Diverse Partner Communication

Create Diverse Communication Methods to Engage your Channel’s Long Tail


Channel partners have become more diverse than ever, making it hard to rely on one or two profiles to build an effective support and coverage model. This diversity only grows as you move further down the list of channel partners until you reach the bottom tier, where most vendors see the mix of high diversity and low revenue potential as a reason to write off any support beyond a portal or website. If you want to capture significant long tail revenue, you need to avoid generic messaging and give partners effective communication that fits their specific needs.

 

Appropriately building and driving diverse outbound communication will drive inbound actions. These smaller profiled partners are often relegated to exclusively on-line support from the vendor’s partner portal or inbound Help Desk support. For this to work, the partner has to inherently know what they need, where to get it, and be self-sufficient in navigating the vendor’s content and programs.

 

Often the strategy becomes: don’t give rep-level support to smaller or inactive partners because they’re not growing. Partners get relegated to self-serve support and therefore don’t get the support they need to incubate their business.  So, they don’t grow. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

As with end-user lead nurturing, a smart balance of field, phone, and digital communication methods provides the most effective profiling and partner prospect development process. This balance, fed by highly targeted inbound marketing content, creates a winning combination, as long as you consider two important points;

 

  1. These communication vehicles must be fed by a centralized partner profiling system
  2. The content should be tailored to look like the messages are personalized

 

Email messages, reports, research content and even product information (when the time is right) can be formatted and personalized as if they are coming from the vendor’s sales rep. This goes a long way toward creating the personal dialog necessary to get a partner to engage and begin a real relationship with your company.

 

All relationships begin with some level of attraction or interest. In today’s information-on-demand world, partners can (and do) conduct a lot of research on potential suppliers and their products or services well before any direct outreach is attempted. This means vendors must serve up the right information at the right time with the right engagement offer when addressing their target solution providers. You can do this through several vehicles including:

  • Blog Posts
  • Social Messaging
  • Personalized E-mails (Delivered via an automated marketing platform)
  • Website / Portal Downloads (Whitepapers, eBooks, Spec Sheets, etc.)

 

An enormous amount of decision making is being made on-line, and that same web-based delivery method provides the most cost effective delivery vehicle for your content. However, when forging a long-term business relationship based on mutual trust and investment, people need to identify and talk to people. Vendors who provide regular communication, are proactive, stay involved in the relationship, and meet often are considered by partners to be invested in their success and more deserving of their business.

 

Ultimately, partners want a vendor who is involved and supports them at multiple levels, and values their commitment as much as the partner values the vendor, and you can’t do that if you don’t communicate with them in a way that they understand and expect.

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The Secret to the Channel’s Long Tail: Build a Long-Term Relationship


Lead nurturing is arguably more important with partners, with whom you’re trying to establish a long-term business relationship, than it is with individual end-users. And much like end-users, partners without a deep, existing relationship already established with your company will likely fall in and out of favor with your product and service offerings as their customers’ demands change.

 

Many vendors enter a partner in their database and consider them “active” after their first, and sometimes only, transaction. And that first transaction is likely a very product focused, opportunistic interaction with you. By contrast, if you consider a new prospect as a partner who hasn’t transacted with you in two more quarters, or who has only supported a single product in your portfolio one-time, you’ll more likely address them with the right content to earn their broader support over time.

 

There is a four-step relationship development process that works effectively when re-engaging or activating a partner. Each step must be supported by content that’s important to the partner, not to your product teams. Taking this approach will infinitely increase your product and partnering credibility. The content you serve up must lead with business guidance, educational content, and relevant success stories where you’ve added value to companies that look and act like theirs. Ultimately, leading with product feature/functions doesn’t address their need, it showcases your need to sell to them.

 

These four steps are:

  • Target and address their business profile: The content they’re looking for here speaks to trends in their target customer, geographic markets or growth strategies for companies that look like them.
  • Validate your value proposition: You’ll want to ensure that the overall economic and business value propositions you’re putting forth are clear and specific; here’s where relevant success stories with companies in their markets are very powerful.
  • Establish their readiness: You’ll be assessing their current financial, sales and technical capabilities as well as any pre-existing competitive investment of resources or mindshare; content here should be focused on the business benefits and ROI of an investment in enablement time and resources.
  • Give them the sales support they need: The quicker you help them generate repeatable demand, the deeper the relationship.

