Channel Marketing: The Ultimate Introduction
Channel marketing is a unique and highly-specialised type of marketing.
Ultimately, the purpose of channel marketing is to generate demand, as well as identify and nurture leads, as part of a vendor channel sales program. This often includes through-channel marketing across many partners across a channel ecosystem.
This article is about marketing in channel ecosystems, such as vendor channel programs with a complex array of different channels and channel partners, distributors and many other company types.
In this article you will learn about channel marketing, its benefits, and how it can contribute to the business growth of vendors and channel partners.
Let’s dive right into it!
Table of Contents
- What is channel marketing?
- What is a vendor channel program?
- What is a Channel Marketing Manager?
- What does a Channel Marketing Manager do?
- What are common channel partner company types that benefit from channel marketing?
- 3 key through-channel marketing benefits for vendors and channel partners
- What’s included in a through-channel marketing campaign?
- 6 Tips for channel partner marketing enablement
- Channel marketing vs. distributed marketing: Are they the same?
- Channel marketing vs. partner marketing: What’s the difference?
What Is Channel Marketing?
Channel marketing is a type of marketing completed by vendors and manufacturers with and through third party partners in a channel sales program distributing products and services to the market.
The purpose of channel marketing includes:
- Contribute to revenue growth with through-channel marketing partner sales enablement, and
- Increase a vendor channel program by attracting the right potential partners.
Channel marketing includes many different stakeholders along different stages of the channel. That’s why taking a customer’s mindset can be complicated and requires careful analysis by Channel Marketing Managers, since there are various customers at various stages along the channel value chain.
What Is a Vendor Channel Program?
A vendor channel program involves a go to market strategy that uses third-party partners to reach end user audiences. The vendor or manufacturer scales up by taking advantage of the reach and sales of each partner.
The vendors enjoy increased sales and a large market share from the program. They also gain insights into the needs of the customers. On the other hand, the partners get business opportunities and enjoy a profit.
What Is a Channel Marketing Manager?
A Channel Marketing Manager is a marketing professional who implements a marketing strategy through partners in the channel.
The role may also be responsible for contributing to channel partner acquisition programs by attracting and nurturing each right-fit potential partner.
The primary purpose of the Channel Marketing Manager role of vendors and manufacturers generate demand to achieve more sales, increase lifetime value of partners and end-user customer, and to increase revenue growth.
What Does a Channel Marketing Manager Do?
A Channel Marketing Managers is responsible for developing a successful channel marketing strategy and for implementing the relevant channel marketing activities.
They also need to identify potential channel partners across multiple marketing channels. Once they find them, they have to establish and maintain relationships. Together with these partners, they then need to promote the vendor’s products and partner’s services.
The responsibilities of the role vary depending on the type, size, location, and type of organisation’s products or services.
Most commonly, a Channel Marketing Manager will:
- Develop a strategic channel marketing plan
- Implement digital marketing campaigns with a key target audience
- Optimize marketing campaigns to improve the company’s return on investment (ROI)
- Stay updated with trends across digital marketing channels
- Liaise between vendor marketing and sales teams
- Contribute to product beta testing with focus groups
- Contribute to partner acquisition campaigns and helping identify each potential partner
- Liaise and collaborate with channel partners for collaborative campaigns
- Participate in approving Market Development Funds (MDF) for channel partners alongside a Channel Account Manager
- Gather data, in depth information and generate performance reports
- Perform market research and compare hard market data
- Identify new channels or new revenue streams.
What Are Common Channel Partner Company Types That Benefit From Channel Marketing?
Channel programs have many different types of partners and it’s critical that channel marketers understand what these partners do and whom they service or sell to.
Each partner company type may leverage channel marketing is different way depending on their market and buyer persona. That’s why digital marketing for technology companies is so varied.
Here are some common company types involved in a channel partnership which benefit from through-channel marketing.
Managed Service Providers (MSPs)
A Managed Service Provider (MSP) is a company involved in monitoring and managing the IT systems of their customer base. Duties of the MSP may include installation of products, securing data, or monitoring the company’s network. An MSP eliminates the administrative resources needed by the end-user to maintain the software. MSPs are generally partners in a range of vendor channel programs.
Value-Added Resellers (VARs)
A Value-Added Reseller (VAR) is a company that buys technology products from another company then adds a profit margin by adding their services or features to the product then passing it on to the end-user. VARs can boost sales and are receptive to new technology. VARs are generally partners in a range of vendor channel programs.
System Integrators (SIs)
A System Integrator (SI) purchases hardware and software programs from different companies and then combine the products into a single product to sell and integrate for an end user business.
One benefit of SIs is that they can easily propel you into a lucrative enterprise market. SIs are generally partners in a range of vendor channel programs.
Distributors buy products from wholesalers and sell the products to service providers or retailers. Distributors act as agents between the producer and potential customers, enjoy profit, and act on behalf of the producer. Distributors, sometimes called disties for short, are generally partners in a range of vendor channel programs.
