Channel partners are integral to the growth and continued success of distributed organizations. Marketing through your channel can be an incredibly successful way of increasing sales and growing profits, but all too often the expense and hassle outweighs the benefits.
Engaging your channel is not easy
In an ideal world, your channel partners would work as a seamless extension of your organization. They would expertly market your products, generate demand, deliver high quality service and exceed sales goals. Unfortunately, as anyone who has tried to market and sell products through partners knows, this world is far from ideal.
Let’s face it, building and nurturing a channel is tricky. You recruit partners, get a contract signed and then nothing happens. Don’t worry, it’s not just you – partners are notoriously hard to get engaged. They have to split their focus between the many day-to-day tasks and trials of running their business and then what little time and attention remains gets divided amongst the multiple brands they sell.
For some companies, the answer is to eliminate or reduce dependence on the channel. For others, the answer is to funnel more resources into inefficient and ineffective strategies.
To get and keep channel partners engaged with your brand, they require training, support and motivation. To do this, organizations market to their partners by loading product spec sheets, collateral, and brand assets into a portal, only to find that their partners aren’t even logging in. In fact, despite best efforts, portals generally see less than five percent utilization.
Getting them to market is even harder
In order to get partners marketing, the organization provides them with marketing elements that promote the brand and its products. The problem is that your marketing is not the partners’ top priority. They are busy running their business and often view marketing as too confusing, too difficult and too time consuming.
To reduce barriers and encourage marketing efforts, organizations offer to pay them back in part or full if they run the marketing elements. While this can be an effective tactic, access to funds is often limited or requires partners to go through a cumbersome reimbursement process that many partners don’t view as “worth the hassle.”
So, what’s a brand to do?
In hunt of the ideal world with the perfect partners, brands resort to desperate measures to ensure they are getting a good return on their channel marketing investment. They exert extra attention and time to “pamper and pressure” their partners into compliance. They handhold their partners, run the marketing campaigns for them and even provide with leads to follow up on. Then, when the partners still don’t do what they are supposed to, they pressure them to meet a quota in order to remain a partner.
A big issue with the “pamper and pressure” method is that it assumes that partners are just an extension of your sales team rather than what partners should be – mutually beneficial partners.
Partners don’t see themselves as a sales arm of your organization, they see themselves as brands. They are looking for real support – tools, content, and support to grow their business not just marketing elements that promote your products. If you can “engage and empower” them by giving them what they need, then they are more likely to give you what you need.
Partnership and alignment drive results
We believe the answer is in alignment – adopting channel marketing strategies based on a shared success model. Shared success means acknowledging that both the company and the partner will mutually benefit from the relationship – by selling products and building both brands. Those companies that effectively align national and local brand management and demand generation will outperform those companies that continue to pursue traditional and flawed channel strategies.
If the model is based only on selling products, and ignoring the importance of building brands, a power struggle will erupt over who “owns” customer loyalty. The company acts as if the partner is replaceable and the partner acts as if the product line is replaceable. This attitude is corrosive and eventually leads to mutual distrust.
Alignment and shared success requires companies and partners to recognize their unique roles in the sales process. Partners should leverage their understanding of the market to generate leads, capture customers, and build market share. Brands should focus on helping their partners grow and delivering value to the customer with better products and services.
Strong long-term channel relationships remain one of the most viable ways to increase market share, manage costs, and improve customer satisfaction, but these relationships must be cultivated. Companies should not feel compelled to pour resources into “pamper and pressure” strategies to drive performance. Instead, they should strive to invest in programs through the shared success model that “engage and empower” partners to realize a sound ROI.