 

A key success factor in building a long term relationship with a solution provider, especially one with a sizeable staff, is to create role-based content. Generic messages aimed only at the already overwhelmed sales executive won’t broaden the big picture inside your target partner. Most mature channel programs today have a marketing engine and automation system that feeds content unique to the considerations of the business principal, sales executive, marketing executive, and services team lead. Increasingly, that services team lead is in a very influential position to guide the partners’ technology investments, as solution providers navigate their businesses from on premise product sales to annuity based managed or cloud services sales.

 

When you consider an inactive, or less active partner as a prospect to win, you will build a deeper relationship that keeps your partners in favor with you, and not your competitors. Just like your top tier partners, long tail partners need content that is relevant to them, and in turn helps them sell more, increasing your revenue.

Chasing the Long Tail One Size

One Size Doesn’t Fit All when Chasing the Channel’s Long Tail


Twenty years ago a partner was a partner. For the most, part they all did the same thing, and the real differentiation came from product specialization and price. But today, profiling a broad partner community is much more complex due to system cross-pollination, new technologies and sectors, and a shifting partner landscape.

 

New solution providers constantly join the market, creating a constant state of flux in the channel. Legacy partners who have been at it for decades, are consolidating through acquisition at a steady pace, contributing to an unpredictable channel. Cloud and managed services models are force solution providers to invest in new technologies, new divisions, and practice areas in order to capitalize on these new IT consumption models.

 

In the past, volume based channel programs offered a one-dimensional view of partner capabilities and were limited to a couple major partner types (value added reseller, ISV, systems integrator). It was sufficient then to group partners into like-communities for purposes of offering up core channel program benefits. Today however, value-based channel programs attempt to capture a wide variety of partner profiling elements across sales, technical, marketing, and services-delivery capabilities.

Value-based channel programs attempt to capture a wide variety of partner profiling elements across sales, technical, marketing, and services-delivery capabilities.

Channel-savvy vendors must adopt a scorecarding system that combines the traditional, current-state partner profile elements with non-traditional elements that help predict the future success and stability of the partner.

 

Traditional elements include: 

  • Revenue
  • Target markets
  • Technical certifications
  • Product sell-through mix

Non-traditional elements tend to be more qualitative and include:

  • IT vs. LOB sales approach
  • Internal sales methodologies
  • Quality and quantity of demand generation activities
  • Level of vertical market or business process insights
  • Level of partner-to-partner collaboration activity

 

The ability to capture these elements in one central repository, accessible to everyone in your organization responsible for partner growth or development, can make or break your segmentation model. If you consider partner profiling an annual “necessary evil,” you’re probably missing the mark on creating the dynamic database you need to continually adjust your partner coverage and support model.

 

Take revenue metrics for example. A partner with multiple transactional models may be engaged in your partner program as a traditional VAR with 4-6 quarters of low sell-through transactional success. However, that same company may have a separate pre-sales consulting division that engages with large enterprise clients in a particular vertical market. In that part of their business, this partner’s revenue likely falls off your radar screen if you don’t have a formal program to capture and reward sales influence.

Current state-of-the-art channel programs provide a feeder or “community” tier for partners

Current state-of-the-art channel programs provide a feeder or “community” tier for partners interested in an IT vendor and/or their products, without requiring them to make a full investment in the formal partner program. Organized correctly, this can be an invaluable nurturing ground for potential partners while simultaneously driving high visibility to your company’s offerings and success with and through indirect channels.

 

With the rapid changes we’re seeing as new re-sellers enter the partner space, and partner consolidation among traditional partners, it’s more important than ever that the long tail of low or non-transacting partners are not forgotten. A solid plan for coverage should be in place to ensure this lengthening tail of partners and revenue is not lost.

 

Chasing the Long Tail PG

Stop Chasing Your Tail: Game Changing Concepts for Engaging the Broad Channel


More is better! That’s been the mantra of indirect channel programs within the IT industry for decades. Why? Because as high-tech products and services have continued on their break-neck pace of innovation, product lifecycles continue to shorten.

