The business strategy of “if we build it, they will come” does not work for today’s channel distribution models. In fact, according to a SiriusDecisions report, less than 20 percent of channel partners consistently visit marketing portals. This is leaves many companies looking for new ways to move past low levels of user adoption toward true engagement.
To accomplish this, you need to realize that channel partners generally aren’t thinking about the obligation they have to you, but rather the support you can deliver to them. To provide this support, you need to create value-based connections that transcend the fact that the partner organization is independent from yours. How?
Reward engagement for its own sake. All partners are not created equal. They have different needs, expectations, resources and bandwidth to support your agenda. In recognition of that, many organizations have in place some type of partner leveling, most commonly based on sales performance. Under such a reward model, mature partners that represent a significant percent of your sales receive a majority of your support, while partners with lower sales, for whatever reason, are left behind with little incentive to increase their engagement. To counteract this, consider adding “partner engagement level” as a criteria for segmentation. Once you identify partner groups based on engagement levels, you can begin to apply the strategies, resources and investments required to shift your engaged partners up the curve towards greater sales performance and ultimately greater loyalty.
Realize that lack of recognition breeds apathy. Typically, partners on the lower end of the engagement curve represent a group that is fragmented, with lots of options and noise. That can limit your ability to gain mindshare and consistent sales results. These partners generally don’t feel supported and often lack a value-based connection to your brand. While you should reward high levels of engagement, you need to remember that partners who don’t receive any attention from you are likely to stop engaging with your portal entirely. Scaling this level of focus, support, and investment across your total channel can be challenging, but not impossible. Start with simple strategies in the items below, targeting specific tiers of engagement, and update this strategy depending on what works and what falls flat.
Develop a content plan. Keep your partners engaged and promoting your brand by regularly refreshing content, and make sure it’s easily accessible and executable. Spend the time to understand your partners’ business models, specifically how they gain more customers and grow their own businesses. Then create content that gives them some flexibility to represent their own brands within their local markets. For example, if a partner utilizes a solution-centric value message to promote its business, a product-centric campaign with little opportunity to add specific local messaging may go largely ignored.
Make marketing materials plug & play. Your partners are probably not marketing experts and almost certainly lack the time to learn how to effectively execute an integrated marketing plan. So, make your plan easy to run, and put metrics in place so they can measure results. Success will keep them engaged with your marketing portal. Remember, partners carry multiple products and are likely balancing several marketing portals. If they have time to focus on only one, they are likely to choose the path of least resistance. Avoid multiple log-ins, and have your portal integrate with as many of their existing systems as possible so they’ll be up and running with minimal effort. Keep in mind that your partners’ needs are likely to change during the onboarding, ramping up and long-term growth stages, so you’ll need to stay in close contact with them to optimize their portal experience for their changing needs.
Invest in training and community-building. Training programs are an easy, accessible way to help partners understand your brand during the onboarding stage, while forums and community functions encourage them to engage more during the ramping-up stage. By treating your marketing portal as a community, it gives partners a place to post messages and learn best practices from others who deal in similar situations. Before they fully utilize the community function, however, there need to be incentives in place that encourage them to spend time on an activity that doesn’t directly make them money. Some organizations provide marketing development funds to partners after they complete training programs, which is an easy and straightforward way to encourage partners to start engaging with your marketing portal.
Measure results. Don’t simply throw money at the problem, though. Marketing development funds are a great way to incentivize partners to promote your products in their local markets, but without proper monitoring, these funds may be used ineffectively or incorrectly, which creates issues for your brand. Some marketing portals require partners to submit proof of their marketing efforts to receive rebates, but this paper process is slow and requires extra work by the partner. Allowing partners to execute pre-approved campaigns directly through the online portal gives them easy access to these funds and allows you to see how these funds are being utilized against the results of each campaign.
Channel marketing portals alone cannot drive a value-based connection with your partners. A portal can be a useful tool when it offers your partners the ability to access relevant content, available funds, and a way to easily deploy these campaigns that generate leads and brand awareness. The best way to promote your marketing portal is to support your partners as much as possible so they in turn promote you.
Christine Ramsey is a senior vice president for Revenew, responsible for building and developing strong channel marketing engagement strategies and services on behalf of our customers. During her 20-plus year career, Christine has had the opportunity to work in a variety of industries including financial services, healthcare and technology and has held a numerous leadership roles ranging from sales and operations to talent management and performance coaching. The common thread of her diverse career is the ability to contribute towards transformation and growth.