For the last few years, I’ve had a severe case of FOMO during late February. It’s the week of the B2B Marketing Exchange (B2BMX) conference, and I had only heard and read good things about it. This year, I decided to bite the bullet and spend a week in Phoenix. Of course, both my wife and daughters got sick while I was gone, so I couldn’t gloat too much about the warm sunshine. Not all heroes wear capes.
I spent most of my time on the Channel Marketing Track and picked up a lot of great ideas. Here are 5 of my key takeaways.
1. The Intersection of Partner Enablement and Customer Experience
Maria Chien from Forrester kicked off the channel track by sharing data from a SiriusDecisions study that CMO's now rank Partner Enablement among top 3 priorities across their initiatives. Not just channel/sales initiatives, but rather ALL initiatives. For the last few years, we’ve also heard that CMOs are owning the customer experience. Now consider how these priorities intersect:
- B2B Buyers have an average of 17 interactions (online and offline) in a typical purchase scenario
- B2B Buyers will have an average of 9 interactions with a variety of roles before signing the contract
- 50% of roles interacting with the buyer before purchase are NOT titles traditionally supported by sales enablement functions (i.e. customer service rep, consultant, product manager, executive, marketing, professional services)
So how consistent can the customer experience be if half the roles are saying something different than the other half?
Want another good reason to consider the customer experience? According to SiriusDecisions, previous experience with the company is the #1 decision driver in a buying scenario.
- Map the B2B buyer interactions by sales/channels personas by stage of customer journey. Understand who’s getting involved and where.
- Determine who are the most important personas are to enable (because you likely don’t have the resources to equip them all) and make sure they have the messages/content/tools necessary to succeed
2. Invest is Better Content for Partners
Back in the early 2010’s, channel enablement simply meant to take what was already created for the direct channel and to make it available for the indirect partners. If you were ambitious, you might have a place for the partner to stick their logo.
As the partner enablement grows in importance, there’s still a massive issue that sales and partners complain about.
In summary, the content being created for partners (and sales) isn’t effective because
- it doesn’t speak to the buyer needs
- it doesn’t differentiate the vendor
- it doesn’t differentiate the vendor + partner relationship
- it’s poor quality
- it’s not easily found in the content graveyard that is your partner portal
- Conduct a content audit of your content available to partners and remove anything that’s irrelevant, outdated or simply poor
- Conduct a content strategy exercise to map content against the buying/sales cycle
- Invest in creating better content kits that answer buyer needs. Consider different formats such as infographics, videos and interactive
- Promote the content to your partners and organize it to be found easily on your partner portal
3. Partners need Partners
During a panel session that included both vendors and partners, Vince DeRose from Peak Resources (systems integrator) stated that partners need to solve for heterogenous needs that require more than an out-of-box vendor solution. It requires many solutions and skillsets to come together.
System Integrators (SI’s) and other VARs and resellers are often small businesses that have gaps in 3 categories:
- Industry knowledge
So SI’s like Vince will often need partners to fill the gaps. He shared an example of a customer doing a massive network overhaul that required 8 products going into 3 racks for 6 different colocations. He needed partners that he could trust to succeed with a project of this magnitude.
- You may be able to offer a partner ecosystem that enables your channel partners to find other partners that can fill their gap.
- If this doesn’t fit your capabilities, then be really mindful of how your partners think about you. As a vendor, you may an ingredient piece rather than the hero solution. If that’s the case, then don’t be a diva with difficult demands. Play nice in the sandbox.
4. MDF and SQLs are a privilege, not a right.
During a panel session, Liz Cope from Ingersoll Rand and Kristina Hodge from ESET shared some insights about how they use MDF. Kristina shared that’s they prefer to invest MDF in partners with growth targets AND have a plan to hit their targets. Part of that plan should include having sufficient digital presence and lead generation capabilities. With changing buyer behaviours and many partners aging out, the demographic of the typical buyer AND partner is going to change, and the best partners you have today may not be the best ones tomorrow.
Both also shared horror stores of SQL’s (sales qualified leads, NOT marketing qualified leads) being sent to partners….only to be left sitting there without any follow up. A tragic story only too common for many channel marketers. They’re using MDF to change this behavior. If partners aren’t following up with the SQLs being given to them in their PRM software, the pot of leads and/or MDF funds is restricted.
1) Invest MDF in partners that will be partners of tomorrow. A website that was built in 1996 doesn’t reflect well upon their brand…or yours.
2) And if you are generating SQL’s for your partners and they’re not following up, then consider shutting off both the SQL and MDF taps. This will probably drive the behaviors you’re looking for
5. Tell them. Then tell them again. Then tell them again in a different way.
The basic premise is to think of your sales channels like your children. Sometimes they’re lovely and listen right away. Other times, they’re infuriating, self-centred, messy, defiant and won’t stop singing the soundtrack from Frozen 2. Your job is to set them up for success.
A few practical suggestions they offered include:
- Don’t rely on just one communication channel to inform of a new campaign or launch. Apply the same multi-touch, multi-channel approach used for customers to your sales channels. Inform them via a calendar invite, CRM chat, Slack, email, newsletters etc. Bonus points for creating a quick video (consider Vidyard Go) that you can easily distribute.
- Create an infographic to depict a campaign and include a section on the sales tools available to them
- Make it easy for them to post content on LinkedIn and other social platforms by giving them bylines or short paragraphs that they can edit or even copy/paste.
- Create battlecards that focus on 3 things
- Contrast on what’s it’s like to have our solution vs. not having solution
- Helpful stats
- Customer success story
The next B2BMX conference is Boston the week of August 10th. I’m certainly looking forward to attending and would encourage other B2B marketers to look at the agenda.
If you’re a channel marketer and you'd like to have an introductory chat about your channel program, here’s a link to my calendar if you’d like to book a time.