Marketing Planning 2020: 5 Questions Channel Marketers Should Be Asking Their Partners

June 20, 2019

Tech Channel Marketing

This post 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 Have Been Getting It Wrong: The New VAR Mindset and Part 2: Building a More Effective Channel Marketing Strategy: The Roadmap.

Spring has sprung, catapulting the 2020 marketing planning season into high gear for VARs (value-added resellers) and their channel marketers. Which means now is the perfect time to recalibrate your lead-gen mindset, shifting to a full-funnel demand generation approach that focuses on quality over quantity and value over volume.

To achieve the results both channel marketers and OEM partners want requires first taking a step back: You need to dig deep to understand your partner’s needs and expectations, as well as invest time and energy in educating your partner on the critical importance of a strategic, synchronized marketing program.

Jump-start your move from reactive to proactive with these five questions all VARs should be asking their partners during the planning process:

1. Which marketing KPIs are the most important to you and why?

To build and implement an effective roadmap, it’s crucial to have a clear vision of how your partner defines success. KPIs run the gamut from both a marketing and sales purview, but for most channel marketers, the laser focus on lead gen means stalwarts typically include lead quantity, cost per lead and sales revenue. It’s easy to focus on these quantifiable metrics that drive sales value. The harder challenge involves zeroing in on the metrics that are most meaningful and best aligned with your partner’s strategic marketing objectives — short-term, intermediate and long-term.

The reality is that generating the best quality leads requires abandoning the current lead churn mindset in favor of focusing on marketing programs and campaigns that support the entire buyer journey. That means programs that encompass awareness, engagement and nurturing, specifically targeting the full range of individuals that make up the IT buying committee, who may be at different points in their buying process and need different things. This also demands educating partners on broadening program success metrics to understand the value of holistically including views/impressions, likes, comments, clicks and shares tracked to your website and including more varied content like thought leadership white papers, blog posts, videos and other sponsored or promoted content.

The more clearly you understand which KPIs matter at each phase of the buying journey, and even more importantly, why, the better prepared you are to design effective “always on” programs that take a multifaceted approach — and to help your partners understand these programs ultimately drive better sales results.

At LinkedIn we’ve focused our product development to enable channel marketers to be able to measure those all-important KPIs, helping you to track and report on end-user audiences from initial touch through nurture engagements that drive final sales. Thanks to this comprehensive campaign reporting, you gain invaluable visibility into program performance and return on marketing spend, enabling you to determine optimal investment and campaign execution while enlightening your partners on more in-depth audience insights.

2. How are you nurturing the full buyer experience?

Evolving your programs to this new mindset goes hand in hand with a holistic yet nuanced view that encompasses the entire buyer journey. Are your partners on board and already taking this approach themselves or do they need further education? By gaining a deeper understanding of how a partner is — or is not — addressing all facets of this journey, channel marketers can act accordingly.

The awareness phase typically includes helpful non-promotional content that generates engagement, demonstrates thought leadership and builds awareness. The consideration phase features high-value content that helps educate buyers during the decision-making process. In the acquisition/conversion phase, specific information about the brand, product and service is necessary to help evaluate and affirm the customer’s selection. Tech buyers in particular reiterate year after year that they will not respond to a “one and done” approach when they’re considering business investments — with the average technology purchase process taking just over 2 years, how are your partner programs supporting buyers all along the way? And how are you supporting efforts to nurture existing customers to become loyal ones, as it can be 5-25 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one.

Given this appetite for quality engagement, educate your partner about the value of generating new content and leveraging existing content with the power to nurture buyers and meet the unique objectives of each phase. Keep in mind tech buyers prefer to engage with case studies, infographics and insights rather than press releases and newsletters. According to our research, 9 in 10 buyers are looking outside their technology buying committee for information and counsel on B2B solutions — with reviews, surveys and usage stats from fellow technology users making up 51% of these trusted educational sources consulted throughout the buying cycle. They prefer their content interactive, simple, accurate and unbiased.

As part of this discussion, channel partners should also clarify expectations regarding how much content the VAR is responsible for creating, how much the partner will provide to be tailored for reuse on various marketing platforms and how to define your joint brand — and differentiate it in the crowded marketplace.  It is also important to ensure partner buy-in regarding access to their subject matter experts, whether for content development or sales support.

3. How willing are you to make a 6- to 12-month commitment to outbound marketing programs?

Shifting a marketing mindset to value over volume and quality over quantity requires a willingness to take the long view. Too often, partners and VARs concentrate on immediate goals such as “How many leads can I drive?” at the expense of intermediate or longer-range goals including, “Who do I need to influence? What are my most effective messages? How do my goals fit together in a cohesive strategy to ultimately drive better quality leads?”

By encouraging partners to commit to multi-month outbound marketing programs, channel marketers lay the groundwork for strategically-driven spend on thoughtfully developed synchronized marketing programs that perform better long-term. Integrated partner programs also allow you more flexibility and space to nurture buyers via more nuanced and interwoven marketing tactics — and those drive better ROI overall. On LinkedIn, for example, we see that when marketers combine lead gen focused Sponsored InMail with nurture-based Sponsored Content, those InMails perform 128% more effectively.

4. Which key audiences do you find most challenging to reach?

Whatever channels and platforms you use, getting your message to the right people — and building relationships with them — is foundational to marketing program success. But without adapting to tech buyer’s expectations for always on support, your programs may not be reaching and engaging all the individuals who contribute to, shape and make decisions for new technology investments. And today that goes well beyond traditional IT roles to finance, operations, business development, accounting, purchasing and more.

Our research shows that from end-users to decision-makers, 4 out of 5 employees now impact business technology investments. Additionally, more than half of tomorrow’s technology purchasing committees will be younger than 36, and 34% of entry-level and early-stage career professionals directly contribute to the decision-making processes.

The segmented, professional-specific targeting available on LinkedIn means you’ll be able to more effectively reach the 63 million buyers active on our platform, encompassing the entire buying committee from IT decision makers to CXOs and cross-functional leaders in marketing, operations, sales and HR. LinkedIn is the only platform that enables you to target the full breadth of the tech buying committee by title, account, seniority, vertical and other influential factors. Lookalike audiences and interest targeting expand these capabilities further.

Once you explore with your partner which key audiences to target for each product and solution, probe further to determine which members of the IT buying committee your partner struggles to reach and the potential obstacles that need to be overcome. That way, you know precisely which pain points your marketing campaign needs to pinpoint — and who to direct your messaging toward.

5. Which products or solutions are top priority today — and which ones do you need to be prepared to focus on tomorrow?

An additional element key to adopting a long-term perspective is knowledge about emerging products and services on the horizon or in the pipeline, as well as those currently on the market. This awareness guides channel marketers in developing an innovative, multi-year strategic approach that can help pave the way for introducing new products and services as well as entering new markets and helps you help buyers to prepare for their own innovation roadmap, positioning VARs + partners as an indispensable resource when navigating emerging tech and an organization’s digital transformation journey.

Effective VAR branding, which is integral to this process, is a value-add for the vendor. LinkedIn can help you stay on-brand, customer-centric and benefits-focused so that you’re supporting and nurturing customers for the long haul.

Time to accelerate ROI

LinkedIn offers channel marketers the customized strategy and support you need to synchronize your marketing programs with your partner’s objectives, amplify your impact and accelerate ROI. Now here’s our question for you…ready to get started?

To learn more about how to work with your OEM partner to win over the hearts and minds of enlightened tech buyers, view our report: The Enlightened Tech Buyer: Powering Customer Decisions from Acquisition to Renewal.