The role of non-transacting partners – especially influencers – is expanding greatly, according to Jay McBain, Forrester’s principal analyst of channel, partnerships and alliances. In a Forrester study published earlier this year, McBain is advising channel leaders to re-examine the mix of their partner population and take steps to amend it with a good mix of non-transaction partners.
Powerhouse firms, such as Salesforce and Microsoft, are clearly adopting that strategy, McBain explained in a presentation earlier this summer. Speaking at ImpactGrowth, an event hosted by Impact, a partnership automation solution provider, McBain noted that the same day Salesforce announced the shut down of it resale programs, it reported that it needed to add 250,000 new non-transactional partners to double the size of the company over the next four years. Microsoft, which already has 400,000 partners, is recruiting 7,500 partners a month, of which 80% are non-transacting.
“Brands are focused on the 68% of the buyer’s journey when customers are not talking to them,” said McBain in a recent video, “because they feel that they are not in the room.” If brands are not striving to influence buyers as early as possible, “they may lose the deal without even knowing there was a deal.”
According to an Impact-commissioned Forrester study, Invest in Partnerships to Drive Growth and Competitive Advantage, the benefits of expanding channel ecosystems with non-transactional partners can be significant. For example, the study revealed that high maturity partnership programs contribute 28% of overall company revenues, while low maturity programs contribute only 18%. This increase represents an average of $162 million worth of incremental revenue for companies with high maturity programs.
Influencer partner programs also provide a boost on both ends of the customer spectrum: acquisition and retention.
Of the 454 decision makers and practitioners from North America, Europe and Asia Pacific included in the survey, 77 percent see partnership development as central to their 2019 sales and marketing strategy. Almost two-thirds of the companies surveyed believe implementing technology to optimize partnership management will be high priority or critical to drive success as part of a mature program over the next 12 months.
The survey clearly indicates that brands are engaging a wide variety of non-transactional partners to drive their business. Nearly 40% are working with influencers. A third of the respondents are marketing through non-traditional affiliates and ambassadors.
Almost two-thirds said expanding their channel ecosystems with more innovative partnerships types and increase the number of partners is a priority.
Successfully managing this variety of relationships requires the use of increasingly sophisticated marketing tools. As McBain noted in his presentation at the ImpactSummit, “The most critical priority is implementing technology to optimize partnership program execution and management. This isn’t something you can manage on a spreadsheet.”
Impact offers channel managers a suite of solutions to optimize non-transactional partner ecosystems, company CEO David Yovanno explained at the conference. The solutions streamline efforts to contract with partners, track activity and make payments. Impact’s Mediarails technology supports the process of finding and engaging new partners. With the Altitude solution, marketers are able to determine the value of transactions to optimize programs. The Forensiq solution enables marketers to determine fraud across the entire conversion base.
In addition to investments in solutions like those offered by Impact, B2B companies are reaching out to agencies that specialize in influencer marketing. “B2B marketers are starting to understand that they need to leverage influencer marketing strategies,” said Chelsea Larson-Andrews, co-founder of TechMode, an agency that specializes in B2B influencer marketing. IT marketers, in particular, are noticing that as more companies seek to engage top influences, “they’re already getting scooped up,” she said.
“It’s like it’s a race, where a lot of companies are trying to figure out their plans and get their ducks in a row so they can get influencers on their side, before it’s too late.”