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Heather K. Margolis: It’s Time To Think Differently About Partner Demand Generation

Heather K. Margolis, founder and CEO of Channel Maven, is a renowned member of the channel marketing vanguard. At companies including EMC, EqualLogic and Dell, she spearheaded initiatives that resulted in smarter channel programs. For more than a decade, Channel Maven has been a go-to provider of strategic channel marketing communications to channel and Partner demand generation services.

During a recent conversation with Channel Marketer Report (CMR), Margolis shared her thoughts on why vendors need to take a different approach to aligning their to-, through-, and with-partner marketing programs with partner-initiated activities.

CMR — Surveys indicate that more Partners are making bigger investments in marketing their own brands as well as the Vendors they represent. How common is this? And is there any segment or type of Partner taking the lead?

Heather K. Margolis, Founder and CEO, Channel Maven

Heather K. Margolis — We’re seeing Partners make great advancements in marketing and sales. Part of this can be attributed to the innovations that make sales and marketing easier in general. Now any small business can have a marketing automation tool like Constant Contact or Mailchimp. Mailchimp actually has a “freemium” version for fewer than 2,000 contacts.

CRMs are easier to navigate too. Some versions don’t require a massive implementation. HubSpot or even Salesforce.com have options so a small to midsize business can start using them immediately.

And let’s not forget social media. Communicating to your audience is as simple as posting information or content on your LinkedIn status update or Twitter feed. The key of course is content. Is it compelling and in a format your audience can consume?

The largest solution providers have had significant marketing teams and marketing automation or CRM tools for a long time. The partners we see making a big shift recently are in sub $100M in revenue category. They are realizing that marketing doesn’t have to be that difficult and that using a marketing automation tool, social aggregator, or CRM tool can make a world of difference.

MSPs are incredibly savvy in this regard. They’re used to working in the cloud so leveraging a cloud-based tool to communicate is a no-brainer. But MSPs have zero interest in co-branding so they’re depending upon their Vendors less for content unless those Vendors can focus on business outcomes. Some of our clients do really amazing content that doesn’t mention their names at all. Just the problems that their solutions solve.

CMR —  What are some of the most  significant marketing investments being made by Partners?

Heather K. Margolis — We’re seeing Partners spend on a marketing resource rather than having the office manager doing their marketing. This person may not be a VP of Marketing, but many have manager or director level titles. They can manage a social presence, put together some minimal content like sales sheets, and use a marketing automation tool to do a monthly newsletter at the very least.

We’re also seeing Partners spend on a marketing automation tool and CRM, especially since it’s no longer a $500K annual expense. There is a range of tools and Partners are putting the time in to get the most from them.

CMR — Partner engagement in Vendor programs – and usage of the technology used to support them – often falls short of expectations. If Partners are more eager to drive demand, why aren’t they taking more advantage of the tools and materials Vendors supply?

Heather Margolis — Look at this from the Partners perspective. I’ve decided to do some outreach to my audience. I login to one Vendor platform and customize one piece of content, I load my list, then send it out via the tool’s email engine. I log out. I log into the next Vendor’s tool, customize one piece of content, load my list, send with one email through the Vendor’s email engine. I log out. I login…you get the idea. I, as the Partner, have now broken every single rule of lead and demand generation, not to mention potentially compromised my data according to GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act. Unfortunately, Vendors force Partners to use email as the main vehicle when more effective demand and lead generation encompasses so much more today.

And while Vendors are striving to support more Partners by providing them with automated or “low-touch” solutions, the reality is that under-staffed second and third tier Partners and long-tail Partners aren’t engaging and most likely won’t.

CMR — What about the marketing materials that Vendors are offering to support their Partners? Why aren’t more Partner organizations – even those with sufficient marketing resources — taking advantage of it?

Heather Margolis — It depends. Is it the right kind of support or are you forcing your Partners to do something that is inherently bad for their business? If you dictate that your Partners need to use stale content like datasheets that they can only customize with their contact info, that speaks to your solutions instead of a business outcome, in a tool that you own, then usage is going to be abysmal. If they can use their own tools, with multimedia content they can make their own, that speaks to business outcomes, your Partners are going take advantage of that support.

All Vendor programs need to keep the Partners’ business in mind. Every…Single…One. Incentives need to create habits that better the Partners business. MDF needs to cover things that will get Partners the conversations they need or access to tools that will drive their business.

Having been on the Vendor side, I know first-hand that we sometimes think of our own business and actually hope to impede Partners from working with our competition. I would rather have a Partner just get better at selling and marketing overall, even if it means they get better at selling my competitor’s solutions as well. At the end of the day, they’re going to work more closely with the Vendor who understood their business and helped them in a logical way.

CMR — What can Vendors do better? 

Heather Margolis — Vendors need to educate Partners around the right way to do demand generation. How to use videos, podcasts, short webinars from their marketing leaders talking at the Partners’ level. Don’t talk about things that will certainly be out of their budget. Think like an SMB that does well already and what they might be willing to focus on.

Content MUST be business outcome focused. Please, no sell sheets focused on (announcer voice) “Solution XYZ!” Think of the business outcome your end-customer is trying to solve and give your Partners the content that will highlight them as the company that can solve them. Especially with MSPs your technology and brand are taking a back seat.

Your MDF/Co-op programs must truly help Partners advance. No more golf events. But let them spend MDF to buy an annual subscription to HubSpot or Salesforce or a marketing automation tool.

No matter what tool you give them, plan to spend budget on human intervention. Channel Maven for years has helped Partners navigate the “self-service” tools out there because if all Partners are doing is launching email grenades, they’re missing 80% of the picture.

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