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So, you hear about a meeting with the CMO and the marketing managers regarding next year’s budget planning. What’s on the table? Top-line sales growth, increased awareness, and new services offerings. The meeting was very productive through creating an outline of the plan and allocating budget and resources.  Immediately, you start thinking about how the channel can help drive results to these goals and what kind of budget you’ll need to make it happen. But wait, you weren’t included in that meeting, and come to find out, the focus was on end-user demand creation, with very little for channel …

Does the story above sound familiar? Partners not only help grow your business through new customer acquisition, they also offer expertise to implement, service, and support your complex products and services. If you want to ensure that your channel strategy is included in your overall marketing strategy, then take a look at the channel checklist below for ensuring your marketing team considers your partners as a key segment in the broader strategy.

1. Collaborate with your marketing group for planning and communication

For companies selling through and/or with an indirect channel, it’s critical the marketing teams are in sync with your channel plans and goals. Proactively engaging cross-functional teams create knowledge and understanding of how channel marketing fits into general marketing and general marketing-specific functional planning. It also goes both ways; Channel marketing sharing what the partner-facing teams are engaged with, focused on, and prioritizing as an essential part of the success recipe. Effective long-term collaboration should start at the top with upper management establishing a commitment and a cadence for ensuring successful collaboration. Communicating early in the planning will create success, especially in areas such as budgeting, customer and partner communications, promotions and incentives, and events. Effective collaboration also means seeking input from one another. Remember, in an indirect channel model, the partners are the ones that design, develop, and deliver your solutions for your customers. It doesn’t hurt to include specific goals related to channel success.

2. Budgets for channel marketing should be an essential and integrated part of the overall marketing (and/or the Channel Chief’s budget), not an afterthought

Start early with the budget owners, discuss planning and goals, and then come to an agreement. Partners will drive new business for you and as such, they need support in areas such as program management and administration, marketing to (and through) partners, market development funds, promotional programs, sales tools, recruitment, and onboarding. If you have distributors, they need to have their own budgets as well.

It’ll be helpful to develop a better understanding of the needs of your partner to use history as a basis when formulating your funding request. Be sure to include results for justification and then, based on your new goals, allocate the funds to attain them.  Educate the marketing team on how the channel is another avenue to attract potential customers.

3. Determine how you will process leads and how channel partners will be involved

Lead generation is usually a main priority for marketing departments and has a process in place to disseminate the leads. A lead referral is often a benefit offered in partner programs but when it comes down to passing on leads, it tends to be limited, usually starting at inside sales and moving on to field sales. It’s understandable that companies want to make sure the leads are sent to partners that will respond quickly and effectively to close the deal. This can be achieved when a process, preferably a closed-loop process, is in place with partners. Often, lead disbursement as an element of a partner program can be set up to go to partners that have committed to selling your solutions and agree to the requirements you set in the process. We find the best results have a required process to follow; regular and ongoing communication of the opportunity stages, reviewing the partner’s sales funnel, and working with your team to close (if needed). It’s OK to make the partner accountable or you take them off your approved list for receiving leads.


4. Align your message and your timing based on your target audience

Coordinate and plan your end-user communication with your partner communication.  It’s not always easy but giving advanced notice of your customer communication will allow your partners to deliver the same message. We’ve seen too many times when new information is sent to end-users, they call their solution providers to inquire about the information and the partner isn’t aware of either the new product or the promotion they’re expected to sell and support. Whoops! Timing your communications and giving your partners opportunities to blend your communications into their own is a critical success recipe for leverage. Messaging to end-users shows how your product or solution will solve a problem or increase productivity and to partners, the message should convey how it will add value to their solution, help them make money, and add to their customers’ satisfaction. Same info, but very different messages and timing.

5. Develop your cohesiveyetdifferent Customer Value Proposition and Partner Business Proposition

These two are similar yet distinct. For each, we need to answer the following questions:

  • Who is your target audience for the communication?
  • What are the key challenges that audience is dealing with?
  • What are the expected business outcomes you can help them achieve?
  • What are the value drivers for the audience?
  • How do we differ from our competition?
  • How do we help them differ from their competition?

Ponder these questions. Partners need to know how it will increase their business by helping to solve the needs of their customers and the customer wants to know how it will solve their own needs. When the two messages are unified and hit the mark to the right business drivers, they then complement each other. Your messaging will connect with your target audiences and help you gain leverage.

When your company’s go-to-market strategy is to move products or services through the partner channel, then your marketing department should be focused not only on directly targeting potential customers but marketing through and with your partners to reach their customers too.

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