While recent years have seen a shift towards direct selling in B2B, for many businesses the channel remains critical to success. Yet it’s all too common to hear both sides complain about the support they receive.

B2B marketers complain that they’re simply handing across MDF cash with, as far as they can tell, little to show for it.

The channel complains that vendors are not providing the right kind of support and materials to help them sell effectively (or that they simply see them as a pipeline target).

It’s less than ideal.

Having worked with a number of vendors on their channel programmes over the years, here are our 5 top tips for more effective B2B channel marketing.

1: Get your focus and balance right

In any channel marketing programme, there are three core areas of focus:

  1. Selling to the channel

  2. Selling through the channel

  3. Selling the channel partner

Typically, however, vendors focus on just one or two of these.

So they will spend lots of time and effort giving the partner a ton of information and training about their products and leave them to it.

Or they will deliver lots of end-user-based material for the channel sales team (often bottom-of-the-funnel focused) and restrict higher-value content to their own efforts.

Or, less commonly, they’ll put most of their efforts into visibly collaborating with the channel partner (often at events) to help grow the partner’s brand and reputation.

The answer is to get a balance of all three.

2. Get serious or go home

A lot of channel marketing activity suffers from being too ad hoc, too reactive. This is something most vendors would try to avoid in their own businesses, so why should it be any different for the channel?

Having a clear plan of activity, working to a common strategy, and establishing an agreed vision of success (with metrics) will keep everyone on track. What’s more, it shows the channel partner that you’re serious about the relationship.

This should never be a one-way fait accompli. Too many vendors bestow their programmes on the channel as some kind of gift from above. Cue angels. In this, they forget that other vendors are almost certainly doing the same and that most channel partners are not in an exclusive relationship (quite the opposite).

In the same way that not enough businesses do meaningful research into their end customers, the same tends to apply to the channel. Taking time to talk with partners, understanding their businesses and specific challenges, will pay massive dividends over the long term.

These should all be seen as basic hygiene factors for a successful programme.

3: All partners are not created equal

A small VAR is very different from a big VAR. System integrators are different again, as are distributors. A one-size-fits-all approach will tend to be a poor fit for everyone.

You may of course already have gold/silver/bronze-style tiers for partners, each with a commitment and programme attached. If not, consider creating one.

If this is not possible, look to segment your partners the same way you (hopefully) segment your customers. Look at all the elements such as geographic focus, average deal size, vertical sector specialism, level of exclusivity etc to build up personas for your different partners.

Then, start to look at the kind of support and activity each may require.

For example, a large VAR focused on high-touch enterprise sales is likely to benefit from a more collaborative ABM-style approach or RFI support. Whereas an SME-focused operation may require more in the way of telemarketing scripts, demo materials and objection-handling guidance.

4. Not just datasheets and PowerPoint

There is, of course, a wide range of content and activity you can provide and co-create. All the usual suspects will be there from the obligatory datasheets and PowerPoint through to the event-in-a-box and other swag that is often part of these programmes.

As we’ve mentioned, every partner is different. But remember, every partner also gets this kind of material from other vendors. So what will make yours stand out (and get used)?

While we’re not going to be prescriptive on content, here are 4 areas to consider:

  1. Think beyond product-related customer-focused content—make sure you go beyond the usual ‘what customers need to buy’ material and look at content focused on ‘how customers can solve their key issues’ and ‘why this is important and urgent for their businesses’

  2. Help your channel partners adopt challenger selling—the benefits of the Challenger Sale are well documented but rely on the seller understanding their customer’s business to a greater degree than ever before. You can help partners do this with content that places your solution(s) in a deeper business context

  3. Widen their horizons (and opportunities)—deliver content that shows how your products work within a wider solution that will help partners better serve their customers and convert higher-value sales

  4. Create great playbooks—help partner salespeople quickly understand the issues businesses face and how your solution meets those challenges in a way other approaches and competitors simply can’t. Arm them with ways to identify relevant pain points and give them answers to common objections. Go further and give them the tools to stand their ground in the face of unreasonable procurement demands. Importantly, make this playbook a quick and easy read

5. Close the loop

So you’ve run a channel marketing programme, did it work?

Too many programmes fail due to woolly or absent evidence of success. All too often, this comes down to a reticence about sharing data. But without this, how will you ever justify your investment? It’s critical that you agree in advance what will be measured, who will measure it and when the data will be delivered.

There are an almost endless number of metrics you could focus on. Your chosen ones will reflect your business priorities. However, we’d suggest the following 6 for starters:

  1. Uptake rates—it’s basic but fundamental: was the content and material used? When you consider that a worryingly high volume of marketing-created sales content is never used by in-house teams, why should this be different in the channel? This is where some form of digital asset management (DAM) system will help as it’ll show you who downloaded what and when

  2. Partner-generated revenue—did sales increase? Did they do so above market norms?

  3. Conversion rates—did the channel partner convert more leads into sales than they otherwise would have done? How do these compare to historic figures across your channel partners?

  4. Sales velocity—did the partner shorten their sales cycle? Were you successful in helping them close more deals faster?

  5. Satisfaction—on a purely subjective level, were they happy with the programme? Is their relationship with you stronger as a result? Do they have active suggestions for what else you can do together?

  6. ROI—from a commercial standpoint, was it worth it? Did it significantly contribute to you hitting your own numbers?

For many B2B organisations, the channel is critical to success. While this article just begins to scratch the surface, hopefully it’ll provide some food for thought for anyone struggling to make their channel marketing work harder.

Got questions/comments? We’d love to hear them.

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