Opinion Piece: 3 Core Channel Marketing Challenges and How to Overcome Them

17 March 2020 | Partner Enablement and Loyalty

Channel marketing is all about partner relationships, but not every partner or partner relationship is the same – presenting companies with various challenges to get their approach right. In this opinion piece, Christine Röder, an Executive Director at Aximpro with more than 15 years of channel marketing and sales experience, identifies key challenges and shares advice on how to overcome them.

According to the market research company Forrester, two-thirds of businesses are taking an indirect approach to their marketing efforts. Therefore, channel marketing is becoming more and more important to vendors.

Who is channel marketing directed to exactly? There are two main target groups: existing partners and new partners. In terms of the existing partners, businesses should always aim to strengthen these relationships – keeping the partners engaged, enabled and loyal. Hence, getting them to sell the desired products and solutions. For new partners, it’s about identifying those who fit to the overall vendor strategy and existing partner base.

Out of numerous strategical and tactical channel marketing challenges, the following three are major, as all vendors seem to face them in multiple ways:

  1. Whom to target?
  2. How to onboard and nurture?
  3. How to engage and foster loyalty?

With channel marketing being centered around partner relationships, and the fact that no partner or partner relationship is the same, it is crucial for vendors to treat the various partners differently – taking their individual needs, specialties, strategies, status and given targets into account.

Diving Deeper Into the 3 Core Challenges

Challenge 1: Whom to Target?

In terms of targeting it’s all about finding the right new partners and identifying the right existing partners to work on the desired strategies and campaigns.

To grow, vendors have two options: Firstly, growing with new partners and secondly, growing with existing partners by increasing the share of wallet.

In order to recruit new partners and perform effective channel marketing, it is crucial to first identify them. You need to ask: Who is the right partner for me? What is the right approach to engage with the partner? What is the right content strategy for the partner? Since budgets and vendor resources are somehow tight, you need to be very specific in finding and addressing the right partners. There are various means of finding new partners, but the more you know about potential new partners, the easier you can address the correct pain points. Moreover, it will also be easier to make the correct offer that will get a specific partner to join your program.

To foster relationships with existing partners by upselling, cross-selling or simply by nurturing them along the chain, you need to look at historical data, predictive analytics, sell-out data and market research – to name a few. This can, however, be very difficult due to siloed data across multiple disconnected systems in an organization. The main challenge here is to get the data in a consolidated view to be able to take out some learnings and recommendations. Once you know the strengths and weaknesses of partners, you can leverage the information to unleash potential growth areas, as well as recognize and develop sales.

Armed with improved insights, channel marketers will be able to make smart decisions on the marketing budget. Using economies of scale, all partners are promptly provided with the best material available. Yet, with business intelligence analyses, this can also be highly targeted, so each individual group receives material exactly suited to their needs and abilities.

Challenge 2: How to Onboard and Nurture?

Channel onboarding is the business investment that focuses on educating, enabling and certifying partners to be effective along the relationship and value chain. Not all partners or partner levels will have dedicated vendor sales representatives at their side, which is why the channels of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and unmanaged partners are the ones you need to explicitly help with onboarding.  

The onboarding process should be automated. If not, it is too time-consuming and creates room for errors. Channel marketing needs to primarily focus on capacity and budget – to spend it wisely. Therefore, automation is key.

To ensure consistent quality, you will need to put a repeatable process in place. Onboarding is a process that builds upon itself over time. In the beginning, the vendor will spend most of the effort in getting a partner enabled, but over time the effort should level out. By the end of the onboarding process, partners will be self-sufficient enough to handle most of the workload themselves. Getting to revenue with a partner is directly linked to your onboarding process and how fast you can fully train, enable and start selling with any partner. The good news is that the more effective your onboarding plan is, the faster you can get a partner to the point of revenue. So, moving through the phases in a resourceful manner really is the key to success.

Onboarding is a long and recurring process for all partner levels. The higher levels, however, get additional support through dedicated sales representatives. It is helpful to bridge the gap between sales and channel marketing and ensure the partners get a “home” – primarily through the respective partner program. However, to bridge the gap between sales and channel marketing, a promotional sales incentive platform is crucial in keeping everyone engaged.

Challenge 3: How to Engage and Foster Loyalty?

Channel engagement and loyalty are closely connected. There are numerous ways of getting a reseller engaged and loyal, but in my experience the easiest and most effective way is by means of a compelling channel incentive program. How well you understand what motivates your resellers and how to engage with them is critical to growth. Incentive programs do work, but you need to base the programmatic approach on answers to your specific business questions, as well as your strategy and desired outcome.

Overall, an incentive program needs to be simple, easy to understand and easy to participate in. The buy-in cost of participating, plus understanding the rules and regulations must be as cheap and simple in initial thought and action as possible. To be frank, it is still about work and not leisure time or something a user might prefer to be doing or thinking about.

When it comes to the success of a channel incentive program and overall sales initiatives, groups working for a common goal will outperform individuals. So, what are typical characteristics of successful programs? Creating a team atmosphere and goals where there is a “greater good”, including incremental and milestone achievements to work for, while recognizing and rewarding individuals for their efforts along the way.

Furthermore, adding gamification to channel partner incentive programs taps into the needs people have for recognition, achievement and success. Plus, people enjoy the experience that comes along with it. The biggest challenge is in deciding what kind of flavor to add to the program so that it is compelling, fun and engaging, as well as a driver to foster loyalty and sales. This is after all the most important part, isn’t it? It’s about growing sales.

About the Author: Christine Röder is an Executive Director at Aximpro, a multinational software development, as well as omnichannel marketing and consulting company. Having worked with various international teams, she has more than 15 years of experience in channel marketing and sales. Christine supports international and local vendors with their approach to and the execution of their channel marketing and channel sales. Her expertise in conceptualization, planning and execution continue to help vendors see new ways of bridging the gap between channel marketing and sales.

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