The Debate Around Channel Marketing and Channel Sales

In a perfect, inbound world where demand is auto generated and leads are lining up at your virtual door, marketing and sales are 100% aligned. However, with a historic “love-hate” relationship between the two, achieving this utopia is no small feat for any sized partner organization especially those working with 5 – 25 Vendors at any given time.

Channel marketing and channel Sales Heather k. Margolis


At ChannelCon 2017, I had the pleasure of speaking alongside Larry Walsh, CEO of The 2112 Group on why integrating sales and marketing for inbound demand generation is critical for driving more revenue through The Channel:

The Channel Sales and Marketing Reality at your Partner:

Many Partners still believe marketing is a “nice-to-have,” not a necessity. That is why you’ll find many “marketing directors” are also the receptionist, inside sales person, or the owner’s husband/wife. While this point of view is understandable and appears to be efficient, it’s not ideal and is very “old school.”

Why all the Channel Sales and Marketing tension?

It used to be that marketing did a bunch of “stuff” to get contacts and leads into the funnel, maybe nurtured them a little bit, and then handed them over to sales who would swoop in (with their cape and super hero tights) and save the day i.e. close the sale. I once had a boss, a reluctant channel marketer and former sales guy, tell me that we (marketers) were all overhead. As Larry put it, “If it’s a good quarter it’s because sales worked extra hard. If it’s a bad quarter it’s because marketing didn’t produce enough leads or help move them down the funnel.”

Let’s get real:

Before we get into a blame game, quick reminder - we’re all on the same team and at the end of the day we have the same goals; drive demand and leads, and close deals. Bottom line, when done right, sales and marketing are truly integrated, it’s a volley back and forth between the two teams; in the end, making them one. Here are some thoughts on how you can help your Partners be more successful with integrating sales and marketing:

  1. The stats aren’t helping: The 2112 Group analyzes The Channel and numbers don’t lie. Most Channel Partners are going for boom-or-bust without a plan. According to Larry Walsh, The 2112 Group’s Chief Analyst:
  • 70% of Partners have none or insufficient business plans
  • 60% of Partners have none or incomplete sales plans or goals
  • 75% of Partners have none or incomplete marketing plans

Where do we go from here? It’s important to acknowledge these numbers are scary and figure out what you can do to educate your Partners as to why they should spending time/resources on sales and marketing…the right way.

  1. Who is responsible for what?? We all are! When we’re working with Partners to drive demand it’s truly a volley between both teams; marketing helps manage social content for sales to send out and uses the sales team’s connections on social as a leads list. Marketing sends drip campaign and sales reaches out to those who clicked or downloaded content. Marketing puts them into a nurture campaign, sales sends on-off emails (that marketing probably wrote) with valuable content (that marketing created) with links in them to blogs (that marketing wrote), and sales sets up a meeting to present a deck (that marketing helped create). See what we did there…kind of like a tennis match.
  2. Nothing happens overnight: The ticking clock motivates salespeople. At any given moment they can tell you where they are for quota this month, quarter, and year. Tick-tock. Patience is not their friend. That said it’s critical to understand that integrated inbound sales and marketing strategy takes upwards of 18-months before it bears any fruit.

As Larry put it, “large swaths of The Channel are very opportunistic and immature” which poses a challenge for Vendors who want to make a difference for Channel Partners but don’t quite know where to start.

How Vendors can help:

  1. Know your Partners’ businesses: When you run a small company and have a lean team, everyone is stretched thin, working hard, and wearing many hats. There isn’t any “not in my job description.” When a Vendor says, “you need to get better at marketing,” the reaction is, “I can’t add one more thing to my plate right now.” Even if they have the money to hire a dedicated marketing person, savvy Partners know there will be onboarding, meetings, plan approvals and more that will come along with them.
  1. Segmentation: Typically Partners are segmented by revenue attainment. Those who sell the most get the most demand generation support. It sounds about right, but it’s not. Some Partners who attain lofty revenue goals don’t need or want marketing support so the efforts are wasted on them. Other lower producing Partners are hungry, understand demand generation, and want as much help as they can get and if they had more of it, their revenue contribution would skyrocket. Re-segmenting by Partner’s needs solves this challenge.

Educate. Engage. Enable:

Marketing automation and tools are great but to run a successful lead generation email campaign, you can’t just login to a portal, upload a list and wait for the waterfall of opportunity to wash in. There are awareness building activities, lead nurturing and qualifying; SEO considerations, personas to build, user experience, and content creation needed to warm up prospects - first.

Step 1: Educate – Help Partners become better at marketing in snackable increments. Use Partner Roadmaps; educational videos customized for your Partners, start a Partner-facing blog with actionable advice and use newsletters to strategically put educational information in front of the right roles within Partner organizations.

Step 2: Engage – Vendors need to treat Partners in the same manner that they want Partners to treat customers. If you want them engaged on social media, engage with Partners there. If you want them to produce relevant thought leadership content that drives good SEO, show them how by example.

Step 3: Enable – Some Partners are all set with marketing. Others benefit greatly from a marketing consultant who shows them the ropes and helps them improve. Vendors that want to stay top-of-mind with Partners are providing dedicated, customized marketing help that generates gratitude and alignment from their Partners.

It’s the sales leaders in both Vendor and Partner organizations who realize marketing is a strategic asset vs. a service bureau that is raising the bar on inbound tactics in The Channel. For more information or to have a lively debate please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Enjoy more Partner demand generation information and insights from Larry Walsh and Heather K. Margolis:

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