The disappointing level of partner participation in many channel marketing initiatives may simply be the result of vendors inviting way too many partners to the party. Indiscriminate syndication of even the most well-crafted campaign is likely to win the support of only a segment of a vendor’s partner ecosystem, channel experts say.
Promotions may not be aligned with or support many partners’ go-to-market motion. Other partners may not have the resources or staff to participate. In more than a few cases, a percentage of the partners that vendors think are in their channel program have moved on to other brands or – and this isn’t uncommon — are no longer in business.
When channel marketers fail to more precisely identify a more appropriate roster of partners to include in campaigns, the consequences can be worse than achieving a level of participation they’d rather not talk about. Partners may pay less attention to vendors campaigns if they don’t reflect an understanding of their business needs or the customers they serve. Already too-busy channel staff may waste time chasing down never-had-a-chance opportunities rather than leaning in to eager-to-engage partners. Any extra costs associated with striving to draft dis-interested partners into marketing campaigns can limit investments in better opportunities.
To align partners more effectively with their through-channel-marketing programs, vendors are taking steps to better understand who their partners are as well as which new partners they should be recruiting. During last year’s SiriusDecisions Summit 2020, attendees were advised to profile data from partners regarding their go-to-market strategies, resources and capabilities. In 2019, Forrester recommended that channel leaders should build and apply ideal partner personas their partner recruitment and selection practices.
New technologies are helping channel marketers or the agencies and consultancies that support them develop more precise partner profiles and then find the companies that fit them. Other marketers are finding that old-school interviews or diligent partner list maintenance can effectively identify the right partners for specific programs.
Janet Schijns, CEO of JS Group, a channel consulting group, agrees that vendors need to do a better job of both recruiting partners and then matching them with appropriate through-channel marketing programs.
A big mistake that vendors make is using wrong criterial to select partners for campaigns. Data point such as revenue generation or certifications are “rear view mirror metrics,” said Schijns. “They’re things that indicate past success.” But what would serve channel marketers betters is “a walk through a much deeper set of requirements for a good partner.”
“Alignment with your objectives and approach are very important, as the partner needs to reflect your organization appropriately, understand the differentiators between the many solutions they may represent, and be able to best position your solution in the right situation,” wrote Alan Feldman, Director of Business Development at Winn Technology Group, a full-service marketing agency, in a CMR ChannelView. “One of the more concerning errors made in finding new channel sales partners, though, is not being selective enough.”
Maybe not surprising is that many vendors “don’t really have a true or updated profile of their partners, a real understanding what that organizations looks or their infrastructure looks like,” said Randy Sasaki, Channel Marketing Enablement Specialist, at A Fluent Vision (AFV), an IT sales and marketing agency.“All they see are the basic things like sales, number of sales, maybe sales by solution. What they typically don’t have visibility into is the partner’s infrastructure, number of sales reps, what type of marketing do they support? What kind of marketing infrastructure do they have?”
It’s essential for channel marketers to better understand which of their partners are addressing the vendors’ markets of interest, said Chanan Greenberg, Senior Vice President & General Manager High Tech, at Model N, a cloud revenue management solutions provider. He pointed to a microelectronics company which builds more than 500 parts for Mercedes-Benz. “Not everybody knows how to sell to automotive,” he said. The channel partners that can more effectively sell product in that market, “have built a practice around that. They have added services, subject matter expertise, a network of relationships that make them stand out compared to any other channel.”
Channel marketers and the service providers supporting them are use different methods and tools and technologies to identify which partners might be the most effective collaborators for a specific initiative.
For example, JS Group uses the PartnerOptimizer tool from SaaSMAX, to scrub a client’s existing partner roster to identify the best candidates for specific programs. Having a conversation with a partner about its business model can be daunting enough, said Schijns. “But it’s critical to understand their competency, to get down to their go-to market, what tangent technologies are they selling?”
Finding the right partners is “not an art, it’s a science and math matters. Data matters in the channel,” said Schijns. With the SaasMax solution, JS Group can gather information to select or de-select partners based on the products they’re currently selling, what other brand they represent, who they’re selling products to, and an understanding of the partner’s sales and marketing capability.
Some of the information may be found on a partner’s website, said Schijns. But trying to find partners that are truly aligned with an ideal partner persona manually “takes a herculean effort. This is where the channel turns into scientists, and we use the data tools that are out there and the data that’s out there about the partners to make better decisions.”
WinnTech is also using the PartnerOptimizer to streamline the analysis of existing partners, or potential partners, based on a wide variety of criteria. The concept is to define the strongest partner persona, evaluate and assess who the most optimal companies are to pursue as new partners, or analyze those currently performing best, and drawing conclusions and targeting based on that data. The approach also relies on maintaining a substantial database of resellers, so that the best recommendations can be made.
The company uses the tool to evaluate the resellers of competitive products as well as other specific criteria such as vertical markets served, company size/number of employees, business approach, geographical targets, etc. When partners meet specific requirements, it is likely that they have an established business practice in the related solution area, thus ramp-up time, costs, and potentially certifications, can be dramatically reduced.
OneAffiniti, a channel partner marketing solutions and services company, reviews partner activity, rather than sales generated to identify the best candidate for programs it enables. “The influence that a partner has is more important to us over time than just the stack rank of historical sales,” said Joel Montgomery, Founder and CEO. It reviews the lists of partners provide by its vendor clients as well as it own database of partners.
The company has driven dramatic engagement in channel campaigns, by carefully aligning partners with specific programs. OneAffiniti routinely seems 90% of partners executing on specific programs, all of them generating an ROI for the vendor.
The benefits to carefully matching partners with marketing activities can be substantial, agrees AFV’s Sasaki. Interviews with a client’s partners to determine which of them are more suitable for a particular program boosts engagement well above industry averages. Of the partners that clients nominate for programs, typically 70% of those are engaged.
Aligning the right partners with specific initiatives will help reduce costs, said Schijns, “because you’re not investing where people can’t possibly make an impact. Instead, you get a higher ROI on your marketing, lower spend on your marketing on non-successful tactics and higher spend on marketing, where you’re having success.”
“It’s expensive to have a channel program,” she continued. “And so, one of the things that you look at is not just cost of channel, but net productivity of channel. Percentage of sales, acceleration of sales, cost of that sale, and then brand impression. It raises all of those metrics up when you have the right data to engage with and do the right things with those partners.”
Equally important, she said, is that better alignment of activities with partners “improve partner satisfaction because you’re not flooding them with stuff they shouldn’t have. You’re improving customer satisfaction because you’re getting the right partners, selling your solutions and in front of those customers. So it’s helping your brand value.”