Originally published via LinkedIn Aug 26, 2015
Nearly all my initial partner marketing calls start the exact same way: “So, Erika, what has worked best for your other partners in terms of marketing?”
This is a great question and one I wish I had a straight-forward, highly accurate, million-dollar answer to. I’d be solving the world’s problems like Super Woman on steroids if I was smart enough to know the perfect answer. Unfortunately, the real, annoyingly cop-out-implying answer is, “It depends.”
I’m not one to avoid work and like everyone else, I gag every time someone says, “Let’s circle back.” because you KNOW the only thing they plan to circle is the time clock at 4:59pm…..but the bottom line is there is not one answer that is going to work for everyone.
Over the years that I have been in channel marketing, I have discovered there are some common denominators in successful partner marketing.
- Partner involvement. I know, duh, right? But too often I see partners who expect the vendor to drive recruitment to their event, build the landing page, write all the copy, create the email, order the food, secure the venue, and man the table while they show up for 15 minutes, shake a few hands and then dip out still expecting to receive a list of hot leads. This doesn’t work for a few reasons. In the chain of the channel, partners are closest to the customers. Vendors cannot adequately express each partner’s value-add and that value-add is the key to clenching the deal. Highly successful joint marketing efforts are almost always rooted in tremendous partner involvement. Recently Veeam embarked on a multi-city tour with ExaGrid and Res-Q Services, a division of Corus360, a Veeam gold partner. Nearly every city saw a packed house. Why? Because the Res-Q and Corus360 marketing team owned a large portion of driving these events to their customers and prospects. Owning a lion’s share or at least a 50% share of recruitment is key for partners because relying on a vendor’s database of leads to drive business can be risky. Every prospect a vendor has is up for grabs. A partner is also more aware of the nuances of their target market, both the customers and the physical attributes of the area. Global vendors’ corporate copy and idea of a great place to have an event might not be ideal for the target group a partner is trying to hit.
- Lunch-and-Learns are hit or miss. Some partners thrive on these: everyone shows up, the presentation is met with wild applause, and AEs walk away with 26 hand-shake opportunities that turn into closed deals three weeks later. But others fall flat. Could be the weather, could be the venue, could be the presenter or presentation topic, could be the email copy, could be that a way more exciting event was happening down the street. Or it might be that the same group of prospects was just at a lunch two weeks ago and doesn’t need to hear your story again. Combatting these pitfalls requires targeted copy, research on best venues (does parking suck there? Avoid it like the plague!), choosing dates that don’t conflict with other events, and ensuring the list you are blasting to is fresh.
- Focus on solutions vs. products. Customers need solutions not individual products. Appealing to customers’ needs equals butts in seats and high click-through rates. If a partner sells Cisco, NetApp, and Veeam, I suggest they focus their event on the FlexPod solution. Maybe ExaGrid is a partner’s focus vendor, so my suggestion would be to introduce your customers to the VeeGrid. If HP is the ‘house vendor’, put together a marketing campaign focusing on HP Converged Systems.
- Don’t bypass the low hanging fruit. Chances are every partner has customers sitting in their database waiting to be upgraded or introduced to another option that better meets their needs. Partners can easily pull a list of folks up for renewal and build a campaign around switching them to a vendor that will earn more margin for them and offer a better solution for the customer.
- Explore other routes to market. Email, postcards, telemarketing, live events, and social media are go-tos for building a marketing plan. But don’t forget other options, like marketing through or with a distributor. Let’s say the partner’s preferred disti is on-boarding Nimble. If my partner sells Nimble already and/or a complimentary vendor, I would suggest they investigate acquiring MDF from the disti to hold an event or campaign that pushed both Nimble and the alliance as a means to drive business through that disti.
- Ask for vendor MDF wisely. I will hand out money all day long to partners who want to execute a competitive displacement online and appointment setting campaign. Add some social media in there and I am practically shoving $100 bills in your pockets. My next choice would be an activity around training or product education like a hands-on lab day. Holding a demo of our product is an ideal way to convince customers it just works. Options like traditional lunch and learns and happy hours would be a choice further down my preferred list. And unless you’re handing over a list of customers and their email addresses, please don’t ask me to fund your annual boondoggle.
- Don’t be a Play to Pay Partner. This is neither sexy nor smart. If I have to spend a million dollars in MDF to get to your customers that tells me you don’t put your customers first. Customers are wise and if you aren’t trying to provide them the best options for solutions that will impact their business, they will look elsewhere. Your vendors will grow weary of this game and focus on partners who are more in line with a true partnership. And when your cash cow seeks greener fields, you will be SOL. Just like your 401K, diversify your marketing and vendor portfolio to best grow your business and serve your customers.