 

It’s not always clear what kind of channel partner you need to take your products to market. Nor is it clear which partner business models will be the most successful long-term. So, creating a broader community of partners reduces your risk and gives you more visibility and endorsement in the market. Broad was good for the average tech vendor trying to drive market scale and incremental revenue through indirect channels. But it’s not that simple any more.

 

In an effort to attract and maintain relationships with the masses of solution providers, channel-centric IT manufacturers and publishers now find themselves with tens of thousands of partners of different business models, sizes, maturity levels. Partner programs have become very complex and costly to maintain. In an effort to create predictable and sustainable indirect revenue, vendors have defaulted to working closely with only a small percentage of their partners.

 

In fact, 75% of vendors indicate that 20% or less of their partners represent 80% or more of their indirect revenues. In addition, because of the costly nature of engaging “the masses,” the very high-touch model necessary to incubate a new partner relationship and move it from opportunistic to committed has all but disappeared.

 

The broad portion of channel has affectionately been nicknamed the “long-tail” and is seen as a huge conundrum or incredible opportunity. In order to strike that balance between cultivating broad channel visibility and investing deeply in your top-performers, we have to think differently as a channel community. We have to use the same, if not greater, precision in how we profile, engage and solicit investment from potential channel partners as we do in our end-user branding and lead cultivation techniques.

 

There are five critical success factors for you to consider as you try to maximize revenue through your broad “long tail” channel community:

  • One size does not fit all – Not all “unmanaged” partners are the same; create simple, well institutionalized partner segmentation and profiling processes that your whole organization can buy into
  • Build a long-term relationship – Ongoing deep profiling and nurturing activities, driven by the partners’ content needs, are key to creating relevance and establishing your brand credibility
  • Create diverse communication – A smart mix of field, phone and digital communication provides that high-touch, personalized feeling of local, co-selling support partners need to build trust and investment
  • Invest, but selectively – Be willing to hand-pick key partners with a mix of the right attributes to selectively invest in and groom to be your next top performers
  • Create a data-driven culture – To maximize conversion from well-profiled prospect to long-term partner, your organization must get committed to making investment and program decision based on real analytics

 

The methodologies and digital tools now exist for channel management professionals to apply a high degree of precision in cultivating relationships with the right kind of partner. And, used correctly with an eye toward long-term ecosystem development (not just the next six months’ revenue streams), you will create a distinct competitive advantage.

3 Factors for Successful Outsourcing

Making it Work: The 4 Keys to a Successful Outsourced Sales Experience


Closing deals is getting more complex and competitive, prompting a wave of curiosity around whether an outsourced sales program can improve on internal results. Success in outsourcing comes from beyond merely choosing to outsource, it’s dependent on choosing the right partner.

MarketStar, my employer, has been an outsource sales provider for more than 28 years, and during my time here I’ve learned that four factors determine whether a company has chosen the right outsource provider for success:

 

Compensation and Cost of Sale

An important first step is to set up a compensation arrangement that balances financial risks between client and provider, and reflects the value expected from the relationship. Often a company will try to place the burden of success through a commission only model, but this model only serves to attract low-cost resources and employees that aren’t necessarily aligned to the goals, but rather the budget.

In order to compensate for success, while keeping a healthy cost of sales, companies should consider a variable compensation model to share the risks and rewards of performance, as well as fixed compensation so the partner has a stake in the relationship and motivation to stay within the boundaries set. This goes a long way to having an outsource partner who provides leadership and innovation, rather than a vendor who only executes.

You can’t expect to get good results if your expectation is to just “pay for a head.”

Training and Enablement

You can’t expect to get good results if your expectation is to just “pay for a head.” You need to ensure each representative is trained upfront with initial knowledge transfer of your products and your brand, and then you need to train again and often to keep the person fresh and knowledgeable.

Training by itself does a great job of transferring information, but what is your outsource partner doing to ensure the training turns into long term actions? A great outsource partner will enable the success of their reps through active coaching and appropriate motivation to drive specific behaviors that bring the desired results.

Training and enablement can’t be done by one party or another alone. It takes investment from both the company and the partner to ensure performance meets expectation. Plan on staying involved, especially as products, marketing materials, and sales tactics adapt to the market.

The difference between a vendor who executes and a partner who drives success, is their level of reactive or proactive communication.

