What percentage of your total revenues are sourced by your partner channel? Is there an opportunity to grow this number?
Regardless of how you answered the 1st question, I’m sure the answer to the second question is a variation of “of course there’s an opportunity to grow it, but our channel team is really small and it’s hard to get the attention of our partners!”.
In this blog post, we will provide 10 practical tips that are focused specifically around channel content and communications that will help you boost your engagement numbers and, ultimately, the revenue contribution.
1. Remember: You Must Make Two Sales. One to Your Channel. One to Your End Users.
2. Don’t Assume Partners Search Your Portal Regularly
3. Your Partners are Selling Their Brand. Not Yours.
4. Provide Content with Different Levels of Branding
5. Remember the Buying Cycle
6. Regularly Interview your Channel
7. Test Your Programs with a Range of Partners
8. Conduct an Audit of Your PRM and De-clutter Your Content
9. Understand the Personas Your Partner is Selling To
10. Personalize Your Communications
One of the biggest challenges we see with channel teams is that they are unable to make the first critical sale: winning the attention of the channel.
You are likely not the only vendor of your channel partner. In fact, SiriusDecisions reports that the average partner is a member of more than eight partner programs (ElasticGrid, 2016).
While there are many factors that influence this (training, rewards, compensation, concierge, MDF, etc.), let’s focus on the communications which SiriusDecisions describes as “Empowering” content—as you’re empowering the seller. Does your empowerment material (training decks, slides, and scripts) enable your channel to sell better? How do you know? Have you asked them?
Only after this obstacle is conquered will your partners begin to use the “Activation” content (used to activate the buyer) you’ve created for them to give to their prospects and customers.
But first, remember this…
You work hard to keep your channel partners engaged. You’ve communicated that the portal is the single-source destination to find all the content. You load product spec sheets, collateral and brand assets into the portal only to find that partners aren’t even logging in. In fact, despite best efforts, portals generally see less than five percent utilization. (Source: Aprimo)
So what can you do? At a tactical level, it’s worth remembering that most of your partners are generally unaware of all the helpful empowerment and engagement tools and content you’ve created unless you tell them about it. Repeatedly. And loudly. This means regularly reinforcing to partners via a variety of channels (webinars, newsletters, their partner manager etc.) that you’ve created valuable resources that can help them sell.
At a strategic level, you need to be clear that you’re not only empowering them to sell more of your product. Rather, you’re empowering them to grow their revenue, grow their share of wallet and grow their brand.
When conducting an interview with a client’s channel partner last month, the partner remarked “My job isn’t to promote your brand. I don’t think of my company as simply your reseller. My company solves problems for our clients. We just happen to use your solutions to solve the problem.”
I absolutely love how clearly the partner states their mindset…and their frustration.
It’s easy to forget that these partners are successful businesses that you rely on as much or more as they rely on you. They are looking for your help to primarily help them grow their business. Your growth is a pleasant consequence in their eyes.
One of the best ways to show you respect their brand is to…
Most companies have partners that prefer different levels of sophistication. One side of the spectrum has some really small organizations with no marketing resources—and they’re happy to take any collateral you give them! On the other side are partners that are marketing machines with dedicated resources that are tasked with functions such as demand generation and inbound marketing. They like your collateral and presentations, but they want their brand to be central, not yours. Then there’s a swath of partners that fall somewhere in between.
Why not provide options that enable partners to choose what suits them best?
Examples of choices include:
- For small partners who don’t have resources and appreciate the boost from being associated with your brand: Provide content that has your brand’s look and feel with an opportunity for the partner to add their logo and CTA (call to action)
- For partners that are looking for equal billing: Deliver content that is in a neutral brand (that will be consistently used for your partner programs) that has both of your logos and the partner’s CTA
- For sophisticated partners that have invested in developing their own brand and have their own templates: A raw Word or PPT document that has all the content substance and can be cut/pasted into the partner’s preferred templates
Since the difficult part is usually coming up with the raw substance, delivering it in two or three versions isn’t that difficult when it becomes a normal part of your process. More sophisticated partners may also consider different branding levels for top-of-funnel, issue-based content vs bottom-of-funnel, product-oriented content.
Speaking of top-of-funnel and bottom-of-funnel…
Most marketers will take into consideration the buying cycle when planning a campaign for their direct channel. This means creating top-of-funnel content that is built around issues and customer-centric topics and then a separate set of lower-funnel content that is focused around your product as your company’s ability to solve the customer problem.
However, we’ve noticed that same thinking isn’t always applied when developing Channel content kits. We often see that a standard Channel content kit consists of the same types of formats that are generally considered to be lower-funnel content such as a sales presentation, a white paper, a product sell-sheet and a case study. And the vendor brand is usually the most prominent.
