I spend a lot of time at the interface between vendors and their channel partners. It’s a curious place to be, particularly where the reseller has been selling well.
The top performing channel partners are typically earning healthy co-marketing funds and the vendor is often keen to top up the pot with some discretionary funding. On the face of it, it seems like a win for everyone, but the conversation is often strained…
What the vendor says: “nobody knows how to differentiate our propositions better than we do, so spend your budget running the campaigns that we’ve created”. What the partner says: “it’s not my job to run campaigns that highlight your differentiators – it’s my job to differentiate my company against my main competitors, and I’m not going to do that by running the same campaigns that you are pushing out to all your channel partners.”
My role in this particular stand-off is to try to create a genuine win-win and that usually needs a bit of mutual understanding to help us evolve our thinking about co-marketing. We need to remember that the most effective channel partners – the ones that sell well – tend to be the best performing marketers too. This comes as no great surprise as we all know that successful selling starts with effective marketing. But even though the connection is widely acknowledged, it is often overlooked in the drive to create channel marketing programmes.
The key point is that while vendor-initiated pre-packed channel marketing programmes are effective for the bulk of the mid-ranking partners, they rarely work for the high-performing partners who need more sophisticated interventions tailored to their individual needs.
Typically these high performing partners have a carefully conceived and well executed marketing plan. So if vendor dollars are to add real value then the marketing activity that they fund needs to form an integral part of their partners existing programme rather than simply being a tactical bolt-on. This requires a change in the nature of the activity for which the vendor provides funding. A change from hi-intensity campaigns that demand ROI within the same quarter – these don’t work for the high performing partners.
Instead the vendor funding needs to be spent on more sustainable marketing programmes where the ROI is higher, but is earned over a longer time frame – campaigns that support and differentiate the partner’s position in their chosen markets.
To make this workable, then partner behaviours need to evolve too. The partner is expecting the vendors to change their standard approach to funding. In every instance where I have seen marketing co-operation working best, the partner has come to treat the vendor as a significant stakeholder in the development of the marketing programme. This means securing buy-in up front. Then holding regular performance reviews to monitor, manage and modify the programme to ensure that it continues to deliver on its objectives. Genuine partnership committed to a common goal.
Marketing excellence requires a fairly predictable combination of proposition, integration, rigorous planning, relentless execution and insightful evaluation. In vendor marketing departments, teams with this spread of skills and abilities are commonplace. But in the channel, where marketing teams are much smaller, it takes a particularly gifted individual marketer to deliver marketing excellence. Those vendors wise enough to invest in their success will achieve substantial returns.