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The Partner Channel Podcast Episode #16

Partner Demand Generation Tips that Work

Show Synopsis

In this episode of the Partner Channel Podcast, David Thomson sits down with Akilah Murrell, Senior Director of Channel Marketing at Channel Maven Consulting. Akilah walks through the importance of social selling and explains why listening is the best way to gain alignment and commitment with your channel partners. She also explains the significant impact of co-branding, when done right.

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The Script

Dave Thomson: Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, The Voice of the Partner Channel community, I am Dave Thompson and C.R.O. at Allbound, and I’m excited to be here with Akilah Morrell, Senior Director Channel marketing for Channel Maven Consulting. Welcome Akilah.

Akilah Murrell: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

Dave Thomson: So I want to kick things off by having you walk through your background in the channel with us and what ultimately got you to end up where you are right now with Channel Maven.

Akilah Murrell: Ok, sounds good. So first of all, Dave, I thought we were starting off on a positive note because now you’re asking me to go back years and years in my career and now you’re making me feel old. But I’ll do it since you asked. So really, my first introduction to channel was way back in the Qwest days now Lumen. But I was part of the business partner program eons ago and I had no idea what I was doing at first. I didn’t even understand the channel model, really. I remember myself thinking this is like an MLM, like a multilevel marketing deal or distributors, partners, vars. I had no idea, but I stuck it out and I worked on a channel for a few years, and then I transitioned back to the direct side of the house when CenturyLink acquired Qwest. And then I came back to the channel four years after that. So I kind of had that experience of just really diversifying my experience in and out of the channel. It really allowed me to really understand the needs right. With my marketing expertize and how I could really, you know, serve the channel organization. And then I quickly realized the importance of collaborating with the CAMs just to really ensure that their partners were adequately supported on lead generation activities.

You know, looking back now, I wish we had more leverage to work closer together because I think that’s a really powerful relationship right there when marketing and sales really do come together to serve partners. But it works out really well. And now I’m here at Channel Maven going on four years this year, actually. So after leaving Lumen, I worked for a software company for a very short amount of time and I took some time after that to really think. I had to let go my marketing team and then we had to let me go tiny company. They’re still trying to figure things out, but I did take that time to reflect and see, OK, where do I want to go next or am I stay at home mom? And the answer to that was a quick no from my kids and my husband. So I’m like, let me get back out it. And so I had a good friend who actually referred me to Channel Maven, and I’m so glad she did. I absolutely love it. We’re one hundred percent aligned and right at the heart of demand generation strategies for partners. And so it’s a great place, a great, great place to work and back in the channel partners every day.

Dave Thomson: Yeah, that’s great. Thanks for that. Thanks for that walk-through. So one of my first questions for you is that we have vendors that always wonder how they can better drive demand through their partners. So what are some of those key ways you would recommend to the vendors to generate those leads?

Akilah Murrell: Yeah, that’s a good question. I believe we’re really witnessing a shift right now where IT companies are tweaking their channel partner programs to really closely aligned to a partners demand generation capabilities. I think that’s really, really important. You want to set your partners up for success, not failure. And so knowing where they are, not marketing journey, it’ll absolutely set them up for success. Right? And one example I like to give here is if you think about it right, if you have a partner where the only type of demand generation that they’re doing today is their website, meaning they may even have like maybe a handful of lead capture forms on their website. And that’s it, right? No social, no email, campaigns, blogs, newsletters, nothing. Rather than delivering them a fully baked campaign in a box right around a specific vertical, for example, and then expect them to just one hundred percent utilize every single asset shared on social and watch a webinar, why not customize, as a vendor, your expectations with their reality? Right? And so what are their plans as a vendor? What kind of threw you to solidify this partnership? What are they good at? And then really understand where they are on the scale. So maybe you’re taking them from a one to a two. They have a website? Oh, now they have social right instead of a one to a five where you’re wanting them to execute a full, fully baked webinar campaign.

Dave Thomson: makes a lot of sense, so, you know, one of the things that I was recalling when I first came Allbound a little over a year ago, that that we weren’t really doing a lot of was leveraging social selling as a sales team, as a sales unit. And once we started doing that, we started to see a lot of success. And, you know, what are your thoughts on how that translates to an indirect sales team? Can they be successful as well leveraging, social selling?

