How to Develop Insightful Channel Marketing

How to Develop Insightful Channel Marketing

Nichole Gunn

Channel marketers face uniquely tough challenges. Just like business-to-consumer (B2C) audiences, business-to-business (B2B) targets have limited time for all the messages filling up their inboxes, social media feeds, Spotify ad breaks and everywhere else marketing surrounds them. Unlike B2C marketing audiences, B2B audiences put their own business’ reputation and resources on the line when they choose which marketing they trust and send to their own customers. For vendors in the channel, losing their audience’s trust and attention comes with even greater risks, because a single channel partner contributes much more revenue than a B2C customer.

Let’s look at some hard numbers:

  • Open rates for channel emails are only 15% vs. B2C’s 20%.
  • On average, only 12% of channel partners utilize vendor-provided channel marketing platforms.
  • More than half (53.9%) of B2B buyers say they receive too many irrelevant ads and emails.
  • Just (35%) of channel marketers have a unified view of their customers using the data available to them.
  • The most-cited challenge (33%) channel marketers face in delivering customer experience is the inability to fully leverage their data.

These are just a few examples from studies that show two repeating trends in channel marketing: 1) channel partners don’t engage with marketing because they’re overwhelmed with content that’s useless to them and 2) channel marketers struggle to fully understand and market to their audiences.

Creating Undelete-able Channel Marketing Content

With the challenges described above in mind, brands must figure out how to deliver marketing that channel partners retain, trust, use, and—dare I say?—look forward to getting. Start by producing content that follows these principles:

Keep it current.

Your channel partners don’t want information that’s years out of date. Market places and industries change rapidly. Data and cybersecurity evolve rapidly. Changes in supply chains, technology, and regulations can render a piece of content obsolete with just one press release, so keep your content current!

Don’t be “salesy.”

Channel marketing that’s full of CTAs screaming “buy buy buy” will cause readers to quickly lose interest and trust in you. Your channel marketing should include industry news and thought leadership, not just product marketing. Your channel partners want to be a source of good insight to their customers.

Include all media and every point in the customer journey.

The days when you could create a pdf spec sheet of your newest product and call it a day are over. People have different preferences and capacities for consuming information. They’re also looking for different kinds of info and assets at different points in the buyer journey. Plus, when people consume the same information in multiple contexts, they remember it better.

Stay personal to stay pertinent.

What is personal to your channel members is relevant to them, and vice versa. We’ve all put that amazing thing we want in our online shopping cart then closed the browser, only to get an email moments later telling us “Wait! You forgot that amazing thing in your shopping cart!” That’s the kind of personalized experience that B2C has taught B2B buyers to expect. Send them content that is highly relevant to their needs. The more specific, the better!

Following these four principles will help you sustain superior content. But every channel is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all content formula that will make your messaging better than your competition’s. To really know what kind of content your specific channel partners crave, you need insights. Let’s talk about where you can get those insights.

Fantastic Channel Marketing Insights and Where to Find Them

To create undelete-able channel marketing content, you need data about your audience. If you struggle to gather data about your channel partner audience, you’re not the only one. In the Dun & Bradstreet survey mentioned at the beginning of this blog, channel marketers said that their biggest hurdle in delivering omnichannel customer experiences was being “unable to fully leverage the data and tools we currently have.”

Segmentation

One of the first things you should do to begin improving channel marketing and gaining more channel insights is strategically separate your channel partner audience into different segments.

Traditionally, brands separate their customers or channel partners into a simple tiered system (ex. Gold, Silver, Bronze). These days, there are too many influencers, complexities, and nuances in channel ecosystems for such a broad approach to effectively segment channel partners. A “Silver” tier doesn’t tell you what interests a partner’s recent purchases signal or where knowledge gaps exist waiting to be filled with sales enablement that increases revenue.

Through-channel marketing and customer relationship management (CRM) systems you use should have a high degree of customization in their tagging, list-making, and custom field options so you can easily identify and sort channel partners in whatever way is best for learning about and marketing to that particular segment. You can sort partners by:

  • Region
  • Partner type (ex. MSP, reseller, VAR)
  • Size (ex. enterprises, SMB)
  • Revenue Contribution

Strategic Channel Programs and Services

The business services and software market is expected to grow annually by about 12% until 2039, according to Grandview Research:

The demand for business software and services is expected to be driven by the rapid increase in the volume of enterprise data and the increased automation of business processes across end-use industries.