Affiliate partners are channels or online presences with an established network that allow a retailer to advertise their products (retailer) on their website. In return, the retailers pay a commission to the website owner. The commission is based on sales made due or through the webpage.
Independent Software Vendors (ISVs)
An independent software vendor (ISV) channel provides software to end-users, but the software remains the property of the ISV. ISVs partner with hardware vendors to establish long-term business partnerships. They offer support such as pricing and licensing to the end-users through a mutually beneficial arrangement with the hardware vendor.
Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs)
Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) combine another company’s products to create a solution and then sell them under their brand. OEMs are suitable for companies that wish to expand their market. They help aid companies to identify markets for new applications for their technology.
Retailers are common in channel marketing and come in different forms.
They can be a single retail store a large national chain of stores. They earn profit through direct selling. They buy products from distributors or wholesalers and resell them to the end-user.
IT consultants can recommend the products or services of a technology company to another business. The idea is not to refer but rather establish a working relationship between the consultant, the referred business, and the technology company itself. The IT consultant plays the role of providing support going forward.
3 Key Through-Channel Marketing Benefits For Vendors and Channel Partners
Channel marketing requires a collaborative approach from all players in the channel. Conversion rates and sales will increase when each party plays its role effectively.
Here are three key benefits of channel marketing that vendors and partners can both leverage.
1) Enhanced customer influence
A target customer’s mindset and purchasing behavior has changed over time. The changes are due to digital transformation. Potential customers turn to technology-driven platforms like Amazon to choose what product to buy. Customer trust in such platforms to help them make hard decisions. They also trust the platforms’ reviews on products.
Due to the trust placed on these platforms, through-channel marketing may benefit by influencing demand on certain products and their prices. Vendors can opt for certain ‘trusted platforms” to sell their products.
2) Attract new customers and enter new markets
Through-channel marketing can help you tap into uncharted opportunities and attract new and potential channel partners. A significant number of buyers turn to the internet before purchasing a product.
Adopting through-channel marketing may help an organisation’s marketing department scale up and take advantage of these opportunities. Partner channels understand the needs of clients in a better way.
An appropriate channel partner can thus help position a vendor in the market more positively than the producer could themselves. Using their market knowledge, they can help a vendor realize unexploited opportunities.
3) Measurable impact and ROI
Firstly, through-channel marketing has a better understanding of the most pertinent details of your target market. Channel partners can help you in analyzing and elaborately tracking your marketing progress.
Through-channel marketing will help you compare your marketing campaign with a measurable ROI. You will determine whether your marketing campaign is worth the ROI and control the marketing progress.
What’s Included In a Through-Channel Marketing Campaign?
Through-channel marketing campaigns are varied and depend on many variables, including the nature of the distribution channel, whether a vendor sales representative can be available for co-presenting type activities, size of partner’s database, existing demand or opportunities and many other factors.
If Marketing Development Funds (MDF) have been approved to wholly fund or co-fund the campaign, the campaign budget will need to be clearly set and be seen to be cost effective.
Types of effective through-channel marketing campaigns
Effective collaborative through-channel campaign types can include:
- Go to market campaign for vendor-related product or service
- Content offer campaign
- Co-presented webinar campaign
- Email drip campaign
- Special offer campaign
- Trade show or event co-sponsorship
- Co-branded case study
Common marketing assets of a through-channel marketing campaign
Through-channel marketing campaigns can contain all sorts of marketing assets or content types and will vary based on campaign purpose and intent. While some content can be customisable, most will require dual branding of both the vendor and the partner.
Common through-channel marketing campaign assets can include:
- White papers
- Webinar slide deck
- Email / eDM templates
- Press release / media release template
- Blog post templates
- Social media post templates
- Digital ads
- Sales deck templates
6 Tips For Channel Partner Marketing Enablement
Through-channel marketing is a collaborative process. To ensure you achieve reasonable brand recognition and generate demand from end users, there is a need to empower and enable your channel partners with meaningful and relevant support.
1. Provide engaging and relevant partner marketing content
One critical way of boosting marketing is by providing partners with effective marketing content. Customers need sufficient information about the products they are buying. When customers are informed, the conversion rates will be higher, and loyalty to the brand will heighten. So how do you ensure they are well informed?
Providing your partners with relevant and meaningful content and templates to enable them to generate demand across a range of marketing channels and lead acquisition sources. They’ll customise it in a way that supports their own direct selling methods.
Some resources that your partners may benefit from across marketing channels include:
- Go to market content
- Service or solution website page templates
- White papers
- Customer success story templates
- Case studies
- Competitive analysis
Giving your partners content will create a standard. Partners will provide verified and proven content to clients. Therefore, provide templates with guidelines, messaging, and branding guides. Give them a schedule on how to use the materials. Combining these resources will help them add more value to your brands in the long run.
Consider optimizing the content for different types of partners.
