Three Steps to Aligning Channel Marketing
By Ron Carson
Channel marketing is broken. In its current state, vendors are from Mars and channel partners are from Venus.
Vendors are dismayed by their channel partners’ lack of engagement in their marketing campaigns, and channel partners are vexed by vendors' inability to generate qualified leads.
Independent research suggests that more and more channel partners, both vendors and their partners, are investing in sophisticated marketing solutions, which cost them thousands of dollars per year.
Will this standoff escalate as channel partners take lead-generation matters into their own hands, or will the two sides give peace a chance through better cooperation in their vendor-led, co-branded channel marketing activities?
The crux of the conflict is simple. Vendor marketing teams tend to be preoccupied with corporate messaging, high-level product positioning and the benefits of their solutions. They're often too far removed from the sales trenches, the specific problems the end customers are trying to solve, and where their intermediaries are trying to close deals.
Vendors must be weary of their own inherent marketing biases. To paraphrase a popular expression, just because a vendor’s solution is a hammer, that doesn't make every problem a nail.
Channel partners are not generally interested in high-level messaging or with early-stage leads. They have limited resources to nurture leads and would prefer to focus on later-stage leads that are closer to making a buying decision.
By comparison, their bias is more nuts and bolts, specific solutions for specific problems such as closing sales of target accounts.
To cultivate the most beneficial working relationship with their channel partners, vendors need to take these three steps.
1. Know where you stand.
Back to basics: the attention-interest-desire-action model, or AIDA, has been around since the 1800s, has withstood the test of time and remains relevant today. The basic principal: Prospective customers must evolve through these four pre-defined steps when making a buying decision.
For channel marketers, AIDA provides a framework for categorizing a growing list of marketing platforms, tactics and activities at their disposal and for delegating marketing responsibilities between vendors and channel partners.
Generally speaking, vendors should provide the necessary heavy lifting and marketing investment in the building of awareness and interest, the first two steps of the model. Co-branded thought leadership articles, webinars and even infographics are great tools at these stages.
Vendors prefer to engage prospects when they've decided to make a purchase and are on the verge of taking action. These prospects have progressed to the latter two stages, the "desire" and "action" parts of AIDA. The co-branded messaging of channel marketers' campaigns should be, “Here’s how our type of solution solves your problem.” An online product demo is ideal at this stage.
2. Think about multi-touch campaigns.
In B2B marketing especially, where there's a long buying cycle, with purchases often considered at length, channel marketers must collaborate to create awareness, capture interest, build desire and cause action over a number of weeks or months.
Countless market-validation interviews of people across different industries representing a wide range of responsibilities show that they're busier than ever, feel over-tasked and are working with fewer resources.
In this climate, it takes multiple marketing touches to get people’s attention. As a channel marketer, you may have the perfect messaging, offer and call to action, but in recent years, prospective customers have become overwhelmed with the day-to-day demands of their jobs and are inundated with similar marketing messages. They may quite simply overlook yours.
You cannot judge the success of a channel marketing campaign based on the results of a single outreach. It is often the third or fourth outreach, email or otherwise, that gets the best response in a series.
When planning your campaigns, bake-in those multiple touches, such as emails, follow-up phone calls, and ad retargeting to continually keep your value proposition in front of prospective customers.
3. Think about programs, rather than single campaigns.
Now, channel marketers must also think in terms of broad programs—multiple campaigns over time—that will attract and nurture prospects through their buying cycles.
However, they can’t necessarily count on walking prospects through the steps sequentially and at a determined pace. People are more autonomous and their behaviors more random.
By aligning your programs' multiple campaigns with the different stages of AIDA, you increase the chance that your leads will find the natural footholds to eventually progress through the sales process.
It's important to remember that most channel partners work with multiple vendors. Vendors that make it easiest for channel partners to meet their revenue goals will benefit from increased mind share.
This goodwill and cooperation from channel partners are the secret ingredients necessary for a vendor to successfully lead a co-branded marketing program of multiple campaigns of multiple touches aligned with the four stages of the AIDA sales funnel.
In channel marketing, vendors must lead the charge in formulating and implementing complete and integrated marketing strategies for their channel partners—one where vendors and their partners divide and nurture prospects on their respective sides of the sales cycle.
Ron Carson is the founder and CEO of Thirdside Solutions, a Raleigh-N.C.-based, B2B marketing agency specializing in lead generation. He helps companies grow their revenues.