Hint: one is just a piece of the other.
What is Through Channel Marketing?
Through channel marketing, also called indirect marketing, is the marketing structure business-to-business (B2B) vendors use to sell their products indirectly through their resellers, instead of directly to consumers. There are advantages and disadvantages to both the vendor and the reseller in a through channel marketing ecosystem. One of the primary disadvantages is that the vendor and reseller must be aligned in their sales and marketing efforts to drive revenue and provide customers with an excellent experience. Because vendors and resellers must be consistently on the same page, despite the different goals and strategies driving their organizations, automation is often not the be-all, end-all answer to B2B companies’ marketing challenges.
“Forrester’s B2B Benchmark Metrics Data shows that only 23% of channel marketers have tight alignment with field/regional teams.”
— Become Future-Ready With Channel Marketing Strategy by Jay McBain
In this article, we’ll discuss the differences between through channel marketing (TCM) and through channel marketing automation (TCMA), and how the two should be paired for optimum channel marketing success.
What is TCMA and How is it Different from TCM?
The main difference between through-channel marketing vs. through-channel marketing automation is that through channel marketing is a strategy that focuses on leveraging channel partners to reach customers, while through channel marketing automation is a technology-driven approach that uses automation tools to manage and streamline the process. Through channel marketing automation can save time and money, while also providing more detailed insights into customer behavior. As a channel marketing strategy, however, TCMA can only take brands so far. It doesn’t address all of the complexities and nuances that comprise most distribution channels. Let’s look at a few examples of this:
Marketing and Sales Enablement
If you’re a B2B brand, you likely have multiple channel partner resellers who fall into the category of small-to-medium business (SMB). These resellers often have small to non-existent resources and budget dedicated to marketing. They rely on their vendors to enable them to market to customers. These are the TCM best practices of marketing and sales enablement compared to TCMA’s ability to help:
WITH TCMA YOU CAN…
- Quickly create lists of resellers to receive sales enablement content.
- Schedule automated emails and track email performance.
- Trigger automatic sales enablement emails based on certain engagement events, such as filling out a form or clicking a button.
- Create training email templates and save them for convenient, repeated use.
- Email surveys to resellers to gather their input on their current product knowledge.
BUT YOU NEED A FULL TCM STRATEGY TO…
- Work with subject matter experts (SMEs) or product specialists to create detailed, accurate sales enablement content.
- Write and design sales enablement assets in a variety of content formats (pdfs, infographics, ebooks, specs, etc.) and media channels (email, learning management systems).
- Motivate resellers to complete training with channel incentives such as rewards or special offers.
- Use the results of training efforts to create better, data-driven training content and initiatives for the future.
As you might have picked up on, TCMA’s primary contribution to sales enablement is the ability to send fast, automated emails, whether scheduled at your discretion or triggered by actions resellers take. You can gauge their sentiment toward training and products/services by looking at email performance. However, it’s worth noting that email click/open rates are growing increasingly inaccurate and unhelpful as an engagement metric, with cybersecurity systems performing email “clicks” and “opens” on behalf of the user, resulting in false positives.
“About 20% of clicks come from automated bots for most publishers that do not use bot-filtering. However, some publishers have reported seeing rates as high as 90%… B2B emails see a much higher proportion of bot clicks as companies enact strict security measures to protect their data.”
— Email Bot Clicks: Are They Hurting Your Newsletter? By Emily Wong
Through channel marketing automation can lead the horse to water, as they say, but can’t make it drink. Automated emails alone can’t motivate resellers to actually participate in your training and can’t tell you how effective that training is. For that, you need a content or learning management system that tells you how often resellers access your training content and whether they successfully complete or pass tests and certifications.
A combination of channel marketing technology, accessible performance data, and human interpretation of that performance data is the best way to address the needs of channel sales enablement. It’s something that TCMA alone simply can’t do.
Personalization uses data-driven insights to tailor content and experiences to different customer or channel partner segments. It involves leveraging customer data to create more relevant, tailored messages and experiences that designed to engage buyers and drive sales. It can include:
- Segmentation, the division of channel partners into groups based on shared characteristics to identify and better understand different types of partners. Segmentation helps companies customize their through channel marketing efforts to ensure they are delivering the right messages to the right partners.
