While many channel professionals still need to up their game on partner program basics, the ongoing evolution of the B2B buyer’s journey and growing client demand for holistic, needs-based solutions are requiring companies to rethink their go-to-market motions.
That was the combined take-away from the channel agenda at last month’s B2B Marketing Exchange that stressed the importance of addressing expanding partner ecosystems and B2B marketplaces while adopting new strategies and tactics that keep evolving programs on a solid foundation.
Jay McBain, Forrester’s Principal Analyst, Channels Partnerships and Ecosystems, kicked off the channel track with a presentation on creating strategies to execute effective partner marketing programs in fast-expanding ecosystems. Today channel programs must adjust to a trifurcated channel model — one that includes influence, transactional and retention partners – to manage the “never-ending sales cycle” of recurring revenue, rather than continuing to rely on transactions that reward front-end and back-end margins only.
Non-transaction and non-traditional conversations that B2B buyers are willing to engage is demanding that channel leaders re-imagine their channel ecosystems. Almost 70% of business buyers prefer to research on their own, he noted, remaining invisible to marketers. Unassisted they will access reams of information about the solutions they’re seeking, but most will rely on a handful of influencers to help them make a final decision.
And to ensure that customers are retained, channel leaders will need to support partners with initiatives that drive adoption, deep integration and stickness, and promote cross-sell and up-sell programs.
A panel discussion led by Larissa Crandall, Vice President of Worldwide Channel and Alliances at Gigamon, added more dimension to McBain’s comments. The panel, which included Mandeep Khera, VP Global Demand Gen and Channel Marketing at Gigamon, Dave Burns, Senior Director Strategic Alliances at Gigimon, and Judy Mirkin, Vice President, Business Development and Strategic Alliances at Riverbed Technology, shared actionable insights on how companies can collaborate to create shared campaigns and enlist support from their different partner organizations.
Customer are seeking more technology stack solutions and partners are looking for their vendors to collaborate on campaigns to support their go-to- market activities, the panelists agreed. “We all have strong solutions of our own,” said Khera. “But the story of one-plus-one-equals-11 really works. The combined solutions can make such a difference.”
When collaborating with other vendors, good integration obviously is critical, he continued. But equally important is alignment on value proposition and packaging programs that channel partners can take to their customers.
Partners are looking for more compelling messages to share with customers, added Burns. They want “a better-together story about how we can enhance, compliment or differentiate a solution that we bring to market that isn’t always just us. Channel partners are looking for opportunities to drive solution selling that drives a business outcome.”
Bringing shared messages about jointly offered solutions requires significant coordination, added Mirkin. Riverbed and Gigamon clearly understood the “common purpose” of collaborating on joint marketing activity for the companies’ joint solution. Equally important, the teams were capable of handling the tasks associated with marketing a joint solution including the creation of joint value proposition for both teams, alignment and assignment of specific marketing activities, and “the biggest thing — who will follow up on leads.”
As McBain mentioned in his kick off presentation, B2B marketplaces are emerging as both an opportunity for vendors and partners to find news customers. But the buying experience they deliver can represent a significant challenge to standard partner sale and marketing models.
According to a recent Forrester report, COVID-19 has accelerated marketplace participation. Recent Venture Scanner data revealed that there are more than 227 B2B marketplaces spanning over 13 diverse industries — far more than there were five years ago. By 2024, noted Forrester, worldwide B2B marketplace sales could reach $3.6 trillion, up from an estimated $680 billion in 2018.
The volume of business being conducted in just the Microsoft AppSource & Azure Marketplace is indicative of the opportunity marketplaces represent. During her session, Christine Alford, Director, Business Program Management at Microsoft, shared that more than four million active users access the Microsoft AppSource & Azure Marketplace on a monthly basis. More than 100,000 high potential leads are generated each month.
To take advantage of the opportunities marketplaces represent, Alford shared several best practices. “Engagement matters,” she emphasized. Marketers should invest time in crafting strong listings that include a clear company logo, and product title that is truly descriptive of the product offered.
Listings should clearly articulate benefits, and feature calls-to-actions such as an invitation to “Take a test drive” or make an immediate purchase with “Get it now” button. Trials or demos are critical to engaging customers and boosting sales, said Alford. More than 25% of searches are automatically filtered to discover solutions for which a trial is offered. Data indicates that prospects are more likely to convert to buyers after taking a trial run.
