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What Keeps Channel Marketers Up at Night?

May 02, 2016 | By Maria Chien

  • SiriusDecisions has identified three key issues that should drive the agenda of channel marketing leaders in 2016
  • New approaches to marketing require suppliers to train partner marketing resources as well as identify metrics to evaluate effectiveness
  • Channel marketers are examining how they can integrate evolving partner types into existing partner programs

As most organizations are already fully entrenched in 2016, I found myself looking back to last fall, when SiriusDecisions channel analysts identified key issues or planning assumptions for leaders to drive the channel marketing agenda in the coming year.

Recently, while hosting a dinner for channel marketing leaders, I asked attendees to introduce themselves and give one business challenge or initiative that was keeping them up at night (spoiler alert: they did not keep it to just one!)  Scalable partner enablement was top of mind, and engaging and driving productive relationships with global systems integrators (GSIs) and/or starting up a cloud partner program was another. What I heard was consistent with the trends that we highlighted in our annual planning assumptions for 2016. Three of the key areas of focus include:What Keeps Channel Marketers Up at Night?

One: The Impact of Partner Marketing Enablement

In an effort to reach and train partner marketing resources, a growing number of channel marketers are formalizing their partner marketing enablement initiatives. This includes the development and delivery of marketing curricula, certification pathways and marketing academies to partners. Channel marketers who offer this type of training should have formal metrics for gauging progress and evaluating program effectiveness. Measuring the success of partner marketing allows suppliers to identify and address competency and performance gaps.

I am often asked how channel marketers should measure success. The SiriusDecisions Metrics Spectrum classifies metrics into activity metrics (which quantify the activities performed), output metrics (which track the direct results of activities performed) and impact metrics (which examine contributions to the organization’s business objectives). Channel marketers leading the charge are establishing all three types of metrics to track the results of partner marketing enablement efforts and assess the effectiveness of partner marketing enablement in the categories of knowledge transfer, skills development and partner-led marketing.  They then compare the deal velocity and lead conversion rates of certified partner segments to those of non-certified peer groups to identify and measure leading and lagging indicators of success.

Two: Apply Account-Based Strategies to the Channel

Account-based marketing (ABM) strategies for increasing revenue from strategic target accounts and/or existing customers are becoming prevalent among b-to-b organizations. In SiriusDecisions’ recent State of Account-Based Marketing study, 92 percent of participating b-to-b companies said ABM is “extremely important” or “very important” to their overall marketing efforts. In the channel, ABM aligns resources against specific partners and targeted partner accounts. 

While most channel marketers are beginning to talk about ABM, they are not yet  executing these strategies and programs to and through partners.  A typical first step is engaging partners in large or strategic accounts, but strategic account planning with partners has often been ad hoc and labor-intensive, which prevents suppliers from engaging more partners across more accounts and repeating the process.  Because successful ABM program outcomes are predicated on planning and channel marketing must collaborate with multiple functions to build comprehensive joint account engagement plans, suppliers must align activities of partner organizations with internal functions (e.g. direct sales, named account managers, channel sales, customer success teams). Suppliers should identify viable opportunities for this approach, starting with the strongest partners and accounts. With careful alignment of activities, direct and indirect sales channels for these accounts can be simultaneously managed. 

Three: Expand Partner Programs to Include New Partner Types

Suppliers find themselves establishing new routes to market with emerging and non-traditional partner types (e.g. cloud-based partners, Internet of Things [IoT] partners), as well as established partner types that were previously not active in their programs (e.g. original equipment manufacturers, independent software vendors, global systems integrators). As a result, they need to examine how they can integrate and expand their partner programs to include these new partners.

I hear all too often from companies that are eager to keep up with the competition and jump into partner relationships with little advance planning or process definition. The partnerships become a series of ad hoc actions with no specific goals or program infrastructure to support partner commitment or growth. To encourage more positive outcomes, audit existing partner program infrastructure to support current and planned routes to market and determine if you have the right program tiers and benefits to support various partner types. Once program support is in place, there are different keys to engaging specific partner types.  For example, to successfully engage a managed services provider partner, a supplier must enable the partner to market and sell a new paradigm solution. Partnering with ISVs requires suppliers to collaborate with these partners at multiple levels and advocate for their offerings. To support born-in-the-cloud partners, changes to incentive programs and a focus around customer lifecycle, customer success and renewals may be required.

In order to gain back some much-needed sleep, channel marketing leaders must assess the applicability of specific marketing approaches within their partner ecosystem while recognizing the importance of partner selection to successful program implementation. Aligning incentives, communications, processes, training and relationships to that specific partner type are the keys to channel marketing program success.

Interested in learning more? Be sure to join us at Summit 2016 to gain insight into top issues channel leaders are facing today. Please also check out my Summit analyst picks for channel marketing leaders here!

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Maria Chien

Maria Chien is the Service Director of Channel Marketing Strategies at SiriusDecisions. She has 20 years of experience in partner/channel marketing, field marketing and solutions marketing, with hands-on expertise in partner and sales enablement, value proposition and sales tool development, and sales engagement. Follow Maria on Twitter at @mariachien.

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