Guest post by Jay McBain

It doesn’t surprise Channel Professionals that things are changing faster than ever across the partner ecosystem. A perfect storm of new technologies, transforming business models, rapidly evolving competition, consumerization, and economic forces have fundamentally changed the traditional supplier/partner relationship.

Not only are things moving much faster, the relationships have become significantly more complex. Ten years ago, a solid e-mail, phone, advertising, and events strategy was all that was needed to communicate effectively to partners and customers. Today we have more than 30 marketing vehicles in play, and the level of noise and clutter is sometimes out of control.

 Subscribe to the B2B Digitized Newsletter 

Most of us were taught to measure ROI and then focus on the top 2 or 3 things that drive results. The problem is that these 2 or 3 things aren’t working the way they used to:

  • E-mail newsletters aren’t getting opened or clicked thru.

  • Beyond the usual suspects, webinar and tradeshow traffic is dropping.

  • Advertising, whether print or digital, is not having the same impact as years ago.

  • Portal traffic is at an all-time low – partners just aren’t coming in the same numbers.

While every situation differs, the following 14 Channel Marketing Mistakes are common throughout our industry. How many of these apply to your organization?

  1. Not utilizing new automation tools for e-mail and newsletters. The recent surge in marketing automation popularity has not yet worked its way into Channel communication. The ability to set automatic triggers based on a partner’s behavior results in a new level of insight. Scoring each individual partner based on their actions can improve future communication and content to be more relevant and focused. The win here is implementing a drip campaign across the channel, catering to each person based on where they are in the marketing/sales funnel.

  2. Too reliant on the partner portal for communication. Surveys completed in the past 6 months show that 95% of partners do not regularly use partner portals. In fact, unless they are forced to log in for deal registration or mandatory education to keep their status, many partners do not come at all. Channel marketing and communication have increasingly become a push versus a pull exercise.

  3. Not taking advantage of communities. The partner ecosystem is large and diverse, with dozens of different specialties, business models, and types. There are many sub-communities that have formed to serve these differences. These include associations, online forums, social media, media groups, vendor and distributor groups, and user and peer groups. Communities tend to be more focused and specialized and have people that support each other with common interests and challenges. What makes them powerful is the ability to influence through the implied endorsement of the larger membership. In many cases, participation is the only cost of entry.

  4. Too focused on the home run. Channel marketing has become a game of singles. The “dandelion” approach to marketing relies on distributing multiple seeds across as many flowers as possible. We are in the attention economy now, and not taking advantage of the different marketing vehicles across the different community platforms is suppressing your impact. Spend less time thinking up the “next big campaign” and more time executing in more places.

  5. Expecting too much from social. Social media is no longer the “new” platform and has proven not to be the utopia that was once promised. That being said, social is very important and is a core platform for communicating with the Channel. It is a place to amplify content, handle real-time conversations, and extend branding and promotion. Running an optimal mix of 5 to 6 social platforms as part of the 30 overall vehicles is key. Social media will provide a number of singles for your brand – never aim for the fences or you will strike out.

  6. Not having or sticking to an editorial calendar. Having a pre-published editorial calendar is not just for the media. Organizing the avalanche of information your brand needs to communicate over the next 12 months can be daunting. This task becomes much easier when you roll it up into monthly themes. Depending on the size of your organization, this can be weekly or quarterly as well – timing is less important than a solid plan. All of the 30+ marketing vehicles roll out of the theme each cycle. For example, the press release can be the basis for the blog, which turns into a webinar. These three assets provide the content for social posts for the time period and customize events, videos, and incentives.

  7. Producing too much boring or sales-related content. Content marketing is becoming one of the most important tools for recruiting and nurturing your Channel. Finding your brand voice and sharing your domain knowledge with your partners on a consistent basis will build trust and keep them plugged in. When combined with #6 above, a solid piece of content will amplify itself across numerous channels and give multiple ways to repurpose throughout the time period.

