Agencies and consultancies are in the trenches of the channel, helping vendors and partners maximize sales and marketing results.
Before launching our annual Guide To Channel Agencies And Consultancies, Channel Marketer Report asked participants to answer the following: What questions are prospects and customers asking you most frequently? What is the No. 1 challenge you’re currently seeing in the channel?
Below are responses from the agencies and consultancies, which are presented in alphabetical order:
The No. 1 challenge vendors are facing is providing partners with the tools they need to market effectively. It’s not that the tools don’t exist, it’s that no one tool is right for all partners. Some partners need a marketing automation tool with co-brandable assets; some have their own robust systems and just want the copy. Some partners need a One-2-One Partner Support type engagement; some have a full marketing team with multiple strategies.
The top questions prospects and customers are asking us today is how they can improve the partner experience. This means resources, programs, incentives, training, tiers, etc. With each of these elements, how can they look at what a partner’s journey is today and continue to improve upon that?
On the one hand there is a wide spread (sometimes covert) desire from an increasing number of vendors to dis-intermediate the channel by moving more revenue toward a direct sales cloud approach, and on the other hand many channel partners are desperately trying to port their business model to be cloud compatible.
Naturally this is not an easy transition for established/mature channel partners as it means an overhaul of the financial modeling and cash-flow management, not to speak of the retraining and culture change for their sales forces. Many of the more successful cloud partner companies now tend to be new startups, or the behemoth partners that have the resources, wisdom and acumen to engage the support of both specialist consultants and leverage their core technology vendors to the hilt.
The top question we are asked by vendors is how to ensure we maximize mid-market revenues through the channel, specifically looking at channel profitability modeling and sales pipeline development and control. The top question we are asked by channel partners is how can we help them use vendor programs and resources effectively to build green field pipeline. The industry as a whole has a similar common challenge: Growing mid-market, as well as introducing and growing cloud without losing the support and loyalty of the channel.
The hot term these days is “benchmarking.” It seems like every prospect and customer wants to know where they should be at any given point in a campaign. They want to know, “What is someone who looks like me getting out of marketing technology?” It goes to show that we haven’t yet gotten past the point where marketing automation is a novelty item that has to constantly prove its worth to non-believers in the business.
What we’ve done is lead our clients away from reliance on benchmarks comparative to other companies, because it really depends on the program and the particular strategy in place. Instead of focusing on those periodic checks, we have clients ask themselves, “Where do the road blocks exist? What are the issues we’re encountering again and again? How can we change our messaging and our strategy to address these road blocks?”
Making individualized adjustments is much more effective then comparing your company’s progress against another that might be completely different than your business.
The top challenge we’re seeing in the channel revolves around complexity. As the channel rapidly evolves and partner types expand; the shift to cloud and vertical focus picks up pace; and new buyers and new competition enter the market — layered with the growing demand to be relevant and drive behaviors at the individual and company level — have created a huge challenge for vendors.
Our recent research concluded that 75% of vendors want to issue behavior-based incentives and can’t. About 80% of vendors manage their channel incentives manually. There is a significant gap between what programs are important to implement and a vendor’s ability to execute them. The big question from channel marketers is: How do we leverage effective technology and smart marketing to change partner behavior?
The top question our clients and prospects ask us is: What are the right behaviors to incent to drive loyalty and, ultimately, advocacy? Billions of dollars are spent each year on channel incentives. Our clients are not challenged with budget, but rather with determining a) What behaviors indicate loyalty, b) How to incent those behaviors to create advocacy, and c) What technology to leverage to quickly and accurately deliver the right incentives and experience.
The largest challenging facing solution providers and vendors is the transition of channel partners from a traditional VAR to cloud-centric business models. About one third are in the process of transition (with varying degrees of success), one third won’t even attempt it (change is hard) and it’s still to be seen if the final third have the capability and the interest in shifting their business model.
We’re primarily seeing challenges in the channel around lead acquisition, distribution and disposition. We get questions from prospects and customers about how to implement these and report in a closed-loop fashion.
The primary challenge we’re seeing in the channel is that there is a deficiency in brand strategy execution due to mishandling of the actual marketing distribution. Brands and manufacturers often make “portals” available to channel partners where they can browse through pre-approved vendors and purchase their services and apply co-op funds. But a variety of vendors follow up separately to execute off-platform, which results in a web of vendor relationships for partners to manage. Vendors are unaware of each other’s efforts, and campaign results are scattered over multiple dashboards. In some cases, brands have instituted a “marketing automation system” to handle very specific pieces of the partners’ marketing, but still it ultimately remains disjointed.
Primarily, prospects and customers are asking us: How can we automate marketing for our partners so all they have to do is opt-in to turnkey programs?
The No. 1 challenge we see is summed up with one question we hear many people asking: “How do we start working smarter in the channel?” Due to this theme, we see partner marketing and channel management pros focused on three areas: Automation, lead generation and sales.
Stay tuned for CMR’s annual Guide To Channel Agencies And Consultancies, which will appear in our July 24 newsletter.
Alicia Fiorletta is Senior Editor for Channel Marketer Report. Working closely with industry analysts and experts, Alicia reports on the latest news, technologies, case studies and trends coming to forefront in the channel marketing world. With a focus on emerging marketing strategies, including social, mobile and content for demand, Alicia hones in on new ways for organizations to market to and through their partner networks. Through her work with G3 Communications, Alicia also acts as Associate Editor for Retail TouchPoints, a digital publishing network focused on the customer-facing area of the retail industry.