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Channel Marketing Is Broken


By Jared Shusterman, Managing Partner and CEO, SproutLoud

Channel marketing is broken. There. Someone had to say it.

Yes, it’s an over-generalization. And certainly anyone reading this post can name companies doing channel marketing well — possibly even a few doing it very well. Largely speaking, however, there are many channel marketing managers struggling to get it right.

And if anyone wants to dispute that charge, all you have to do is look at one simple stat: more than $25 billion in co-op money specifically earmarked for the channel goes unused every year. Any industry leaving $25 billion in free money on the table is indisputably broken.
 
The issues are pervasive. When even industry analysts roll up distributed marketing, marketing automation and marketing resource management (MRM) companies under the same banner, you can hardly blame channel clients for choosing traditional MRM companies best suited for centralized marketing initiatives to handle their very decentralized marketing needs. Fortunately, the market is becoming more educated.

One major disconcerting trend is marketers’ crutch-like reliance on technology. Technology is critical to a successful strategy. It is not, however, a cure-all or a replacement for a solid strategy. We see it all too often: A company sells a client an impressive piece of technology, and after its implementation, the client is left wondering why adoption rates among channel members are so low.

What do your channel marketing efforts look more like?

  • Do you have some technology pieced together from your intranet that largely goes unused? You have big plans for your channel marketing — you spend a lot of money and resources to big fanfare, and you are disappointed by the adoption. And don’t say 25% adoption is good.
     
    OR
     
  • When you roll out a national marketing plan, your channel partners intimately understand your marketing calendar, and your team doesn’t break a sweat to execute thousands of local implementations of that plan.

For those of you nodding your heads to the first example, here’s a little secret you probably already know.

Channel members aren’t marketers, and their priority is running their business — not figuring out the platform you give them. Simply throwing creative assets into a web portal for channel members to customize isn’t going to work. Nor is that what you really want. And let’s face it; unless you support a franchise, or an exclusive affiliate network, you probably are not the only brand vying for your channel partners’ attention.

So…how can we fix what’s broken?

Start by thinking about your technology as part of the equation — not the whole enchilada. A strong channel marketing system couples technology with experienced managed service professionals. Much like you have your own advertising agencies and consultants working with your team, you need to provide a dedicated account manager or local marketing coordinator for your channel members.

 Give channel members a resource or advisor who will hold their hand, explain how all the dots connect and walk them through executing the channel plan. Now that’s a start.

We recently signed on a large medical manufacturing corporation as a client. Prior to partnering with us, the company was struggling with the online portal they provided to their network of thousands of locations. Built piecemeal over the years by multiple vendors, the end result was fragmented and inadequate for their advertising needs. It also left the client without a single contact for support or service. Users were confused, complaining and simply refusing to use the system.

We provided the client with a turnkey solution overlaid with a fully structured marketing concierge program. By consolidating their system under a single platform, and by including a dedicated service resource, the client saw adoption and satisfaction go up. This approach has allowed business owners to run their organizations, and leave the marketing execution to the marketers.

More emphasis needs to be placed on the channel partners themselves, and channel marketers need to encourage and enable brands to do just that.

Find out what channel partners need in order to grow their businesses, rather than simply feeding them top-down marketing programs that don’t necessarily align with their goals.

Stop burying channel partners in process. It’s amazing how many hoops your channel partners have to jump through for program registration, alignment, co-op pre-approvals, deal registration, among others. Multiply that by the number of upstream partners they have, and then ask why adoption rates are low.

The dominance of digital asset management and ad builders is on the wane. As channel marketing turns its focus to synchronizing national marketing strategy with true alignment down and through the channel — driving real and traceable returns on marketing spend — we’ll start seeing less and less of that $25 billion left on the table.
 

 
 
Jared Shusterman is Managing Partner and CEO of SproutLoud, a software and services company focused on solving the complex challenges of distributed marketing organizations.

 

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