Channel Marketing has been grappling many challenges within the last few years. As a member of Business Marketing Association Minnesota, I moderated a panel discussion this week with four marketing executives from well-known corporations. My job was to facilitate a conversation about this evolution in channel marketing. The panel discussed their channel challenges and the steps they have taken to overcome them.
Here are the highlights:
When it comes to the channel, I haven’t seen a whole lot that’s really new. For example, most people when asked how they do their channel marketing will say they do trade shows, golf events, and dinners with their partners. When asked about lead generation, they have the same answer. In my experience, channel partners don’t have the resources or the skill sets to do successful demand generation. Because of this, vendors will push out campaigns, webinars and direct mail “in a box”. One way I believe you can achieve success in channel marketing is for vendors to stop pushing these campaigns out to their partners. Instead, they should pull the partners in by generating leads and supporting the sales process.
Knowing your segments, accounts and the value of your service will bring further success to the channel.
How do you get this information?
Data. It’s really all about the data and the tools to analyze that data. Our partner sweet spot analysis is an example of making data talk. It has opened our channel partners’ eyes to trends in their own business they weren’t always aware of. This allows them to re-focus their sales and marketing strategy which is favorable to both of us.
Heather Anfang – VP Marketing, US Dairy Foods, Land O’Lakes
I’ve found that, in our traditional B2B2C model, data is plentiful and easily sourced. In our B2B space, selling to big distributors like Sysco, data can be very sparse. The issue is that once you sell the product to the distributor, you lose visibility of the product and the data around it. You know if volume is up or down, but you don’t know who bought, how much they bought and any trends around buying behavior. The distributor not only has the data, but is selling competing products; this creates a somewhat adversarial relationships with the distributor community. At Land O’Lakes, our use of data and insights is changing our value to the distributor from transactional to relational.
So, how are we doing this?
Instead of looking at individual items in the category, it’s vital to look holistically at the entire category. Determining what is best for the entire category will optimize distributor needs as well as your products. This is well developed for the retail industry but is relatively new to the food service industry. Distributors are looking more holistically at the category and are gaining the ability to send data back to the manufacturer. This goes both ways. Land O’Lakes also pulls together data and insights to write recommendations that maximize the category for the distributors. It’s a win-win for everyone. It’s helped Land O’Lakes take our relationship up from transactional, and sometimes adversarial, to a strategic discussion about how we win for the total category. We can then be a valuable extension of supply chain to the end operator.
Barbra Merwin – Senior VP Strategic Product Development & Marketing, AmTrust Consumer Services
At AmTrust, we provide protection products and services. Historically, we’ve sold these services to a B2B2C model to large credit card issuers who then offer them to their customers. That had been our business model for about 20 years.
Around 2010, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was formed to protect consumer from deceptive marketing practices, especially focused on banks and credit card institutions. These disruptive regulations forced our business model to shift to a more sustainable model that would provide better value to the customers for the future. We shifted our focus on education over the lifecycle of the product. We’ve also created the first one-step identity theft product that makes it easy for the customer to take advantage of the value offered.
John Peters – Director of Marketing, NuAire
At NuAire, we have all of these different channels and we have to figure out how to market to each of them. We have end users which are lab technicians, lab managers and scientists. This channel is the easiest because they are buying products specific to their lab needs. However, we also have services that we sell to distributors and third party individuals. This channel is more intricate.
So how do we manage our varying channels? I’ve found that it is so important to have a good CRM system and process in place. NuAire has historically been comprised of independent islands and our CRM is the bridge that is connecting the islands. We’re getting into automation as well but have run into a roadblock with our current automation platform. We currently don’t have the ability to share prospect behavior, like a whitepaper download, with our sales team.
The challenge once you get into marketing automation is you find out fast that you need to get into content automation. Then you need to start developing profiles and personas about these individuals who are engaging with you. This creates an even greater need for more content – white papers, articles and collateral mapped to the buying cycle. We try to help the sales rep out in the field with the right collateral. Automation ensures we are staying top of mind with our 60+ prospects when the sales team can’t be interacting with them directly.
Beyond our prospects, we experience challenges sharing content with our channel partners. When you have many places where your content is stored, it gets really messy and partners sometimes shy away from using your resources. In spite of all these challenges, we have found a lot of success with a digital asset marketing system for our partners.
Our end goal is great communication and accessibility for our partners.
I am excited to have been part of this event. We had a great turnout and learned some real life channel marketing lessons from a wide variety of industries. As the evolution continues, we will see organizations evolve to overcome new waves of marketing challenges.
Want more takeaways from this event? Head over to BMA’s blog where Mark Capaldini, President at Opportunity Into Revenue, details some valuable comments from the panelists.
For more information about the state of Channel Marketing in 2015, check out this excellent article from the Channel Marketer Report.
In 2015, Omnichannel and Big Data Bring Channel Marketing to the Next Level.