Channel marketing can be an effective way for companies to scale their business growth and generate more sales. By using the right distribution channels, a business can reach new audiences and customers, leverage existing marketing programs, and improve profit margins. B2B companies may find traction working with resellers, while B2C companies can reach international audiences through the right distribution channels.
In this month’s virtual panel, we interviewed Authentic Brand Fractional CMOs Daneen Kiger, John Ryan, and Tracy Steeno to learn why growing businesses should commit resources to a channel marketing strategy and how it can help them reach their top and bottom line goals.
- How do you recommend a business identify the channel relationships with the strongest opportunities?
John: For B2B, the first thing you want to do is understand your ICP (ideal customer profile). Nothing will work well until you have defined the ICP. With the ICP understood, you want to determine the most relevant partners who already have relationships with that ICP.
For example, as a B2B provider, you want to do business with manufacturing companies with at least 5,000 employees. What channel partners are already selling to those companies? Are there a few partners who dominate? Can you get an audience with those partners to possibly add value to their brand’s promise? Do you already have direct competitors working with a channel partner? Channel partners are usually product-agnostic and take on credible competitors who offer their customers more choices. An exception is if they had to invest a great deal in training and certifications, which is not uncommon for enterprise software relationships.
Tracy: Another consideration is how potential partners align with your business’ values. For example, eco-friendly companies that align with like-minded ‘green’ businesses will create stronger opportunities. Plus, they make sense for the end consumer; there’s no confusion as to why they are a partner. Smaller organizations can also benefit from channel partners and can often be more creative in approach than larger, more complex businesses.
Daneen: You can usually start with the 80/20 rule. This means 20% of your channel partners typically do 80% of the business. Understanding what is working with those partners is key to developing the next set of partners and working with them to create successful programs that align with your growth goals and theirs. Many channel partners will have unique areas of expertise and needs, and you’ll want to ensure you can enhance their portfolio while meeting the needs of your target audience, products and solution offerings.
Partners willing to actively collaborate with your sales and marketing management team are ideal for business planning, building scorecards, and participating in quarterly business reviews. This collaboration is a fundamental piece of the relationship to achieve overall success.
- What lessons have you learned from channel marketing that are important for businesses to consider as they explore new distribution channels?
Tracy: Beyond identifying your right-fit channel partners and establishing the relationships, ensure someone in your organization is accountable for relationship management both within your organization and with your partner(s). Take an active approach by developing a marketing plan that combines training/enablement, frequent communication, and joint marketing efforts (i.e., webinars).
Emphasize enabling your partners for success. If your partners don’t understand the value you bring and can’t sell your products/services as your own team can, it’s tough to expect good results.
Daneen: As I mentioned above, collaboration is key. From sales to marketing to product development and finance, the internal team must come together and agree on the partner programs and goals. Aligning this business team with the partner’s team is critical as well. These partnerships will deliver a go-to-market path that will secure growth and success.
Moving into new distribution channels can be a tricky proposition. Companies that have traditionally sold into one or two specific channels but are starting to think about pivoting need an internal resource and communication plan for the new strategy. And externally, you may need to establish different sales processes and programs for a new channel to be successful. Be prepared to do your research to develop a relevant sales and marketing plan for these new partnerships.
John: No credible channel marketing person believes success is only because of their personal efforts. For successful channel marketing, you cannot take a lone wolf mentality. You collaborate internally with your marketing, sales, product, finance, technology, and executive teams. You may have little official authority while your role depends on gaining agreement and excelling through orchestration. If you have an executive sponsor who understands strategy, that will help a lot.
It will take the efforts of people across the internal organization and external channel partners who are open to outcome-driven planning and trying fresh marketing ideas. If you can work with the channel well, you will take market share away from your competitors through scale and leverage. The opposite is also true; you will lose over time when you don’t have a channel plan with goals. Finally, every small win you achieve permits you to try something more significant.
- Can you provide an example of a business you worked with that successfully grew through channel relationships? What do you think was key to this success?
Daneen: I started working with a company that historically sold its products directly to businesses but decided to start selling through distribution — a shock to the 22-year-old company. The company hired me to develop their new retail channel, and they were shifting others in the organization to build their channel team. One of the marketing managers approached me and asked if they should stay in a vertical marketing role or move to a channel marketing role. I didn’t hesitate to guide them toward the channel role as it was an exciting time for the company to go into markets they hadn’t been in before.
The business is now thriving in the B2B and B2C space. Over the last 18 years, the company has grown exponentially by building a channel sales and marketing team, building key partner relationships in different markets, and pivoting along the way by adding new channels. Internal collaboration, excellent communication, and programs delivered to the channel partners were key to their success.
John: Early in my career, I had the opportunity to run all North American channels for a major software company. These channels represented about 50% of all company revenue, and sales had stagnated. Within 12 months of my leadership, sales increased by over 50%. There were a few reasons:
- The person who previously held the position believed that working with their channel partners was a game of limitations, which was nonsense. New leadership meant the channel conversations had changed, and their executives started calling us with marketing opportunities.
- We worked across our organization, especially with sales, finance, and product management.
- We improved the quality of the channel management team.
- We focused on the customers of our channel. What was the product, marketing, support, and training required for the channel partner to be successful with their customers? We made sure they got that.
Once the executive team and board saw our results, they knew our channel capabilities had moved from a weakness to an advantage.
Tracy: The example I’m referring to is B2B2C channel partners. The key to my client’s success is threefold:
- An established network that actively engages with its peers, providing not only the ideal customer sales channel but also a business referral channel.
- Strong relationship management with a stratified approach to give and get the most benefit from top producers. This includes a select group of partners who regularly meet to discuss topics of mutual interest.
- Strategic marketing approach that aligns marketing and sales activities that includes a cadence of ongoing communication.
Channel marketing can hold untapped potential for growing businesses. Authentic Brand’s Fractional CMOs are experienced at helping businesses identify and nurture the best channel relationships and develop programs that mutually benefit partners and your business. Let’s connect to discuss how our experienced leaders can help you dedicate the resources it needs to develop and execute a channel marketing strategy.
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