Marketing Planning 2020: 5 Questions Partners Should Be Asking Their VARs
June 27, 2019
Partnering with a VAR should be a symbiotic relationship that pays dividends to both of you. It’s a partnership that demonstrates value to customers as well as to the strength of relationships within the tech industry that advances solutions for all businesses.
Marketing through a VAR is a tough challenge because, as the original supplier of tech solutions and products, you lose some control. You depend on your VAR to market effectively within an audience of savvy tech buyers, a group that has expanded to comprise 80% of an organization, made up of individuals looking outside their company to peers, experts and published content to make decisions. And right now, the way tech marketers are reaching that audience through the entire buying journey is undergoing a major overhaul. Gone are the days of lead generation at all costs, regardless of quality. Now marketers are even embracing strategies that generate fewer leads in order to produce more quality leads.
Thus, B2B technology marketing is happening within a lively community of tech professionals who rely on verifiable data, thought leadership, product and company reviews and the unique thoughts of their peers to determine which vendors can help them. As VARs begin to shift their marketing campaigns to meet the new reality of enlightened tech buyers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and partners have to understand how it impacts their campaign expectations, process and results. Both parties should constantly challenge one another to achieve higher market penetration, better lead quality and more transparent metric sharing. That starts with some of the following:
- Define what success looks like (engagement metrics, leads, return on spend)
- Share relevant KPIs and initiatives as early as possible
- Consider six-month or annual commitments to invest in outbound marketing programs aligned to the longer tech sales cycle
- Develop a longer-term set of strategies to penetrate specific new markets, target new buyers and more
Partners need to know how their VAR will adopt these new marching orders and how results will be reported. Ask these questions as you begin planning for 2020 and outlining expectations for how your campaigns should operate:
How are you devising nurture campaigns that engage buyers through their entire journey?
The technology buyer journey is long. Our latest research puts it at just over two years on average. So trying to grab a lead through a simple gated contact form and then immediately tossing it over to sales to convert is a strategy on its way out. How then is your vendor engaging these buyers over that extended buying cycle? Consider these two stats:
- 67% of the buyer’s journey is done digitally. Over the two-year journey, that’s a long time when key prospects are interacting with your brand and your partner’s brand. Typically this happens before they really engage with sales.
- 50% of leads are qualified but aren't immediately ready to buy something from you. Even the best leads that are most likely to convert to customers may need nurture time.
Together these stats say one thing: There’s a lot of necessary interaction that happens before conversion, and it’s important not to skip it in favor of fast leads. Marketers should hone their focus on reaching people at the top of the funnel, folks who are scoping a solution for 18 to 25 months out, when they’re most open to new solutions. So how is your partner’s marketing team nurturing an audience to get them toward sales at the right time?
Channel marketers should start from the top of the funnel by serving high-quality content as part of a brand awareness campaign, then as prospective buyers begin to engage, drip more relevant and personalized content until the buyer is ready to activate sales.
This is the Awareness, Engagement, Conversion paradigm and it tracks along the buyer journey. You should expect your partner to map this journey in detail. What kind of content is being served at each stage? What capabilities are being employed? For example, if your partner is utilizing LinkedIn, are they solely posting helpful articles as Sponsored Content or also deploying content through employees to generate organic awareness? How are they first engaging one-on-one with a lead? Are they utilizing a lead scoring matrix or system? What does that look like?
Marketers also need to consider what happens after sales takes over. The research is clear: When marketing and sales are aligned, revenue and customer retention increases. Companies with marketing and sales alignment generated 208% more revenue from marketing efforts, saw 36% higher customer retention and 38% higher sales win rates. So ask your VAR if they have good “smarketing” practices — are marketing and sales siloed? Where, when and how does sales come in and how does the handoff take place?
What are you doing to unify our brands to tell a cohesive story? And who is listening to that story?
The reality is that if your VAR isn’t working on actively building its own reputation, it’s selling itself, and your products and solutions, short. Buyers are thirsty for the kind of guidance and expertise a VAR can offer in a landscape stuffed full of tech options, but is your VAR offering that? How are they telling the VAR story, building their credibility, and integrating your products and solutions into that vision in turn?
