To ensure that increasingly demanding business-unit buyers are being serviced by partners that truly understand their needs, channel leaders should apply significantly more discipline to their partner recruitment and selection practices.
In a new report, Partner-Based Marketing Accelerates Elusive Shadow Channel Engagement. Forrester’s Steven Casey, Principal Analyst, and Jay McBain, Principal Analyst – Channels, Partnerships & Alliances, are advising channel leaders to adapt account-based marketing (ABM) best practices to find and align the most appropriate partners with targeted opportunities.
The need for partner-based marketing (PBM) can be attributed to two significant trends. First, today’s empowered B2B customers demand a new level of specialization and sophistication from third-party firms that assist them, the report notes. Second, the emergence of nontraditional partnerships and alliances that serve business buyers have made it much more difficult for channel leaders to find and recruit the right partners.
Channel leaders now need to determine which existing and potential partners are best equipped to effectively engage with these new business buyers and meet their dramatically different needs.
Misalignment of partner to customer can have significant consequences, McBain and Casey write, including increasing costs, limiting revenue growth, and ceding new markets to competitors.
“We went through decades where basically if you could fog a mirror, you were accepted into a partner program,” explained McBain. As marketplaces continue to evolve, vendors are putting business at risk when partners are “just not tuned into the transactional mode that you want them to be in,” he continued.
Today, channel managers need “to be a bit more intelligent in terms of the way they design their go-to-market, routes-to-market, and not just turn on the taps and let everybody in.”
Successful PBM programs require, among other things, the development of an ideal partner profile. Criteria includes line of business (LoB) credibility, subindustry depth, segment focus, business model type (managed services provider, value-added reseller, managed security services provider, and system integrator,) and technology expertise.
As difficult as it may be for vendors to develop this criteria, identifying partners that fit the descriptions isn’t going to be easy either, said McBain. “There’s no master database today where you can go to find that.”
Instead, the report recommends using data discovery and analytical skills to identify the relevant behaviors of a subset of partners that indicate they will likely be receptive to a vendor’s program. Intent signals can take the form of relevant content consumption, visits to your website, or even announcements
Because the concept of PBM is likely to be unfamiliar to most channel professionals, Casey and McBain suggest that new practitioners leverage their company’s existing ABM skills and investment. Reaching out to colleagues familiar with ABM to learn from their experience “may help accelerate your PBM success,” notes the report. “They have likely tackled many of the issues you now face — and may already have technology solutions you could share for aggregating new third-party data sources, integrating internal data silos, building awareness at targeted organizations, and creating omnichannel personalized experiences.”
Casey and McBain recommend that companies interested in implementing PBM pilot programs first. “Channel leaders should start with a pilot program focused on a single product or market, choose a project manager with strong analytical skills, and partner with sales to reduce any fears they may have about losing control of the partner recruitment process,” they write.
McBain commented that Fortune 100 vendors are beginning to consider PBM programs. “It is a leading-edge concept,” he told CMR. “But if you’re looking at 2020 and some early signs for 2020 predictions, I think PBM is going to get on the whiteboard of your average channel leader.”