Discover the Key to Unlocking Your Distribution Channels

In today’s automated, tech-driven world, channel marketing has remained one of the last holdouts due to its continued dependence on manual labor. The concept of a manufacturer leveraging distribution channels for indirect sales is age-old, but the actual process of equipping and supporting those channel partners with simple, actionable strategy has scarcely evolved over the decades.

Well, until now. New software platforms have begun to prioritize the partner journey, and it’s about time. If you’re a vendor or manufacturer, partners are the key you’ve been searching for.

And with this emergence of tech to combat antiquated channel sales methods, automation has finally caught up to the partner problem. Now it’s time for you to adopt these digital solutions and get your idle distribution channels moving. Prioritizing partners is the greatest channel marketing strategy you could dream up, and here’s why:

  • Making partners a priority is tangible, actionable, and straightforward, rather than conceptual.
  • When partners are a priority, more of them will participate in your co-marketing initiatives.
  • When partner participation increases, your reach, visibility, and revenue increase too.

3 pillars of a good channel marketing strategy

If you’re a vendor company that relies on distributors or resellers, you know all too well the pain points of getting a channel program off the ground. Whether you’re a company that sees channel partners as a critical move in scaling your brand, or you started building a partner program into your sales infrastructure at the very start, the story is the same.

You need to provide sales enablement tools and initiate co-branding opportunities in a way that makes it easy for your distribution channels to redistribute.

So, for starters, you must:

1) Develop your channel marketing strategy with your partners in mind.

Because they’re the ones you’ll be relying on to deliver it, remember? This may seem obvious, but it’s incredibly common for vendors to forget the needs of their channel partners in achieving success. They expect channel partners to, indeed, do all that old-school manual labor. The truth is, 80% of them won’t.

So don’t retroactively build your partners into your plan. Instead, plan to meet their needs and requirements during your initial blueprint phase, so you’re always keeping them engaged and they feel they were always part of the plan—not an afterthought. This will take more manual labor on your part (unless you’re ready to adopt a platform that takes the heavy lifting off your hands) but absorbing some of that hard work on the front end can have exponential results for your distribution channels.

2) Provide marketing collateral via a platform that makes co-branding and redistribution easy.

In an attempt to assuage as much manual labor as possible, the widely accepted approach to channel marketing has been for vendors to adopt a partner portal or PRM. It’s likely you already have one of these, so you’re familiar with using such a platform to drop off your branded content—like design assets, data sheets, price lists, landing pages, infographics, etc—then let your channel partners know it’s there and expect them to come collect, co-brand, repurpose, and redistribute all on their own.

While this removes some of the manual labor for you, it’s not doing much for your partners. And it’s been this way for decades. (Hence why we said in the intro that this evolution has been slow and scarce.) The most recent SaaS technology available truly battles this issue by bridging the labor gap between you and that 80% of your partners who can’t or won’t do all the work you’re expecting.

3) Incentivize and reward your highly active distribution channels.

As your partner program grows, there will be varying degrees of partner engagement and you’ll want to prioritize those most engaged by incentivizing them with MDF and SPIFs. But again, today’s most common channel marketing approach requires the partner to proactively use the partner portal or PRM to retrieve collateral and generate campaigns on their own.

So aside from remaining a manual and time consuming process, this approach makes it nearly impossible for you to determine which partners are truly engaging. There are no metrics tracking who’s doing what, making MDF management a blind undertaking.

Engage your channel partners with today’s tools

Fortunately, according to Forrester, there’s been an evolution in technology to assist today’s vendors and manufacturers with their distribution channels. These through-channel marketing automation platforms are considered the “third stage” (in other words, the future) of digital marketing. But like most solutions, not all are created equal.

When your channel marketing team is ready to adopt a more modern and intuitive platform, be sure to search for TCMA tools that truly automate old processes and deliver your messaging with ease through partners and onward to their pipeline. The ideal solution will make it simple for both you and your partners, and will empower you to effortlessly deliver consistent, co-branded campaigns while providing insight into your partners’ activity.

3 Ways to Gain and Retain More Channel Partners with TCMA

The partner experience should be at least as important to your channel management team as customer experience is to your company. But how do you ensure that all your channel partners feel valued, supported, and important even as you scale your program? Your channel program must always be expanding to cover the turnover of partners leaving or the lack of engagement from a percentage of partners (that 80/20 rule generally applies accurately to channel partners, although true TCMA has the power to change this). And yours certainly isn’t the only channel program they’ve signed up for, which is why your program needs to be one of the best.

You need to support and empower your partners with clear sales enablement tools, mutually beneficial co-branding material, up-to-date content and regular communication, all the while making it easy for them to engage and redistribute. Simply put, deliver your co-branded strategy to them in the most functional way possible and you’ll not only gain more partners, but you’ll see higher retention among the partners already in your program.