 Communication and Partnership

When you pick an outsource partner be mindful of how well they communicate during the proposal process. The difference between a vendor who executes and a partner who drives success, is their level of reactive or proactive communication. Great partners will reach out for clarification, and provide suggestions for improvement without being asked. They want to see you succeed, and are focused on your business.

Close communication with an outsourced sales provider is critical to demonstrate commitment and minimize conflict. You need periodic, and scheduled, reviews to keep both inside and outside components of a strategy optimized. A willingness to pick up the phone and resolve issues quickly is an important aspect to any successful relationship, and if your conversations are limited to checking up on metrics, and getting explanations on performance, you are no longer communicating in a proactive manner, your conversation shifts to varying degrees of reaction only.

 

A Holistic Solution

Successful outsourcing isn’t just about finding a vendor that can provide you with bodies in a seat. You need a partner that offers a blended solution that uses relevant technologies designed to prepare a program for success before a call is made. They should provide you with smart business intelligence that tells you how to get the best results, rather than relying on carpet bombing your customers with calls hoping for success.

The right partner will have tools in place that optimize a representative’s ability to succeed. A phone call alone isn’t enough to make a deal. Reps need smart analytics that provide them with direction and targeting that greatly increases their chance for success. Your program should work smarter, not harder, to get the results you need.

Reps need smart analytics that provide them with direction and targeting that greatly increases their chance for success.

When these four keys are in place in a proactive and positive manner that engages both the company and the partner, an outsource sales program not only meets expectations, it adds long term value and growth.

Ultimately it comes down to what your company needs, but merely hiring a vendor to take orders vastly limits your ability to move beyond a reactionary state where you constantly look at the past. When you look for your outsource provider to act as a partner, the relationship shifts to a proactive one where both parties are invested in the future.

Perks MarketStar Guest Blog

Enough is Enough! Solving Lackluster Sales Performance, Once and For All


After 28 years in the world of Sales as a Service™, MarketStar has forged many lasting relationships with leaders in our field. We’ve asked Claudio Ayub, a 20-year channel veteran and Chief Channel Strategist of Perks, to discuss his view on improving sales performance through his experience as a loyalty marketing expert with broad knowledge in strategy development, market management, and channel sales planning.

 

Solving Lackluster Sales Performance, Once and For All

 

Does this seem familiar? You meet with your team to talk about sales performance, and after an initial discussion that doesn’t provide any insights, the discussion centers on a familiar litany of exhortations, including the need to focus and work harder. The meeting is dismissed and members of the sales team trudge dutifully if somewhat quizzically out the door, not really sure of what to do next except to repeat their same efforts with greater intensity.

The key to turning around lagging sales performances is not to use the desired number (sales or revenue objective) as the end all and be all, but to use it as a starting point. In their book, Cracking the Sales Management Code, authors Jason Jordan and Michelle Vazzana tell us that the path to a solution is to work backwards—to “reverse engineer” from the desired number to find the performance metrics (the specific actions or activities) that are behind the numbers, and that can ultimately help deliver them.

While this solution at first glance sounds simple enough, it is not happening partly because sales managers are inundated with more data than they can handle. They rely on CRM systems that provide plenty of information on where, and by how much, sales are off, but do not offer any insights on the activities that need to be implemented or changed to help achieve the desired numbers. The authors believe that what is missing from all of the data are the instructions— the specific activities to engage in—to solve the problem.

Repeated client experiences show, as do research findings and plenty of case studies, that the activities that can help a company reverse persistently flat sales performances can be found with its best sales people. These individuals are top performers because, one way or another, they have figured out the activities or best practices that get results. By identifying and breaking down these activities into replicable steps and communicating these to others to adopt and implement, a company can take the crucial first step toward reinvigorating its sales efforts.

For an in-depth read, this is the resource for you:

http://resources.perks.com/h/i/203381277-case-study-enough-is-enough-sales-incentives-that-work

Why Outsource your SDR Team?


According to Forrester, building an effective Inside Sales team is one of the most critical components of creating a predictable, repeatable and scalable sales engine.* A key cog in this engine is the Sales Development Rep (SDR), who is responsible for taking prospects gathered through demand generation activities and turning them into actionable leads, and, active sales discussions.

