In an indirect sales model, channel partners are the main route to market for many technology brands. This is precisely why technology vendors have been developing co-marketing campaigns for their IT channel partners to create and accelerate demand generation. This is otherwise known as through channel marketing. As the IT channel ecosystem is increasingly growing, the discipline of marketing through partners needs to take a new turn and radically modernize to fit the emerging digital realities of IT buyers.
A Through Channel Marketing definition
“Channel Marketing “, “Through-Channel Marketing” or “Through-Partner Marketing” all refer to the programs, content and materials that vendors develop to communicate their own brand message to end customers “through” their existing channel partner ecosystem.
Traditional through-channel marketing programs are typically aimed at scaling the marketing process by leveraging software automation to disseminate standardized marketing campaigns.
Forrester predicts the TCMA (Through-Channel Marketing Automation) software market to grow to $1.18 billion by 2023. An entire industry has risen in past decades to support the process of marketing to end users through channel partners, by leveraging software automation.
But are these standardized campaigns really effective? Do partners want to use them, and do they resonate with end users?
Leveraging software to automate partner engagement undoubtedly yielded success and accelerated channel performance for vendors in almost all aspects of partner management. (recruitment, onboarding, training, co-selling, sales incentives, deal registrations).
Through-channel marketing, however, is a fairly hit-and-miss affair, the most compelling evidence being how much MDF (Marketing Development Funds) remains unclaimed by partners. As much as 60% of market development funds (MDF) are not used on a quarterly basis according to a worldwide channel survey by Zinfi.
The current approach to through-channel marketing relies on a Frankenstein assemblage of dueling missions: on the one hand, vendors want to create demand for their solutions while protecting their brand’s integrity, but on the other hand, IT businesses (partners) want to put the emphasis on their own added value and brand’s presence.
Yesterday’s Through Channel Marketing Model Is Broken
Vendors channel marketing teams often devise through channel marketing campaigns around their own product release cycles and brand talking points. The only partner specific brand placement in many through channel marketing campaigns is limited to logo and contact details placeholders.
Automation in this case while allowing for scale does not adequately address the IT Service Provider’s brand value proposition or brand voice. This is due to the original input process and the slide toward the vendor’s bottom line talking points. In short, there is no brand message for the partners to talk up the value-add of their own solutions.
Partners struggle with their own brand recognition. IT Service Providers increasingly strive to be their own brands. They don’t really want to talk about a vendor’s product features but about their own added value. The caveat is that they are generally not equipped to achieve that and stay lean at the same time; 84% of partners do not have a dedicated marketing resource (Zift Solutions – SiriusDecisions Summit Highlights, 2019).
Both vendor and partner suffer via lost revenue potential by not being able to adequately cooperate on co-marketing and demand generation efforts.
Stalemate has become a Through Channel Marketing habit. As a result of all the dynamics in play, IT Service Providers often have a digital presence that is more an afterthought than an intentional statement. They haven’t really invested in their own website. They haven’t mapped out their own customer journey. Brand-centric content is the essential element of digital marketing, and yet IT Service Providers usually don’t yet have a real content strategy to speak of. That means that they also don’t understand their own SEO strategy or even have recourse to meaningful digital engagement, brand-supportive funnels or useful analytics.
Through Channel Marketing Facts & Statistics
Let’s look below at some of the reasons and supporting statistics as to why creating vendor centric marketing campaigns are an inherently faulty alternative to a modern Through Channel Marketing strategy.
- IT products are themselves notoriously complex, requiring extensive documentation and specifications. In one report, 73% of IT Service Providers said that vendor channel programs are currently too complex (360Insights – 2112 Group: Ease of Doing Business Report, 2019). Vendors craft and manage entire libraries of user content, which they rely on partners to disseminate. Managing vendor brand compliance is a huge task for channel marketing teams across partner portals. As a result, sales cycles scale up with the overall marketing ecosystem.
- Vendors simply cannot support every reseller’s campaign. As the cost potential grows, many vendors become conservative about the kinds of partner campaigns they’ll get behind. Sales cycles for tech products can become unwieldy. According to the 2019 DemandGen Report, engagement is one casualty of this situation, as less than 15% of resellers currently engage in their vendor marketing programs.
- Other underlying issues typically include poor quality, as 53% of polled partners viewed existing content provided by vendors/manufacturers as sub-par. (A Fluent Vision: State of Partner Marketing Report, 2018). Wasted funds was also cited as a common downside of vendor programs in Zinfi’s Worldwide Channel Survey, as 60% of all market development funds (MDF) were found to be unused each quarter.
- Tracking ROI becomes increasingly complex. Tracking ROI across partner campaigns gets more difficult as the buyer journey complexifies. Through Channel Marketing campaign attribution techniques are often limited to tracking gated assets downloads and email open rates instead of a holistic approach to the buyer’s real journey.
These are not encouraging Through Channel Marketing statistics. The truth is often painful as vendors CMOs look at skeptical traditional department heads who want to see supportive reasons to continue investing in Through Channel Marketing initiatives. The problem is largely one of perception and habit, however, not necessity. There is a ready solution, in the midst of the IT channel own best practices.
