Mobility, social media and cutting-edge content formats were among the core topics outlined in our 2014 Channel Trends & Predictions piece.
This year, channel experts and thought leaders are honing in on the importance of Big Data, and how organizations can leverage this data to better align marketing campaigns and tactics to the buying journey.
Omnichannel and local marketing are top-of-mind in today’s highly complex, multi-device ecosystem, and vendors should focus on providing partners with the tools and resources to create relevant and customized campaigns.
To identify these and other core trends for the year ahead, we asked channel thought leaders the following question:
“How do you believe channel marketing will shift and/or evolve during 2014 and why?”
(Responses are listed in alphabetical order by company name)
Consumers are intrinsically local. They have a strong connection with where they live and shop. And now, more so than before, we have data to back up the importance of a local-focused approach to channel marketing. In 2015, we can expect to see two trends evolve:
Here are a few key themes we’re seeing in the channel for 2015…
Channel marketers will further assert themselves in 2015: In our most recent channel benchmark survey, almost half (46%) of channel marketers said their team members do not have adequate access to the program and partner data they need to make informed decisions on a daily basis. Yet the importance of the channel marketing role will continue to increase in 2015 due to increasing competitive pressure to engage the partner community and help them drive new revenue. These realities, combined with mounting downward pressure from finance and the C-suite for disciplined program execution, forecasting and ROI measurement, are pushing channel marketers to become more assertive in demanding visibility to the details of joint business planning conversations that their counterparts in channel sales (CAMs/PAMs/PBMs, etc.) are having with partners…and they are more often participating actively in those meetings. Inspired by recent advances in marketing automation technology on the direct side, channel marketers are also applying pressure for better program management and forecasting tools that can easily capture and expose program and partner details…so that they can move off spreadsheets, efficiently manage their campaigns, and prescribe appropriate marketing “plays” that meet each partner’s unique needs.
The rise of referral and influencer programs in mainstream channels: Once the domain of Telecoms and the Insurance industry, the rise of recurring revenue sales models (i.e. SaaS, bundled services, etc.) in the channel has spurred a growing need for programs and automation systems that can engage and reward everyone involved in driving a deal to closure, whether it’s a VAR, distributor, a ‘born in the cloud’ consultant/agent, an alliance partner, or someone else…not just the guy that signed the ultimate deal with the customer. More than ever, “it takes a village” to close deals. Referral reward payments alone will not be enough to fully sustain everyone in that ‘village’, but they will play an increasingly important role in driving channel revenue in 2015.
Channel Program Technology “Spring Cleaning”: “Complex or cumbersome processes for partners” was sited in our survey as the number one challenge channel teams face today. Major channel orgs are taking a hard look at the myriad custom systems they’ve built over the years to enable different aspects of their channel programs…many built in-house by IT, and many built on top of systems more appropriate for the direct selling model. As they’ve aged, these typically bespoke systems still require expensive maintenance, yet have lost much of their usefulness and can’t share data with each other…and they tend to provide a horrible, disjointed partner experience. Channel leaders will look to replace, modernize and consolidate these systems aggressively in 2015.
In the past few years, the shift towards cloud-based services, coupled with a rise in popularity of mobile apps and devices, have helped the channel evolve into a more self-serve environment. This also puts channel partners in the driver’s seat, enabling them to choose vendors. In response, vendors are developing more web-based tools like partner portals, marketing automation platforms, partner platforms and mobile apps, which help them stay top-of-mind with partners. This means partners are more empowered than ever to execute vendor created go-to market campaigns more efficiently and as part of an integrated marketing plan.
We expect this trend to continue and expand throughout 2015 as more vendors adopt branded Partner Platforms, MDF marketing places, event support, and more customizable email campaigns and social content. In addition, these platforms often have plug-and-play add-ons that make day-to-day marketing strategy and tactics such as training videos, social media posts, content syndication, and customizable content like videos and infographics more easily accessible to partners.
How does this impact the channel’s 80/20 split, where 20% of partners receive the lion’s share of assistance from vendors and 80% are largely “on their own”?
The vendors that engage the top section of the 80% of partners will have a more successful and engaged channel. With business and demand gen resources now only a web site away, the marketing time spent by partners is easier to manage for the 80%. As a result, we expect to see the split flatten out some in 2015, as the 80% become more engaged and enabled.
As partners become more proactive and self-sufficient, the focus moves from “how do we motivate them” to “how do we educate and empower them?” This is where we like to see vendors use educational videos, webinars and written content to better educate their partners. These efforts highlight common marketing practices like social media, blogging and SEO, and help partners understand the best use of the marketing time they have available. Vendors, keep in mind that you need to start at the top and truly educate partners based upon their resources and capabilities, not your own.