From a social perspective, this isn’t just about brand awareness or brand building, this is also about audience building. If your VAR has a recognizable brand, especially among the tech buyer cohort and the associated members of the tech buying committee, then it has an audience. What is the makeup of that audience and how are they being targeted for your solution? What data are they using to identify buyers within that audience who are most likely to purchase soon? Are you influencing the right people with thought leadership or other interesting content?
How do you structure your social spend allocation?
There are a lot of different ways to structure your social spend allocation, but any strategy should be based on clear goals and KPIs. Valuable questions like, “What is your organic and paid social marketing mix?” and “Who is publishing content and directing conversation?” should have answers tied to goals. Even the mix of platforms that channel marketers are using should be scrutinized.
LinkedIn’s audience of IT decision makers is large (6 million strong) and they are engaged. Our past data has shown that 80% engage with content at least once a week and they’re looking to consume straightforward, well-written educational content and interesting perspectives relevant to their business.
Within LinkedIn there are multiple avenues of engagement. Sponsored Content is popular, but it must be married to a strategy that embraces multiple touchpoints. For example, Sponsored InMail is 128% more effective when the user has been exposed to content beforehand. If your VAR is merely filling a budget line with cash to put toward paid content or basic advertising, challenge them to do more. VARs should be able to demonstrate how a healthy mix of strategies can interact to create a more muscular marketing vehicle.
This will require a longer lens though. As channel marketers shift beyond fast results and start to think in terms of six months to a year, partner commitment and spend may have to shift accordingly so these campaigns have room to breathe and ultimately produce the quality results you’re looking for.
Do you adjust active campaigns based on performance? How are you employing testing?
Hand-in-hand with the structure of social spend is how that spend is shifted based on campaign performance — a longer financial commitment doesn’t mean you have to commit to a strategy that may or may not work once it goes live. Channel marketers should have a plan in mind to test, adjust and optimize campaigns to enhance ROI constantly.
Utilizing LinkedIn’s concierge channel marketer support and reporting capabilities, marketers have the ability to deploy A/B testing by setting up campaigns with different content, graphics or messaging and then evaluate performance.
You should know not only that your VAR is doing this, but how often it is reevaluating campaigns. What is the cadence of these tweaks? In what way and how often will the VAR report this back?
And here’s a question for yourself: How will you support these campaign changes? Will you be available to help channel marketers by providing more information or content when a strategic shift takes place?
What’s my return on spend really?
The big question: What’s my ROI? As marketers move to a more nuanced marketing strategy that nurtures buyers and creates a multi-channel, multi-touchpoint journey, ROI becomes less straightforward. So you should be asking pointed questions about campaign reporting and challenging your VAR to produce more sophisticated and actionable metrics.
If your VAR isn’t already doing this, it should be producing data that ties revenue back to campaign engagement in a sophisticated way. Vanity metrics are hollow and don’t drive action back to your bottom line. They shouldn’t be a material portion of how a VAR reports back your return on spend. A VAR’s reporting can include metrics like click-through rate, but it should delve deeper and tie those clicks to time on page, average sales and determine if those clicks are from returning customers or new ones.
This may require a multi-touch attribution system. Is your VAR there? Is it using LinkedIn tools like Conversion Tracking, a set of capabilities that allows marketers to easily measure leads, sign-ups, content downloads, purchases and other desired actions on LinkedIn Sponsored Content and Text Ads campaigns?
These metrics will illuminate LinkedIn advertising ROI, conversion count, cost-per-conversion, conversion rate and return on ad spend. While LinkedIn and all social spend is only a piece of a the puzzle, this is the kind of data you want across all channels.
This shift into nurture campaigns that are always on and regularly optimized takes some patience. When results are focused on the quality of leads vs. the quantity of leads, some partners may feel that they’ve lost something in the short-term. Be patient. It’s up to your VAR to prove that not only have you not lost anything, you’ve actually gained better and more profitable customers.