SDRs increasingly play a key role in both qualifying inbound prospects and generating new leads from outbound efforts. Building, scaling and managing an effective SDR function is now among the top challenges that sales leaders face. Here are a few reasons that many sales leaders are choosing to outsource some or all of this function:

Hiring and retaining SDRs is expensive and consumes significant resources: While hiring internal SDRs is often viewed as a way to build up a “bench” of future AEs, the reality can often be quite different. According to research by The Bridge Group, an inside sales consulting firm, the average tenure of SDRs is only 14 months. Outsourcing this function can drastically reduce the cost of recruiting and onboarding and keep your sales leaders focused on their core function–closing revenue.

Many companies lack the core expertise to get the most from their SDR team: Even if sales leaders are successful at recruiting, onboarding and retaining the right talent, an SDR team can often lag in performance due to a lack of effective lead targeting, inefficient processes and inadequate tools. As outlined by Forrester, it may make sense to initially outsource the entire function. For the manager who lacks the experience or skills to run an inside sales team, it can be a steep learning curve to understand candidates’ profiles, put in place plans to develop, motivate, and compensate reps, and successfully pick the best stack of enablement technologies.* Because of this, outsource providers often have highly developed processes and methodologies and the latest tools (and the best practices around using those tools) and can dramatically accelerate the performance of the SDR function.

Getting it right requires iteration and flexibility: Building and managing an SDR team usually requires a fair amount of tinkering. Deciding on the right compensation models, ratios and outreach methodology can become a major distraction for the team and often leads to frustration as SDRs are asked to implement too many changes. Outsourced teams can often act as a sales “lab”, allowing sales organizations to test messaging, tools, processes and compensation models without constantly disrupting the core team.

As the SDR function becomes more mature, companies continue to explore innovative ways to accelerate growth and get the best leads into the hands of sales teams. Building a strong outsourced SDR team can provide a strategic option for scale without unnecessarily burdening sales leaders or distracting from their core objectives.

Download the complimentary whitepaper: 5 Outsourcing Strategies for Inside Sales:https://www.marketstar.com/resources/5-strategies-for-outsourcing-inside-sales

*Forrester Report: B2B Inside Sales: “Inside Or Out?” — That Is The Question – Mary Shea, January 6, 2016

What Is Your Strategy For Enabling Inside Sales Activity?


Every day, I look outside my office and see “inside sales” happening. And it’s a wonderful thing to see, especially when it’s multiple teams selling multiple solutions for multiple companies.

Historically, B2B companies have built and run their own internal inside sales teams. The advantages of the exclusively inside sales model are clear from an oversight, human resources (HR) and cultural standpoint; managing this function internally leads to more directional and brand control. However, there are also some clear disadvantages. An entry-level sales employee can consume a tremendous amount of management bandwidth. Additionally, as technology and analytics increasingly enable the inside sales role, traditional sales managers may not have the skill set or understanding of the right technologies to adequately support this group. Finally, as these inside sales reps take on more of a micro-marketer’s approach to outbound engagement, we see leading organizations rolling these groups into marketing and/or outsourcing some, or all, of the function.

To build or to buy, that – ultimately – is the question. With the rise of “Sales as a Service,” which is an out-of-the-box sales solution, outsourcing has become a much more efficient and effective tool in giving your sales strategy a boost.

Increased efficiency and saving overhead costs is a major factor, but it’s not the only reason to outsource. Companies benefit from increased expertise and agility to validate sales motions, test value props and messaging, explore new opportunities and launch/promotional support on demand.

Whether evaluating a solution based on a particular challenge in the sales process, or looking to scale your entire motion, the decision to invest in staffing your own inside sales team or partnering with a solution provider is a big one.

If you want to see what goes into creating a “Sales as a Service” solution, download this infographic that highlights the key elements, and get closer to understanding how it can benefit your customer and your bottom line.

Recruiting and Retargeting in the Evolving Partner Channel


If you were a vendor in the 1990’s or early 2000’s, you were lucky enough to experience what it felt like to build a thriving channel with loyal partners who continually sold your products to your customer base. You took care of your partners with rich margins, and in return, they helped you develop a viable channel with a healthy 80/20 Pareto that produced for you for many years.

