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Channel redefined: the change from push to pull channel marketing

Channel redefined: the change from push to pull channel marketing 

The second article covered how changes in customer demand are forcing partner “types” to evolve and step outside of their traditional business models, doing things that were once unthinkable. Systems integrators are reselling technologies while VARs are becoming cloud service providers.

As partner models begin to morph, so must their marketing disciplines. Traditional partner marketing programs follow a “push” approach where technology companies provide their partners with collaterals to sell their products. This approach includes direct mail, advertising, brochures and various “leave behinds.” Unfortunately, it’s not so simple anymore.

In this new era of partner marketing, three significant changes are occurring: content and thought leadership are now critical to connect with customers who are better informed and seeking outcomes and impacts to their business challenges; sales and marketing are engaging with customers to “listen” and “respond” to their challenges. This change in engagement creates a “pull” approach where customers are drawing partners in as trusted consultants; and products or offerings are being built “with” the customer to precisely address their challenges. These offerings are later spun off to sell to new customers within the same industry.

Content is king
As our tech customers have become savvier and better engaged than ever before, slick sales brochures and direct mail pieces are seen as one-sided “leave behinds” that everyone will, frankly, leave behind. Tech customers search social communities for thought leadership; examples of success and insights that will help them solve their business issues. Their sources include white papers, blogs, twitter chats, webinars, infographics and articles in trade journals, which appear more objective.

Customer success stories and testimonials are especially important as a way for customers to share their challenges and outcomes. The content has to be solutions focused, extending the traditional platform of speeds and feeds and arguments over who is bigger and faster. Customers are interested in who is better situated to devise a unique solution to their problem at hand. Ultimately, this content should establish credibility and thought leadership around the issues that matter the most to the customer.

New sales and marketing tango
The credibility and thought leadership derived from this content is best delivered by a combination of sales and marketing professionals. In the first article of this series, I discussed how marketing is now joining sales at the table.

Before this change, marketing served sales with materials and lead generation. Now marketing assists sales by joining and even leading discussions with customers about solutions. Marketing also plays the role of maintaining the thought leadership conversations over social media.

By having marketing at the table, you’ll also introduce a new way of engaging with the customer. The conversation should be open-ended and objective in how it addresses the customer’s problem.

Customers are more focused on overall outcome and impact of their buying decisions. In turn, marketing must lead the conversation about the customer’s business issues and how they will be solved. Marketing must play the role of an active listener during the sales process, instead of the traditional model of selling and talking at the customer.

The conversation is less about the actual technology, but more about the customer’s business needs. It’s solution selling, which has been around for a long time. However, now partner marketing leads it. This way of addressing the customer will require a change in sales training. I see the potential for sales and marketing to be trained together moving forward.

Developing new solutions with the partner and customer
By working with the partner and customer on a solution to their problem, you’ll discover that you’re building something new that can be offered to another customer in a similar market or with a similar problem. For example, if you’re working with an automobile manufacturer on an analytics project that examines driver needs and new designs, that same offering can be later introduced to another automobile manufacturer. This change represents the new “pull” in partner marketing, where customers are pulling the partner and technology provider into their problem and solution, instead of having a product “pushed” on them.

The new solution you’ll create together carries more credibility because it was built from the ground up with someone in the automotive industry. The solution addresses a real problem from executives in that industry and contains insights from their peers. While this approach is not a formal replacement to research and development, it does carry a significant amount of weight as a solution that has been developed, tested and implemented in a real world setting.

Better yet, once that solution is successfully deployed, there’s an opportunity to begin developing marketing content that promotes the customer’s success. Together, you begin to build out the social discussion that validates your company as a thought leader.

So the offering you develop with your partner and customer becomes a repeatable solution for sales opportunities. And your customer then helps in your new marketing approach that introduces you to other leads.

New partner marketing gaining speed
This new approach to partner marketing is rapidly gaining traction with partners and technology providers. I’ve heard from several sales organizations that it’s accounting for 30 percent of their business now, with the expectation that it will be 50 percent or more in two years.

I hear more and more from sales leaders that this is the direction that partner marketing has to go. It’s a pull. Not a push. And we’re all about to be pulled into a whole new world of how we sell outcomes and impacts and engage with our customers.

Michelle De Hertogh is vice president of business EMC development for alliances, development and marketing.

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