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Changing Channel Partner Communications

05.04.17

Moving Beyond Email

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We recently held another of our infamous channel chief roundtable events where a dozen channel leaders across company size and channel maturity gather to discuss trends, opportunities and challenges they’re facing in growing a partner ecosystem. The topic for this session was driving the partner experience – why, how and where vendors can enhance the partners experience, increasing engagement and ultimately leading to more channel sales.

After quickly reviewing our 2017 State of Partnering study findings, we dove into dissecting the People Pillar (the pillar with the most effect on the partners’ experience). During the banter on communications, one of the attendees asked “How do you reach the people in your partners?” Most of the channel chiefs in attendance confessed they regularly email partner contacts. The widely adopted practice is to allow each individual to subscribe to specific communication feeds. However several attendees also voiced that their product, marketing and sales teams also regularly emailed the partner contacts. This information overload creates confusion in the partner companies. The partners often call on distribution (and specifically our Distributor roundtable attendee) to sort through the noise of the email communications from vendors.

Personalizing the communications seemed to help a lot. One of the attendees mentioned A/B emails from a specific individual verses from a generic “Partner Marketing” address. Sending from a person got a 20% higher open rate than sending from the generic address. It’s not defensible data, but I know you all respond a lot quicker to an email from me than from PartnerPath Marketing.

But what is beyond email? Which social media channels will reach which types of partners? The attendees indicated a new focus on Facebook, LinkedIn, text, chat and Slack.  They are trying all digital channels to see which ones help drive partner engagement. Will the partners transition to digital marketing, or is that just for millennials? SAP mentioned a program to hire young marketing staff and putting in place reverse mentoring to get new voices in marketing. The millennials are teaching the ‘more experienced’ (i.e. older) people social media messaging and tactics. Millennials are very used to digital communications and several of the attendees mentioned the next generation of solution providers are millennials themselves, so adopting social media channels could improve message reach and cut out some of the noise.

The conversation about partner communications, millennials and digital transformation led us to a very poignant question:  If they end customer buyer journey is morphing where they prefer to find their own information through web searches, analyst reports and connecting with colleagues, why are we still pushing email communications to partners? Why are we not expecting them to adopt a digital journey as well and use partner portals, web searches and reports to find the information on technologies and vendors they need to grow their businesses? If we acknowledge this is how customers like to learn about products and solutions, why don’t we acknowledge the partner contacts can also drive their own exploration and learning? What if we put the information in a portal and enable a fantastic partner experience? Isn’t that the definition of digital transformation?

Diane Krakora is CEO of PartnerPath with two decades of experience defining the best practices and frameworks around how to develop and manage partnerships.

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Topics: Channel Best Practices

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