Shift to today…

Chances are, it’s now 5% of your partners driving 95% of your revenue and you’re fighting for every dollar in the current quarter short game. As you rapidly focus on emerging technologies to sustain your business long term, you ask yourself, “Is my channel future proof?”

Just as your strategy has been evolving, your partners have been transforming their business models as well. Are you still in alignment? Many vendors no longer really know their 2nd tier and only see that they are no longer producing. If you need a new, specialized set of partners who can take your solutions to market, recruitment may be the answer. But before you head down that path, take the time to reacquaint yourself with your existing channel to determine if you have enough disruptors to achieve your revenue targets or if you need to supplement with additional recruitment efforts.

On June 3rd, I’ll be presenting at the Channel Visionaries Conference  in Santa Clara, California. In my keynote, we will explore how to identify and target the right partners, both in and out of your network to redesign a healthy channel that will produce the revenues you need now AND in the long term.

Here are two key strategies we will be discussing in Santa Clara:

How to develop a partner profile based on the customers and business environments your solutions serve. A partner profile is no longer just looking at past performance and manual data gathered by your account managers. It requires a more complex profiling methodology to assess attributes like segment and vertical focus, services and capabilities, coverage and customer base, competitive landscape, share of wallet, and a propensity to engage. Our partnership with Foster MacCallum has perfected this process, and the result is a prioritized list of existing and net new partners customized for your revenue goals. This is the first step in our partner recruitment pathway but the old adage “Information is power” only applies if it’s acted upon.

How to approach partner recruitment and re-targeting as a data driven pipeline.Old school recruitment had vendors saying, “Let’s recruit 1,000 partners”. This unsystematic approach was not only costly; it usually yielded little return on investment and created a longer term channel drag. Vendors need to recruit quality partners who will achieve desired revenue goals, not just the number of partners recruited. We do this through a combination of people, data and automation to take prospects from first contact through on-boarding with conversion rates and aging at each stage. This allows us to focus the right attention on the right partners in their pathway to reduce the overall ramp to revenue.

I look forward to walking you through our partner recruitment pathway in more detail on June 3. If you have not already signed up, you still have time and if you register through this post, you can get an additional $150 off the Early Bird price. Click through and join us! I look forward to seeing you there.

Link to Channel Visionaries info: http://bit.ly/MSTARINFO

Link to the latest agenda: bit.ly/MSTARAGENDA

ShareShare Recruiting and Retargeting in the Evolving Partner Channel

Partner Management Best Practices: Mining the Long Tail


by Hobart Swan , originally printed in CCI’s Channel Management Insights Blog located here: http://outreach.channelmanagement.com/NL-2015-07-July-CMI_Main.html

The maxim leading many technology manufacturers’ channel strategy has long been the 80/20 rule: the top 20 percent of partners deliver 80 percent of sales so only focus on the top 20 percent. But what if the increasing sophistication of marketing technology can help alter that rule a little bit. Vaughn Aust, Executive Vice President for Digital and BI Solutions at MarketStar, says that advances in analytical and automation technology make it possible to get more business out of that often overlooked bottom 80 percent of partners. He’s been in the business a long time and just might be on to something.

Fresh out of college, Aust went to work for Laser Direct, a direct mail printing company. He soon left and was a founding member of a channel marketing company called Cohesion, which was later purchased by Hawkeye. Two years ago, Aust was recruited by multi-channel sales company MarketStar. For more than 25 years, MarketStar has proactively engaged business partners of companies like HP, Whirlpool, VMWare, and Google to drive sales and loyalty from targeted channels and maximize ROI across the entire channel. It is at MarketStar that Aust has focused his attention on helping manufacturers get the most out of their partner ecosystems.

Are SMB Partners Worth the Effort?

“We typically work with the mid- to lower-tiered channel partners,” Aust says. “Our clients usually handle the first tier using their own channel account management group. Clients sometimes employ us to re-engage the “long tail”; those smaller partner organizations that maybe at some point in the past purchased a product or registered for the partner program or responded to some marketing campaign. Looking at their RFM (Recency, Frequency, and Monetary return), vendors just don’t think it’s worth it to try to establish relationships with them.”

