Lead and demand generation programs are vital to the success of sales initiatives and funnel performance, especially for OEMs, vendors and manufacturers that operate in a tiered and complex structure. Although industry research points to a growing need for qualified partners and efficient reporting on marketing progress, channel and affiliate partners are struggling to obtain the funds and resources to win end-user eyes and dollars.
While more than 60% of organizations have dedicated resources responsible for supporting channel marketing only 55% of average channel organizations provide centralized, online partner access to products, prices, promotions and other materials, according to Aberdeen Group.
Consultancies and agencies can provide organizations with the guidance and resources to maximize brand penetration, revenue, as well as lead and demand generation performance across the channel, and in turn, create more long-term business relationships. By working with OEMs/vendors, consultancies and agencies act as marketing and sales gurus, providing campaign strategies, templates, how-to guides, and intensive training to partner networks. From interactive marketing, to lead generation, nurturing and reporting, outside organizations can walk channel marketing and sales teams through necessary steps to maximize marketing spend.
“Channel marketers are more challenged with supporting their partners to drive demand,” noted Heather K. Margolis, Founder of Channel Maven Consulting. “This doesn’t mean just throwing a ‘one size fits all’ solution at their partners and hoping they were able to reach end customers but truly enabling partners and teaching them to market themselves.”
Although OEMs and vendors want partners to obtain better quality leads, they’re not providing VARs and resellers with the resources and guidelines to obtain optimal contacts that will eventually lead to long-term relationships. This is especially true in mature markets, according to Michael Kelly, Managing Director of TSL Marketing.
“Vendors in emerging markets like the Middle East / North Africa (MENA) and ASEAN are becoming far more focused on getting partners to run integrated campaigns that are focused on managing opportunities over the 6-18 month timeframe,” Kelly said. “The focus is very much on ‘raising the game’ for partners in terms of professional, systematic marketing that has long-term reliability. Vendors are trying to encourage partners to move away from spending MDF on short-term focus such as golf events.”
This however, is just not the case in North America where partners do not have the skill-sets to dramatically shift operations and marketing processes overnight, and vendors don’t have the bandwidth or resources to provide partners with professional marketing insights to move in this direction.
Top agencies and consultancies in this space, are focused on helping channel marketers make this shift to a multi-touch, integrated approach to campaigns. Through email, social media, landing pages and even direct mail and telesales, agencies and consultancies are helping marketers score leads and communicate with partners based on their engagement with company resources and solutions. Moreover, they assist with the added complexity that comes when dealing with a channel situation such as thorough reporting and consistent updates.
“The essential piece is that this approach drives accountability for all parties – the agency, the partner, and the vendor,” Kelly said. “Closed-loop reporting combined with Win/Loss Analysis is the ultimate measure of success, and forces all parties to be accountable for ROI from all co-marketing spend.”
Although the industry has focused on traditional methods, such as events and telemarketing, for the last decade, there is an increased focus on search, pay-per-click (PPC) analysis and more interactive tactics, according to Scott Gillum, President, Practice Leader Channel Marketing at gyro, a company that taps into more personal marketing channels to optimize engagement.
“We are now seeing search, both SEO and PPC play an increasingly important role in generating leads,” Gillum said. “Additionally, we’ve seen a uptick in demand for integrate campaigns involving multiple channels and tactics, combining on and offline activities.”
Social media has been a leader in the interactive marketing paradigm, presenting channel marketers with an opportunity to maximize content life, thought leadership and formulate closer bonds with partners and end-users. However, a lack of education and resources has hindered social media optimization and more importantly, adoption. Organizations are now offering campaigns-in-a-box for social media, and other pre-bundled marketing programs. These cohesive packages are designed to create a streamlined initiative that offers partners all necessary tools and materials, ensuring better performance and results.
“Market programs ‘in a box’ are great tools for vendors,” explained Mac McConnell, Parnter and Founder of BlueBird Strategies. “Vendors need to understand that margins for many resellers are very thin. They do not have the resources to staff a technology based marketing organization. Partners should be focused on selling prospects and servicing customers. Vendors should be taking on the responsibilities of building easily deployed marketing programs that benefit both parties.”
Consultancies and agencies work with vendors and manufacturers to not only provide resources, but education to implement a winning multi-touch marketing approach, Margolis added. Moreover, organizations provide vital tools, such as webinar and landing page templates with customizable sections to make content creation and deployment more streamlined and easy to deploy.
“We do a lot to educate partners on the importance of integrating social media with traditional media to more successfully reach and engage their prospects,” Margolis said. “Whether building guides, webinars, live workshops or One-2-One Marketing Support, our goal is to show partners the value of traditional and new media, educate them how to use it and provide them the content to better engage their audience.
