Robust marketing programs help companies grow, with dividends for those that help their partners scale.

February 25, 2019

5 Min Read


Louis Gudema

By Louis Gudema, President, Revenue & Associates

Channel-Partners-Insights-logo-300x109.pngCompanies that market more grow faster. Enterprises know this; that’s how they got big. According to Deloitte, on average enterprises spend about 11 percent of their expenses on marketing. It can vary considerably by industry, with software companies spending about 15 percent and manufacturing companies spending 8 percent. And many studies have confirmed the value of this; my own study of dozens of software companies with 50-1,000 employees found that those with the most robust marketing programs grew about five times faster than those with weak marketing programs.

But most small companies — and this includes many channel partners — don’t invest anywhere near as much in marketing. In many cases they’re not even spending 1 percent of expenses on marketing. As a result, they grow far more slowly than they could and, critically for the vendors with whom they partner, they sell through far less product than they might.

Why aren’t they marketing more? There are a few reasons:

  • Marketing isn’t in their DNA. The founder often is expert in their industry, and had to become at least competent at sales or the company wouldn’t survive, but they simply had no exposure to marketing along the way. They may think of marketing as a cost rather than an investment in growth.

  • Marketing has become so complex. While 30 years ago there were only six or eight ways to reach a customer, today there are dozens of marketing channels including websites, email, social media, search ads, syndicated content and on and on. With technologies such as marketing automation, predictive analytics, and marketing attribution, the terminology is foreign and off-putting to businesspeople who haven’t been deeply involved with it.

  • What works changes rapidly. In the dynamic marketing landscape, marketing channels can become exhausted, and their cost per lead can escalate dramatically if competitors discover them. For example, while social media still gets a lot of attention, in fact its effectiveness for brands peaked around 2013 when social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn changed their algorithms to show the posts of brands far less; today the post of a brand typically is seen by less than 2 percent of its followers. (Social media ads, though, may still be a good opportunity.)

It’s not uncommon for companies with channel programs to be underserved by their marketing-deficient partners. But they can change that.

Enabling Channel Partners

Companies often offer programs of all sorts to support their channel partners. But few are the companies that help their partners scale and improve their marketing. This is a real opportunity.

A successful marketing enablement program for partners must include two parts:

  • Education on the value of marketing, customer insights, how the vendor itself uses it to drive growth and how channel partners can launch and scale their own programs.

  • Support on execution. Like anything in business, knowledge and plans are meaningless without consistent, excellent execution.

Companies with weaker marketing programs may benefit from following …

… the steps listed in Bullseye Marketing, what I call an intuitive marketing program.

  • Fully exploit their existing marketing assets. That happens by actions such as improving their website, ramping up their email programs (still ranked by marketers as one of the top marketing channels), and improving collaboration between their sales and marketing teams. These Phase 1 programs are built on marketing assets that many companies don’t even realize they have and are like forgotten money stored in a shoe box under the bed. As a result they are typically inexpensive – often free – and can produce results in weeks or a few months, helping create buy-in for expanding into the other phases.

  • Sell to people who want to buy now. Our markets are much smaller than we think they are because unless you’re selling something that people consume every day, like food, it may be months or years before a particular customer is interested in buying your product. Just as a person who bought a new car last month is unlikely to buy another one soon, a company that made a major capital purchase may be unlikely to repeat that particular purchase soon. Even service providers may not be reviewed until they displease the client. So it’s important to use tools such as search ads and third-party intent data that identify customers who plan to buy now.

  • Cast a wider net with long-term awareness and brand-building programs. This is where blogging, social media, display ads and other awareness programs come into play. While in the long run they may be valuable, these typically can take two or three years – or longer – to produce significant amounts of leads and sales.

Companies that start with Phase 3 programs (as many uninformed ones do) are likely to throw up their hands after a few months and say, “We knew marketing doesn’t work for us.” But by using the approach I’ve outlined, they can have some quick wins, build confidence and go on to marketing success.

After educating partners on these marketing fundamentals, vendors and their marketing partners can support channel partners on their marketing execution by:

  • Helping them develop marketing strategies and action plans.

  • Providing ongoing consultation and support on the execution of the marketing programs.

  • Furnishing managed marketing services, acting in the short run as a marketing department for companies as they build their own.

While procuring these execution services may seem to be the responsibility of the partners – paying for them could help the partners put skin in the game — some vendors will want to pay for them for their best partners.

This isn’t a silver bullet — just the education phase and executing on steps in Phase 1 will take some time. But, as enterprises have shown for decades, those companies and partners that prioritize marketing can generate significant incremental channel revenue.

Louis Gudema is the president of revenue & associates, and helps companies grow faster by helping their channel partners grow faster. He is the author of Bullseye Marketing, which is available on Amazon. Follow Louis on LinkedIn or @LouisGudema on Twitter.

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