MeiLee Langley, the Director/Head of Channel Marketing at Nextiva, doesn’t pull her punches when commenting on the demand gen programs that vendors provide to their partners. In a press release announcing the launch of Nextiva’s CoNEXtion program, she said “Most providers miss the mark when it comes to channel marketing because they fail to arm partners with the tools to develop and manage a true demand gen strategy.”
Nextiva partners needed more support too, she admitted. “Many of our partners understand the difference great marketing can make, but don’t have the time or tools to execute fruitful strategies.”
Not anymore. With the launch of its CoNEXtion program, said Langley, “Nextiva is now providing the best possible solution for channel partners to easily create end-to-end marketing strategies and do their jobs more effectively than ever before.”
In addition to traditionally offered resources such as market development funds, campaigns-in-a-box, and co-branded collateral, CoNEXtion provides partners with 11 demand generation tools and resources including:
Plus, Nextiva’s regionally located field marketing managers operate as an extension of the partner’s marketing team to help partners navigate, effectively execute, and report on CoNEXtion.
Development of the program was initiated by Langley soon after joining the company. At the time, Nextiva, which sells a significant portion of its solutions directly, had a bare-bones channel marketing program. Co-branded materials were made available when requested by channel managers. A staffer would provide support for partner-held events.
It didn’t take long for Langley to realize that she needed to build a larger channel marketing program. She explained that while she believes channel programs should be built on three pillars — recruitment, enablement, and demand gen – the latter needed the most immediate attention. “I had to plead my case. I had to go to the exec team and sit down and pitch them what I was thinking and talk through budgets, projected returns and all the initial benefits obviously in projected revenue, including the secondary benefits of recruitment and deeper relationships with partners.” Management questioned her in the beginning but ultimately gave the project the green light after she assured them that she had thought through the details.
Langley, who was recently named a Rising Star by Cloud Girls, a female Next-Gen Tec Think Tank and the Alliance of Channel Women, an organization dedicated to accelerating the growth of female channel leaders in technology, was well aware of the challenges of getting partners to take advantage of vendor-provided marketing.
“Partners for the most part are not marketers. These are small shops that don’t have a marketing person, let alone a marketing department, and they just don’t have the budget,” she said. “They don’t have the time or the experience to really dedicate to doing marketing.”
But things have changed, she said and now partners “are suddenly having to fish because they’re in this fast, recurring revenue model.”
Nonetheless, tools supporting the program had to be easy to use. And the benefits the program would deliver to partners had to be easy to demonstrate “so they could wrap their minds around it,” said Langley. “If you just hand over the keys to a program to a partner, if you don’t get them excited about it, if they think it’s too complicated, they’ll never touch it.”
Field marketing managers have been critical to the adoption of CoNEXtion, said Langley. To onboard partners, field marketer take them a 20 minute demo reviewing reporting and best practices. Partners that express interest in using the tool are invited to “play with it for a week and schedule a 20-minute follow-up meeting.” For the second meeting, partners are asked to have materials ready for a campaign they would like to launch. During the call, Nextiva field marketers use screen-sharing tools to walk partners through the process of building the campaign.
“When they see it in action, they get excited to pull the report,” said Langley. “And then once they see the report and make follow-up calls and they see how easy it is, interest and usage snowballs.”
The CoNEXtion program offers partners a library of content to share with clients, much of it thought-leadership material. “We know that some partners don’t want to be pushing just Nextiva content all the time.” The mistake that many companies make, she continued, is that their “systems are clunky or they’re hard to use, or they only push their own content. And the partners can’t just push one product all the time. It’ll look fishy to the customers.”
CoNEXtion does provide content “that’s obviously very Nextiva focused, but partners have full editing capabilities. The partners can sanitize those emails as much as they want and make them as generic as they want.”
The platform does enable partner to opt for no-touch participation. “We can manage a partner’s Nextiva-related marketing if they want us to,” said Langley. “But honestly, very rarely do the partners take us up on that They want to be in there. I think there’s a general understanding that they have to wrap their hands around demand gen at some point in time. And so they want to be able to control it and to be able to get in there and set up the campaigns themselves.”
Partner response has exceeded expectation, Langley told CMR. “We’ve actually doubled what I was expecting. We’re already at over 200 partners excited about using the platform, inching closer towards 250.” Between the launch of the platform in January and the end of May, partners had sent out more than 70,000 emails.