With more than 75% of commercial transactions flowing through indirect channels, few companies have the option to not focus more attention on optimizing their partner sales and marketing programs.
But as channel experts stressed in the eight sessions included in the Channel Marketing agenda of last month’s B2B Marketing Exchange in Scottsdale, planning, implementing and maintaining efficient and effective partner programs isn’t getting easier.
The buyer’s journey continues to evolve at a dizzying pace. Partner go-to-market strategies are shifting to support new revenue models. And staying on top of the tools and technologies that enable best-practices in channel management requires more attention than ever.
Karine Elsen, Cisco’s Senior Director, Global Partner Marketing, explained that her company continues to invest in its partners’ marketing practices because 61% of B2B transactions start on-line, and customers are nearly two-thirds of the way through the buying process before they speak to a sales rep.
While generally regarded as a benchmark for channel marketing excellence, Cisco continues to make improvements to its Marketing Velocity program. For example, Marketing Velocity Activate is a new co-marketing service in limited-release with a select number of partners in fiscal year 2020, explained Elsen.
“As customer experience becomes increasingly digital, the ability to jointly orchestrate customer journeys together with our partners becomes increasingly important,” she said. “Marketing Velocity Activate combines data and insight-driven joint planning together with Cisco and partner omnichannel journeys to engage customers and drive revenue.”
Helping channel partners to aligns their go-to-market activities with the ever-evolving B2B buyer’s journey is vital to optimizing partner enablement, said Maria Chien, vice president, practice leader, SiriusDecisions. B2B buyers will have an average of nine interactions with a variety of roles before they sign on the dotted line, she said.
Half of those roles, she continued, are not roles traditionally supported by sales enablement functions. Understanding this, almost a third of high-performing companies have some form of partner enablement in place for multiple partner personas. In fact, CMOs now rank partner enablement among their top three priorities across all initiatives, Chien said.
To support what Chien identified as “revenue enablement,” vendors will need to ensure that all customer facing roles – especially referrers and influencers — possess the needed skills, knowledge, process expertise, and have access to the best assets to maximize every buyer or customer interaction. References, whether provided by the vendor or discovered by the buyer independently, are a key decision driver, according to research by SiriusDecision.
They are indeed, noted Larry Walsh, CEO of The 2112 Group, as he moderated a panel titled, Referral Partner Programs: The Shouldn’t-Be-Surprising Source Of High-Quality Leads. 84% of B2B purchases start with a referral, he said. More than three-quarters of B2B buyers prefer to work with vendors that come through referrals.
More partners are recognizing the business benefits of making referrals. Walsh noted that 73% of partners said referrals were a real part of their business, baked into their formal budgeting and strategic planning. And the larger the organization, as measured by the number of full-time employees, the greater the commitment to formalizing referrals as a revenue source.
Still, while the majority of vendors with referral programs report a higher sales conversation rate, one in four companies believe their referral programs are ineffective, Walsh noted.
If making referrals is low-hanging fruit for partners, another way they are generating greater revenue requires more effort. Increasingly, partners are collaborating with other partners to build, market and then implement more customer centric solutions. During a panel discussion titled Fostering A Partner Ecosystem, moderator Diane Krakora, CEO of the consulting firm, PartnerPath, reported that in 2019, 20% of partners regularly collaborate with three to five other solutions providers; 13% partner with 6-10 solutions providers.
The number of collaborations are on the rise. This year, said Krakora, almost a third of partners expect to team up with 3-5 companies; 18% said they will partner with 6-10 solutions providers.
Panelist Vince DeRose, President of Peak Resources, an information and technology services provider, commented that as partners strive to support business outcomes not immediately enabled by vendor solutions, partnering with other companies is required. Working with partners that may have specific industry expertise, technical skill set, or simply the bandwidth to support a project helps to extend the capabilities of organizations like his.
To helps support these collaborations, partners have long list of things they want from vendors including introductions to other solutions providers, a partner finder/locator; processes and materials to create partnerships; management/oversight of peer-to-peer relationships; and hosted online partner communities.
As the number of opportunities to grow their business capture the attention of partners, vendors will need to take steps to ensure their products and services remain top of mind. During a panel discussion, moderated by Claudio Ayub, chief strategy officer of Perks WorldWide, attendees heard how new software platforms deploy hyper-targeted incentives programs at the partner company-level (Rebates, MDF), team level, and partner individuals’ level (Rewards, Spiff) on a global basis.
Technologies that can automate incentives combine multiple incentive modules into a single code-based behavior-based platform accelerate partner time to revenue and increase partner loyalty. Plus, their ability to analyze partner profiles enables the platforms to identify which partners are more likely to promote products when offered an incentive, and then assign the most efficient incentive to each partner type. With a robust incentive automation platform, vendors can more efficiently onboard partners and ensure they remain focused on the customer pre and post sales.
While the somewhat tired mantra “content is king” was uttered less often at the B2B Marketing Exchange, Heather K. Margolis, CEO of Channel Maven Consulting, emphasize that investments in more engaging content – and marketing services too – could generate better results at lower cost.
Margolis described how a $2 million investment in a channel marketing platform and more than 4,000 pieces of content including emails, one-pagers, emails, white papers, banner ads, emails, and presentations, drove engagement by only 157 partners of the 2,000 partners with whom the materials were shared. Cost per partner, said Margolis, was $12,738.85.
In the second case, though, a $1.5 million investment in a channel marketing platform, but only 1,000 content pieces including videos, webinars, infographics, social posts, one-pagers and presentations, proved to be more engaging and cost effective. Of the 2,000 partners in the program, 465 of them used the materials for a cost per partner of $3,225.81.
“Don’t spend more on the platform than the content and concierge,” said Margolis. By allocating funds to creating more compelling content and offering concierge services to support busy partners, channel marketers can more effectively engage partners. Channel programs are more successful, said Margolis, when they:
Identifying partners in which investments might generate a better ROI is critical, said panelists during a session primarily focused on MDF allocation moderated by Terry Hedden, CEO of Marketopia, a digital agency. Liz Cope, Group Marketing Director, Digital Strategy and Marketing Operations at Trace Technologies (formerly Ingersoll Rand,) is allowing partners to use MDF allocations to pay for white-glove concierge services. The investment, she said, has enabled some partners to move up ranks. “We’re taken some bottom tier partners up to the top,” she said.
Kristina Hodge, Senior Partner Marketing Manager, ESET North America, commented that she’s focusing investments in “the right partners for future growth.”