Building a More Effective Channel Marketing Strategy: The Roadmap

June 13, 2019

Building a More Effective Channel Marketing Strategy: The Roadmap

This is part of an ongoing series diving into the marketing shift happening for channel marketers of VARs (value-added resellers). Check out Part 1: Channel Marketers Are Missing a Big Opportunity: The New VAR Mindset.

Driven by internal demands to hit the bottom of the funnel fast, the wide landscape of vendor relationships and large, complex marketing stacks, channel marketers try to do a lot. The volume of needs and opportunities at both a brand and vendor level pushes channel marketers to design the majority of their campaigns to generate a long list of leads, any kind of leads, as quickly as possible.

This mindset leaves a lot of long-term ROI opportunities on the table. It’s time for channel marketers to shift away from the fast-and-furious lead gen machine and toward a long view that considers marketing activities holistically. While not easy, comprehensive campaigns that develop high-quality, deliberate leads create customers with excellent lifetime value — the kind of customers that will come back and tell their peers about how much they like you. In fact, 66% of marketers say that leads created in a nurtured, account-based marketing campaign are more likely to provide positive references and advocate for their companies.

But how do you get from the lead churn to the long view?

Let’s make that long-term vision a little more clear.

A strategic nurture campaign: All for one and one for all

Many channel marketers focus their marketing efforts on individual products or solutions. It’s the nature of the game: Vendors supply marketing dollars for their promotions, and channel marketers seize the opportunity. But the VAR brand, and the value the brand adds to the vendor, is lost. Product and solution marketing should be folded into a strategy that embraces the modern tech buyer’s journey. These strategically developed campaigns fit together to nurture your buyer along the path toward sales. You’re no longer thinking about leads, you’re really thinking about your customers and how they can benefit from the strategic alliance between you and your vendors in multitudinous ways.

The Awareness, Engagement, Conversion paradigm

The tech buyer landscape continues to expand significantly: 4 out of 5 employees at an enterprise in some way impact their organization's technology investments, and that figure continues to grow. Limited targeting of IT decision-makers won’t get the job done. Decisions are made by a tech buying committee that comprises other business units, particularly finance, business development, project management, marketing and more. Also bear in mind that Millennials are increasingly influential members of buying committees with 68% of older millennials and 54% of younger millennials making these tech decisions. These buyers grew up in a social, connected world and seek counsel and verifiable information from outside their organizations. All this means that as these decision makers, influencers and end users begin looking for tech solutions, the buying universe expands into their peers, expert professionals and outside research and review sources.

The other stark reality is that it’s difficult for new vendors to get on a tech buyer’s shortlist at all. Only about a quarter will shortlist a new vendor when making a tech buying decision, so to even hit that list you have to find a way to introduce your company to these buyers and present them with a compelling reason to engage. That means structuring your campaigns across the full modern buyer journey. It would be a critical mistake to overlook awareness and engagement and aim just for the final stage.

Step 1. Make your brand matter: You are not the third wheel

Start with why they need you. Figure out how to tell these buyers who you are, then layer that with the solutions and products you sell. Utilize your unique perspective and thought leadership content to emphasize the value of the partnership to your customer: 58% of B2B decision-makers say thought leadership led them to award business to a company. Any VAR, no matter the size or position in the marketplace, can achieve this level of branding through a dynamic shift in how they think about their marketing.

Reassess how you consider your own brand and its relationship to vendors. You offer real value in a crowded marketplace where customers need and expect the kind of guidance, expertise and customization your company can provide. Repackaging a partner’s marketing leaves your story untold, and customer can’t connect with a story they don’t hear. It can also leave you looking more like a third wheel than a guide.

Consider this: Are you the gate between the vendor and the customer or are you the customer’s partner in making IT decisions and outfitting them with the solutions they need? What does your marketing say?

Step 2. Target the right people by finding your biggest fans

Once you have evaluated your brand and what it can offer potential customers, turn to your current customers. Look at those with the highest lifetime value, the customers that have been with you longest, have made the largest or most purchases, and/or have recommended you to their peers. How do you replicate these customers? What makes them or their buying experience unique?

By creating this model, you can figure out who you want to target. This is an important step, because a guess is just that, but research can reveal your path forward. Maybe you have better luck with enterprise marketers than IT decision makers or maybe you notice most of your best customers don’t come from the C-suite, they come from the associate level.

On LinkedIn, channel marketers can confidently target audiences by title, account, seniority, vertical, skills and other areas of expertise. To go even deeper, capabilities like Lookalike Audiences, a selected group of active users who bear similar traits to your selected audiences, and Interest targeting, hitting users with your content in areas we already know they like, expands your ability to target more users with more relevant, personalized content.

Step 3. Get out of the churn and into the “always on”

The cadence of a nurture campaign is vastly different from a straight lead gen campaign. It involves multiple touchpoints spread across multiple channels and capabilities. On LinkedIn, we see 95% of channel marketers only utilizing Sponsored Content, and while that’s a good place to start, it’s not telling the whole story or staying with the buyer through his or her entire journey. Company updates, employee feed shares, influencer and employee posts are all touchpoints available to generate awareness and engagement.

Marrying your campaign goals to LinkedIn’s capabilities can produce deeper content that drives better results. Consider going further:

Spreading your message across a variety of content capabilities means your campaign is always on, but you’re not stuck in constant lead generation mode. The most successful campaigns take these messages outside a single platform and integrate them into a broad and fully integrated campaign across channels that can include nurture emails via a marketing automation platform, search and even remarketing.

That can be tricky, though. It’s a new feeling for a lot of marketers and may leave them itching for more tactile results.

Step 4. Expand how you measure and record success

LinkedIn can help measure business impact through an integrated marketing program lens, providing organizations with the data needed to determine optimal partner investment and marketing program execution.

Channel marketers need to look to their VAR and their partners to develop existing and implement new KPIs that indicate long-term success. Look at views/impressions, likes, comments, clicks, shares and track them to your website and the content you've promoted. LinkedIn can support detailed campaign reporting that demonstrates the economic value to OEMs.

Conversion can also take place through LinkedIn via Lead Gen Forms and Sponsored InMail, where marketers can capture contact information in a way that produces a conversion rate 3-5x better than on site, or start a 1:1 conversation. All of these tactics are made more powerful by exposing customers to content first. For example, Sponsored InMail is 128% more effective if users have seen Sponsored Content. Awareness, engagement and conversion all operating simultaneously hand-in-hand.

Step 5. Adjust expectations according to the new view

As this multi-layered campaign comes together, you’re not just looking at and reporting the immediate returns of each campaign or total social spend. Channel marketers need to shift the expectations of VARs and those of your partners to think longer-term. Start making your ad spend commitments match this perspective.

Rather than focusing on quarterly spend, start to think in terms of six months to a year timeframes so you have the opportunity to pivot and see success develop over a longer marketing cycle. This can be a difficult shift to convince partners on, but it is a necessary one to start to focus on quality over quantity. Our team can help you find the right data to make that case. Most channel marketers have a pre-determined quarterly spend budgeted for social packages across all social platforms, and they don’t optimize or reallocate that spend between channels mid-campaign. With LinkedIn, and using A/B testing or setting up campaigns with different content or messaging, marketers have more overall control and the ability to enhance their ROI.

Adding an extra layer of dynamism into your strategy, being aware of KPIs and adjusting campaign tools to seek greater success, means that brands can live up to their full potential and build marketing campaigns that actually meet customers in the future.

Want more about how the mindset for VARS is shifting? See part one: Channel Marketers Are Missing a Big Opportunity: The New VAR Mindset.