At Sage, the business management solution provider, helping its partners drive more of their own pipeline is a top priority for 2019. Offering an expanded marketing program on a robust infrastructure, Sage is striving to help its partners “drive customers through the journey of selecting, considering and deciding what new technology they should bring into their organization,” said Kerstin Demko, Sage’s North America Partner Marketing Director.
“Any good channel marketing person will use the phrase, ‘Teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime,’” said Demko in a video. During a recent conversation with CMR, she shared more details on why and how Sage believes the time is right to help its partners expand their business models and ultimately reel in more of their own opportunities.
Sage, itself, has been going through a major digital transformation to adapt to the reality of the market, explained Demko, expanding its product portfolio as well as its reach into global markets. But the company also recognized a need to adjust its relationship with partners to help them make the same journey. Traditional vendor-partner relationships were not going to remain effective, said Demko.
“We would give leads to our partners, our partners would close them, then implement, and then they would manage the customer, or we would manage them jointly. That doesn’t necessarily work anymore. We can’t just feed partners leads and have them just close.”
Equally important, resellers need to change the way they operate as well. “Strictly sticking to a reseller model is not going to help them survive in the cloud era,” Demko said. To help its partner make that transition, Sage is striving to support their evolution into more robust companies that market and deliver a broader mix of product and services.
Last year, Sage hosted a series of cloud transformation workshops to help partners identify how changes in the marketplace will shift the majority of their income from software sales to providing services and support. “You’re getting less on the product because it’s now a subscription model,” Sage explained to them.
Helping them understand how their own marketing efforts could support that transition was sometimes challenging, said Demko. “This was a big mind shift,” she said. “They’re techy software guys that started a lot of these businesses. They don’t have a marketing background.” They may know a little bit about advertising and messaging, she continued. “But marketing in and of itself is a very, very complex field, and it has a lot of different pieces to learn. When a partner can learn a little bit more about the different pieces of marketing, we know that’s a win. When that knowledge helps them grow, they’ll continue to take it with them,” she explained.
“We do a lot of education around what demand generation is, the lead funnel, different types of marketing. Everything from how to engage in social media to how to deliver a great webinar. Lots of tips and tools for partners to set up their own marketing programs, and their marketing strategy.”
Backing up that training is a robust channel marketing program that includes flexible MDF support, concierge services, and modern channel marketing automation technology.
The MDF programs offers support for many of the activities that partners identify. Sage prioritizes support for demand generation activities, focusing on integrated marketing activities. Using Zift Solutions technology, Sage provides partners with a robust marketing automation platform that, among other things, streamlines syndication of content, and enables plug-ins to social media channels.
Sage offers its partners ongoing campaign support, too, having shifted its messaging from primarily product promotion to solutions selling aligned with a range of vertical markets or type of customer.
Demko has been encouraged by partner response to the program, especially the investments they are making in their own marketing capabilities. “What’s exciting is that I see more of our partners actually hiring marketing people in their organizations. This is where I think it’s now taking fruit.”
At the company’s partner summit, two partners introduced Demko to their new marketing leads. “They came up to me saying, ‘I never had someone in this position before, but I want to introduce you to my new marketing person. I’d love for them to talk with you about some of the programs that you have available.’”
Sage will provide training on marketing to anyone in a partner organization who wants to learn more. “It could be for the marketing person, or for anybody within the organization that wants to learn a little bit more about social media, or how to improve their website, or how to get better hits on an email. We’re finding that there’s a lot of other folks in the organization that will come to our marketing webinars.”
Demko is also encouraged by the growth in partners hiring agencies to provide marketing support. Sage offers a list of a recommended agencies through its concierge program. “Our partners are telling us they want to do more,” said Demko, “taking a lot more advantage of our preferred vendor list. We can immediately match them up with somebody who knows our business, knows Sage, knows the space, and then can jump in and work with the partner.”
A second year into its concierge program, Sage has experienced a level of engagement that convinced the company to expand it by 50%. “Our partners are executing different campaigns, and because we’re working with them, we can start looking at performance. Are they growing revenue year over year? Are they growing new customer acquisition year over year? It’s partly a data analysis, but we’re very conservative in the way we pilot things, making sure it’s the right thing for the channel. And then we use those learnings to adapt the program to what the channel needs.”
Vigilantly monitoring partner activity is key to keeping them engaged. “We really spend a lot of time working with partners to try to drive that engagement, because that’s how we measure success,” said Demko. “We monitor for engagement; are they using the materials we give them? Then we track performance; are they growing?”
When participation slips, Demko’s team reach out to understand why. “Has something changed? Are you stuck on something? We’re really hands-on in terms of making sure we’re getting usage out of the platform and making sure the partners understand what’s in it for them.”
“That’s how we teach them to fish,” she said. “My team does a lot of consultations. I always joke that even though I’m the director of North America partner marketing, I run a marketing help desk.”