Lastly, ensure you show the partners how to use the content to gain optimal results.
2. Provide the right marketing enablement for your ecosystem of partner types
Different partners have varied ways of doing marketing. The partners have different budgets, serve different sizes of markets, and are in different locations.
Due to this uniqueness, each partner’s way of generating leads is different. For example, distributors will differ from Value-Added Resellers in marketing their products.
To better enable them in their marketing programs, it will help customise the support, guidance, and resources you provide them with. When you offer them blanket support, you risk giving some ineffective content.
To effectively promote adoption of partner marketing support, understand the different needs for each type of partner while remembering that they will have similar marketing channels they deploy. For example, have options for marketing styles, budget plans, and different levels of experience in marketing. Some partners may need financial support, while others may need informational support like the content.
3. Enable frictionless access to customisable marketing resources
Once you have established a suite of marketing resources for your partners, avail them. It makes no sense to have useful resources that are inaccessible or underused. Establish a simple and clear channel software platform for your partners to take advantage of marketing resources.
Seamless accessibility of marketing tools and resources provides partners with the opportunity to exploit their potential fully. You may help the partners by setting up campaigns and grouping them to know where to access the resources and how to employ them.
To support implementation, consider deploying a through-channel marketing automation software platform.
Establish a mechanism to monitor and track the performance of the programs. This will help you know which program is effective and needs optimization.
When partners can easily access marketing material that they can deploy across more than one channel, they can take advantage of the resources and educate and market your products.
So how can we improve the accessibility of marketing resources? Practice the following:
- Think about the local audience and customise your content for each particular region.
- Provide fresh content. As the needs for the audience change, so should your content. Old content is likely going to sound out-of-date and boring.
- Ensure you provide relevant content. Enable your partners to personalise content for their audience with their own brand image and according to the various brand touch points important to them.
4. Enable your partners to get the most out of their marketing efforts
Efficient channel marketing strategies require collaborative efforts. When you empower your partners, they become motivated. As a result, they improve their marketing efforts. To enjoy maximum channel marketing benefits, provide your partners with great content and tools. Make them accessible.
Invest in empowering the partners with marketing skills to have a solid understanding of marketing basics. Regular training gives the partners confidence and knowledge to increase leads.
It will help if you offer certification to the partners for passing training programs. Certification is an opportunity for recognition and partners will feel valued in the marketing channel.
Invite partners for face-to-face training on aspects like:
- How to create leads and follow-up processes.
- How to build GDPR compliant target lists
- How to segment markets and target audiences to suit their environment, and
- How to develop buyer personas.
5. Enable your partners to better educate their customers
Providing channel partners with resources to educate clients will lay a solid foundation for why the clients need to consume your products. Educating leads about your products will lead to conversions and loyalty.
Empowering and enabling your partners to educate leads will also lead to customer satisfaction and bolster a positive association with your brand.
How do you empower your partners to educate leads?
Support partners to educate leads by giving them good and relevant content. Provide them with competitor analysis, statistics, and any other information about your products that gives them assurance about your products.
Enabling your partners may also entail giving them first-hand experience with your products. When partners use your products, they understand the context of the content they share with their leads. First-hand information means increased credibility and more leads.
6. Enable face-to-face interactions with partners
Establishing face-to-face interactions provides a collaborative environment to share ideas. Personal interactions with your partners make them feel valued. You also benefit by getting first-hand qualitative feedback to improve your relationship in the future.
Besides face-to-face interaction, regular virtual meetings shorten the communication channel. You get feedback instantly, and you can probe further where you don’t understand. This way, both you and the partners benefit.
Personal interaction is crucial for all the channel partnership enablers we’ve discussed to work best.
Channel Marketing vs. Distributed Marketing: Are They the Same?
Yes, channel marketing and distributed marketing are both terms for the same type of marketing.
Channel marketing is promoting and selling products and services through channel partners from producers to end-users. The partners make it possible for the products to reach leads the producers could not have reached by themselves.
Distributed marketing involves marketing and selling products through distributed branches or networks of partners, agents, distributors, dealers, and retailers.
Which means, both terms are referring to the same concept.
Channel Marketing vs. Partner Marketing: What’s The Difference?
The main difference between channel marketing and partner marketing are the amount of people and companies involved.
Channel marketing involves promoting a vendor’s products and services through distributors and many different types of channel partners. Channel marketing involves many people or organisations across a channel program or ecosystem.
Partnership marketing is a marketing program that involves two or more organisations collaborating to reach a larger target market. The two or few companies combining efforts have a similar audience with potential no or low competitive overlap, hence collaborating for mutual benefit.
Ready To Implement a Successful Channel Marketing Strategy?
Getting the right channel marketing strategy with the right partner base is crucial to your business. And if you feel like you’re at a loss of what to do, we’re here to help.
If you’re looking to implement an effective channel marketing strategy, our experts are ready to help with your channel marketing and channel partner engagement.