A promising sign that partners are more eager to market themselves and the brands they represent is their increased engagement with marketing agencies referred by vendors. For example, at Sage, the business management solution provider, an agency-provided concierge service is being expanded by 50% to accommodate partner demand.
“Our partners are telling us they want to do more taking a lot more advantage of our preferred vendor list,” Kerstin Demko, Sage’s North America Partner Marketing Director, told CMR. “We can immediately match them up with somebody who knows our business, knows Sage, knows the space, and then can jump in and work with the partner.”
To learn more about why and how vendors might implement their own marketing agency referral program, CMR reached out to channel marketing expert, Kathleen Lauchlan, CEO of Lauchlan. Her full-service marketing agency with a specialized focus on channel marketing in the technology sector, has a reputation for understanding the nuances of co-marketing, MDF and how vendors and their partners go to market together.
A referred agency itself, Lauchlan has also helped clients establish their own referral programs.
CMR – We’re hearing encouraging news about partner engagement with agencies referred by vendors. It sounds like something more vendors should do.
Kathleen Lauchlan — Most vendors require that their associated agencies be ‘approved vendors,’ having met the OEM requirements for specific services such as demonstrable capabilities and experience in events, video, multi-channel marketing, etc. By sourcing, vetting and offering these agency services to partners, vendors save the partners significant time in sourcing agencies themselves as well as training them in the nuanced marketing development fund (MDF) processes for prior approval and SOW (statement of work), submittals, quarterly execution timeframes, ROI reporting and proof of execution (POE). Agency proficiency in these areas is of critical value to partners.
CMR – Is the primary benefit to partners that preferred agencies make it easier for them to follow vendor guidelines?
Kathleen Lauchlan — Yes, partners benefit from having a list of preferred agencies that have a full working knowledge of vendor MDF and co-brand guidelines to facilitate and ensure the campaigns and marketing activities delivered to them meet the vendor requirements for claiming. In addition, though, most agencies sourced by vendors are sought out based on specific, applicable expertise in a given sector or type of activity that is most desired and applicable to partner needs.
CMR – What are the benefits for the vendor?
Kathleen Lauchlan — Sourcing experienced agencies that are then trained in the vendor’s co-brand and MDF guidelines provides added assurance that quarterly activities will have SOWs, activities reporting, lead criteria and POE provided to partners and to the vendor in accordance with their corporate standards.
CMR – What is the process for recruiting and vetting agencies?
Kathleen Lauchlan — Vendors typically put out RFPs to a select set of industry-proficient agencies which, after several rounds of review and capabilities analysis, are asked to meet pre-approved pricing models. From the initial set of vendors, the list is often pared down to those agencies that bring nuanced capabilities to their partner network. The goal is to establish a well-rounded suite of approved agencies that can fulfill all desired partner marketing activities.
CMR – How many agencies should a vendor include in a referral program?
Kathleen Lauchlan — The number of agencies included really depends on the range and types of activities vendors wish to offer their partners across their national or global regions. These agency activities typically include two or three appointment-setting call centers, one or two full service agencies, event services providers, content syndication providers and agencies that specialize in specific sectors such as healthcare, federal, SLED (state and local government and education), etc. A respectable number should not exceed 8-10 agencies, as many more than this requires partners to spend more time seeking to distinguish the benefits of each agency.
CMR – Should a vendor impose restriction or pricing limitations on preferred or recommended agencies?
Kathleen Lauchlan — Vendors typically source and negotiate pricing models with their selected agencies that meet their standard quarterly MDF budget ranges. Doing so ensures that the partners can engage with the agencies with confidence, knowing they offer programs that will work within MDF budgets.
CMR – Do or should preferred or recommended agencies prioritize the interest of the vendors or the partners?
Kathleen Lauchlan — The needs of the vendors and the partners are — or should be –the same. When these relationships are set up appropriately, the interests of the vendor and the partners are easily and efficiently met by the selected agencies who are trained and proficient in running and reporting campaigns that satisfy the needs and priorities of both to maximize channel outreach.
CMR – Do agency referral programs require a lot of work to maintain?
Kathleen Lauchlan — Structured agency referral programs typically require very little maintenance on behalf of the vendor and the benefits are great. Having a reliable, knowledgeable base of agencies that do not need to trained at the start of every quarter pays dividends for both vendors and partners alike. However, offering flexibility — as most vendors do — to partners to run marketing activities outside of their recommended agency list is quite common and thus allows partners flexibility to use a preferred agency of their own.
CMR – What are some best practices for monitoring agency performance and continuing a relationship with them?
Kathleen Lauchlan — Some of the best practices for monitoring agency performance are to track annual billings paid to the agencies as well as their ROI results and partner satisfaction. Having agencies on one’s shortlist of agencies that are very infrequently used by partners may indicate that either their services, their pricing models, or performance is not desirable to partners. If this is deemed to be the case, this may provide the opportunity to bring on an agency that can offer nuanced capabilities that will be better sought after by partners.