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Tips For Powerful IT Channel Marketing


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Wirestone "WirePaper" on maintaining a powerful IT channel marketing program.

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Tips For Powerful IT Channel Marketing

  1. 1. Strategies for Igniting Growth: Maximizing the Relationship with Your IT Channel Learning from 20 Channel Marketers points to Attracting, Driving, and Enabling By The Wirestone Channel Marketing Team | October 4, 2008 | targeted customer experiences
  2. 2. Maximizing the Relationship with Your IT Channel Executive Summary The channel is the lifeblood of any technology brand seeking to achieve and sustain growth domestically and internationally. Commanding the attention and loyalty of key channel partners is only getting harder as global forces and increased competition compete for mindshare with the channel. Also, as marketing tools become more complex and digitally-oriented, the gap between the marketing capabilities of small-to mid-size channel partners and the desires of the IT brand is widening. While channel strategy priorities will differ from brand to brand, Wirestone believes that a commitment to a three-step approach will ensure that channel partners of all sizes, go to market activities and business models are supported and armed for success. Target Audience | IT Channel Marketing Professional Figure 1.1 ©2008, Wirestone, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved October 4, 2008
  3. 3. Maximizing the Relationship with Your IT Channel What Have You Done For Me Lately? Attracting and Retaining Great Channel Partners The perfect storm of events is occurring in the IT channel with the changing economy, IT spending slowing, partners consolidating, the rise of SaaS and the resulting shift in business models. The competition for channel marketers to attract and retain the attention of key channel partners is getting harder, especially as it becomes tempting to shift resources, support and attention to the larger channel partners. There are certainly levels of customization with each brand’s channel and partner’s business model most of which do not have a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Wirestone has interviewed 20 channel executives and has drawn upon our decades of experience helping world- class IT brands market into a channel. Our experience tells us that: • Premier brand support isn’t a luxury, it’s a given. Brand recognition in the marketplace, underscored by consistent product quality, is decisive in the escalating competition to attract and retain quality channel partners. Breakdowns in the brand’s product quality and brand reputation damage goodwill with the channel and make the process of recruiting and retaining top-tier channel partners more difficult. • Partners want air cover for their ground battle. As channel partners organize to attack a vertical market or region, the brand’s support with marketing and advertising helps to ease the conversations happening in the field. Partners recognize the awareness support of the brand and reward vendors accordingly. Ensure that you are merchandising your efforts to key and new channel partners continuously. • Like any relationship, communication is the key. Best-in-class channel strategies are characterized by dedicated, proactive communication, seamless information flow and immediate response to inquiries and/or easy access to information. As we spoke with both channel marketers and partners, we noticed that ‘perception is reality’ when it comes to communication and relationship management. Many channel marketers felt that they had the tools in place to communicate marketing programs, technical information or product changes with partners, yet the partners typically felt that communications were inconsistent, sporadic or a monologue rather than a dialogue. • The channel partner’s sales force is coin-operated. Love it or hate it, the fastest way to the hearts of sales people is through their wallet. The demand for their attention from IT and technology vendors results in a storm of information, promotions and deals. Breaking through the clutter and activating this army of sales people is critical to mobilizing a channel on your behalf. Creative, innovative, easy-to-understand and compelling incentives will capture the hearts, minds and wallets of your partner’s sales force. • Chart an incentive course and stick with it. Motivation for sales success can equal growth for vendors. Rewards and incentive programs should be understandable for the channel partners, and seen as beneficial for channel partners of all sizes. The best brands engage their channel partners in the business planning of quotas and sales to ensure that the partners don’t feel that goals were set arbitrarily. Partners often feel that a goal is unrealistic, but don’t make it too easy for them to achieve. Remember, growth is always the motivation. Also, perennially changing the parameters of a program can become frustrating to sales people and their managers. Try and stay true to the benchmarks of the program and minimize changes in the triggers as the channel may see this as trickery and a move to ensure that few people achieve the goals. October 4, 2008 ©2008, Wirestone, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved
  4. 4. Maximizing the Relationship with Your IT Channel Ideas For Attracting and Retaining Great Channel Partners At the core of the best vendor-partner relationships is the solid foundation of timely communication, mutual respect and a focus on helping the channel partner be as successful as possible. Finding the secret formula for communicating with your various channel partners will be relevant to your channel, but the basics of open and clear communication will stay the same. Wirestone recommends the following ideas in keeping the best channel partners loyal to your brand: 1. Conduct an audit of your partner communication efforts: Take a close look at your strengths and weaknesses with your channel partner program. Develop some surveys for the sales and area managers, as well as your channel partners. You might be surprised by what you hear. Develop a roadmap for near-term and future improvements to the communications, and don’t forget to merchandise your investment in these efforts with your channel partners. 2. Create an effective partner portal: In conjunction with a personal outreach approach, build a powerful, relevant online portal for your channel partners. First, survey your channel partners for their level of comfort in consuming information and content via the web. The levels of sophistication of web technographics vary with partner-size, but the mistake brands often make is assuming that partners don’t want to engage online. Best- in-class IT brands are providing a variety of information via portals such as lead generation and tracking, deal registration, sales history, incentives, marketing materials, support usage training, and certifications achieved. Also, as leadership in channel partners become younger, the usage of the web increases. After surveying your channel audience, create a partner portal based on the following principles: a. An on-demand marketing-solution center: this includes a catalog, partner and program logo and guidelines, marketing tools that provide channel partners with a means to create marketing campaigns specific to their markets and products, a channel for discounted development and distribution of those campaigns and a discounted or free telesales operation for follow-up. b. Cohesive branding: Establish visual consistency in the eyes of the channel partner across all of your web properties including your portal, microsites, main and promotional sites. c. Intuitive hierarchy of information: Assign weight to the arrangement of available information/links based on channel partner interest and traffic. Give time-sensitive and featured information more prominence in order to gain attention. Organize and group areas of interest to improve navigability and focus d. Set expectations: Provide an overview of the portal’s advantages and how it can help the channel partners get the right information fast. Provide improved user expectations based on each link (e.g., If I click here, what will happen/where will I go?) e. Customized information: Create a partner portal that allows customized and weighted information as a gateway to other more content heavy information. f. Introduce top-level marketing strategy: Create a channel partner community presence and introduce executive sponsors by way of personalized information (blog). This becomes even more powerful if your organization has vertical experts that the channel partner can access via this community. g. Provide relevant channel partner industry information: Create a reason for the partner to visit the site ©2008, Wirestone, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved October 4, 2008
  5. 5. Maximizing the Relationship with Your IT Channel frequently by aggregating multi-media content from around the web for instant access by the partner. Make their life easier by allowing them to customize the content they receive in the portal. h. Push vs. pull: Introduce desktop application that allows customized information to live even closer to the channel partner. Provide more “click through” links on the channel partner e-newsletters to drive channel partners directly to their areas of interest. . Take another look at your partner relationship structure. A best-in-class relationship management structure would employ outside reps providing dedicated, proactive trips to most channel partners. Consider building a tiered relationship management approach that rewards your best channel partners but ensures that emerging and smaller partners don’t feel alienated. For example, Microsoft directly manages 1,500 partners through area managers and “Developer Evangelists” and HP provides opportunity for partners to participate in Special Interest Groups based on either vertical or technical specialty. They receive access to additional resources based on commitment. Is there a more streamlined manner in which your organization could structure the channel relationship? Consider restructuring or adding to the structure with special interest groupings, such as vertical markets or product/service specialty. Strategically focus resources, programs and tools on the dedicated efforts. . Develop a communication plan to channel partners. Opportunities for improved communication with channel partners could include: a. Dedicating an additional point of contact to mid-level or emerging-growth partners who serve as enablement partners, assisting with marketing planning, sales strategies, etc. b. Developing a communication plan for channel partners. Document what correspondence goes out, in what format, and when. Clearly indicate how channel partners access categories of information. c. Developing template for all communications (from any source) so that partners will always know how to find information. For example, Weekly e-mails from district managers in a template format that announce promotions, results, changes in plans, etc. . Create and promote a channel-advisory