It’s also important that vendor-provided platforms for partners are loaded with great content — both traditional and social. We always remind vendors to build campaign materials that a partner would want to use, not something that is too vendor-centric. We love seeing that more and more vendors are providing social content including posts, blogs, video resources and infographics. A good split of industry relevant content and promoting partner and vendor solutions.
In 2015, we expect to see more branded partner platforms, more partner marketing educational resources and vendors increasingly focused on providing more content options. Through this, partners will become more loyal, self-sufficient and better engaged with their end-customers.
We didn’t see as many automated programs as originally thought during 2014, and it is unlikely to occur during the first half of 2015. What started to take place towards the end of 2014 and what is going to gather significant steam is outsourcing arrangements.
More vendors are going to outside specialists — whether they are content marketing specialists, inbound specialists or have a niche capability — and are leveraging those specialists to help their channel. We see several vendors building relationships with a gamut of providers — some very large, some more regional — that are engaging with channel partners.
The struggle continues to be showing value to channel partners for the time and effort being invested in these programs. With third-party specialists providing marketing services, the value that a channel partner receives at the end of the day is minimized, or vendors are having to pay significant premiums to deliver valuable marketing capabilities to their channel partners.
There also is a much stronger demand for pay-for-performance and measurement of results than ever before. This will challenge the ecosystem to continue to fund these sorts of activities.
The No. 1 theme that we’ve already seen and expect will continue to develop in 2015 is that channel marketing will be much more ROI-based. It takes not only money, but also people and effort, to create partner enablement and marketing campaigns. And it’s important that each campaign is impactful. It will be increasingly important to measure the impact and ROI of each campaign and show the impact to sales — really looking at how the spend and the effort pays off, as well as which partners are seeing a lift from those efforts.
Another big theme we’ll see is a shift in recruitment efforts where more focus will be on more targeted tactics that will help bring in the right partners. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality: Identifying and attracting the right kind of partners that fit our ideal partner profile and who will be more likely to focus on and grow our partnership to bring in revenue.
Now that we’re bringing the right partners in, how can we make sure we prime the pump with those partners, getting them to revenue as quickly as possible? We’ll see more attention to effective on-boarding programs that are much more programmatic — with lead generation and selling activities included — and that can be scaled to many more partners.
Taking the idea of programs a step further, channel marketing campaigns and lead generation will be much more planned-based, what we call “discretionary marketing.” That means it’s more than just writing checks based on past performance: Develop the plan, show step-by-step what the activities are, outline the anticipated results in pipeline and sales, and be able to measure the ROI so we can track how we’re doing against plan.
In 2015, more than ever, channel and marketing executives should expect decisions to be driven by data. At PartnerPath, we witnessed this very serious trend emerge at the close of 2013 and helped it flourish in 2014. Within the next 12 months, your executive team will expect ever more specific metrics and measurements from channel marketing activities. We saw a similar trend with partner sales activities in the last decade with expectations of deal registration, teaming activities and pipeline reporting. This decade, the scrutiny will shift to channel marketing. This focus on data means three things for all channel marketers:
In short, much more scrutiny is in store for partner marketing in 2015 and beyond. Showing a flurry of “activity” isn’t going to be enough anymore. You will need detailed knowledge of industry best practices and data on your performance to back up your plans.
Through our work with hundreds of B2B organizations, we’ve identified three initiatives that can help channel marketing evolve partner program participation and drive performance improvements in 2015.
1. Technology: Improving Partner Experience Through The Partner Portal
A great experience is often hard to find for channel partners that have grown used to suppliers with whom doing business can only be described as less than optimal. Our research indicates that less than 20% of partners consistently visit supplier portals, leaving suppliers searching for ways to improve partner engagement. Many seek to improve their portals’ content, processes and tools in order to drive partner traffic and improve portal relevance.
Organizations must improve portal experiences by creating a cohesive content strategy that aligns to each stage of the supplier/partner relationship, and integrate applications that are essential for ongoing partner support.
Channel marketing will have to understand what partners are specifically looking for, and how suppliers can architect their channel programs to better deliver it. Identify how and where partners consume content (e.g. desktop computer in an office, mobile device in the field), and audit partner processes to identify the need.
2. Measurement: Implementing Closed-Loop Visibility And Reporting
Channel marketers often struggle with visibility and measurement when delivering demand creation programs through partners. Typically, the results of demand programs delivered by partners are visible only to supplier field reps, so reps must close the loop on any leads shared with partners, capturing any available information about prospects and customers.
