Let’s be honest, the IT channel is not the easiest thing to understand. And if you’ve ever tried to explain what you do for a living to someone outside of our industry, you know exactly what I mean! Here at A Fluent Vision, we spend a lot of time working with vendors, distributors and partners alike. So, we wanted to share what we know about the various types of marketing that are required to build a successful channel.

Going to market through a channel adds a layer of complexity to your sales and marketing efforts, regardless of industry. Not only do you have to target end users directly, but you have to enable your channel partners to do the same on your behalf.

In order to build a successful channel, you’ll first need partners to help sell your products or services. Getting them onboard is only the first step. For your partnership to grow, and your business to flourish, you must continually provide resources that will help them sell, incentives that will encourage them to do so, and most importantly, communicate all of this to them regularly and often.

Marketing to Partners

Although all types of channel marketing are important, none of the others will matter if you don’t start here. Just as you market to your customers, you must do the same to your partners. Remember, they have their own business priorities. And most likely, you are not the only vendor whose solutions they sell.

You must regularly communicate with partners to help your brand stay top of mind. But, as with all marketing, a simple reminder of ‘hey, remember us?’ will not suffice. You must provide value to your partners, and deliver it to them through your marketing. Many vendors provide campaigns, platforms, sales and marketing managers, MDF and much more. These resources are great! But, if you never tell your partners about them, how will they know which resources are available?

If you’re investing money into your channel marketing programs, make sure your partners are aware of what you offer – not just what’s available, but how to use it effectively.

Sorry, but ‘Field of Dreams’ lied – just because you build it, does not mean that partners will come. That’s why it’s critical to start by marketing to partners.

Marketing through Partners

Now that you have partners on board, where do you go from here? You have amazing channel marketing programs and resources – but the rest of channel marketing is how you work with partners to help grow your businesses together.

Marketing for Partners

Marketing for partners provides you, as the vendor, more control over messaging. You are responsible for the marketing efforts, and your partners are responsible for the sales process. You generate the leads, set the appointments, then hand it off to a partner to follow-up. Therefore, it is critical for your channel sales team to work closely with partners to ensure a smooth hand-off.

Partners should be aware of the programs in which they participate, and properly onboarded and trained for each. That way, they know what to expect, and are able to own responsibility for their steps of the process.

Communication is key, so be sure to have your team speak directly with everyone involved in the process from your partner’s organization. Get confirmation that they are both aware of and capable of performing their part in the program.

Marketing with Partners

Marketing with partners gets them involved earlier in the process. They assume some marketing responsibility by co-branding your marketing materials. This requires you to build the framework for campaigns and messaging, while leaving room for them to customize messaging and design before execution.

Partners often want to lead with their own brand, and you should make it as easy as possible for them to do so. In order to be successful, it is good practice to let partners lead with prospects, so that they can build trust. You likely have a brand presence that already makes them more appealing to prospects (simply by mentioning that they partner with you), so leave the rest up to them – this is where your direct-to-consumer marketing plays an important role.

Again, collaboration and communication play an important role here. In addition to providing sales support, marketing with partners often requires marketing support as well. Many industry-leading vendors partner with A Fluent Vision to provide partner marketing support to their channel partners.

Self-Serve Marketing

This is similar to marketing with partners, however, partner self-serve puts them entirely in charge of their own sales and marketing pipeline. They will still have access to your campaigns, content, and resources through a partner marketing platform, such as Averetek, Zift, StructuredWeb, or others.

Again, it’s important when co-marketing to provide room for customization and personalization. Partners want to lead with their own brand.

Keep in mind that partners often don’t take it upon themselves to learn and regularly use your platform and resources. Although they’ll have access to self-serve, you’ll want to ensure that they’ll also have access to a Partner Marketing Manager who can help guide them through their marketing initiatives.

So, What’s the Difference?

No two partners are alike. Typically, our vendors who have the most successful channel programs group their partners by performance and commitment. Think of it this way: the choice should not be which of the above channel marketing methods to use, but rather, which is best suited for a particular set of partners.

To do this: first, figure out where your partners stand. Then, commit to a level of investment for each partner marketing strategy. Be sure to understand the pros and cons of each, and check out our use cases and tips in our eBook: Implementing a Partner Marketing Coverage Model.