board. Many IT vendors maintain channel advisory boards, but fall down when merchandising the effort and continually engaging the key members of the board. Raise the profile of the board by creating a brand identity for the effort and elevating the prominence and importance of the effort to your organization. Roll out reintroduction with objectives, schedule, bios of representatives, how a CP can apply to be on board, how a CP can submit information (via forum on MOL?), how results of meetings are announced, and how final outcomes/improvements are communicated. Just Add Water. Identify the means to drive qualified leads into the channel In a recent survey of channel partners conducted by ChannelWeb, 82.7 percent of respondents specified that they are motivated by qualified leads provided by the IT vendor. Is that statistic any surprise? Who wouldn’t want qualified leads spoon-fed to their business? In our research, channel partners specified that a clearly defined lead program should generate leads to channel partners, and allow October 4, 2008 ©2008, Wirestone, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved
  6. 6. Maximizing the Relationship with Your IT Channel the manufacturer to track and measure lead activity. The best-in-class IT vendors are engaging the field sales teams and sharing leads. Their process follows a highly proactive approach in working with their channel partners. The channel partners are engaged by the vendor’s sales people for joint sales activity in vendor and net new accounts and collaborate at the initial discussion stages of a new opportunity. • Perception is reality with channel conflict. In our research, there often existed a perceptual gap between how the channel partner felt about the velocity and quality of the leads being directed to them by the vendor and how the channel marketing managers at the vendor felt about the volume and quality of the leads. In addition, partners often felt that the best leads were saved for the vendor’s sales force and never passed along or worked in conjunction with channel partners. • Quality vs. quantity. Simply creating cold leads for the channel partners isn’t enough. The best vendors are investing considerably in lead-nurturing strategies that qualify prospects to the parameters established by the new business strategy. Then, and only then, are the leads turned over to the channel partners for either direct close or joint sales efforts. Partners expressed that they would like to spend a greater majority of their marketing development funds on lead generation activities rather than other types of broader marketing efforts. • Rules of engagement. A critical step in assuring that the vendor’s sales personnel and the channel partners are aligned on deal development is to have a common philosophy as to the policies and code of conduct in working leads in the channel. Tie this code of conduct closely to performance reviews and bonuses as to avoid favoritism and/or shady activities. For example, IBM’s 35,000 field sales people sign a code of conduct that they will do everything in their power to avoid ‘unhooking’ a deal from one channel partner for another. A well-written code of conduct will include roles and responsibilities in name and non-named accounts with a mutually agreed upon list of named accounts and an escalation process should conflict occur. Ideas for identifying the means to drive qualified leads into the channel The panacea for a solid vendor-channel relationship with regards to lead generation is an active, proactive lead sharing system for creating, nurturing and parsing leads to partners at the various tiers of engagement. Providing brand support for the purposes of helping the channel working and closing deals is also a critical component of driving business for both organizations. 1. Centralize deal registration and active follow-up. Think about developing a service that allows the more advanced and higher-tier partners in your relationship management program to register deals online through an extranet. Develop a “guaranteed” follow-up timeframe (72 hours) from your sales personnel to follow through on the lead for validation and routing to the most relevant vendor sales reps or partners. 2. Write your code. Create a code of conduct or rules of engagement in working with channel partners that each person on your sales team signs and posts in their office or cubicle. Make it part of your culture by incorporating into performance reviews and bonus structures. Merchandise the code with your partners when recruiting and attracting new partners to represent your brand and products. . Show Them The Money. Don’t be shy about merchandising the investment you’re making in the channel ©2008, Wirestone, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved October 4, 2008