To address these challenges, some suppliers are investing in channel marketing and management (CMM) solutions that can capture closed-loop data and track lead progression in a more systematic, scalable way. These CMM solutions — also known as through-partner marketing automation solutions — deliver leads directly into partners’ existing sales force automation (SFA) systems and pull reports on sales touches, conversion-to-opportunity status and pipeline stage, inputting the data back into the supplier’s SFA system.
Whether current lead management processes are manual or automated, partner reps should be guided through each step of the demand creation process, and informed where and how to report on leads. Before including partner leads in forecasts, implement definitive lead registration rules.
3. Interlock: Create Successful Alliances With Other Suppliers
When suppliers enter into business alliances with other suppliers (e.g. OEMs, ISVs, Technology Alliances) to jointly promote and sell products, services and solutions, they usually expect effective resource use and cooperation to create a mutual competitive advantage. Unfortunately, it takes time to recoup the investment required for alliance marketing programs, and few supplier alliances achieve the intended results. B2B suppliers often lack knowledge of effective strategies to fuel sustainable alliance growth, and few organizations share the same channel strategies or types of channel partners. Channel marketers may struggle to integrate alliance-specific marketing activities, since doing so requires pre-planning and coordination of each supplier’s strengths and messaging to bring solutions to market.
To increase the likelihood of a mutually beneficial alliance, get upfront commitments and set expectations early. From sales and marketing leaders, to field sales and local marketers, cross-organizational and cross-functional mindshare is critical to the success of alliance partnerships. Identification of target markets and establishment of a joint sales strategy are essential to drive field program engagement and interlock. Use incentive programs to engage and educate alliance partners on how to market and sell the new, broader solutions.
In 2015, as channel organizations look to apply slender channel marketing resources, they must identify the biggest opportunities for improvement at little cost. Assess the current state of the partner program, identify where partners and/or programs are performing and where there are major gaps or other areas that can be significantly improved for a successful year ahead.
VP of Sales, SproutLoud
In 2015, executives of big brands will continue to demand greater return on marketing investment (ROMI) from the local partner level.
Pressure will peak in 2015, making it vitally important to evolve billions of trade spend away from the reality of it being a sales discount or reimbursement. The evolution must turn into a profitably measurable extension of the national brand message, not only globally, but also at the local level for partners to expand the marketplace with the brand. This evolution essentially turns co-op/MDF into a branding tool at all levels.
Historically, expensive national advertising was the only dependable solution to brand support. Localized advertising and promotion remained the wild-wild-west of diluted brand messaging. Why? Because local marketers (e.g., dealers, resellers, partners) either didn’t have access to the right technologies, or the understanding of how to use those tools or time available to market.
Brands that deliver these tools in 2015 will win the game of local marketing, win the partners’ mindshare, and transition substantive national spend to the local level. Brands can now control the brand while offering local customization deep inside the channel with measurable results.
At SproutLoud, we believe this is a giant evolution in channel marketing. It’s a movement away from providing co-op/MDF funds to partners for their own discretionary use in favor of a “Co-Pay” strategy.
Co-Pay moves co-op funding out of the reimbursement model. Brands are moving away from the generic bucket of money, left to the discretion of the partner, into programs and platforms the brand has complete control over, offering the partner the ability to customize at a local level. Co-Pay does not require a partner to submit for reimbursement. Rather, funds are provided up-front as a Co-Pay for the marketing programs provided by the brand, built on best practices, which creates a win/win for both parties. Smarter tactics with measurable results.
Obviously, this also includes digital marketing, which is a great divide for many channel partners. According to a recent comScore Worldwide report, consumers conduct 131 billion searches per month on the web. More than half of online searches are users trying to find products online. Channel partners are going to be required to get onboard to increase local sales with the support of the brand. Lack of digital presence means lost opportunities for partners and brands. The challenge is to fold a best practice digital strategy into your channel partners’ local marketing efforts. There are then two options to the strategy, either the brand teaches the partner or the brand does it for them.
A Co-Pay strategy supports both the brand and the partner. Bottom line, we see a strong movement into Co-Pay and here’s how:
It’s the Holy Grail of local marketing for both the brand and the partner.
The coming year will be an interesting one for the channel marketing space. One of the biggest things I’m predicting for 2015 is that we’ll see more hard data in the hands of partner marketers from Through-Partner Marketing Automation (TPMA). Due to this shift, channel professionals will have clear ROI to present back to the organization with data-driven strategy and the proof to back up higher partner marketing budgets for the following year. Empowerment from TPMA will continue to promote intense growth with TPMA solution providers.
