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Tom Perry
by Tom Perry - October 23, 2019
At our inaugural channel event, Sherpa collaborated with Tech Vendors and Partners to bring a morning of discussion around Channel marketing to sales and marketing industry leaders, at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden.

The morning focused on the continuing evolution of marketing and tech within a channel which seems rooted in the 90s. We heard from industry experts who explored some of the trends which are creeping in to Channel marketing, learnt what these mean for Vendors and their Partners, and received some practical guidance on how to develop industry-leading Channel Programs, with emphasis on ABM.



First up was a fantastic talk about the B2B Buyer’s Journey from the Head of Enterprise Marketing and Cybersecurity at Fujitsu, David Patrick.

“I’m a marketing manager and I don’t have time for your marketing”. 

David’s talk centred around the shift in the B2B buyer’s journey and the requirement for us as marketers to be able to adapt our targeting, messaging and content for the new B2B Buyer.

He started by formulating some attributions for the shift in buying behaviour. Historically people would buy from big brands as with their name, came credibility and an element of trust. He used the old adage, ‘nobody ever got fired for buying IBM’. It may not have been the best product on the market and may not have provided the required solutions to the purchasing company, but it came with security and it did the job. 

However, with the explosion of the internet came with it a dispersion of knowledge, which opened a lot of doors for smaller companies with less brand integrity than big companies such as IBM. We all research heavily online and the 10-year-old stat that 60-80% of the buyer’s journey is completed before a salesperson is even engaged, rings true now, more than ever. But this has had to change the way we serve content. There is a new complexity to the buyer’s journey, now that the buyer is flooded with information. They are expected to research heavily before delivering a potential solution to the numerous other decision-makers involved.

So how do we get through to the modern B2B Buyer? We, first of all, must understand who they are. David summarised this nicely:

B2B Buyers are time poor – if you are trying to market to them then bear in mind that a 20-page whitepaper is not going to be the right vehicle for your communications. 

B2B Buyers are no longer experts on what you are selling – so much is now outsourced that quite often the problem you are offering a solution to isn’t even understood by the b2b buyer, as they don’t deal with it directly. If they don’t know what the problem is, then your content isn’t going to resonate. 

B2B Buyers are suspicious – they receive marketing all the time. What makes yours different? Can you back up your claims with results, reviews, net promotor scores or case studies? 

B2B buyers are not solitary decision-makers – there are numerous stakeholders involved in every enterprise purchase; from the DPO to finance, purchasing and marketing. Each has to have an input on any decision and your content and sales cycle must take this in to account. 

B2B buyers are more ambitious and will take risks – you may not get fired for buying IBM, but you may get promoted for providing a newer, more innovative solution. Risks must be shared and calculated but buyers will take them if they can get ahead. 

Many B2B buyers are millennials – they come from a generation in which knowledge is at the end of a google search and questioning everything is expected.





"There is an opportunity to take the model of direct demand gen to recruited support Channels. This is how Sherpa was born."

Tom started his presentation by setting the scene around the channel. The relationship between Vendors, Distributors and Partners is complex, and the wider tech marketing landscape has changed profoundly over the past 10 years, but Channel marketing hasn’t. Saying that, however, there are some largely identifiable pain points which can be addressed.

Short-term lead generation or bust - the Channel is a very product orientated environment which has a restrictive MDF criteria and Vendors provide a stringent list of activities that they require in order to provide funding. However, there is an unnatural focus on leads, with emphasis on quality over quantity. This model is ‘short-termist’ and doesn’t factor in that buying cycles often last 6-12 months and therefore do not align to MDF cycles which are quarterly. This often creates scenarios where the Partner is reactive and is sometimes scrabbling around trying to identify activities on which to spend next quarter’s MDF, or even left over MDF from their current quarter.

There is a requirement to move to more strategic marketing - this requires a new mindset, which is directed by the Partner, who brings a specific skillset to the partnership. By adapting the longevity of campaigns to align to buying cycles and creating reporting visibility, Partners and Vendors will be able to take into account the complex enterprise buyer’s journey and track the leads back to the quarter in which they originated…in real time. So, what is the answer? Account Based Marketing through the Channel. ABM is relatively uncharted in the Channel but would be an ideal mechanism to create a longer-term, customer-centric, valuable approach to Channel marketing. 

Channel Partners operate differently to Vendors - it is important to understand that you cannot simply lift a direct ABM programme, put it in the Channel and expect it to work. Channel partners operate differently to Vendors and bring a different specialism to the table. Vendors bring the product, infrastructure and systems to the table, Partners bring a set of specialisations including verticals, horizontals, access to new markets, innovation, market penetration and consultancy.

You, therefore, need a specific Channel Programme - which is supported and affordable in field by Partners, but it should leverage the proposition that Channel Partners bring to solve additional challenges within the target audiences.









How do you view your Channel Programme and MDF effectiveness? And what changes would you make to improve effectiveness?

Tony admitted that Oracle doesn’t use a lot of MDF. Their Channel Programme is intrinsic to business, but they look at implementation success and focus on how to use customers as advocates rather than prioritising Partner buy-in. He stated “I have to market to my Partners as much as I have to market to customers, as they have a choice when it comes to which product they sell. We need to invest more in education and thought leadership. We look at our top ten accounts and build an MDF campaign around that. "We all just need more time in the day"

From the Partner perspective, Marcus admitted that in the last two years he has claimed no MDF. “We have to be self-sufficient as a business. We know how many consultants and projects we have…we are relying on organic growth, not forced growth at this time. We are planning to embrace ABM. If you sell enterprise products which take 6-9 months to close, don’t give me quarterly MDF. Everything takes time. The customer stories make the cobranding, the joint marketing and collaboration successful – nobody believes stand-alone product marketing”.

What is expected of Partners in order to make an ABM Programme work?

Tom answered this and indicated that details must be nailed down during the initial SLA. There is a range of skills and attributes in the Channel and some partners aren’t resourced correctly for a Channel ABM programme to work effectively. The best partners for a channel ABM programme are consultative, innovative and understand the annual, not quarterly process, of an ABM campaign.

How do you balance quantity and quality when it comes to leads?

The key to this is agreeing the correct terminology from the outset and making sure that partners are using the same criteria for MQL/SQL as Vendors are. This alignment across the entire process and partnership will ensure that there is no ambiguity when it comes to meeting SQL targets. In addition to this, it must be noted that the terminology itself can cause issues as the term ‘lead’ is a common language, but what we are actually referring to are opportunities – and these may not always be qualified by marketing, they may be someone identified by sales who are in the optimum position for purchase. The language itself needs to catch up with the mindset.

What do Partners want from Vendors, how do they choose who they work with and how is it communicated?

The main point from this question boiled down to alignment. Smaller Partners will have different needs to larger ones, some Vendors will have different processes to others, but as long as marketing is being used to deliver strong relationships into the client then relationships will be successful. There is a requirement for KPIs, alignment and context within the partnership. Some are more advanced than others and a potential tiered system may be the best way to get the most value out of this relationship; bringing the right Partner in much earlier can only add value.

This developed into how to bring internal stakeholders into account-based marketing models. Smaller Partners can provide a better platform for ABM within the Channel as they are often far more aligned internally, can be flexible, bring innovation and have access to the required verticals. Strategic alignment between Vendor and Partner must be taken in to account as well. Partners need to know what is on the horizon just as much as Vendors do. This visibility needs to be across Partner, Vendor and internal stakeholders.




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