  7. 7. Maximizing the Relationship with Your IT Channel relationships. Speaking in objective, dollars-and-cents terms illustrates your commitment to helping your partners be as successful as possible. Make sure to measure your partner’s use of resources for both pre- and post-sales support. Teach Them To Fish: Feed Them For Life. Go beyond co-marketing, enable the channel to be better marketers Many of the small–to mid-size channel partners we spoke with yearned for the marketing and selling expertise necessary to grow their business. It is clear that many of the smaller channel partners do not have the wherewithal to properly segment, target and nurture their territories. This goes beyond basic marketing knowledge and more sophisticated techniques, to include advanced web strategies such as search engine marketing, use of blogs and social media and employing a vertical market attack strategy. Vendors have a great opportunity to go further than just offering marketing materials and templates, but to mentor and educate their channel partners to be better marketers. • Fewer, bigger, better. Channel partners often expressed a state of confusion or overload with the velocity and relevance of the programs and tools offered by a vendor. Look at the program from their perspectives; they are bombarded with messaging, promotions, web-based tools and other training programs by many different vendors. Capturing and holding their attention is harder to accomplish. In our experience, vendors launch programs and solutions into the channel without establishing the appropriate metrics and usage measurement devices. Often, marketing staff at the vendors is just “checking a box” when they launch a program rather than developing an insightful program and optimizing as feedback comes in from the channel. • Let them be. More often than not, territories of channel partners overlap, especially the smaller organizations. The management of the partners also understand that vendors often provide templates and information in the same format to all partners. This boxes the partners in and can minimize the opportunity for personalization and customization. Channel partners seek to differentiate and would welcome an opportunity to package your information within their brand voice and identity. • Lighten up. Many channel partners like the marketing tools that vendors provide to them either through a web portal or extranet. In addition, many vendors provide web-based solutions for partners to dip their toe into e- commerce. However, the usage of those systems often come with restrictions in only selling the OEM’s products through those systems. For smaller channel partners, it usually isn’t reasonable to expect them to manage separate web presences for their different brands or for them to only represent one brand in the market place. Try to find other ways to capitalize on the investment you’ve made in the system brand rules versus competitive set. Think about how Progressive Insurance shows consumers their pricing against the rest of the market – this demonstrates confidence in your products and services. • Be active. For a large OEM vendor, where the channel marketing team spends their time is often the $64,000 question. With a channel partner count that can often run into the tens of thousands, making them feel like they are getting the attention of the brand can be a daunting task. For the loyal and higher-tier channel partners, create a compelling method of engaging them in active marketing planning. The partners long for your expertise and guidance on how to not only represent your brands in the market, but also how to outsmart their October 4, 2008 ©2008, Wirestone, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved
  8. 8. Maximizing the Relationship with Your IT Channel competition and create new value from their territories. Train your district managers to not only be great sales people, but also to be consultative marketers. They are often perceived as the face of the vendor and passing along their expertise to the channel partners can be invaluable. Ideas for supporting channel partners with go-to-market strategies and tools that enable sales success. 1. Create a build-to-suit promotional calendar. Sales managers at the channel partners expend a great deal of energy trying to keep their sales team focused. With a high-velocity of promotions being launched by vendors all at once, it fragments the attention of the sales team. Create a marketing calendar so that sales managers can pick and choose promotions based on their business objectives and customer needs. 2. Act like an agency. Vendors often have world-class marketers among their ranks that are typically only focused on advancing the agenda of the vendor’s brand. Small to mid-size channel partners long for that marketing expertise. Think about developing a marketing curriculum that partners can access through an Academy-format whether online or offline. One possibility is to engage an outside partner to develop the structure and administer the program on your behalf. Start with the basics of marketing (segmenting, targeting, value proposition etc.) before launching to more advanced topics. . Fail to plan, plan to fail. Creating and sustaining a dialog with your channel partners with regard to their business and marketing plans is critical in achieving joint success. Help them accomplish the quotas you’ve put in place for them. However, knowing that all partners are not equal, finding ways to make everyone feel special is the secret sauce. Think about developing an online planning tool that creates joint business plans and makes subsequent recommendations for marketing tactics to reach objectives for the partners. . Share and share alike. Channel partners almost always long for more qualified leads. Having a vendor program that pre-qualifies leads based on the marketing campaigns launched at the vendor level is important. Allow partners to access telesales qualification through the use of their supplied marketing funds. Partners often don’t have the resources to qualify leads appropriately and will offer their loyalty to the hand that feeds them. Through your partner relationship program, offer more services to higher-tiers and don’t forget to merchandise those services to companies at the lower-tiers; this may motivate them to achieve higher-tier status. ©2008, Wirestone, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved October 4, 2008