Marketing Development Funds (MDF) have gone below 20% in utilization rate, according to research from SiriusDecisions. However, this glaring statistic isn’t because partners no longer need financial resources; the process of requesting and receiving funds, and putting financial resources to good use, is simply too daunting for organizations to tackle.
“The biggest question for channel marketers is still, ‘How do I get my channel partners to utilize available marketing funds in a correct and measurable fashion, and, where are the funds best focused?” said Wayne Carter, CEO, Gorilla Corporation, EMEA. “While the larger vendors continue to need appropriate marketing investment, it is increasingly important to maximize the potential revenue opportunities that ‘long tail’ partners can generate. Sometimes, the smaller partners do not know how to obtain funds or do not believe they have the resources available to execute against campaigns. These smaller partners need motivation and assistance from the vendor to enable them in new product training, new market spaces and solution sells.”
Lead generation consultancies can develop modular demand and lead gen programs that can be easily updated for the partner’s unique brand or position in the market, says McConnell. Consultancies, such as Gorilla Corp., measure MDF programs based on an agreed set of key performance indicators (KPIs) and tailor activities to encourage partner participation and engagement.
Some channel players are taking a more “big play” approach to MDF, according to Gillum. “This is one of the top trends we have seen, he said. “Instead of manufacturers funding request for a many small tactical activities, such as dinner events, DM and email, there has been a movement towards mapping out yearlong strategic campaigns with integrated tactics and touches. Agencies can help architecture these programs and then coordinate with the partners, vendors and suppliers to execute and measure the program impact.”
Consultancies and agencies also can effectively measure the impact of channel marketing initiatives, and in turn, determine the efficacy of specific resources and messaging. For example, the Pedowitz Group addresses six key areas:
“Assessing and improving each area as they pertain to proving a revenue result helps a vendor understand what is working for their partner ecosystem and what is not,” said Ed Thompson, Director of Demand Generation for The Pedowitz Group.
Educational resources and content, including blogs, white papers, E-books and webinars are becoming familiar tools for researching potential solutions and investments.
According to a report from the Content Marketing Institute, titled “B2B Content Marketing: 2012 Budgets, Benchmarks and Trends,” 9 out of 10 organizations utilize content marketing. On average, companies utilize eight different tactics and methods to achieve goals, such as white papers, E-books, case studies, webinars and interactive videos.
Although this is a prominent trend in the standard B2B world, more channel marketers are taking note and investigating content marketing and development, which allows vendors/OEMs and their partners to establish themselves as industry thought leaders and reliable sources.
“Content will be a key differentiator in channel marketing in 2012, especially in emerging markets,” Kelly said. “Content equals credibility in the eyes of buyers, and therefore different types of content must be made available at different stages of the buying process.”
Rather than taking a sales-centric approach to marketing, content allows organizations to dive into a high-level trend and industry pain point, and relate it to a company value proposition.
“Relevant content that is specific to industries and/or buyers is still elusive,” said Gillum. “Audiences don’t want more content, they want more content specific to their needs and/or issues.”
However, relaying content to partners effectively, and providing opportunities to co-brand resources, remains a constant challenge for vendors/OEMs, according to Thompson.
“Last year, we saw marketers focus on delivering more content in more formats and vehicles than ever before,” Thompson said. “For the channel marketer, this repurposing/rebranding/co-branding and syndication creates bottlenecks for getting content downstream to partners. It also creates greater challenges for maintaining consistency yet enabling distribution of content through social and user-generated content outlets.”
Agencies can aid in this daunting task by developing content and/or revamping existing content, and co-branding it for campaign usage, McConnell added. Outside organizations also will do a better job at keeping all channel players in mind, and incorporating fair branding, such as unique quotes into white papers and E-books, or including a company logo on title pages. Outside organizations also can consult and help vendors and channel partners to extend content life across channels, according to Justin Gray, CEO of LeadMD.
“Educational content marketing is the most successful tool, however, the effective use of different channels is what dictates the success, such as social media and CRM,” Gray explained. “Using these tools, marketers are able to trace events back to one clear path within the nurturing funnel. We never advise a client to go into a campaign with viral success as their main goal. Before content becomes a viral success story, marketers need to dig deep into who the buyer is, what their needs are and what will stimulate them into action. If these questions are appropriately addressed, any content has the potential to have viral success.”
Industry trends and pain points reaffirm the growing need for marketing education, guidance and resources across the channel. However, deciding on an outside partner to develop all branding and marketing initiatives is a daunting task.
In an effort to highlight the leading consultancies and agencies that serve channel organizations, Channel Marketer Report has released the “Top 10 Channel Consultancies” report. All companies chosen vary in expertise and offerings, providing a wealth of options and a solid starting point for vendors/OEMs looking into powering up their partner programs.
To view a cohesive guide of channel marketing consultancies and agencies, click here.