The Best Solution for Vendors Serves Both Sides
Through-Partner Marketing should be founded on mutual value. The diminishing returns of the vendor and partner’s marketing disconnect could be easily resolved by applying the Web 5.0 digital marketing paradigm of the buyer’s journey across the partner’s side. Customer experience should assume true priority as the guiding principle in partner branding and marketing programs and this must be realized through the current Web 5.0 paradigm.
Vendors should provide customized digital presence strategies that are centered on the partner’s end user journey if they want to be aligned with the emerging digital experience economy — today’s actual Web 5.0 working model for the technology industry, and any industry.
Vendors need to solve CX challenges at the edge.
- Vendors need to solve CX challenges at the edge. What matters for vendors most is how the end-user discovers and experiences the vendor brand — at the partner level. In order to expand market share, vendors must therefore re-focus on marketing within the individual partner’s brand context.
- The solution is Web 5.0 Through Channel Marketing. By using today’s Web 5.0 technologies to their fullest intended capacities, partners’ can quickly begin to reclaim their brand’s digital presence and build mind share with potential buyers.
How Web 5.0 Through Channel Marketing Actually Works
Current digital marketing tools allow for more sophisticated Through Channel Marketing strategies. So, what are the key digital mediums, concepts and tools vendors must deploy for partner-centric campaigns in the Web 5.0 era of Through Channel Marketing?
- Reseller-friendly content strategies
- Innovative product materials that support the reseller brand across shared and/or reseller- proprietary IT channel marketing mediums
- Engagement-focused blog posts as knowledge disseminators/sources
- Interactive news campaigns that auto-disseminate to authority hubs
- SEO strategies
- Website & asset “on-site” optimization
- Website performance audit
- Landing page conversion audit
- Omni channel videos & micro-video formats
- AI powered Chatbots
- Schema and microformats
- Rich answers to popular/voiced human queries
- Local schema help for partner’s assets
- Off-site presence optimization
- Social profiles
- Popular 3rd-party sites & directories
- Optimized, device-agnostic downloads
- Off-site curator engagement
- Website & asset “on-site” optimization
- Content dissemination optimization
- Blog post curation
- Press release distribution
- Automated feed optimization
- Social feed optimization
- CRM optimization
- Digital lead funnel optimization
- Email campaign optimization
- Email funnel automation that connects all channel marketing cogs
- Highly configurable, opt-in browser/device notifications
- Analytics optimization
- Tracking for on-site assets
- Tracking for sponsored content & native ad content
- Meaningful tracking of social media engagement
Web 5.0 Through Channel Marketing can achieve consistent branding across channels. An experienced and knowledgeable IT channel marketing firm with the right industry focus can leverage today’s Web 5.0 marketing channels and tools and apply them to your partner’s brand strategies while minding your own branding guidelines. The partner’s brand messaging lives in diversified digital mediums that coincide with the buyer’s actual journey, and in a consumer-responsive way that focuses on the points of contact as they occur, leveraging robust opt-in notifications.
The digital channels work together to extend the buyer’s journey to completion. The coordinated omnichannel approach can accomplish conversions by allowing individual digital channels to pass on the baton at different stages and points along the path to a conversion.
Today’s analytics model allows for unified tracking of omnichannel campaigns. The appropriate IT channel marketing analytics employed in turn reveal how well the system is working and where things need a tweak and lend more ready clues as to how, such as on-page click-analytics and funnel step breakdowns like abandoned carts and re-engagement strategies to get the end-consumer back on track. Partners can then provide customized dashboard reports from their internal ecosystem using third-party tools like Google Analytics and Data Studio.
Only a Web 5.0 Through Channel Marketing approach can achieve your goals reliably in the 2020s. The content and SEO strategies help you to stay tuned to the buyer’s journey. Today’s full array of digital tools allow you to understand how all channels are working together to achieve your marketing and business goals. That is, they allow both vendors and partners, often for the first time, the ability to combine shared offline promotions with their own online analytics, effectively bridging the gap not only between offline and online, but the vendor/partner analytics gap, as well.
How to Get Started
At CX Atelier, we have experience working with IT Service Providers and MSP’s toward their unique challenges and highly specific marketing goals. We are deeply familiar with today’s partners’ priorities and pain points. We focus on the buyer’s journey and how digital channels can work together toward unified, brand-centric marketing goals.
Let CX Atelier be your inbound digital marketing partner. We help vendors develop programs, marketing materials and channel-centric marketing strategies. Together, we can build mutually-motivated brand partnerships.
As a Web 5.0 Through Channel Marketing agency, we can engage directly with your stakeholder solution review process to field technical questions. We gladly tackle your stakeholder concerns to help you begin to support and motivate your reselling partners’ digital presence. You’ll come away with proven marketing tactics that actually work in today’s 5.0 Web and a clear path forward to execution.
About the Author
Founder CX Atelier
Ayan Adam is an experienced leader in the B2B IT Technology industry. She designed industry-recognized brands and delivered high impact marketing strategies for IT industry leaders. She is passionate about fulfilling the promise of digital marketing for B2B technology companies and meeting the next wave of digital transformation with experience-focused marketing.