As more and more channel solutions, software, and services become available for B2B brands to meet rising customer data and marketing needs, it’s important for brands to keep their tech stack manageable and strategic. Your tech stack should provably help you achieve your channel marketing and sales goals, not drain your time and resources. Throwing money at software that requires certified expertise, taking employees away from their daily jobs to learn complex sales/marketing systems, implementing software whose only function is as connective tissue between other pieces of software, not getting attributable revenue ROI from software… these are all bad practices that could lead to a tech stack that costs you precious time and responsibilities instead of achieving results and revenue.

Purchase History

As they say, money talks. One of the biggest indicators of your partners’ interests is their buying history with you. Look through your CRM or e-commerce system to create a detailed picture of their buying history and product mix. Did they buy the same thing for years, then suddenly shift to a different product line? Do they (or their customers) express interest in energy-efficient solutions but continue to buy cheaper, unsustainable options? Looking through purchase history can reveal a lot about where partners may need additional education, product specs, etc.

Training Results

Many channel solutions and programs feature learning management system (LMS) functions. When you not only deliver training content and assets to your channel partners, but deliver it strategically and analyze the results, you can gather valuable, exclusive insights about your channel members. You may find that your channel partners aren’t selling your revolutionary new product line because you haven’t effectively communicated its value proposition or its appeal to the partners’ customers. A successful channel partner training plan enables channel partners to:

  • Upsell and cross-sell to customers
  • Increase customer lifetime value
  • Communicate all the features, benefits, and costs of your products
  • Sell with confidence
  • Increase customer satisfaction

In short, insights from your partner training efforts can show you where misunderstanding and lack of education can be corrected so partners can better serve and sell to customers.

Campaign Performance

If you use a channel marketing program that doesn’t allow you to draw a clear line from your marketing campaign to revenue, it’s probably time to rethink your approach. Your channel marketing and sales programs should be configured to help you reach your goals and keep an eye on progress toward those goals. You shouldn’t have to give up hours of work digging through your platform’s analytics, searching for the metric that can maybe show you that some partner somewhere may have sold something as a result of your campaign. Your channel marketing platform should provide clear, accessible metrics, including:

  • Email open and click rates
  • Lead scoring
  • Performance forecasts based on historic data
  • Closed-loop reporting that tracks a sell’s entire journey from campaign engagement to signed contract
  • Customizable landing pages
  • Onboarding and list management services
  • Content creation services

Just like I mentioned in the Strategic Channel Programs and Services sections, channel software should help you do your job better, not slow you down. Reports and return-on-investment (ROI) proof will only become more important as time goes on, so make sure you have a reliable and convenient way of assessing your marketing campaigns’ effectiveness.

Feedback from Partners

The most reliable source of knowledge on what content partners want? Partners themselves! The problem is that it isn’t always easy to get this feedback out of them. That’s where great marketing, partner relationships, and incentives can come into play and work together. When all these cylinders are firing at once, it leads to more motivated and engaged partners who want to give you feedback where they otherwise wouldn’t set aside time to do so, because they’ve seen the benefits of collaborating with you. Some things that will increase the likelihood of channel partners sharing customer data and feedback with you:

  • Non-cash rewards in exchange for submitted feedback, surveys, and customer data
  • A feedback or data submission tool that’s easy for partners to access, available from your corporate website via single sign-on (SSO)
  • Transparency about how and when you will use the submitted data or feedback
  • Timely responses to any concerns partners raise

Final Words

More often, these days, distribution channels are called “channel ecosystems.” Ecosystems are complicated places. Members of the food chain develop complicated methods to attract the prey they want, while prey develops clever ways to avoid what they don’t want. In this way, the ecosystem is an apt metaphor for the challenges today’s channel marketers face. Their partners are distracted by a busy environment and constantly encountering new species of influencers, affiliates, agencies, and partners of their own. Maintaining effective channel marketing hinges on not just gathering data from different disparate systems, but synthesizing that data into meaningful, actionable insights. With the right resources at your disposal, your insight-driven channel marketing will rise above your competition’s.