At the B2B Marketing Exchange in February, Jay McBain, Forrester’s Principal Analyst, Channels Partnerships and Ecosystems, said that channel programs must adjust to the “never-ending sales cycle” of recurring revenue, rather than continuing to rely on transactions that reward front-end and back-end margins.
Recruiting and engaging networks of influencers will be critical, he said. In that early digital journey, buyers are consuming mountains of data to get smart about getting to business outcomes. But what ultimately gets them from “not knowing a lot to vendor selection” is their interaction with non-transaction influencers.
It is critical, said McBain, that channel marketers build relationships with highly targeted influencers so that when customers reach vendor selection, the advisors they trust have talked about their brand enough to help them win the deal.
Wayne Monk, Senior Vice President, Global Alliances and Channel Sales at ASG, couldn’t agree more. In a note to Channel Marketer Report, he wrote that the traditional partner model of reselling and licensing is under pressure and the role of influencers is growing. Now organizations must focus on influencing the influencers in addition to prospects in order to stand out.
Always eager to sit and chat with Monk, we invited him to tell us more about ASG’s growing relationship with influencers.
CMR — When you talk about influencers, are we talking about traditional partners or is there another segment of companies out there that may never have been transactional or selling for you, but nonetheless have the ears of customers?
Wayne Monk — The industry term that you hear is the advising partners. A lot of the bigger SIs like Accenture or PWC or Deloitte are consulted by end customers on how to solve certain transformational issues. But what we’re seeing is some of the traditional solution providers — who are trying to adjust to the pressure of new models such as consumption or subscription and even marketplaces — are moving into more influential advisory roles. Many of these partners have incredibly long-term deep trusting relationships. So their clients do take their advice.
CMR – Has ASG implemented a structured influencer strategy and program to support its partners?
Wayne Monk – Absolutely. When we designed our partner program, we built it with four business models. One is influencers — people who are out there interacting with clients to help them build the need or business case.
CMR – Based on the conversations we’ve had with several channel leaders, there’s a lot of confusion about how to engage influencers. What are some of the key elements of your program?
Wayne Monk — We always want to understand what is the partner’s business model. We have programs and benefit structures to tailor to each model. With influencers, the first thing you have to realize is that no one’s going to influence or have a preferred preference on your solution until they trust it and understand it.
So the first thing that people need to do when they engage the influencer community is be able to prepare them and teach them what business problems our solutions solve so they know where to position us.
Secondly, you must explain how you do it better than the alternatives in the market, which is a very key part of the business equation.
And then finally, you must communicate what business outcomes will clients yield from your solutions. Education and enablement is a priority because no one’s going to bring a solution to their accounts until they personally have confidence in it.
CMR – Is the primary role of influencers to engage customers early in their buyer’s journey? Or do they play a role later in the decision making process?
Wayne Monk — You need to understand what is their role in that customer’s journey. Are we building need or are serving need? Building need is what most advisory partners do. They’re out helping that client understand that problem they’re trying to face, helping them gain a sense of what they need to do to solve it.
But what’s extremely important and even more important this past year is they help with the business justification internally. They help the sponsor frame up the problem, understand the resources involved, help them with the ROI, the business justification to go to the business to get the project assigned with the proper budgets and resources allocated.
CMR – It sounds like there is a significant exchange of information going on. Is it necessary to have a good, steady cadence of communication with them if only to make sure that you’re always top of mind with them?
Wayne Monk — When you start a journey with your partner, keeping both parties working together and not jumping off the track to chase some of the shiny object until they build a trusted relationship is a critical path to success. Quite often, both parties don’t always see the opportunity to same way with the same timeline and more importantly the same return. So it’s very important that you have that communication, that cadence and an execution plan that both parties have signed off to on.