When ARO, the fluid management division of Ingersoll Rand, implemented a new partner relationship management (PRM) solution to support its channel ecosystem, a delighted partner called the company’s partner platform “the holy grail. No other manufacturer we carry is doing this,” they said.
With progressive companies such as ARO seeing a nearly 200% uptick in lead pipeline, that situation is likely to change. According to research by Forrester, sales of through-channel marketing automation (TCMA) software, a key component of many PRM platforms, will grow to $1.18 billion by 2023, a CAGR of 25.2%.
Jay McBain, Forrester’s Principal Analyst – Global Channels, described the increasing adoption of TMCA technology as the “third stage” for sales and marketing leaders. The first stage was the wide spread adoption of CRM technology, he told Demand Gen Report (DGR). The second stage was the implementation of marketing automation solutions.
TCMA software, the third stage, “represents the next big opportunity to drive demand, to generate leads, and to basically embolden a large set of external sellers in a way that channel marketers have never done in the past,” said McBain.
A PRM Epiphany
At ARO, Global Marketing Leader Liz Cope was eager to more effectively enlist partners in her company’s marketing efforts. As much as 90% of its business flows through indirect sales channels.
But when ARO celebrated its 85th anniversary a few years ago with a revitalized brand, it didn’t have the tools in place to efficiently share its new marketing materials with its partners.
Like marketing leaders at other channel-focused companies, Cope was aware of the challenges associated with trying to support a partner experience with a traditional CRM solution. What she was unfamiliar with was how a PRM solution and through-channel marketing automation technologies could help address her problems.
“I was a complete novice about PRM,” Cope told Channel Marketer Report (CMR), DGR’s sister publication. But she also had “heard and learned through my research the horror stories of trying to shoehorn a partner experience into a CRM and the significant headache in development and customization that was required.”
After researching and selecting a PRM solution provider from several different companies, Cope prioritized creating a cohesive partner experience — “the one-stop-shop, that single source of truth for my partners” — to eliminate the need for multiple logins into different systems.
The new portal is “where we are able to see lead management through opportunity, deal registration, locator, asset manager, event calendar, all of these things,” said Cope. “It’s such a relief to my partners, but it all began with the unified experience for them.”
The effort paid off. Cope had set a goal of increasing lead pipeline by 30% over 2016. Instead, “Our lead pipeline jumped 194%,” she said, “and that was over a healthy pipeline in 2016.”
Cope’s marketing team is in the early stages of creating a through-partner marketing program with some of its larger partners. “I’ll roll it out to them and get them familiar with the system before we make it a broader offering.”
At a partner conference in Latin America, only a handful of the partners said they had their own marketing team or resources. “It just tells me that I need to be thoughtful about what I’m providing them. I don’t want to create something for them that’s just complicated.”
Making The Case For Through-Partner Marketing
Software AG, an enterprise software provider, is also looking closer at how it can market more effectively through partners. “We spent a lot of time building out metrics and processes to show the ROI of direct marketing spend,” said Jennifer Smith, CMO. “We’re just getting to the point where now we feel like we have our own sales team satisfied that we can start helping the partner team and look at how we can grow our brand and awareness through partners.”
A field marketing team that reports up to Smith coordinates partner-focused activities across regions. A team in Germany manages the partner newsletter, portal and co-sponsorship of events. But beginning at this end of this year, Smith will start considering partner marketing program upgrades.
“It’s going to get a lot more strategic,” she said. “We are looking at different investment tools like the partner portals and cobranding, and how we measure. We have done a lot with sales enablement and measuring their certification. But, I would still say it’s in its infancy as to what we need to develop.”
More Support Sought For Indirect Sales
McBain asserted that more demand gen professionals — even those with little channel experience — are sensing the opportunity to amplify their marketing messages through partner networks. With 75% of world trade going through third parties, marketing teams that have historically focused on building brands to support direct sales are recognizing the need to support their partner channels as well.
Based on his research, McBain thinks most companies with indirect sales channel “haven’t done enough to leverage remote sales people and remote marketers to get to their customers — which translates to more customers. By better enabling these third parties — giving them access to the brand, assets and air cover too — most would admit that, yes, there’s probably more upside.”
Marketers have “exhausted most of the direct tactics by now,” he added.
SiriusDecisions has reached similar conclusions with its research. “One of the things that we're seeing is as CMOs start to craft their strategy and resource their initiatives to reach new buyers, channel areas are percolating up higher on their radar and on their priority list,” said Maria Chien, Service Director for Channel Marketing Strategies at SiriusDecisions.
When the research and advisory firm asked CMOs what sales system and/or tools would they be investing in over the next two years, partner relationship management came in second with about 30% of the respondents nodding in its direction.
CMOs Offer Channel ‘Seat At The Table’
Chien emphasized that the respondents were CMOs, not channel sales or channel marketing leaders who might have a bias toward channel technology. CMOs are giving channel marketing a “seat at the table,” according to Chien.
They aren’t interested in just the technology. When asked about which specific skillset they plan to enable or enhance within the next two years, partner enablement was ranked as the top skill set for channel marketers.
Chien thinks these CMOs are making the right choices. “Partner enablement is going to be a competitive differentiator for organizations,” she added. Channel programs that prioritize best-practice partner enablement will “not only drive preference for their offering, but also more mindshare and wallet share with those partners effectively outperforming their peer set. I really believe it's going to be a game changer.”
Mike Moore, co-author of “Marketing Multiplied: A Real-World Guide To Channel Marketing For Beginners, Practitioners, And Executives,” and VP of Strategy at Averetek, agrees that more companies — even those that have sold solely or primarily through direct teams — are now embracing indirect routes to market to grow their business.
“Let’s face it, when you’re selling and marketing direct, you often have to add headcount to grow your business, and headcount gets expensive,” he said. To support growth, especially if opportunities to do so are in new sectors, regions or company-size segments, brands “need to look at how they work with those third-party organizations whether it’s services partners or influencers to help them deliver the story to customers and prospects about what the solution offers and what the opportunity is.”
But in an article Moore wrote for CMR, he lamented that there are still “CMOs who don’t ‘get’ the channel,” and fail to see how channel partners can be trusted to deliver results that support their plans. If these CMOs do not recognize partners as reliable participants in bringing the company’s message to the market, Moore wrote, they may direct their brand team to exert tight control over channel partners’ use of the company’s brand identity and marketing materials, “making through-partner marketing incredibly rigid and potentially ineffective.”
Channel Solutions Ease CMO Concerns
Modern TCMA solutions may help to alleviate some of the CMOs’ concerns, Moore told DGR. For example, rather than giving partners a link to where they can download assets, TCMA solutions provide sets of tools that automate processes such as creating campaigns or asset landing pages.
Plus, modern through-channel marketing automation solutions give CMOs more control over how extended partner networks use their materials. Partners can be given the flexibility to do things like customize a call to action. But the solutions can also lock down other elements to better ensure their brands are correctly represented.
Still, Moore cautions brand managers to be less rigid in their policing of partner-driven campaigns. “I think a lot of CMOs get frustrated quite frankly because they are used to having very tight control over their own message, their own teams and the way that the message is delivered to the market. Now, by going out through channel partners, while you can give them a beautifully crafted message that’s succinct and on target and exactly what you’d want to say, partners often tend to do what they please.”
The result, though, may be a more customer-centric campaign, Moore continued. Marketers may think they have crafted the perfect message, but they don’t have the experience or the empathy for the mission of the channel partner.”
Partners are closer to the customer, he explained. “They know what customers are looking for. They may take that message and massage it into what they believe it needs to say to address the needs of customers.”