Despite the development of user-friendly partner relationship management solutions, channel marketing management technology, and increasingly intuitive portals intended to make it easier for partners to work with the vendors they represent, brands are finding it necessary to offer even more personal touches. Concierge programs, which can range from answering simple questions about accessing those partner portals to creating and fulfilling marketing campaigns are almost mandatory features of a channel program.
“Concierge services are table-stakes for a successful channel program,” said Kevin Hoposdar, Director of Marketing at MindMatrix. “As more vendors add them to their program, partners fully expect all brands to offer them.”
Mike Moore, vice president, channel strategy at Averetek, agreed, saying that concierge programs are vital to offering partners the on-demand support they, well, demand. “Partner can be very finicky,” he said. “They expect a fast response to requests for support so it’s imperative that vendors have the capabilities to respond quickly.”
Getting information to partners fast is just the tip of the iceberg. With concierge services, vendors are assisting if not assuming fully a number of key partner marketing tasks.
“There is a growing recognition that partners can’t do it all,” said Moore. In an ideal world, partners are actively promoting vendor messages, generating leads, and nurturing their own prospects. But many partners don’t have the resources to perform even the most basic marketing functions.
It’s likely that many partners will hand even over more their marketing tasks to their vendors’ concierge team. According to a recent Demand Gen Report white paper, Sizing Up DIY Vrs Do It For Me In B2B Marketing, a growing trend among small to mid-sized firms is to engage outside experts to shorten the learning curve associated with creating, measuring and tracking campaigns within marketing automation systems. Not only are these service providers experts on related technology, but they also are skilled at the best practices around creating emails, landing pages and other marketing essentials.
It’s not just small companies. For example, the report cited Ascend2’s 2016 Marketing Automation Trends Survey that showed 63% of all organizations outsource all or part of their marketing automation strategy planning. Large companies have a long track record of doing so. Now, a growing number of SMBs are seeing how combing technology automation plus services can drive more value from their technology investments.
Partner demand for concierge services is reflected in how prominently vendors are expanding and promoting their offerings. For example, In August, Samsung Electronics America, expanded the Marketing Concierge support included in its Samsung Team Empowered Partners (STEP) Programs. Samsung Marketing Concierge, now offered to all registered partners, gives them access to third-party marketing platforms that provide expertise for co-branded campaigns, reports, and access to automated tools for online and social media strategies,
Also this summer, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) announced its new Partner Ready Digital Marketing Program. Among the tools that are free to all partners is a marketing concierge service that partners can query to find any content they need to drive digital marketing campaigns. Other tools include a social media center tool and its Product Solutions Now content repository.
Datto, Inc, a leading provider of total protection solutions, made the introduction of its MarketNow Concierge Service, a key announcement at its partner event this summer. Available from MindMatrix for a monthly fee starting at $250, MarketNow Concierge Service include four hours of sales and marketing support per month for activities ranging from sending emails and editing landing pages to importing and organizing leads and sales assets.
Subscribers also have access to pre-packaged content including emails, blog posts, social posts, e-guides, landing pages and sales playbook.
MarketNow Concierge Services allow Datto partners to leverage the MarketNow platform to its full potential, said Hospodar earlier this summer. Many partners are often “working in the business, rather than on business,” he said, and lack the sales and marketing resources and skills needed to grow their business. The MindMatrix service offering is specifically designed to address the challenges these companies face.
As much as concierge service are intended to lighten the load for partners, taking everything off their plate is not recommended.
Channel tech providers agree that partners shouldn’t rely too heavily on concierge services. Teaching partners “how to fish” so they can ultimately take more initiative promoting their vendors’ brands as well as their own solutions and services is the end-game, said Sean Wisdom, VP Channel Marketing at SproutLoud. The concierges services it offers to vendors’ partners are designed to get them familiar with the systems, experience the benefits they provide, and then use them on their own.
Partners tend to resist being told what to do by vendors, said Wisdom. By demonstrating to them what can be achieved by doing more of the own marketing with the technology available to them, partners are often more willing to take action. What’s especially compelling, said Wisdom, is when vendors can demonstrate how some of its other partners our out-performing marketing laggards.
Heather Margolis, founder and CEO, Channel Maven Consulting agreed that showing partners how they can efficiently and effectively do more of their own marketing can compel a significant number of them to continue programs on their own. But, she cautioned, it’s important to monitor their activity to ensure they continue their own programs.
Averetek’s Moore noted that concierge services should not be designed to do all the work for the partners. “It’s important that partners have some skin in the game,” he said. “Expectation always run high. If the partners aren’t actively involved, marketing programs are almost guaranteed to disappoint.”
As much as vendors are offering concierge services to extend that capabilities of their partners, they are also engaging service providers to take some of the burden off their teams. At Channel Fusion, its team of channel support concierge proactively maintain communications with partners to keep them engaged. Experts in specific vertical markets, they are able to coach partners helping them to identify opportunities that are aligned with the vendors they serve.
“We don’t merely syndicate content,” said Pankaj Monga, Channel Fusion CEO. For example, its marketing support team will create a mix of messaging from both the vendor and the partners to ensure the most customer-centric campaigns.
Elastic Grid has in-house teams of dedicated and certified marketing advisors that help its clients’ partners localize vendor campaigns.
While some companies are offering concierge services to all of their partners, a more selective strategy should be considered. Concierge services are often awarded to the partners who are already generating high levels of income.
“We fully expected that the larger partners would be the primary consumers of the services our vendors offer,” said Cameron Avery, Elastic Grid CEO. “But we’re also discovering that vendors are asking us to help them better engage smaller or new partners – especially those addressing long-tail opportunities.”
Margolis recommends that vendors take a more judicious approach to offering concierge support, making it available to those partners who can make the most of the opportunities they represent.
Offering high touch concierge support to a partners that have no marketing capabilities in place to utilize them will little ROI. Awarding support to large partners with their own marketing teams in place can be unproductive too. Instead, said Margolis, selectively providing concierge support to growth partners or those serving prospects in targeted markets may yield a greater return.
If a vendor is competing for partners against a number of brands offering concierge services, it may be necessary to shine a spotlight on their services. But if possible, Margolis recommends that concierge services be offered more selectively and discretely to those solutions providers who will use their to generate more business.
During a recent MindMatrix-hosted webinar, Angela Leech, research director at SiriusDecisions, recommended that vendors pilot concierge programs with a limited of partners. Well-documented experimentation will help vendors align appropriate levels of concierge support with the right partners to maximize return on investment.