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Channel Marketing Chat: What’s Fueling The Growing Focus On Partner Programs?

Ongoing shifts in buyer behavior and rapid developments in technology are not only having an impact on direct marketing initiatives — they are also affecting the role of indirect channel partners in the B2B marketplace.

Terry Moffatt, Editor for our sister publication Channel Marketer Report, has been keeping us up-to-date with news on the topics and trends impacting channel partner marketing teams. We sat down with him to talk about the future investments B2B companies plan to make in channel programs.

Demand Gen Report: At the B2B Marketing Exchange last February, the overall attendance at our inaugural Channel Marketing Track seemed to indicate that companies are taking a closer look at their channel partner marketing programs. Is this a fair assessment?

Terry Moffatt: Yes, that’s true. Certainly, with 75% of world trade going through indirect sales organizations, many companies have been well aware of the importance of collaborating with their partners to market their products and services. But as more companies aim to drive more revenue through their channel organizations — including start-ups that are choosing the channel as their primary route to market — demand gen leaders are taking a closer look at how they can take better advantage of channel marketing opportunities.

DGR: So what’s changed that is making companies think channel programs are more likely to succeed?

TM: There are a couple of important factors. First, channel marketers are reporting an uptick in the level of partner engagement. To be sure, partners in general have a long way to go before they can be considered reliable. But vendors are noticing that more partners are engaging in their co-marketing programs to boost interest in the products or services they represent, as well as their own brands.

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There are a couple of reasons for this. Partners organizations are getting hip to the fact that their customers are doing a lot more research on the products they need before contacting them or their vendors. Plus, with more partner organizations making their way into a variety of markets, especially high tech, companies recognize that they need to market themselves and their own brands more aggressively to stay competitive.

This isn’t happening in just the technology industry. Earlier this summer, Farm Equipment magazine hosted a two-day conference to educate farm equipment dealers on how they can be more effective and competitive with their marketing efforts to keep pace with changing technology. Last month, the Caterpillar North American Dealer Marketing Association held a conference that covered, among other things, structuring and streamlining marketing tech stack and which best practices increase marketing efficacy and efficiency.

Another thing that channel marketers see as contributing to their success is the ongoing development of channel marketing technology. Creating content and campaigns, dispersing them to an often-vast channel network, and then compelling more than just a small percentage of partners to share them with their customers is an onerous and labor-intensive task. Modern channel marketing solutions eliminate much of the heavy lifting for channel teams. With the advent of through-channel marketing automation, brands can actually reduce the effort required of partners and push out campaigns to their customers on their behalf.

DGR: What are some the challenges that channel marketers will face moving forward?

TM: On a practical level, creating content and campaigns that truly engage customers and prospects will be an even bigger challenge for companies and their partners. Channel marketing solutions create a massive demand for fresh content. Channel marketers will have to make sure they are supporting a steady flow of content to meet the new expectations to their partners and the customers they share with them. While channel marketing solutions are pretty easy to use, loading content into them and communicating to partners how to use the tools takes resources.

The shortage of highly skilled channel marketers is another concern. Finding marketers with the talent necessary to plan and implement effective channel marketing programs is not easy. Because formal training or college-level education programs are not abundantly available to people interested in becoming channel marketers, many companies are working hard to develop their own learning opportunities.

The good news here is that the number of marketing agencies offering channel support services to vendors and their partners is growing. In a report on through-channel marketing automation technology, Forrester reported that digital marketing agencies are going to play a big role in helping companies optimize their investments in them. Forrester estimates that marketing agencies will see revenues related to through-channel marketing automation climb to $2 billion by 2023.

For some channel marketing teams, these agencies will help to create required content and campaigns. They may also provide extra support to partners and help them push out vendor campaigns to their customers and prospects.

DGR: The Forrester report seems to suggest that more companies are intent on boosting the effectiveness of their channel marketing programs. Do you agree?

TM: I agree, but channel teams are going to have work hard to clearly define their goals, carefully monitor results and report a satisfactory ROI to senior management. According to eMarketer, 43% of the respondents to a survey of companies in the United States and the United Kingdom said marketing budget constraints are the main barrier to marketing technology investment.

If channel marketers want to ensure that their management will continue to invest in their channel programs, they will certainly need to demonstrate their impact on the bottom line.

Brian Anderson

An avid B2B journalist with a knack for all things trendy in the POS, mobile and social space.