For decades, thousands of tech firms have been leveraging channel partners to help drive Sales—with 80% of on-premise software and a rapidly rising 23% of SaaS firms having channel partner programs. But while the AWS’s of the world have large and robust channel marketing functions, many smaller tech firms struggle to establish a program that truly maximizes their channel growth opportunity. Far too often, channel activity gets cast as a purely sales-driven function, missing the critical role that marketing should play.
While some fail to invest in a channel launch strategy from the start or simply extend their direct sales enablement tactics to the channel, others set out with the best laid plans and then fall short on execution. Either way, these firms are leaving money on the table. An Aberdeen study found that firms who follow channel program best practices see a more than a 2x lift in key metrics—more deals and larger deals—and a 30% increase in attainment of sales targets.
Many software startups and other small tech firms sell heavily through channel partners, though most without any dedicated channel marketing staff (and some without any in-house marketing staff at all). But if you sell through partners and you haven’t properly invested in enabling them, how can you expect them to perform?
Sowhere to begin? Start with a strategic assessment of your current channel program by answering the questions below. And whatever you can’t answer offhand is likely worth a bit of investigation.
These types of inputs help to size up the opportunity for channel program enhancement and inform the right combination of channel enablement approaches to drive more deals. In our work with clients, we’ve often met with our clients’ leadership and sales teams and channel partners to collect these inputs and conduct some informal market research to help inform in these program planning efforts.
From there, you can start to plot your program. A useful starting point is to have clarity on the types of enablement available to support channel sales in order to determine what to prioritize when you move into execution mode.
To determine what to prioritize, be clear about what you’re already doing, what you’re doing well (or not so well), where you have gaps, and what will give you the greatest lift.
#1: You provide your channel sales teams with training and materials to sell your solution.
#2: Your firm runs demand generation programs direct to the end customer and passes the leads to your partners.
#3: Your firm provides resources to help your partners execute their own marketing and sales campaigns. This could include anything from turnkey marketing campaigns to marketing development funds (MDF) for the channel to use at their discretion (with your approval, of course).
Simply having some resources available is rarely enough. The extra effort to educate and engage your channel partners pays tremendous dividends in the form of net new sales opportunities.
We recently worked with a client who sold heavily through partners but whose partner program was managed by sales without much marketing involvement. After sizing up the situation, we learned their channel partners had access to their sales materials via a portal that they weren’t accessing, marketing development funds that they weren’t requesting, and all the opportunities were coming from our client and not the channel reps – it wasn’t a two way street. We built a plan of what to create and how to manage the program on an ongoing basis, and then organized a re-launch of their partner marketing program. They started seeing tremendous lift in the engagement on turnkey marketing campaigns and the opportunities they were getting—from a few key partners in particular.
We’ve been in similar situations more than once, and we’ve learned that a little bit of channel marketing TLC can go a long way. The bottom line is that the tech ecosystem is only likely to rely more and more on channel partnerships over time—and figuring out now how to get the most of these efforts is a critical component of your go-to-market plan that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Interested in giving your partner program the attention it deserves? Drop us a note to set up an introductory discussion.
Magnetude Consulting is a B2B marketing agency that specializes in working with entrepreneurial companies looking to market the right way in today’s increasingly complex environment by providing full-service, fractional marketing department services.