Partner organizations are increasingly taking the lead on marketing themselves and the brands they represent. That’s the observation of Dave Sutton, CEO at TopRight, a marketing consulting firm, who is witnessing partner organizations account for an increasing share of his business.
“Five years ago, TopRight would have typically been engaged by the brand in order to drive marketing improvement through their partner organizations,” he said. “What we’re finding is that partner organizations, distributors and franchisees are where a lot of the action is now.”
The shift can be attributed to a variety of things. In the business services space, many traditional partners have become large enough to be recognizable brands in their own markets. Furthermore, partner organizations may be able to market to prospects more effectively because they have a better understanding of customer concerns. “Vendors have less visibility into what’s happening in the market,” explained Sutton. “Not because they’re not paying attention, but because they’re somewhat isolated from where a lot of these decisions are being made.”
Because B2B buyers have access to so much more information about the products and brands they’re considering, they can wield significantly more power in the purchasing process. “If you think about buyer power shifting over to customers more, that means that for the people that meet with customers the most – the partners – and have the most visibility to customer needs and specs, a certain amount of that power goes to that end of the supply chain too.”
Equally important, he said, product or service innovation is being initiated by the customers and the partners who interact with them directly. Those closer relationships not only enable partners to more effectively market the brands they represent. They recognize that they can drive additional revenue by more effectively marketing their additional services and proprietary offerings.
For example, one of TopRight’s clients, Brady Services, a Greensboro, NC-based, commercial property solutions and support provider, has begun to market the data its technology collects. Data pulled from HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems can by used to analyze power consumption and predict and prevent outages. “That in and of itself may be worth quite a bit as standalone business outside of the transitional HVAC contracting business,” Sutton said.
“One of the biggest ‘Aha’ moments we had with Brady was, if we could actually build some analytics around the systems it deploys, we might actually be able to resell insight and information about smart buildings that would be that much more valuable than maybe even the lifetime value of the system itself. That’s the kind of innovation that you only get visibility into if you’re living, breathing with the customer every day and learning from the customer as opposed to just selling them a product,” Sutton continued. “A lot of real innovation and insight is happening closer to the customer.”
Maintaining a higher brand profile can be necessary to drive core business for service companies like Brady. In the commercial building sector, vendors strive to keep their brands top-of-mind with larger customers. But to win deals with smaller, local companies, service providers need to be front-and-center, said Sutton.
Sutton recommends that vendors continue to provide their partners with marketing support. “We always tell vendors if they want to get channel partners to love them, help them sell more of their stuff,” he said.
In addition to service providers like Brady, Sutton sees partner organizations in the technology sector showing more interest in marketing their businesses. “The people that are actually implementing and configuring the solution, they’re the face of the brand. They’re the ones that are helping you to make sure that customers are getting value out of the technology that they bought,” he said.
The related services that partners provide can makes their brands more important than the vendors’ logo, said Sutton. Referring to the commercial building-services industry, he said “Clearly warranty and other things play into product selection. But the reality is that the people that maintain the system — that are on hot dispatch when the system goes down and building is 90 degrees – makes their relationship with the customer very strong.” And when decision makers start thinking about an upgrade, their “first call” is often going to be to the service providers they know.