By Tori Barlow
Maintaining alignment between marketing, branding, and sales is crucial in every company, but it’s even more important in working with partners because companies might not have direct contact with the end user.
Even if all the pieces are connected, there’s still a risk of misdirected messages that’s important to combat and—more importantly—plan for to ensure you’re maximizing engagement and success throughout the channel. In this post, we’ll guide you to make sure all of your well-laid plans don’t go to waste from the start.
1. Create a Channel Marketing Strategy
The way you market through your partners is just as important as the way you target your own audience.
The first step in your channel marketing strategy is to double down on your best partners. Focus on a select group of partners that will have the most significant impact. From there, you’ll choose your marketing initiatives and collaborate with partners to get the branding right.
Keep the following best practices in mind when creating a channel marketing strategy:
Select the Right Partners
Choosing partners won’t always be as simple as selecting the high performers. For example, you may have a partner that’s a newer company and doesn’t produce much revenue—but let’s say this partner aggressively targets a market that you’ve been trying to penetrate. The opportunity to reach that new market would outweigh their lack of revenue.
When aligning marketing efforts, a high level of trust is needed between you and your partner. You’re going after the same audience, but choosing to do this as partners rather than competitors. For a partner strategy to work, you must trust that your partner is reliable and won’t attempt to undercut you. Keep in mind that your partners represent you. They'll be an additional face of your brand, so make sure your values align.
Secure Proper Funds
The rise of cloud solutions has led to the boom of channel sales. A channel-focused branding strategy will produce the most ROI from your marketing efforts. Even with the undeniable benefits of the channel, most companies are forced to fight for channel marketing funds.
A case for adequate channel marketing funds is twofold. First, you must make a case for how your marketing campaigns will increase revenue for your company. Second, you must prove how your market development funds (MDFs) will enable partner sales efforts. To do this, draw from past numbers. Gather analytics on your sales cycle, lead distribution, and previous marketing efforts.
Collaborate with Partners
Take the time to engage with your partners’ marketing teams. Understanding your partners’ marketing strategies allows you to create tailored materials. Although the message may differ slightly based on the partners’ audience, the goal of collaboration is consistency.
2. Select Joint Marketing Activities
Decide ahead of time what your co-marketing efforts will be. Here are a few examples of common joint marketing activities:
1. Content Marketing Strategy: Take the opportunity to appear in each other’s newsletters and email blasts. You should agree on a cadence, such as monthly or bimonthly. The benefit of content marketing is that you and your partner may not have to exchange customer lists. As long as you have each other’s content, you’ll be able to send it to your own lists and expand each other’s reach. Guest blogging is another excellent way to get in front of a new audience. Blogging can be done more frequently than email marketing. When it comes to white papers and case studies, gate your content to generate new leads.
2. Webinars or Conferences: Annual conferences are great for co-marketing and building partner relationships. Meeting customers in person is a great way to stand out to customers and prospects. It also ensures that your prospects will begin to think of you and your partner as a team when it comes time to buy. Speaking engagements are also an effective joint marketing effort. Today, conference organizers are seeking presentations delivered by multiple speakers. Having an additional presenter can give you an advantage for competitive speaking engagements. If you or your partner don’t hold these events, try to collaborate on webinars instead. Webinars are a low-cost, efficient way to collaborate with partners.
3. Digital Marketing: Many companies offer paid advertising and other online visibility opportunities to their partners. This could be a spot on your newsletter or ad space promoting the partnership on your sites. An even better option is to designate an entire partnership section or page on each others’ websites. The goal is to inform the customer of special pricing or deals that result from your partnership.
3. Have a Channel Marketing Manager
The mistake made by most channel-centric companies is failing to designate a channel marketer. Although most companies have a channel manager, their involvement in marketing is limited. It may not always be possible to hire a channel marketer, but someone must be dedicated to these initiatives.
If you’re like many other businesses that can’t hire a channel manager, make the most of your existing staff. This looks like your channel manager having biweekly meetings with your marketing department. Regular meetings will create a feedback loop between the partners and your marketing department.
Channel managers should ask partners about the messages that resonate with their audiences. Your partners will have a deeper understanding of how to get in front of their audiences. This information will enable your marketing department to craft more relevant messaging.
Remember, the main goal is to prioritize channel marketing. A designated team member who owns channel marketing tasks will make sure the strategy is executed.
