Today’s solution providers must swiftly evolve their business models in response to the shifting buyer’s journeys. The dramatic increase in the number of digital touchpoints a prospect has is one of the major shifts in the buying process. A key component of your strategy should be keeping partners better informed, equipped, and motivated to sell your products in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
This requires a robust and reliable channel partner enablement strategy that provides easy access to sales and marketing resources, support, and training that partners need on an ongoing basis.
Marketing enablement is one of the most significant benefits of a solid partner program. But, there is often a gap between what vendors think their partners need and what partners actually will leverage.
Vendors tend to build content that enables their partners to sell. But what partners truly need is marketing support to help them with their customers, the end-user. By and large, end-users don’t care about all the detailed features, benefits, and spec sheets that partners use as training material. They would much rather drill down to the pertinent information on how the solution can help them with their business.
So, how do partners and vendors address this gap?
Let’s start with the benefits of marketing enablement resources.
“Any time a channel partner decides to sell a vendor’s product, there’s some heavy lifting required to bring the offering to market,” says Jacqui Murphy, chief marketing officer, Auvik Networks. “Vendor-provided marketing enablement resources can help get the new product to market as easily and quickly as possible. These contribute significantly to the success of the new offering and are a key component of a solid partner program.”
To start, according to Murphy, vendors can help the channel partner educate their marketing and sales teams about the new offering — its features and benefits, the value it brings to their customer base, how to sell it alongside other offerings, how to properly position it against competitors, its pricing structure, etc.
“Channel partners don’t always have the capacity to develop marketing materials and campaigns for vendor products,” continues Murphy. “Many are grateful to be able to leverage marketing enablement resources provided to them by their vendor partners. Ideally, these resources can be easily tailored by channel partner teams.”
Another benefit of marketing enablement collateral is driving the right message for the right audience.
“Solid partner programs for marketing of any kind are predicated on the value you can deliver to your partners and their partners,” says Marnie Stockman, CEO, Lifecycle Insights. “Using the customization features in marketing tools ensures that you are getting the right message/value to the right people.”
Customization isn’t the only key to successful marketing collateral. Vendors also need to make it simple for partners to sell their products. (Think easily co-brandable materials and playbooks based on region, industry, title, etc.)
“Anything that can be created into one to three simple steps for the channel partners’ sales reps to grasp will help them to sell,” says Kimberly Cesena, senior director, head of global field and channel marketing, Dropbox. “Vendors that have not only marketing enablement tools such as a PRM, configurator, demo program, but also a support process to help partners learn these tools shows the commitment to channel partners.”
Good partner programs are defined by partner engagement and growth. So what are the hurdles when it comes to enablement methods?
Address the Gaps
Sometimes vendors miss the mark when creating marketing enablement content. How does one dissect this challenge, and what do partners need in terms of marketing support to help their customers, the end-user?
“Timing and cost are two of the biggest issues I see,” says Barb Goworowski, COO, JS Group. “The other big issue is that materials have to be customized for the partner community, and that doesn’t happen as often as it should. When you’re talking about the partner community, often you’re talking about different levels of sophistication. A lot of it has to do with size and resourcing – not everyone has the necessary people to work through the operation side of enablement.”
Not all organizations think through the segmentation of their partner base, and how they’re going to enable each segment with the suitable materials, adds Goworowski. Especially when it comes to smaller businesses. Not segmenting your partner base to offer the right amount of support – whether for operations, sales, marketing, or ecosystems – can leave organizations in a lurch.
“You have to read the room,” says Goworowski. “Understanding your partner’s capabilities and then making sure that you’re supplying programs and tools that align with that is vital.”
Partner feedback is critical. There needs to be a regular cadence to ensure partners give input on what they need and how to support them. Setting up advisory councils or specific partner boards ensures regular communication and avenues for feedback.
Having candid conversations with channel partners about their daily operations, their pain points and challenges, and how they currently market and sell their offerings can help inform the development of marketing enablement resources.
Partner enablement training should also be a two-way street. Through online surveys or face-to-face feedback, you can discover how to improve your sales and marketing support efforts and enhance your partner training program to get better results.
Partners have lots of things pulling their attention right now. As a vendor, you need to put thought and empathy into the development of your marketing enablement offerings. As the relationship is getting started, a little research can go a long way to building a long-lasting and lucrative partnership.
Takeaways About Channel Partner Enablement
So, how do you keep your marketing enablement organized between what’s intended for partners and what’s meant for the end-user?
Having dedicated sections within your PRM to house a myriad of marketing materials and having them updated and immediately on-hand whenever partners need them helps immensely.
“If you have a PRM tool that has a content library or content repository, you make it very clear in the navigation paths and different sections,” says Cesena. “For instance, sales/marketing enablement content is intended for partners. These content paths can be categorized under ‘what you need to know before you start selling,’ or sales tools, or sales enablement. A lot of times, you organize the content for the partners’ end-users under ‘campaign in a box’ or ‘sales plays.'”
Usually, these are two separate systems – i.e., the vendor’s marketing automation and CRM system, and then a tailored partner relationship management platform.
“The way to delineate between partners and end-users is through defining account types, e.g., existing partner, prospect partner, end-user customer, and end-user prospect,” adds Angus Robertson, CMO, Chief Outsiders. “The vendor CRM is usually the source of truth, and the two marketing automation systems sync their account and contact data from the CRM.”
When you have dedicated content categories, partner portals are an excellent tool to help channel partners access marketing and sales enablement resources, and these portals can be structured to clearly identify materials for the channel partner vs. materials for the end-user.
But even with a partner portal and vendors offering training on available marketing and sales enablement resources, when and where to use which resources can still be confusing.
“Vendors should think about how they share resources with channel partner teams on an ongoing basis — as these teams will change over time,” says Murphy. “Access to partner portals, and which resources to use, should be intuitive for incoming team members. For example, internal, ‘channel partner only’ resources could have explicit labels stating they are not to be shared with clients. A channel sales team will leverage anything they think will help them sell the vendor’s product. It’s important to share ‘approved’ sales resources; otherwise, they will create their own from the resources they have at their disposal.”
Consistency, efficiency, and agility throughout the pipeline are a must, so what’s your next step?
- Work together. It may sound a bit “hold hands around the campfire,” but this is such an important component. Partners all have different processes that vendors have to figure out – what you’re going to do together, when you’re going to do it, what portals you’re going to use, etc. When you think about a partner trying to market their services, access portals, customize marketing materials, create demand for the different pieces, help the sales team know how to sell it… if you’re a vendor, you must think about how you will fit into what they’re already doing. Tip: Create an advisory council or specific partner board to ensure regular communication and avenues for feedback.
- Boost partner knowledge. Something that partners need to evaluate that vendors need to consider is that not everybody can always be proactive. Supplying your partner community with information that can help them decide how to move forward is critical. Share internal playbooks featuring assets that will educate your partners. Sharing best practices is always the right thing – you get to market faster, you build funnels quicker, and you make everybody money faster. Tip: Ensure your PRM has learning tracks to help guide partner’s knowledge and onboarding.
- Organize your assets to be marketable. When a prospect engages with one of your partners. The partner should know exactly which content is right for that prospect based on industry, geography, and more. These distinctions and specifications are critical to have. Tip: Ensure your content is organized by purpose and audience in your PRM
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