While everything old is obviously NOT new again about the solutions and services that IT buyers are seeking or the way they shop for them, channel organizations continue to struggle with same ol’ same ol’ challenges. In its 2020 State of Partnering report, PartnerPath, a consulting firm, identified six major trends that are shaking up the way vendors and their partners need to go to market, clearly making the case for “Remaking The Channel.”
In a socially distant conversation, Diane Krakora, CEO of PartnerPath, shared some insights into the report with Channel Marketer Report.
CMR — It’s apparent that both vendors and solution providers recognize that more effective marketing would benefit their businesses. For example, solution provider respondents said that digital marketing expertise is the #1 challenge to grow cloud subscriptions models. And 38% of vendors chose designing and executing marketing campaigns as one of the top five needs for partner enablement. Still, only 28% of vendors offered marketing training to partners. So, what’s up with that?
Diane Krakora — The vendors’ enablement priorities have been focused elsewhere – primarily on technical product training. However, the need for this type of training diminishes as the market continues to move to on-demand solutions. And vendors prioritize so many other enablement activities over marketing training including sales training, deal registration/teaming, access to support, development kits and APIs and P2P facilitation to name a few.
CMR — Do vendors hope that the other brands that their partners represent will take up the task of providing marketing training?
Diane Krakora — I think vendors hope partners will invest in the activities that keep them maturing and successful as a business – if that’s investing in digital marketing skills and resources, technical resources and/or transitioning to offering cloud models. Cisco has invested in educating partners around marketing (through their Marketing Velocity conference) for several years. I think it’s just a matter of priorities and timing.
CMR — Is a sadder truth that many partners will never have the resources to drive marketing activities and that through-marketing programs are the more effective way for a vendor to reach the customers/prospects these partners serve?
Diane Krakora — That is certainly one option – drive the leads for the partners. I’ve heard from many vendors, “Partners won’t ever be able to be as effective at digital marketing as we are … why do we continue to ask them to do it?” I prefer to think: “Teach a man to fish…” Partners aren’t stupid. Nor are they lazy (on the whole). They are busy and being dragged in 100 different directions by 20 vendors and 1,000 customers. It’s just a matter of priorities.
CMR — Will the increase in the number of primary and secondary brands that partners carry impact their ability to effectively market any one of them? Your report says that 75% of partners represent up to 10 primary vendors (up from 5 last year), and 20 secondary vendors, an increase from 15.
Diane Krakora — Partners shouldn’t really be marketing any one vendor brand but should be marketing a full solution that addresses a customer’s business need or challenge. Instead of selling one vendor’s product features, they should be positioning several products and services tied together as, for example, a social distancing program. Or better yet – a ‘keep your team healthy by working at home program’ (more outcome driven!).
CMR — Is it getting more difficult for individual vendors to engage solution providers who are representing more brands?
Diane Krakora — Absolutely. Solution providers need to carry more brands (and/or work more closely with other solution providers) to put together a solution to meet the customer’s business outcome expectations. As they carry more brands, they have more training to do, more portals to log in to, more channel account managers calling them, more program hoops to jump through. Several solution providers are turning the tables and having the vendors sign up for THEIR (the solution provider’s) partner program.
CMR – At least when it comes to marketing activities, what do you think are going to be some of the key elements of a program that will capture the attention and participation of a partner?
Diane Krakora — I think content is king in marketing activities. Vendors should do everything they can to help partners develop and place relevant, thought-provoking and timely content through a variety of mediums and media – articles, videos, conferences, social, email marketing. From our trends research, buyers are expecting technology solutions to produce a business outcome specific to their business. I often use the example of my younger brother in a 12-person regional radiology office. He wants someone who not only knows the medical vertical but who also knows how to support a small regional facility rather than a huge hospital. The messaging and content needs to be specific to the solution including products and markets.
CMR – The report says notes that 45% of vendor respondents and 30% of solution provider respondents leverage distribution partners for marketing activities. Do you see the role of distributor support for marketing expanding?
Diane Krakora — Yes. I believe distribution is perfectly positioned to provide value-add with marketing training and/or marketing activities. They have been offering marketing activities for decades – much of the time expecting the vendors to participate in marketing activities as a condition of getting focused attention from the distributor (i.e. ‘pay for marketing activities to play with our team’). However, marketing hasn’t been distribution’s core skill set so they need to begin highlighting their ability to offer this valued service around marketing.
Distribution has been effective as a bank and a warehouse (their core offerings of the last 30 years). They need to shift to helping partners put together multivendor solutions that meet customer outcome expectations, providing both pre- and post-sales services and developing effective digital marketing campaigns. The opportunity is there to continue to be a valued partner to both vendors and solution providers – distribution just has to change. But change is hard.
CMR – I’m surprised that only 30% of solution provider respondents leverage distribution partners for marketing activities. Is that a reflection of the quality for marketing support that distributors provide? Or is it another indication of the lack of resources that solutions providers have to utilize support offered to them?
Diane Krakora — It’s tough to know if this is just a lack of focus – too much going on in the solution provider’s business – or a reflection of the quality/value of the distributors marketing offerings. I think it’s a little of both. Distributors are slightly behind the digital marketing curve and most solution providers are relatively small businesses who are fighting fires and keeping the wheels turning. This is not to say they aren’t looking to grow. There are a dozen different investments (in time and money) pulling at a solution provider at any one time. They want to invest in marketing but they must also invest in additional vendor training, research new technologies, invest in additional vendors, develop IP, test multi-vendor solutions, shift more resources to subscription offerings, hire more tech people (if they could find them!), hire sales people, hire marketing people … the list goes on and on and on. Distribution should get better at the quality of their marketing support but they also need to make it incredibly easy for partners to engage them for these activities.
CMR — It seems that right-sized investments by vendors and solution providers could generate a reasonable return for both. Do you anticipate that more vendors and solutions providers will increase collaboration on marketing products and services to their customers?
Diane Krakora — Yes. As B2B buyers (who are people like you and me) start buying technology similarly to how we buy in our B2C lives, meaning in a non-linear, self-directed, digital way, effective digital marketing will push its way into the top priorities of both vendors and solution providers. The buyer or customer is the ultimate instigator for change and these new buying behaviors will force new and exciting collaborations. In this current period of social distancing, buying behaviors may change even more rapidly and I’m curious to see how quickly vendors and solution providers will adapt and market their business outcomes in new and unique ways.
The State of Partnering report includes data collected in a December 2019 survey of 109 technology vendors and 244 solution providers. Copies of the report are available here.