Akilah Murrell: Absolutely. Social selling is for everyone. It’s necessary for business, whether you’re on the direct side of the house or the indirect side. And by the way, social selling strategies, it really shouldn’t just be carried out by just the sales teams. I firmly believe that we’re all the face of the company. I’m the last person to say I’m sales-y by any means. But I understand the value of properly representing the company. Or maybe you’re an owner. Right. But utilizing social platforms is a really, really good way to contribute to brand awareness and reach and in making those meaningful connections that ultimately can actually contribute to the bottom line. So, all in all, yes, to social selling for the indirect side. And I would argue that the use of social selling, it’s like I said, it’s a must. Your target audience is out there all day, every day hanging out online. And they’re already doing their due diligence, utilizing Social to really become informed with the people that they could potentially be doing business with. So if you’re not out there, right, you’re out of sight and more than likely you’re going to be out of mind. And so it is important to keep that social presence and be very consistent as well. Another thing I like to mention around social selling is finding ways to connect with your audience digitally. That should be at the top of your list, especially in the day and age we live now. That’s all we have, right? We don’t have that face-to-face meeting anymore. So right now is the time to leverage social platforms like LinkedIn. That’s definitely the one that we recommend for the B2B audience.

Dave Thomson: Yeah, yeah. And I was just going to ask you, what would you say is the number one social tool there? It seems to be LinkedIn. Is there another that you would put number two or is it do all the other social channels fall kind of right behind LinkedIn?

Akilah Murrell: You know, we again, we’re seeing a shift in that as well. So Twitter is still, I believe, a number two. Right? Twitter is definitely very noisy. There’s an enormous amount of users. So the key with Twitter is you do have to have a consistent presence multiple times a day for your content. Right. To be leveraged. But we’re also seeing an uptick in Facebook groups where we have MSP groups where your audience is literally out there sharing their pain points. And it’s a great opportunity to kind of tap in to the things that really that they need, what are their needs. And so as a supplier, as a vendor, you can really tap into those types of groups and get some really good information as well. But yes, LinkedIn definitely prioritized for the B2B audience.

Dave Thomson: Sure. So next question I have for you is I always hear that listening is is really the key to partner enablement. My question to you is, a, do you think that that’s a true statement? And B, if it is, why do you think that?

Akilah Murrell: Oh, it’s a true statement for sure, because, first of all, a partnership, that’s what it is, right? So it’s more than just one. It’s not just one company, it’s not just one individual. It definitely takes two or more to build that relationship. And so it would only behoove you to listen to your partners right they’re the feet on the street, just like on the side of the house, that you constantly tap into your sales organization. Or you should be to find out what’s working, what’s not. I sometimes am baffled as to why we don’t do that with our partners, because their opinion, their voice really does matter. Right. And if you don’t listen, you’re missing out on alignment or commitment and loyalty from the partner. Valuable feedback to the vendor. Right. Were some opportunities. What are some of the gaps? Where can we improve? And then hopefully building that long-term relationship. Again, that contributes to the bottom line. So I think listening is really key to partner enablement for sure.

Dave Thomson: Yeah, absolutely. So how do those co-branded content contribute to a partnership’s success in the long run?

Akilah Murrell: Yeah, really good question. So again, I keep talking about the shift, but there is a big shift, right? We’ve just been going through the pandemic. Digital transformation has been disrupted. There’s so many moving pieces right now. So there really is a big shift across all of the different marketing capabilities. And we’re seeing that in co-branding. Right. And if you actually speak to well, I believe you all have spoken to Heather Margolis, who is also founded Spark Your Channel. She would say that certain partner types shouldn’t be cobranding. Right. They should just be endorsing the vendor content. Now, that’s not to say co-branding is always bad. We just need to take that into account, depending on the type of the partner and the type of the content kind of going back again to really understanding who your partner is and truly understanding their relationship. That is just fundamentally important. Right? And of course, that branding then there is power and showcasing that true partnership. And it’s not just a matter of like, oh, let’s just slap a logo on a piece of content. Try and really highlight the joint value, right? What did we what do they bring as a vendor? Plus, the partner, what are they bringing to the end-user? Clearly communicate the value. And then, of course, the benefit of co-branding as well. Really, endorsement builds trust and loyalty. So, yes, it is important. We’re not saying to do away with it all together but really understand your partner. Understand that relationship specifically.

Dave Thomson: Yeah, that that makes a lot of sense. Right. So now time for the hard part here, the famous Final Four questions. So we’ll start off with number one, if you had a superpower, what would it be and why?

Akilah Murrell: Oh, my goodness. But I’m going to be one hundred, OK, so if there was some sort of superpower I could possess that would allow me to survive living with my soon-to-be teenage son. I would I need it. I need a manual. I need something. Right. So we’re kind of entering into that phase And if we can zoom past this phase, that would be great. But I definitely need some superpowers to get through this for sure.

Dave Thomson: You and I both I’ve got a teenage daughter and not looking forward to that. For sure. All right. Number two, what’s one mistake and one success that you’ve had specifically in the channel?

Akilah Murrell: Ok, specifically in the channel, I would say my biggest mistake was assuming that all of my brilliant lead gen campaigns would be welcomed and magically implemented by all of our partners. Right. And you talk about feeling great. You roll up the campaign in a box and you have all the assets together. Your team works so hard and you just kind of put it out there. And I was really hoping for all the partners to just adopt it and just run with it. I would say that was one of the biggest mistakes for sure, assuming.