Consider developing kits that include content aligned to the buying cycle and sales cycle. There are many versions of “buying cycle” out there, but they all generally follow these 3 phases:
Education – Understand and relate to the problem
Consideration – Teach me about the possible solution
Selection – Convince me why I should choose you as the solution vendor
Most companies create many “Selection” pieces, a couple of “Consideration” pieces and virtually no “Education” pieces.
We did a program recently for Citrix & Nutanix where we released only education pieces for the first phase of the campaign. The partners were unanimous in their resounding approval for interesting content that helps educate their buyers.
We found out this exciting piece of information by…
It’s amazing the insights you can pick up from your channel if you’re regularly communicating with them. We try and interview our clients’ channel partners every 3-6 months. We’re typically asking questions such as:
- What new use cases are customers asking about these days?
- How has your business changed in the last six months?
- What does your sales motion look like?
- Are you aware of the recent campaigns or content kits that were given to you? How did you use them?
- If we were to build a new content kit, what would be on your wish list?
There are so many benefits to this exercise. We develop relationships with partners that we can now go back to and test concepts or ideas. Because they’re the ones out talking to end customers, they can keep us up to speed on what are the most pressing issues? And just as important, it’s an opportunity for them to safely express where the vendor is lacking or even failing in their eyes.
We recommend speaking to partners from your various tiers, as their stories may be very different. They will also have varying needs and perspectives, which means you should take advantage of this diversity and…
Whether you have a Partner Advisory board or just a select group of partners that you trust to give you honest feedback, consider giving them an opportunity to get a sneak peek or even deploy a new marketing kit or campaign before rolling it out to all your partners.
You want feedback on whether your messaging is hitting the mark, and how the kit might be used in your partners’ sales motion. The benefit of this practice is that this group should be committed to using your kits and suggesting changes that can be implemented before you release the kit into the wild.
Remember as you add a new content kit, your portal gets more bloated. This is why you should periodically….
Have you ever had a wave of frustration wash over you as your sort through files or content looking for something specific. Imagine how your partners feel if they can’t find their way through the sprawl of content offered in your portal.
Ideally, your PRM enables you to tag and filter quite easily. But it can still be daunting if there’s outdated content getting in the way of the good stuff.
Consider doing an audit of your PRM and archive or delete programs and content that are no longer relevant or are outdated. You may decide pieces can be salvaged with minimal changes, while others should be eliminated.
One of the filters you might want to apply during your audit is audience type or personas. This requires you to…
In many large companies, the direct sales force tends to focus on the larger deals while the indirect channel manages the SMB customers. This means that the Direct and Indirect sales forces are selling to a distinct set of buying groups with different levels of sophistication, different needs and different measures of success.
It’s key to understand the personas that your channel is selling to. And it’s also vital to educate your channel on the personas as well. Sponsoring 3rd-party research with a report filled with actionable tips is an excellent way to bring value to your channel and to prove you’re in the game of helping them sell more.
It’s also important to adjust the tone, technical depth and sophistication, and length or formats of your content based on the different personas on which you’re focusing. For example, a white paper written for the SVP of a F500 bank is probably not going to resonate with the office manager of a dentist’s office.
So while your solution may solve problems for both personas, your communications should appeal directly to each audience—which means different versions are required.
While you’re thinking about how to tailor your communications to different buying audiences, don’t forget to….
If your newsletter shows up in their inbox today, is it a must-read for them? Or is it an auto-delete?
Your goal is to train your partners to expect important, useful communications from you. This means quality and relevance over watered-down quantity in terms of what each individual partner sees.
We have too many data points to confirm that one-size-fits-all messaging meant to apply to everyone will fall flat. For example, your channel partners receive hundreds of messages every day, and they ignore 97% of them. A 3% open rate is the average for outbound channel.
So how do you solve for this? It’s 2017, so the answer is simple: DATA.
Learn more about your partners and use that for segmentation. For example, it would be helpful to know any of the following:
- Vertical focus
- Geographic focus
- Size of customer focus
- Common problems they solve
- Solution focus
- Other Vendors supported
- Names of sales, marketing, tech staff
With this information and the ability to create dynamic newsletter content, you can easily create personalized communications that will hit the mark and become “must -read”. Just as important, you can also suppress messages that won’t be deemed as important by your partners because of lack of relevance.
We’ve learned some of these lessons the hard way while others were picked up from partners such as SiriusDecisions. We’re sharing them because we don’t want you to suffer in your efforts to engage and empower your channel partners.
If your channel marketing efforts could use a serious boost, we would be happy to help.