It's time for partners to modernize their sales and marketing approach to drive better top-line results.

Kris Blackmon, Head of Channel Communities

November 3, 2023

6 Min Read
Channel growth

With channel partners planning for 2024, it's important to recognize a fundamental shift in the customer buying journey. Buyers are becoming more self-reliant, reducing their need to engage with sales to learn about a solution.

With easier ways to comparison shop, sales has even less time to instill confidence in prospects. Therefore, over-investing in sales at the expense of marketing is a costly mistake.

Channel Growth: 8 Steps to Modernize Sales Approach

Still, too many partners continue to run outdated sales and marketing functions, investing in tired tactics that are no longer effective. By following the eight steps below, channel partners can modernize their sales and marketing approach and drive better top-line results.

1. Focus on the ideal customer profile: Define the ideal customer profile (ICP) or buyer persona. Tightly define target geographies, preferred verticals, and client environments in which you've demonstrated a repeatable pattern of success. If you don't know to whom you're selling, your marketing journey stops here.

2. Build a message house and consistent brand: Once you know who you're speaking to, you have to know what to say and how best to say it. One of the proven ways to cut through the competitive noise is to speak with a consistent brand voice and message. When sales and marketing messages are incongruous and disjointed, buyers get confused as to what your value proposition is. Create a positioning statement so that your entire company understands and consistently communicates what makes you special. Then develop a set of core messages that serve as pillars to that positioning, with concrete evidence to support each claim or differentiator. Finally, figure out your company's "personality." Are you friendly? Efficient? Young and energetic? Seasoned and deliberate? Give the buyer a brand they can connect with.

3. Optimize locally: Most partners are small, and chances are your best customers live right in your backyard, so you must be easy to find. First, make yourself easily discoverable by optimizing SEO strategies, perfecting your Google My Business profile, and building strong, relevant backlinks. Next, take proactive steps to engage with your local community, starting with collecting and responding to customer reviews, especially local clients. Don't overlook these efforts: Google says that 76% of people who conduct local searches visit a business within 24 hours. Yours won't be the business they visit if they can't find you.

4. Revisit investments in sales and marketing: Most MSPs serving the small and midsize business market allocate between 2%-5% of their revenue toward marketing, but the U.S. Small Business Administration advises a spend of at least 7%. Considering the time a buyer spends with sales has dropped by more than two-thirds, channel partners should invest more in marketing, or at least revisit their investment mix between sales and marketing. Look and see what you can do in-house and what tactics need to be outsourced. You'd be surprised at all you can handle on your own, but marketing is getting more technical and sophisticated every day, and those advanced skill sets are expensive to hire full time. Make sure you're baking in some costs for a third-party firm. The good news? You can reinvest the money you used to spend on those old-school sales techniques into more effective marketing activities.

5. Segment funnel activities: In this era of self-guided buyers, you should understand the intricacies of guiding a prospect through every phase of the buyer's journey. Here are tips for each phase of the funnel:

  • Top of funnel: This is where prospects first learn about your solutions, so you'll need plenty of informative content, including social, SEO, paid advertising, webinars, podcasts, infographics, free tools and resources to educate and engage.

  • Middle of funnel: Once prospects have considered you, make sure you're keeping them engaged with email nurture campaigns, online workshops, free consultations, product comparison content, thought leadership and intent-based marketing. By using IP addresses, web behavior, email, social media and other data indicating engagement, continue to target them with content related to their topics of interest.

  • Bottom of funnel: Here's where your sales activities come into play. Tactics designed to accommodate the new buyer's journey and help close a sale include case studies and customer testimonials, personalized email campaigns, pricing and discount offers, and remarketing and retargeting campaigns.

6. Invest in content: Generating leads from paid search has its limits as prospects often conduct considerable online research when looking for an MSP or VAR. Without a strong content presence across major digital channels, prospects won't see you as a credible option (or see you at all). When it comes to using content to educate and validate your firm's expertise, consider investing in these channels:

  • YouTube: A great way to demonstrate your expertise and offer educational content that prospects will value and remember.

  • LinkedIn: Ideal for reaching midmarket targets.

  • Facebook: Well-suited for SMBs, provided you're actively engaged in relevant groups rather than investing too much in ads. Concentrate on meaningful interactions.

  • Reddit: Everyone uses Reddit — make sure you show up there in a positive way.

7. Re-educate the sales team: Sales is no longer the hunter, the buyer is. Prospects looking for solutions now take the lead, well-armed with self-education, engaging sales reps only at the end of a buying journey, or never. Make sure your sales team can embrace their new role as trusted advisors and technical experts. In this new selling paradigm, their emphasis shifts from selling speeds and feeds to aligning with broader company goals and business outcomes. Focus your salespeople on the very bottom of the funnel where they can tie your services to a prospect's corporate strategy and business goals.

8. Double down on upselling and cross-selling: While acquiring new customers is exciting, it's also expensive. Depending on who you ask, it costs five to 15 times more to land a new customer than to expand the relationship with a current one. To capitalize on this, maximize the potential of your CRM for existing customers, not just prospects. Use it to its fullest to gain a deep understanding of your customer base, including valuable data on retention, cross-selling and upselling opportunities.

By regularly revisiting these eight steps, channel partners can bring their sales and marketing teams up to speed with this new buyer's journey, maximize the impact of their spending, and create a brand presence that resonates with prospects. You don't need to get fancy. If you just get the basics right, you're already further ahead than you've ever been.

Kris Blackmon is head of channel communities at Zift Solutions. She previously worked as chief channel officer at JS Group, and as senior content director at Informa Tech and project director of the MSP 501er Community. Blackmon is chair of CompTIA's Channel Development Advisory Council and operates KB Consulting. You may follow her on LinkedIn and @zift on X.

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About the Author(s)

Kris Blackmon

Head of Channel Communities, Zift Solutions

Kris Blackmon is head of channel communities at Zift Solutions. She previously worked as chief channel officer at JS Group, and as senior content director at Informa Tech and project director of the MSP 501er Community. Blackmon is chair of CompTIA's Channel Development Advisory Council and operates KB Consulting. You may follow her on LinkedIn and @zift on X.

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