Like many pipeline and revenue-generating teams, there’s incredible pressure and expectations for channel marketing programs to drive growth this year. Despite the uncertainty channel teams face, leaders are still optimistic and there’s an overall willingness to collaborate among vendors, partners and distributors.
To shed some light on current trends within the EMEA channel ecosystem, I spoke with Neil Langridge (E92Plus), Vijay Mistry (Cisco’s ThousandEyes) and Simon Quicke (MicroScope). Here are three key takeaways from our conversation on how channel marketers can adapt their programs to drive greater success.
#1: Address gaps in expertise and skills around digital marketing.
One key challenge the panelists quickly called out is that many teams still have gaps in digital marketing skills, which slows the potential success of channel programs. “The pandemic exposed that a lot of channel teams just aren’t quite there yet when it comes to digital marketing,” says MicroScope’s Simon Quicke. The panelists noted this isn’t just unique to marketers, but that they also see an opportunity to upskill sellers and account managers.
“There’s an opportunity for account managers to help marketers who don’t have sufficient soft skills training. They can share their understanding of the IT landscape and translate that into a conversation with prospects and customers,’’ says Vijay.
So, how do vendors help fill this gap for their channel partners? It’s going to take more than some well-packaged materials, says Simon. “I spoke to a reseller late last year who had been given a press release template by a vendor but didn’t know what to do with it. They then reached out and said, ‘I need help,’” he recalls.
The vendors that can go a step further to proactively help enable their partners in digital marketing will see greater success in campaigns and in their partnerships overall.
“There’s a real willingness amongst partners [to learn], and it’s good to hear more vendors are driving that activity toward partners,” says E92Plus’s Neil Langridge. “The key is to make sure that there’s a willingness to co-invest in and drive those activities together.”
#2: Provide insights around the changing IT landscape and customer needs.
Much like the gaps in digital marketing skills, channel partners can also greatly benefit from additional insights around the IT landscape their customers are in, as well as customer needs. Because of their size, scale and reach, many vendors have better visibility into the many communities they’re a part of – from the partner community to other vendors and their technology. This means they’re in a great position to help educate partners about market trends and changes, so partners in turn can be more effective sellers.
“We do a lot of education around what the products are, cybersecurity fundamentals, buying personas and the changing IT buyer …” says Neil. “… it’s all about empowering our partners to have that opening conversation and to be able to talk to the customer to understand what their challenges are.”
For Vijay, there’s an opportunity to use market insights to help sellers build soft skills as well. “An account manager can turn a reactive conversation, like sending an email to a customer with a bill of materials, into a very proactive conversation, if the account manager is confident enough to ask, ‘Why?’” he says. “That little word means so much. ‘Why are you buying this? What’s it for?’”
Vendors that can help share insights with their partners will enable them to have more effective and successful conversations with buyers.
#3: Track performance every step of the way.
Every partner has their own set of tools, versions and mechanisms in place to measure performance and success, which makes it near-impossible to have one standard way for channel marketers to measure the ROI of their investments. Additionally, all players need to have a way to measure both short-term and long-term success.
“For short-term, much more tactical lead gen, deal registration absolutely ticks all the boxes. Everybody knows what it is, it’s relatively straightforward and it’s the simplest way of tracking,” says Neil. “The best deal registrations are ones where they are properly qualified, there’s more engagement, more collaboration, and better understanding of the customer opportunity.”
For larger organizations that process a large amount of deal registrations, evaluating the quality of each individual deal reg isn’t feasible. Since this is the case at Cisco, they look to pipeline to better understand their program results.
“The ultimate nirvana is to increase pipeline off the back of the activity. That’s ultimately what we’re looking to achieve by putting any marketing funds into the equation,” says Vijay, although he notes that’s very difficult to track. “We typically work … around a 10:1 investment. So, any dollar that we put in, we’re looking for $10 in return. And that can be measured to a degree – we do have a fairly robust mechanism when a partner applies for the funds, there is a fairly robust activity planner that needs to be populated.”