Dave Thomson: Ok, so what is one of your greatest successes that you’ve had to this point?

Akilah Murrell: Yes, I’m going along with my one mistake, right. Because I’ve only made one just, you know, honestly, one success that came out of that. And that was over and over. And I can’t tell you how many quarters we did that, this was prior to Channel Maven. But we are constantly rolling things out and just expecting the partners to just adopt it. But one success that came out of that is I actually just before I left, I implemented a quarterly Check-In call and we invited anyone who wanted to right? Anyone who wanted to join the partners, even the direct side of the house as well. And what it did is it gave us as the marketing department, an opportunity to really gain and hear real-time feedback from partners. What were their thoughts about the campaigns, the assets? What about the demand gen activities? It wasn’t all positive. I’m not going to sit here and say, oh, we had a great conversation and it was just wonderful because it wasn’t we were able to actually build that trust with the partners where they felt comfortable sharing their feedback on this one particular call. And it just honestly, the dialog was great. And not only did we just sit there and listen and hear what the partners had to say, but there were times that we had to go back to our plans and say, you know what, we need to make some changes here. And it kind of goes along with that listening to your partners again, because if we want them to launch specific campaigns, if we are trying to really help them and facilitate demand generation, why not listen to the partners and see what is going to work really well, what’s going to work really well? So that I would say that was a success. It was really, really good.

Dave Thomson: So I assume you’re a big fan of QBRs.

Akilah Murrell: Yes, absolutely.

Dave Thomson: All right. Number three, this is my favorite question. I’m always looking for new books to read. So what is the one business book you would recommend to someone that aspires to be in leadership?

Akilah Murrell: Yeah. So this is a great question. You know, oddly enough, it’s not necessarily specific to channel leadership, but it is. So it’s there to lead by Brenè Brown. And she’s phenomenal. She explores ways and how you can really find that inner courage to lead a great team. And I love this book. And I feel like it just it really does apply to any kind of leadership position. Right. Depending if you’re the channel or outside of a channel. And she’s coined this acronym called B.R.A.V.I.N.G and it’s wonderful. Like, real quick in a nutshell, before boundaries you’re asking those clarifying questions. R, reliability doing what you say you’re going to do right now, your strength? And again, that’s really important. We talk about channel leadership as well, right? With your partners’ A, accountability, owning your mistakes. V is for vault, so things that are confidential, but you shouldn’t be sharing across maybe from partner to partner. Make sure you are you have that integrity, which I, is integrity, choosing courage over comfort, which is not always an easy street There could be difficult conversations that you have within your organization. There could be difficult conversations you have with your partners, making sure you’re lining your expectations and their expectations with your values and then not nonjudgmental, creating that safe space where your partners don’t feel judged. If they come to you with something that is near and dear to their heart. Right. And then G, generosity consistently generous in your interpretation and expectation of others. So all of that combined, she really provides powerful tools to lead with both courage and to also be trustworthy in that leadership role and I think that’s really important when you talk about partnerships and your partners, they supposedly align with you. And so you definitely want to create an environment that is positive. And again, it’ll impact that bottom line.

Dave Thomson: Yeah, absolutely. And definitely a fantastic book. All right. So number four of the final four is in five years from now, what will be the major changes in the channel that people should think about right now?

Akilah Murrell: I think we’re seeing a lot of it right now as well. Really, no matter what the role is, I think it is really important to think about how you currently utilize Social to connect with partners. And we’re seeing that more and more. I think that’s going to continue this trend of just making those meaningful connections online on LinkedIn. That’s going to be really, really important. And then as you think of yourself as well, like positioning yourself, right. The. As a go-to expert, and you can do that by the content that you share and that you engage with, that’s going to be really important. Another thing too, that that I think is going to be important and something that we should think about now and we’re all experiencing it, is that digital experiences will continue to be a priority and it’ll matter most to buyers. So what we’re seeing is that B2B buyers, they’re going to want those digital B2C experiences as they’re going through their B2B buying experience. Right. We see that gap really, really closing. And so the expectation is going to pretty much the same. And so the question is, are we equipped? Do we have what we need to really meet their needs to be proactive to share content in the moment. Like I said before, they’re doing their due diligence online first before they ever engage with an individual. So we have to make sure that we’re there at each touchpoint, which on the consumer side, the B2C, we see that every day. You and I experience that in our shopping behaviors. Well, what can we do for the B2B side? And then furthermore, how could we do that for our partners and their end-users?

Dave Thomson: Yeah, absolutely. Well, it’s been awesome to have you on this show Thank you to our guest, Akilah Murrell, Senior Director of Marketing for Channel Maven Consulting, and thank you to the listeners for joining us here at Partner Channel podcast. If you like what you heard, please subscribe to our podcast episodes where we listen to a podcast. Thanks again.