- Dynamic content creation, which tailors content to different customer segments by leveraging customer data. This results in more personalized, relevant, and engaging content that results in more targeted campaigns and increased channel partner engagement.
- Personalized offers are offers that are exclusive to specific customer segments. By leveraging customer data to create more targeted and relevant offers, brands can increase reseller engagement and drive sales.
Did you notice what all of the above three things have in common? Customer data. Customer data is crucial to personalization. Let’s look at how the demands of TCM and the capabilities of TCMA compare when it comes to personalization:
WITH TCMA YOU CAN…
- Use email tokens (content placeholders that can be swapped out for individual resellers’ names, companies, etc.) and dynamic content to present resellers with interchangeable sections of content.
- Create surveys and forms for resellers to complete so you can collect sales and customer data. Drive resellers to these forms and surveys using automated email campaigns.
- Add unique and/or custom fields to your online surveys and forms.
- Analyze resellers’ response and engagement rates to gauge which personalized campaigns and offers were most successful.
BUT YOU NEED A FULL TCM STRATEGY TO…
- Compile purchase history, geographic location, company size, industry, product demand, and other factors to develop personalized campaigns and offers.
- Gather specific contact and firmographic data about resellers in order to properly segment them for personalization campaigns and strategies.
- Try to collect unique data about your resellers so you’re not segmenting in the same ways your competition is.
- Assess the performance of personalized campaigns and offers so you can keep track of the changing interests and needs of different reseller segments.
Through channel marketing automation is a quick method of collecting customer data, but it can’t seek out the right data or motivate channel partners to submit that data. For that, you need a combination of engaging content, incentives, a good sense of the right time/place to request data, and assurance that submitting data is worth resellers’ time.
Automation can’t tell you that a specific area is experiencing declining sales due to local disruptors such as political conflict, climate disasters, economic recession, etc. It can’t tell you that reseller A is hesitant to submit any sales or customer data without some return benefit. For that, you need solid relationships and engagement with your customers: that’s the heart of TCM, whereas TCMA is more like a vein that helps carry blood to that heart more quickly and efficiently.
Content is the backbone of successful through channel marketing. Whether it’s blogs, emails, mailers, white papers, or training, the brand that offers the most engaging and accessible content will likely be the brand that resellers and end-buyers both gravitate toward. Although artificial intelligence (A.I.) content-writing is rapidly evolving, it’s not quite fully integrated with TCMA platforms or capable of unique, stand-out insights.
“60-70% of content produced by B2B marketing organizations goes unused.”
— It’s Not Content – It’s a Lack of Buyer Insights That’s the Problem by Marisa Kopec
The conclusion may be obvious, but let’s see how TCMA stacks up against up content needs in TCM:
WITH TCMA YOU CAN…
- Send automated and scheduled emails to pre-made lists of resellers.
- Add saved, pre-made assets such as images and content snippets to email templates.
- Gauge email open and clicks rates to get an idea of resellers’ and customers’ interest in specific products and services.
- Syndicate and re-send previously written thought leadership and news pieces.
BUT YOU NEED A FULL TCM STRATEGY TO…
- Develop unique content that’s relevant and engaging to resellers and customers.
- Craft compelling co-marketing content that reinforces your brand as well as your resellers’.
- Track and analyze data to inform specific and personalized content for specific segments of your channel.
- Provide thought leadership and industry news as well as helpful content on product details.
You might have figured this out quickly: content marketing is the area where TCMA is least helpful to TCM. Automation is not innovation. While TCMA technology may make it easier and faster to send direct and outbound marketing, it can’t create compelling marketing for you. The most important aspect of content marketing is high-quality, relevant, easy-to-understand materials. With most TCMA platforms, the burden of creating and managing such content still falls on channel marketers’ or even resellers’ shoulders.
Through channel marketing automation is a helpful tool for through channel marketing. It can speed up, increase, and automate email sends. It can help you easily sort resellers and customers into segments for personalized offers and content. But TCMA is only a piece of the TCM puzzle. An effective TCM strategy includes performance measurement, holistic data and the means to easily glean insights and stories from that data, as well as the irreplaceable human element that can lead to innovative content and ways to relate to customers and become an invaluable partner to resellers. By strategically and selectively leveraging TCMA technology alongside expert insights and services, channel marketers can create unique channel marketing solutions.