4. Create Customized Marketing Materials
Channel leaders now understand the importance of partner-centric marketing efforts. General, product-focused materials are a sure way to fall behind the competition. Channel marketers must now ask partners “What do you need from us?” in order to provide the most useful resources.
To create customized materials for your partners, get to know their target market. This personalized understanding can be difficult when you have dozens of partners. To combat overwhelm, profile your partners. Segment them into categories so you can customize materials at scale. If you’re a software company, create categories based on company size, vertical, ideal customer profile, and geography.
The goal is to provide marketing materials that align with your partners’ businesses as much as your own. To do this, you’ll need to spend more time with your selected partners. The closer you align with your partners’ marketing efforts, the more success you’ll see.
5. Set Brand Guidelines
When you enter co-marketing efforts with partners, set balanced brand guidelines. On the one hand, you want to give your partners the freedom to customize your message to their audiences, but you should also have standardized guidelines.
Guidelines usually include basic design rules regarding logo, colors, and slogans. You want to go a step beyond design parameters with your partners. Give them ideas for how to promote your brand. Inspire them by showing them examples of how other partners have successfully promoted your brand. As a bonus, this collaboration will prove to them that you’re invested in the partnership.
6. Use a Unified Marketing Platform
Using an accessible portal allows you and your partner to get on the same page when it comes to marketing. Use a system to distribute content, manage requests and approvals, and measure performance. To manage channel sales and marketing in one place, use partner relationship management (PRM) software.
Your PRM should be a one-stop shop for joint marketing efforts. It should share all your materials and serve as a guide for how to market your brand. It should contain branding rules, training on how to use programs such as Photoshop, and instructions for launching campaigns.
Collaboration is critical when it comes to keeping your brand aligned. PRM enables effortless communication allowing all joint promotion efforts to stay on brand. A PRM is especially helpful when dealing with several partners. It will also allow you to automate permissions for tiered partner programs.
Some other capabilities you should look for in a partner marketing platform:
1. Ability to manage paid ads: Look for a platform that allows you to generate inbound ad campaigns quickly. You should be able to generate traffic quickly, enhance search engine visibility, and create landing pages.
2. Email marketing management: An email feature allows partners to use your materials to create co-branded emails. These emails will act as a foundation for any lead generation campaign you deploy. The system should contain templates and distribution lists. It should also measure the performance of the campaign.
3. Landing page management: Enable partners to create co-branded sites to engage prospects during campaigns. These sites will include customized marketing materials and documents. Performance tracking capabilities should integrate into your platform as well.
4. Content library: There should be a search function within your portal that lets partners find content. The content should be searchable by role, industry, and current sales objectives.
5. Social media capabilities: Partners should be able to share content from the portal to their social media platforms. The ease of social sharing will increase visibility and engagement with their audience.
Bonus: Have a System for Measurement and Tracking
It’s up to channel marketers to create data-driven campaigns and request enough budget for them. Gathering the data to justify marketing initiatives can be a considerable challenge. Companies usually don’t have the proper tracking systems in place to pull results. With digital marketing, data and numbers are needed to justify costs.
Channel data is notorious for being incomplete and inaccurate. When it comes to channel marketing funds, take a holistic view of past performance to determine what your next initiative will be. Although most companies now use CRM, CRM alone can’t adequately handle partner sales.
Even when companies do deploy PRMs, they still need to make sure that all of their programs talk to one another. Having multiple pieces of technology doesn’t help the cause unless they’re integrated.
To get the highest ROI on channel marketing, you must be able to pull the following data sets:
- Revenue generated by partners
- Partner activity (their level of engagement)
- Past campaign performance
- Underperforming or target markets
Gathering the above data sets will help channel marketers answer these questions:
- Are we investing in partners that give the highest return?
- Which incentives and programs make the most significant impact on partner performance?
- Which marketers and buyers should we target with demand marketing campaigns?
Keeping marketing aligned throughout your channel requires strategic planning. Your strategy will ultimately help you maintain control of your brand. By designating a team member to collaborate with partners, communication gaps will be bridged. By collaborating, you’ll tailor your message to your partner’s audience, resulting in more sales. Have a unified portal in place that will organize all joint marketing efforts. Keep your marketing efforts aligned throughout your channels and your brand will stay consistent.