As technology service offerings grow, channel partners’ opportunity to step in, cultivate custom solutions, and offer managed services has skyrocketed. In tandem, revenue from indirect channels has soared. While stats vary, a Forrester study commissioned by Mediafly reports that almost half (49%) of a company’s overall revenue comes from the channel. Or as Principal Analyst Jay McBain said early this year, “With over 75% of world trade flowing indirectly, we are about to see an influx of investment in and attention on indirect sales by firms in all industries.”
In other words, it’s not a huge surprise that vendors are committing more time and resources to their channel programs. And for mature programs in the enterprise, this focus raises an overall marketing challenge:
How do Global Marketing departments support the channel?
And how do small (often siloed) channel teams get the support they need?
When both the corporate (aka global) marketing organization and the in-the-trenches channel teams focus on the big picture—the indirect sales revenue—and when they have a “creative partner” to support them both, the need for “us–them” thinking falls away. Let’s face it: Organizations need to be aligned; there’s no room for fiefdoms in channel marketing. And yet because some tension may exist, it’s helpful to understand the different perspectives.
Global marketing: What have you done for me lately?
We see and empathize with global marketers’ challenges. These folks are often pulled in various directions simultaneously: corporate branding, new product messaging, content creation and localization of assets and campaigns, internal communications, public relations, social media, eCommerce, and much more—often deadline- and C-suite-driven. With these pressures, it’s easy to see why adding the channel (with all of its idiosyncrasies, complex relationships, and marketing strategies) into the mix could feel daunting and sometimes even be postponed. What’s more, it’s quite possible that the larger trend toward indirect sales hasn’t been fully embraced by the organization, made a priority with top-down strategic initiatives, or scoped out to the level needed for execution. And their individual performance isn’t tied to that, either. All this can translate to unresponsiveness when really, the organization itself is a big ship to turn. The global marketers too may feel like they have to do all this alone—when sometimes it’s above their pay grade.
Busy global marketers can be on the receiving end of some high expectations from their internal clients in the
channel. This isn’t easy if they are feeling the continuous weight of “What have you done for me lately?” from all internal clients. There is always too much work to do already. It’s usually not a question of whether they want to do it all; it’s just not possible.
If you’re a global marketer and some of this sounds familiar, what are your options? If you have or can create a culture that embraces the idea that marketing people need creative downtime and outside perspectives to innovate and achieve more, you do have options for relief. You can bring in a channel-committed agency partner that you see as an extension of your team (instead of as competition), thereby multiplying your productivity. Sometimes it’s a matter of having a transparent conversation with someone who empathizes with the predicament you’re in. It’s definitely a shift in the mindset and letting go of some of the assumptions around what it means to engage an agency directly. If your channel marketing counterparts already have agency relationships, you can always start building on those directly.
Channel marketing: Why are you making us look bad?
Channel marketers may understand all the challenges of their global marketing counterparts, but that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier when they have little to no resources of their own and are being held accountable for some high indirect revenue growth targets. They want speed to market when a new product or service launches, sales enablement assets tailored and co-branded for partners, to-partner marketing materials, and end-user-facing assets translated for partner use. They need whole campaigns and one-off assets. They need to populate their PRMs to keep partners engaged. They need to respond to all channel partner requests, move joint initiatives forward, and improve their presence—whether related to eCommerce, sales training and contests, catalogs, or brand landing pages, just to name a few. And because they don’t have a team or they have a small team that also wears many hats, relying solely on the Global Marketing department can make them anxious, impatient, and even frustrated.
To be productive, entrepreneurial-minded channel marketers will engage a channel-committed agency (or a few of them) to get their specific needs met. In some company cultures, this gets translated by Global Marketing as “You’re going behind our backs” and they wonder, “Why are you making us look bad?” If not addressed, this perspective can lead to
more of a rift between channel and global folks. In worst-case scenarios, an adversarial environment gets created.
If you’re a channel marketer and some of this rings true, what can you do? While it depends largely on your company culture, it helps to make the introductions between your global folks and your agency. And at a minimum to try to have the conversations that bring to light the challenges you are all facing. When you explain the why behind your agency’s existence and acknowledge the reality, it may help everyone feel a bit more comfortable in their roles.
Global marketing in a channel world
While global has a firm grasp on positioning in the direct world, sometimes when assets are re-engineered to be “partner-facing” they miss the mark. This is true because the level of complexity inherent with a partner audience doesn’t exist in the end-user marketing world. For global marketers, education might help but who on the channel team has time to do it? And is it even reasonable to expect that the learning might be embraced? It depends on the level of overall commitment to channel and whether those cultural barriers mentioned before exist or not.
Ultimately, even in best-case scenarios where alignment is encouraged and global and channel are on the same page with the overall growth goals, execution and being nimble are big challenges for everyone. Channel organizations are more likely to seek help elsewhere when budget allows. But the same is often not true for their global counterparts. Judgment exists all around. Both can benefit from accepting support as a common and smart practice, rather than something negative or shameful.
Who can bridge these gaps?
From a global marketing perspective, serving channel brings a new area of focus to a team that’s already stretched thin. For channel, it’s about getting the best assets to help their partners sell—now! When time is a factor on both sides, many channel marketers feel their only option is to rely on niche (channel-committed) agencies to help adapt assets from global or use their source materials to quickly create new assets that align with their audience.
For indirect sales, collaboration is at its best when both global and channel marketing teams fully understand the vendor–partner relationship. This includes the specific needs of partners (as differentiated from end users) such as sales enablement and co-branded assets.
In this capacity, a creative partner can bridge gaps without muddying the waters. When global teams lean on a channel-committed agency to help create and augment assets upfront, it saves time for their channel marketing folks. It also drives learning-in-action within the global team about channel-specific needs. Finally, they get to be the heroes to their internal clients! (We’re totally fine to take a backseat and have our global marketing clients serve as “Account Managers.”)
Wait, what did you say?
We’re not saying channel marketers should stop working with agencies like
us directly and leave that relationship to global to figure out. We’re saying both global and channel can benefit from working collaboratively with a channel-committed agency and doing so helps create a synergy between the two that doesn’t exist when they remain siloed.
Our core belief is “Nothing is created alone,” which means we believe collaboration is a necessity—across
organizations and beyond. Whether you’re in Camp Global or part of the Channel Crew, we’re champions of strategically and tactically removing barriers to revenue generation through the channel so that everyone wins.