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Why effective through-channel marketing is key to vendor success

28 November 2017 | Phil Brown

Through-channel marketing has become an increasingly vital part of many vendors’ go-to-market strategies. In this article we look at the factors driving this trend, and why a more collaborative approach to demand generation is essential in today’s technology market.

Channel marketing in the technology sector

Channel marketing is an important discipline for any technology vendor or service provider that relies on indirect routes-to-market. Yet many companies have been in a constant game of catch-up in recent years as they respond to simultaneous change from multiple directions:

  • Technology itself has evolved rapidly with the shift to the cloud, and the growing importance of areas such as IoT and analytics, which means that vendors face a constant battle to show how they remain relevant – to both their customers and their partners.
  • At the same time the channel is undergoing a dramatic transformation as firms transition to new business models and build new propositions in response to changing customer demands.
  • All the while, marketing techniques are evolving rapidly, with a greater emphasis on digital and content marketing as the way to engage hard-to-reach decision-makers.

In this changing landscape, the vendor-channel relationship has evolved from linear and one-way to something more complex and multi-dimensional. The days when vendors stimulated demand and resellers fulfilled it are long gone – a more collaborative approach is essential. Effective through-channel marketing has become increasingly critical to vendor success, and ‘effective’ means doing more that just providing some email copy and a call script.

Partners’ influence on the rise

There are many factors driving this trend. A key one is that in many areas, the influence of channel partners on the customer buying journey has grown.

As the complexity of enterprise IT increases, customers no longer want to buy discrete technology products and have all the hassle of working out how to deploy, integrate and manage them. They want integrated solutions, and they often want those solutions delivered as a fully managed service.

As a result, the individual technologies underpinning the solution become less of a focus for customers. What they care about is the outcomes it delivers and the service levels that surround it – which vendor’s products are used is a secondary consideration. As a result, solutions and service focused channel partners have greater influence over technology purchasing decisions. Unless vendors are effectively engaging those partners then they risk being shut out of potential opportunities.

Sector and client knowledge essential

Another consequence of changing buyer behaviour is that to capture the interest of potential customers, you need to be able explain how technology solutions can be applied to address their key business challenges, which means focusing on relevant sector or client specific issues.

Customers are increasingly resistant to generic, product-led messaging and channel partners, particularly those that specialise in certain sectors or business functions. It is important to bring the customer and market knowledge that can translate generic vendor campaigns into something more relevant and compelling.

Smarter go-to-market approaches required

Another factor driving the greater emphasis on through-channel marketing is that the whole business of marketing has grown more complex, and more technology-dependent. In today’s world, where senior decision-makers are generally impossible to reach through cold-calling, and filtering out unsolicited emails, generating demand requires a more sophisticated approach than the traditional telephone blitz or email blast.

Successful marketing today relies on integrated inbound and outbound tactics, insightful content, and effective use of marketing automation technology. Effective campaigns use multiple tactics to engage customers throughout their buying journey. A survey of 1,217 B2B companies conducted by MarketingProfs found that best-in-class marketing organizations used 15+ tactics, while the least effective programmes used 10 or less tactics.

Partner gaps create vendor opportunities

This creates a problem for many channel partners, who lack the resources, the platforms and the expertise needed to build effective integrated campaigns utilising the full array of modern marketing techniques. That in turn creates an opportunity for vendors, who typically have greater in-house resources, bigger budgets, and the economies of scale that justify investment in marketing assets and platforms. By applying their resources to build effective, through-channel programmes, vendors can increase channel engagement and more effectively leverage their partners’ expertise and relationships.

Competitive benchmarks ever higher

Best-in-class vendors are already investing heavily in building comprehensive through-channel programmes. Competitive benchmarks are being raised all the time. What was regarded as market-leading 5 years ago is now seen as minimum required. You need only look at the growth of channel marketing automation providers, such as Zift and TIE Kinetix, for an indication of how this space is developing.

Given that many vendors operate in highly competitive markets, where they struggle to achieve genuine product differentiation, the level of through-channel marketing support offered to partners can be a critical factor in winning channel mindshare and loyalty.

The future of through channel marketing

There’s little doubt that through-channel marketing is becoming increasingly important for vendors, but it’s also an immature area, and many businesses are still struggling to work out the right approach. To help we’ve developed a handy guide, ‘Driving growth through the channel: the secrets to successful through-channel marketing’. You can download a copy here.

Or if you’d like to talk to us about how we can help you build a successful through-channel marketing programme please don’t hesitate to contact us at