Immediate follow up on all leads is critical she added. More than two-thirds of lost sales result from reps not properly qualifying their potential customers. Many marketers (65%) admit that they don’t nurture leads, said Alford. “Those that do have a 45% higher profit margin.”
In the tradition of the channel track at B2BMX, attendees were provided prescriptive information on how to build solid foundations for partner programs. For example, in a Q&A with Kristine Stewart, VP, Client Success and Marketing at Channel Impact, Jeanne Quinn, Senior Manager, Digital, Social, Omnichannel Strategy, Global Partner Marketing at Cisco Systems, shared how her company is personalizing partner experience for every visitor.
Even while supporting 300,000 employees at more than 62,000 partner companies. Cisco strives to provide personalized experiences for all. “You can’t treat them all the same,” stressed Quinn. ‘To make the experience a good one, you need to customize it.”
Quinn reviewed the various tools in Cisco’s channel stack that enable the company to personalize partner experience. Equally important, though, are the guiding principle that govern how the tools are used. Quinn explained that the content it shares with partners “has to have purpose.” With so many people seeking partner attention, the channel marketing team acts as a gatekeeper to limit distracting messages or content.
The team carefully monitors how content is accessed to ensure it’s the most appropriate platform to distribute messages. Data reviews provide good insight into the content with which partners are engaging. To effectively engage partners, Quinn stressed, the experience and the content should be “clean and simple, aligned and targeted.”
Recognizing that channel partners are under many demands from all of their vendors and that their marketing teams are almost always understaffed, FireEye is driving business their way with the help of a digital agency. During his presentation, Mike Gallagher, Head of Americas Partner Marketing for FireEye, explained that his agency-powered program does more than minimize marketing tasks for his partners, as well as his own small team. It enables him to take advantage of a team with world-class marketing proficiencies as well as its thoroughly modern martech stack.
More important, enlisting agency support for his channel marketing program gives him total ownership of the success of the program. “As the vendor, we need to own the outcome of our marketing programs,” explained Gallagher. While partners must still follow up on the leads sent to them to ensure that opportunities ultimately turn into booking, outsourcing critical marketing processes – even the scheduling of meetings with prospects – can have a result in a significant ROI. “If you can do something to take the work off a partner’s back, it’s a big value,” said Gallagher.
Compelling partners to participate in channel marketing activity is clearly a challenge. During a lunch and learn hosted by OneAffiniti, its president Joel Montgomery confirmed that the majority of partners – almost 90% — are not participating in the channel programs they signed up for.
There are a number of reasons for this inactivity, but key challenges range from a lack of trust in the vendor to partner’s limited resources. The one-size-fits-all approach that many vendors take to partner marketing is another key obstacle. Even when vendors offer a deep library of content to their partners, an expectation that partners will pick-and-choose their own materials to share with prospects will not be met.
To boost partner participation in marketing programs, it’s critical to keep programs simple and predictable. Foremost thought, vendors need to win their partners’ trust, especially with regards to client or customer data. “Building trust is the cornerstone of co-co-marketing,” said Montgomery. Misperceptions about co-marketing programs, especially those that emphasize the vendors brand, can negatively impact partner engagement.
Vendors should assume that partners will be nervous about sharing data. If the partner has any right or wrong perception that a vendor may knowingly or unknowingly share information about who their customers or prospects are with a competitor or a direct sales team, then a partner is very unlikely to give access to their real list.
Similar to a point made by FireEye’s Gallagher, Montgomery said that having a program that hosts partner-owned data in a secure environment is critical. “We find that a partner will build trust with a third party if they believe it is not accessible by the vendor.”
In a compelling case study presented by True Influence, Tim Schneller, Head of Global Channel Marketing at Honeywell, reviewed a pilot program designed to identify and qualify incremental leads and share them with channel partners. Equally important was that the initiative did not burden already-busy internal resources at the company, a supplier of personal protective equipment for a variety of industries.
To ensure limited friction with internal teams, True Influence, an intent monitoring technology provider, was tasked with delivering pre-packaged, verified leads through Honeywell’s CRM tool in its partner portal. Honeywell also wanted to ensure that partners could give feedback to identify future process improvements.
To date, the pilot has been successful in helping partners generate incremental income by providing them with leads that are checked for the validity of the contact and the request. The results of the program have met industry averages. And in some instances, nurturing activity on the True Influence platform, noted Scheller, was outperforming Honeywell’s inhouse activity.
All of the sessions at B2BMX, including those in the channel track, are available on demand for all who registered to attend the event in February. An on-demand-pass is available for $95 to new viewers.