When channel marketers fail to precisely identify a more appropriate roster of partners to include in campaigns, the consequences can be worse than achieving a level of participation they’d rather not admit.
The disappointing level of partner participation in many channel marketing initiatives may simply be the result of vendors inviting way too many partners to the party. Indiscriminate syndication of even the most well-crafted campaign is likely to win the support of only a segment of a vendor’s partner ecosystem, channel experts say.
Promotions may not be aligned with or support many partners’ go-to-market motion. Other partners may not have the resources or staff to participate. In more than a few cases, a percentage of the partners that vendors think are in their channel programs have moved on to other brands or—and this isn’t uncommon—are no longer in business.
When channel marketers fail to more precisely identify an appropriate roster of partners to include in campaigns, the consequences can be worse than achieving a level of participation they’d rather not talk about. Partners may pay less attention to vendor’s campaigns if they don’t reflect an understanding of their business needs or the customers they serve. Already too-busy channel staff may waste time chasing down never-had-a-chance opportunities rather than leaning into eager-to-engage partners. Any extra costs associated with striving to draft disinterested partners into marketing campaigns can limit investments in better opportunities.
Building Ideal Partner Personas
To align partners more effectively with their through-channel marketing programs, vendors are taking steps to better understand who their partners are as well as which new partners they should be recruiting. During last year’s SiriusDecisions Summit 2020, attendees were advised to profile data from partners regarding their go-to-market strategies, resources, and capabilities. In 2019, Forrester recommended that channel leaders should build and apply ideal partner personas to their partner recruitment and selection practices.
New technologies are helping channel marketers or the agencies and consultancies that support them develop more precise partner profiles and find the companies that fit them.
Janet Schijns, CEO of JS Group, a channel consulting group, agrees that vendors need to do a better job of recruiting partners and then matching them with appropriate through-channel marketing programs.
A big mistake that vendors make is using the wrong criteria to select partners for campaigns. Data points such as revenue generation or certifications are “rearview mirror metrics,” said Schijns. “They’re things that indicate past success.” But what would serve channel marketers betters is “a walk through a much deeper set of requirements for a good partner.”
“Alignment with your objectives and approach are very important, as the partner needs to reflect your organization appropriately, understand the differentiators between the many solutions they may represent, and be able to best position your solution in the right situation,” wrote Alan Feldman, Director of Business Development at Winn Technology Group, a full-service marketing agency, in a CMR ChannelView. “One of the more concerning errors made in finding new channel sales partners, though, is not being selective enough.”
According to Schijns, it’s all about helping clients narrow down their ideal partner profiles. “The secret sauce is not just in knowing the profiles of the partners, but in being able to help clients narrow down what kind of partners they should be working with. We do a lot of channel consulting in the industry. And, you know, we always recommend that people work with SaaSMAX. And the reason why is because we will, as part of our channel consulting, narrow down what kind of partner would really be successful,” she said.
Aligning the right partners with specific initiatives will help reduce costs, said Schijns, because you’re not investing where people can’t possibly make an impact. “Instead, you get a higher ROI on your marketing, lower spend on your marketing on non-successful tactics, and higher spend on marketing, where you’re having success.”
“It’s expensive to have a channel program,” she continued. “And so, one of the things that you look at is not just cost of channel, but net productivity of channel. Percentage of sales, acceleration of sales, cost of that sale, and then brand impression. It raises all of those metrics up when you have the right data to engage with and do the right things with those partners.”
Maybe not surprising is that many vendors “don’t really have a true or updated profile of their partners, a real understanding what that organization or their infrastructure looks like,” said Randy Sasaki, Channel Marketing Enablement Specialist, at A Fluent Vision (AFV), an IT sales and marketing agency. “All they see are the basic things like sales, number of sales, maybe sales by solution. What they typically don’t have visibility into is the partner’s infrastructure, number of sales reps, what type of marketing do they support? What kind of marketing infrastructure do they have?”
It’s essential for channel marketers to better understand which of their partners is addressing the vendors’ markets of interest, said Chanan Greenberg, Senior Vice President & General Manager High Tech, at Model N, a cloud revenue management solutions provider. He pointed to a microelectronics company that builds more than 500 parts for Mercedes-Benz.
“Not everybody knows how to sell to automotive,” he said. The channel partners that can more effectively sell products in that market, “have built a practice around that. They have added services, subject matter expertise, a network of relationships that make them stand out compared to any other channel,” he said.
Channel marketers and the service providers supporting them are using different methods, tools, and technologies to identify which partners might be the most effective collaborators for a specific initiative.
Streamlining Partner Discovery
JS Group uses the PartnerOptimizer tool from PartnerOptimizer to scrub a client’s existing partner roster to identify the best candidates for specific programs. Having a conversation with a partner about their business model can be daunting enough, said Schijns. “But it’s critical to understand their competency, to get down to their go-to-market, what tangent technologies are they selling.”
Finding the right partners is “not an art, it’s a science and math matter. Data matters in the channel,” said Schijns. With the PartnerOptimizer solution, JS Group can gather information to select or de-select partners based on the products they’re currently selling, what other brands they represent, who they’re selling products to, and with an understanding of the partner’s sales and marketing capability.
To Schijns, partner satisfaction is also key. “Improve partner satisfaction because you’re not flooding them with stuff they shouldn’t have. You’re improving customer satisfaction because you’re getting the right partners, selling your solutions, and in front of those customers. So it’s helping your brand value.”
Some of the information may be found on a partner’s website, said Schijns. But trying to find partners that are truly aligned with an ideal partner persona manually “takes a herculean effort. This is where the channel turns into scientists, and we use the data that’s out there about the partners to make better decisions.”
Read more about the PartnerOptimizer platform.