In today’s market, tech companies are currently seeing a higher share of their revenue come in from the partner channel than from direct marketing/sales, and I expect that trend to continue. The current hype around marketing automation for direct marketing and sales is producing high ROI, so if we can apply a similar ROI to the indirect channel, the potential gain multiplies through partners.
The main drivers of TPMA ROI are brand control, demand generation and sales conversion. These three pillars will help marketers show where their efforts are influencing the funnel, and what areas need the most focus to net the best possible results.
Moving forward, Big Data, analytics and business intelligence will help enable vendors and partners to optimize the main processes of marketing and automation through the entire channel. As TPMA continues to grow, I expect that we’ll see partner marketers take a holistic approach towards its execution. The days of single solutions that automate and enable one-off tactics through partners are over. Vendors are looking for an easily manageable, integrated product suite that accommodates partners with easy to implement solutions to drive demand across the entire indirect marketing and sales funnel.
In terms of execution, taking an agile approach to TPMA will be the path to success in the coming year and beyond. Albert Einstein once said, “Nothing happens until something moves.” The same holds true for partner marketing. Trying to define the ultimate solution before you start moving is expensive, takes time and doesn’t adapt easily. This approach results in lower ROI and it takes much longer to generate value. Taking an agile approach can help accelerate channel ROI faster, which helps keep both suppliers and partners happy. We will see more projects take this approach in 2015 and greater ROI resulting from TPMA as a result.
In the last several years, we have seen companies making great strides towards integrating their partners into their CRM ecosystem and using Partner Relationship Management (PRM) to make it easier and more profitable to do business with them.
We are still seeing a considerable increase in PRM implementations. Our PRM business is up 75% year-over-year, and has seen the same results over the last two years. We expect this trend to continue in 2015 for those who have yet to invest in PRM or for whom a homegrown PRM has out-lived its usefulness.
In order to earn partner attention and loyalty these days, it takes more than a portal for just deal registration. The best partners expect the manufacturers they represent to drive demand to them, help them create their own demand and provide them with productivity tools. This is why we see functionality like Partner Marketing Enablement technologies becoming more popular in 2015.
Once companies have their base PRM system installed and begin to see the benefits, a natural next step is to find a way to make the partner experience even better. On-demand automated co-branding of collateral, on-demand automated outbound demand generation campaigns, and advanced partner locators or marketplaces will become even more popular in 2015 because they help the partner create their own leads and better manage their business with a particular vendor.
As companies invest more in partner success, however, they will become more interested in partner performance. Certainly, vendors have always been concerned with direct sales performance. For many, getting to a point where they can measure partner sales performance versus targets is an attractive objective in itself. For those who have already made that move, however, performance will be measured on more than just revenue. Understanding partner performance in terms of training competency, certifications, lead acceptance rates, deal registrations submissions, close ratios, engagement with emails and web content will begin to be used for a more complete view of partner performance individually, and with respect to other partners in a program. Fortunately, PRM technologies are evolving to meet these requirements and help companies better gauge partner performance and ultimately, achieve greater channel success.
I believe one key trend for 2015 is that channel partners will accelerate their investments in building out their own marketing infrastructures. Furthermore, the most successful channel programs will recognize this change, and provide support within the channel partners’ infrastructure.
Over the last few years, there has been a transformational shift in how buyers are making purchases. In the past, prospects, early in their sales process, would spend time with sales people in order to jointly determine which solutions would benefit their organization best. Today, prospects are increasingly unlikely to make or take these calls, preferring to do independent research. In fact, according to some sources, the buyer may be as much as 65% to 90% through their journey before reaching out.
The first part of a company’s sales story is no longer being told by the sales team, but must be delivered through marketing. Having a strong online presence has become critical to connect with self-empowered buyers and drive inbound marketing. Developing, managing and supporting this online presence requires an infrastructure like that provided by marketing automation products (HubSpot, Pardot, Marketo, etc.). As channel partners are seeing traditional sales approaches become less effective, 2015 will be the year that many invest in this new approach.
A by-product of this trend is that channel partners will be more hesitant to go to a vendor’s portal to engage in collaborative marketing. Inbound marketing is most successful when one infrastructure has a complete view of the prospect’s digital interactions. Delivering marketing from a vendor’s portal doesn’t provide that visibility. Instead, vendor portals lead to independent silos of information.
To make channel partners more successful, the best channel programs will recognize this dynamic, connect into their channel partners’ marketing automation infrastructures, and deliver their collaborative support by extending those environments.