There are three simple ways to achieve this using a bona fide TCMA platform like xAmplify. But first, let’s quickly talk about the current shift in technology.

Channel marketing technology: past and future

Traditional PRMs and portals never made the channel marketing process “easy” for partners, and now, with the rise of outbound solutions, these platforms are becoming antiquated. An outbound approach to the partner experience is a more thoughtful way to earn partner participation, as opposed to hosting a portal where partners must download your assets and do all the co-marketing work themselves.

A true through-channel marketing automation platform leverages delivery to and through your partners to simply, seamlessly provide them with everything they need. Using one such TCMA solution, you can attract new partners, onboard them faster, and retain them longer.

Here are three methods for gaining and retaining channel partners:

#1—Expand your channel program through personalized outreach

The first step in starting or growing a successful channel is to determine what type of partner will be best for your product or service.

Are you developing an ecosystem of solution partners that offer additional tools to round out your solution, like value-added resellers (VARs) or independent software vendors (ISVs)? The value message here is the access they’ll have access to your client base and a co-branding opportunity to sell their solution through your sales team. You’ll need to provide co-marketing campaigns that strengthen their branding and tell the story that their offering is an integral piece of the full solution.

Or are you primarily looking for resellers and/or system integrators (SIs)? The value message to  this type of partner is more straight-forward—increase their revenue by adding your product to their portfolio.

You could also be in need of referral partners, who simply refer your solution to their client base and get a commission for doing so. Similar to an ISV or SI, except with no integration, the value here is that they’re pointing their customers to a known and trusted solution which their platform doesn’t offer.

Finally, you might also be looking to attract distributors. You’d traditionally have a closer relationship with this type of partner. Distributors will rely heavily on regular communication, sales enablement tools that you provide, and channel marketing material that you develop and deliver.

Once you’ve determined your ideal types of channel partners and created a list, follow these tips for initial outreach using an outbound platform:

  • Take that list of ideal partners with whom you should be doing business and enter it into the software as a new segmented list of Potential Partners – you could further segment the list into ISVs, Resellers, Referrals, Distributors, or SIs
  • Create the content with the value message that applies to each type of potential partner. Think about the qualifying questions they might have for you, and answer them before they have a chance to ask. For example:
    • For referral partners:
      • How large is your client base?
      • How many sales people could be introducing them to your client base?
      • How often do you run programs to introduce partners to internal sales teams?
      • What type of co-marketing programs do you run and how often could they take part?
      • What are the requirements for co-marketing opportunities?
    • For reseller partners:
      • What is the average sales price, time to close and close rate?
      • How much revenue could a standard partner generate?
      • How much training and co-marketing do you provide?
  • Create the templates and campaigns with personalized content, ready to be sent to your corresponding partner lists at any time. Of course, be sure to include a Request a Demo link and create an auto-sequenced series of targeted follow-up emails.

#2—Onboard channel partners faster than ever before

The faster you onboard partners, the sooner you’ll both see the mutual benefits of the partnership. As soon as they’ve signed up for your channel marketing program, cover the introduction basics:

  • Leverage your segmented lists again to ensure that their welcome and continuing journey with you feels personal.
  • Let them know their participation is appreciated and they will soon be rewarded.
  • Remind them of why they signed up in the first place—that redistribution will be easier than ever because you’ll be delivering campaigns in true automated through-channel fashion.

xAmplify makes this whole introduction incredibly simple and functional by allowing you to build nurture campaign templates and launch them from the same platform your channel partners will be using to redistribute. Not only do partners feel welcomed, they’re simultaneously becoming familiar with the platform they’ve just adopted… The faster they become familiar, the faster they onboard and begin putting the platform to use for mutual benefit.

#3—Use your TCMA platform for to-channel initiatives, too

The incredible thing about compulsory outbound solutions like xAmplify is that they force various and previously scattered pieces of channel marketing strategy to happen in one platform. This makes the first half of the TCMA acronym—the through-channel portion—an unprecedented model for success. With ease and simplicity, partners participate, you get insight into never-before-seen metrics, and you can dole out MDF (the reward you promised earlier) knowing that it’s going to partners who’ll put it to the best use.

This may all be enough to keep channel partners from leaving your program. But don’t forget that there’s a “to-partner” mode in addition to the “through-partner” mode.  

Using this alternate mode allows you to keep that initial introductory momentum going by delivering check-ins, newsletters, videos, case studies, white papers, educational materials, current sales enablement tools, product highlights, SPIF campaigns (more reward!), and more straight to their inbox. No portal or PRM login necessary.

Plus, with data insight to show you how often they’re opening, clicking, reading and watching, you’ll know exactly when to pull back and when to keep reaching out.