An underlying predicament for the majority of vendors and manufacturers today is the 80/20 rule: 20% of a typical partner base generates 80% of total indirect channel revenue. Furthermore, findings from Channel Enablers have reaffirmed that while approximately half of partners produce about 20% of revenue, the rest of an average organization’s partner base doesn’t generate any revenue.
“The challenge is to get more partners producing revenue, and to speed up the time to revenue for new partners,” Philip Moon, VP Products and Intellectual Property at Channel Enablers, told Channel Marketer Report. “That middle group of 40-50% of partners generally want to succeed but don’t know how, and many vendors do a poor job of enabling them.”
So is providing more detailed education on products and pricing the key to driving more revenue among a higher percentage of partners? Not necessarily, according to Dale Taormino, Senior Director, Marketing and Strategic Alliances, CCI.
While effective product education is a challenge in itself due to the complexity of specific products and solutions, demand generation and marketing best practices are even more difficult to achieve she noted.
“In this day and age, sales are equally — if not more — about business acumen than product knowledge,” Taormino said. “With today’s sophisticated buyers, effective demand generation tactics and marketing strategies are more crucial than ever before.”
B2B buying patterns and preferences are becoming more complex, largely due to the rise of online search, social media and other organic discovery and consideration methods. These ever-evolving behaviors confirm that providing marketing resources and content is only half the battle. Now, vendors and manufacturers must focus on marketing enablement to ensure assets and marketing methods are leveraged effectively.
“Your partners may have access to all of the resources in the world, but may be using them incorrectly, underutilizing them, or not using the resources at all because of a knowledge gap,” said Heather K. Margolis, Founder and President of Channel Maven Consulting. “Your partners are an extension of your sales team so training them accordingly is paramount.”
Making Training And Enablement A Priority
Despite industry experts and thought leaders confirming the importance of partner education and enablement, assuring program participation and completion remains a daunting obstacle for vendors and manufacturers.
“The biggest pain points among partners revolve around time and resource constraints,” said William Gilsing, Senior Channel Strategist, hawkeye channel. “The technology industry does not have common training and certification requirements, resulting in varied standards across vendors and categories. Partners and their vendors would benefit greatly if vendors agreed on base-level training and certification across categories, augmented with advanced specialization courses from individual vendors.”
Moon added that many vendors are focusing too much on product training, which may be too time consuming to complete for partners that sell products for multiple organizations. “Instead of pondering how they can get partners to do more training,” he said, “vendors need to determine how they can help enable partners to independently produce revenue for themselves, as well as the vendor.”
An ideal enablement plan, Moon added, includes joint business planning, in which partner resources and investments are agreed upon, as well as enablement processes for sales and marketing, products and technology, and joint operations. “Automation and on-demand information should be utilized wherever possible,” he added, “to reduce the time and cost of enablement for both vendor and partner.”
Guiding Partners Along The Marketing Journey
Training methods such as in-person sessions, webinars and other digital tactics have been classified as successful for countless vendors. However, effective training isn’t just “one and done”: It is an ongoing effort for vendors to provide guidance and help partners navigate new marketing and sales methods across channels.
Margolis explained: “Vendors often will provide marketing and sales training to their partners and then send them off to execute on all of the great advice. Can you guess what happens? Partners are overwhelmed and get caught up in the minutia of day-to-day business and those tools you trained them on all of a sudden are pushed to the backburner. While you are helping your partners get started with marketing, it’s crucial that you don’t throw them overboard. Ideally, we recommend that vendors provide 3-9 months of some kind of support to train them on their new marketing efforts. This could be customized content loaded into one of the automation platforms or providing them with a marketing roadmap to train them over a three-month period with different lessons each week.
The Role Of Channel Account Managers
It may be up to vendors to provide a variety of compelling educational resources to nurture partners to marketing and sales success. But what happens once partners complete certification and other courses, and are let loose to generate leads and create new opportunities? Channel Account Managers (CAMs) and Field Marketing team members can play pivotal roles in whether partners consistently utilize the methods learned throughout the entire training process.
“Vendors can ensure partners are using educational resources successfully by training partner-facing teams to keep tabs on partners,” Margolis advised. “These are the people partners are talking to on regular basis. They are helping partners execute on demand generation activities. As a result, CAMs should complete training that is similar to partners.”
Tying Incentives To Education: The Key To Participation
Partners often are faced with daunting to-do lists and internal business obligations, making training webinars and other educational sessions low on their priorities. To increase likelihood that partners will make these sessions incremental to their daily tasks, vendors are tying rewards and incentives to training program and certification completion.
“Online training and certification are tied to incentives as well as partner segmentation so partners benefit financially when they complete training and achieve a higher level of certification,” Gilsing said. “Gamification also has been introduced as a way to make content and the process of vendor-partner interaction more compelling and entertaining.”
Because incentives are all about driving behavior, tying education to monetary rewards, SPIFs or MDF points can pique partner interest and provide that extra encouragement to participate in training session or attend webinars.
“We’re seeing more vendors offering rewards for the completion of training,” Taormino said. “This can take many forms: points that are earned and flow to an ongoing sales rep loyalty program to either be accumulated and ‘spent’ or cashed out; simple dollar value SPIFs that can be claimed (i.e, $50 for every course completion); and/or tied at the partner-entity level, where points can count toward co-marketing dollar allocations or sales performance rewards.”