOUR PERCENTAGE.”
In fact, a recent AMI-Partners study cited by Channel Partners Online shows that channel partners — many operating as MSPs or managed services providers — are commanding a growing share of SMB and enterprise IT spending. They’re also becoming more selective with the vendors they choose — not a surprise considering AMI-Partners’ findings that the average MSP works with at least 15 technology vendors.
That means you, the technology vendor, has to work harder to win and hold the attention of your channel partners. The relationship is yours to win or lose — and things will go quickly downhill if your channel marketing approach isn’t conducive to open dialogue, is misaligned with partners’ strategies, and requires partners to jump through hoops to promote your offerings.
How to Win the Loyalty of Your Channel Partners
With so many technology vendors vying for partners’ loyalty, your channel relationships need constant nurturing to keep producing mutually-rewarding results. Here are 5 channel marketing behaviors to help you start and sustain successful channel partner relationships.
1. Go into the relationship with all eyes open.
Like any relationship, a channel partnership without the promise of mutual rewards for both participants is bound to go nowhere. To make a suitable match, search for channel partners among companies that are not only familiar and trustworthy, but also have core competencies that complement yours; for example, the skills and experience necessary to integrate your technology with other solutions used in your target markets.
The goal is to build a symbiotic relationship that makes it worthwhile for both vendor and channel partner to engage. While the ultimate success of these relationships depends mostly on what happens after agreements are signed, it makes sense that partnerships that start on common ground are easier to sustain, long-term.
2. Never lose sight of “What’s in it for them — aka, your partners.”
Even partnerships that begin with a natural alignment of competencies and goals need constant attention to thrive. With so many technology vendors battling for mindshare, channel partners need to know there’s enough value in their relationship with your company to be worth the effort.
That means channel marketers need to always be on the lookout for new and effective ways to rise above the noise while keeping a sharp eye on their partners’ main goal — which is to identify, qualify and convert as many leads as possible.
An agreement that clearly shows what’s in for both partner and technology vendor is a start. The next step is a channel marketing strategy that does two things:
- Fosters open dialogue between technology vendor and channel partner to provide insight on what works and doesn’t work so continuous adjustments can be made.
- Emphasizes the creation of informative, dynamic and relevant content that partners will want to share because it brings real value to their customers’ experience with your technology and brand.
3. Give channel partners what they need for marketing and sales.
We can’t stress it enough — in crowded technology channels, motivating channel partners to make your sales cycles a priority must be your top priority. That means you need to view your channel partners as an extension of your sales team and empower them with everything they need to represent your brand consistently and accurately while improving their own visibility.
A comprehensive channel marketing strategy includes training partners on how to position your solution and educating them on the customer journey. It also includes equipping them with meaningful and compelling content (demo videos, landing pages, email templates, blogs, etc.) that addresses their customers’ unique goals and challenges. The more you do to empower your channel partners, the more valuable they’ll view the partnership.
4. Make it easy to use your tools.
Giving channel partners marketing and sales tools they’ll want to share with customers is important. But simply giving them access to an online partner marketing portal or asset library and navigation tools is no longer enough.
Today, the rapid pace of digital transformation and rising pressure from partners’ customers to deliver more strategic, customized solutions makes communicating and sharing assets a lot more complicated than it used to be.
The bottom line: If partners have to work too hard to dig up the right content from your asset library and cobble together campaigns that resonate with your customers, your efforts to set them up for success will backfire.
Most channel partners just don’t have the time, staff or context to run campaigns efficiently and effectively. The risk is that your carefully planned marketing strategies will be mismanaged — making a bad impression on prospects and customers and hamstringing opportunities to start conversations that convert leads and encourage repeat sales.
Instead, you need to empower your channel partners with a “prescribed marketing” approach. In other words, a system that specifies in a clear, step-by-step way not only what assets to promote, but also how and when to promote them.
5. Don’t judge a channel partner by its size
Many technology vendors may be tempted to give priority to larger channel partners, emphasizing size of portfolio over service personalization capabilities or commitment level. This is a short-sighted, because size isn’t the only driver of channel marketing success.
In hyper-connected channels, it’s also about the quality of the service experience and ability of a channel partner to relate and bring value to your target audience. With the right tools and motivation to support your sales cycle, a smaller channel partner can be a powerful ally.
6. Leave the past behind.
With customers’ growing reliance on social media and dynamic content such as video, no channel marketing strategy — not even a prescribed approach — will succeed without incorporating content that can be used across a range of social platforms and media types.
That includes recommendations for tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn posts, repurposable blog and newsletter content, and the creative use of video and text. With the rise of mobile and remote workforces, it’s especially important that everything you produce is optimized for access from any device.
Failing to do any of these things lessens the chance your message will reach your channel partners’ increasingly mobile target audience. In an era of rapid change, it’s also likely to diminish confidence in the ability of your partners to adapt and future-proof your solutions.
Being able to adapt your channel marketing strategy to changing technologies and user behaviors is the secret to staying in channel partners’ good graces.