  8. Under-utilizing the media. Some vendors look at the media as a source of advertising and not much else. Over the past number of years, industry media has been forced to expand their offerings and deliver more value to their readers and sponsors. Getting access to their community of readers through co-marketing, sharing your updates and content, webinars, events, and newsletters can effectively reach your established and prospective audience. It can also be surprisingly cost-effective with the right level of negotiation, time commitment, and bundling.

  9. Thinking direct mail is too expensive. Most companies have abandoned direct mail over the past few years as marketing vehicles have exploded. Depending on the size of your Channel, sending physical mail to partners can be a cost-effective way to connect. Remember that Channel professionals' average age has grown every year since the 1980s, and this demographic tends to prefer face-to-face, mail, and phone calls to electronic communication. Sending out unique sales kits for only a few dollars per partner (or prospect) may cost less than attending a tradeshow. Plus, you can achieve a high open rate, and your competitors are likely not doing it.

  10. Segmenting partners into revenue tiers only. You have likely learned in your Channel career that segmentation is key to running a good program. While that is still true, many segmentation models are very limited and don’t categorize important attributes of strong partners. Newer ways of optimizing partner programs include a share of wallet, product specialties, job roles, and other behavioral persona type information. Being able to target individual employees in each partner company based on their interests, behaviors, and requirements to support your brand should be the goal of every Channel marketer.

  11. Expending too much effort on partner recruitment. A balanced approach to Channel management includes focusing equally on partner acquisition, nurturing, and growth. The messaging and tactics are very different for these three stages, and a non-personalized newsletter and portal experience isn’t optimal.

  12. Underperforming tradeshows. This is an area where a lot of opportunity (and money) is wasted by vendors and distributors.  Some of the common errors include (a) paying for platinum status without getting much more than a logo on a page in return, (b) paying for a breakfast/lunch/party and getting small signage that no one notices, (c) thinking that booth hours are where the real action happens – the real action usually happens in the hallways and the hotel lobby bar late at night, (d) not having a plan covering pre-show, show-within-the-show and post-show tactics, (e) spending too much money on trinkets and giveaways, and (f) not having a visible leader in your business that can seek out the media and develop strategic partnerships.

  13. Renewing tactics year to year without justification. Channel marketing managers are famous for the “master spreadsheet” outlining all of the approved tactics for the quarter or year. In most cases, 80% of the budget is already spent on renewing previously run activities. Back to the dandelion approach in #4, one of the questions to ask on each line item is “What if I spent 50% of the cost? Would I still get 90% of the benefit?” This is true for most event planning, advertising, and co-marketing activities. Opening up some room in the budget will allow for testing new tactics, platforms, communities, and initiatives.

  14. Not taking advantage of mobile. In the past couple of years, some dramatic changes have happened in the Channel. Over 90% of partners now carry a smartphone and/or tablet. 61% of these partners report that they prefer to use the mobile device as a primary source of information, engagement, and tool for business. With over half of all internet traffic now coming from mobile devices, many Channel vendors and distributors do not have a viable platform to leverage and grab a competitive advantage.

Executing a Channel program is not an easy job. The requirements and preferences of partners are always changing - not to mention the needs of your own company. New technologies and offerings are constantly being introduced that promise to make the job easier (but rarely deliver).

The challenge of trying new things usually comes down to resourcing. The Channel teams are usually small, and all of the members are overloaded. Adopting automation, editorial calendars, and being able to repurpose content effectively will reduce the time requirements of the team.

Focusing on growing visibility through new outlets, platforms, and communities will benefit recruiting, nurturing, and enablement – and perhaps energize the core Channel ecosystem to drive better results.

Are you making any of these Channel marketing mistakes in your organization? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.


Jay McBain is the Co-Founder and CMO of ChannelEyes – a Channel Mobile App Platform. The core product, ChannelCandy, is a custom-branded and secure mobile app designed for Vendors, Distributors, and Associations to deliver Channel highlights, company news, and sales tools to partners. It is reinventing Channel communication for leading companies in our industry.

Subscribe to the B2B Digitized Newsletter 

Submit a comment