I have spent my entire career in the channel. With 75% of world trade flowing through indirect channels according to the World Trade Organization, I’m always interested in seeing how businesses organize, manage, and execute their partner and alliance programs.
We know that B2B marketers have been working to break down silos for years to drive a consistent omnichannel customer experience. One silo that remains resilient is that of the channel or alliance partner ecosystem. Companies across all industries have traditionally built a standalone channel organization that owns the indirect go-to-market strategy and, in many cases, employs its own sales, marketing, operations, and finance personnel.
In the age of the customer, with line-of-business executives taking on a significant role in their own digital transformations, now is the time to finally break down the partner channel silo. This will ensure a consistent customer experience across all marketing and partner channels.
Forrester’s Q1 2017 International B2B Marketing Panel Online Survey revealed that more than half of marketers don’t have responsibility for channel partner marketing. In fact, the survey found that only 43% of channel marketers report into the marketing department.
For B2B marketers who have responsibility for the channel marketing function, the most important things they focus on are channel sales enablement, through-channel marketing automation, and market-development-funds utilization. On the other end of the scale, web content syndication and marketing concierge support rank the least important.
A robust channel program can have dozens of components including recruitment, development, and acceleration tools. B2B marketers need to ensure that the same customer experience strategy extends from the direct sales to the indirect sales organization. Leveraging a mix of partner incentives, training, sales, and marketing enablement can amplify the brand in a predictable and consistent way. The survey reported that only 14% of marketers had a formal program for curating content from partners.
The biggest reported challenges in the survey are:
- Providing competitive differentiation to partners. As attention spans decrease, traditional techniques such as battle cards and online education need to be replaced with snackable content on social media platforms.
- Getting buyer insights. Selling through a third party makes analyzing the sales funnel difficult. Tools such as deal registration and finders fees can generate top-of-funnel activity, but motivating partners to progress the deals in a measurable way is problematic. Limited tools exist that measure the partners’ impact (good or bad) on converting leads and winning business.
- Rules of engagement. Most businesses start as direct sales organizations, and the power base may skew in that direction in the long term. Partners expect a predictable, consistent set of guidelines to avoid channel conflict and will leave a vendor if they think that they have been unfairly treated.
- Price transparency. The multitiered partner channel can be complex with distributors, wholesalers, and different categories of partners all competing in the same marketplace. Ensuring that direct and indirect channels have parity in pricing is difficult to manage due to the multitude of routes and different geographic regulations pertaining to third-party pricing.
However, the survey respondents felt good about sharing their product catalog with different types of partners as well as managing the disintermediation that can occur with their own eCommerce or direct sales tactics.
With customers increasingly using the web to research and build solutions via self-service tools, indirect sales channels must ultimately be in lockstep with the B2B marketing team to deliver a consistent message and win more business together.