But, Aust says, given the heightened competition among vendors for the best partners, the rise of cloud services that require a different partner set and the potentially enormous new deals hidden in the long tail, some manufacturers are seeing the light. They understand that it is more than worth effort to identify those overlooked partners that have the potential to become very productive.

Large Vendors See Success from “Partnermation”

“The long tail is usually ignored because of the cost of engaging with them. We’ve asked our clients to give us a shot at finding the diamonds in the rough—to see if we can re-invigorate the bottom of the channel. “

A few very large vendors have taken MarketStar up on their offer and seen some very impressive results. In the first month of its work with HP’s lower-tiered partners, MarketStar closed $750,000 in sales. HP’s won opportunities soon rose to nearly $9 million with an open pipeline of $45 million. VMWare closed $1.5 million in incremental sales in the first six months.

If the goal is to efficiently locate these diamonds in the rough, then Aust’s solution is to use some very strong lenses. And that’s where technology, and people power, come in. Aust calls this combination “partnermation” and defines it as the use of lead-nurturing technology and personalized channel-account management to surface opportunities and close deals. Partnermation enables clients to first, reach every partner in the vendor’s ecosystem; to do it affordably, efficiently, and to scale; and then to prioritize the attention each partner gets based on its level of interest.

It Takes More Than Just Good Modeling

“I spent time early in my channel career building propensity models to see what a top-tier partner looked like: how many people worked in the firm, how many had a technical background, where was the partner located? We would look at tons of factors and attributes to understand what made a top-tier partner and look for similar partners to identify lower-tier partners to pay attention too.”
Like other companies, MarketStar ran propensity models and coverage models to try and determine what lower-tier partners to pay attention too. In the process, Aust realized something: The element they were missing was an understanding of a partner’s level of interest in doing business with a vendor. And to gauge that, he turned to lead-nurturing technology.

Good Technology + Real People

“You can use lead-nurturing technology to create value streams based on personas. If you have data about these partners—if you know that a partner is technology-oriented, or if the contact is the owner-manager, then you can use that information to start tailoring your messages.”

Identifying partners with the most potential comes down to sending tailored messages via values streams to the entire partner pool, and then seeing who has interest. The trick to engaging partners is to not send generic messages from the brand or the channel company.

“We send messages from a specific MarketStar employee—a real person we have hired and trained to represent a specific vendor. This is the person who, if the partner shows enough interest, will pick up the phone and call them. What this does is signal to these otherwise ignored partners that they are important, that we’ve got someone who wants to nurture their interest in doing business with the brand.”

The Scoring Rubric Table

Picking the right messages to the right personas and partners is a both an art and a science in itself. Marketing automation technology uses the concept that every bit of partner activity to marketing messages equals a score. If an otherwise unresponsive partner opens an email, they might get a score of one point. If the partner visits a key website, maybe they get three more points. A click on an email links, add five, then ten more for attendance at a webinar or trade show. Adding up these points enables the channel representative to understand a partner’s actual level of interest.

When the point total reaches a certain threshold, the human side of the partnermation model kicks into gear. That usually takes the form of a phone call from the sales representative MarketStar has hired and trained to represent that vendor.

Giving SMB Partners the Personal Touch

“Our rep might say something like, ‘Hey, I saw that you looked at our email about registering a deal, and that you clicked through and spent some time looking at our newest security product. If you want some more information on it, I can send you a brochure. And if you’re interested in registering a deal on it, I can get you three points on the deal.’ ”

And so begins the process of singling out those lower-tier partners that seem to have both the interest and the competence to make it worth the vendor’s money to engage with them.

“It’s absolutely true that it takes way too much money and time to go after the entire long tail. Our partnermation process enables us to efficiently find the 3 to 5 percent of the larger partner pool that we can graduate up to a higher, more productive tier.”

Make Things Easier for Partners—Even Small Partners

There has been a lot of effort on the part of vendors with a large channel presence to make it easier for partners to work with them. We’ve seen improved partner portals, better written documents, easier access to training tools, and similar actions. Partnermation is really a matter of extending that same welcoming attitude toward the long tail.

“If you’re a partner in the long tail, how are you going to get anything from a manufacturer that’s made up their mind you’re not worth the effort? How are you going to get information about their products or get support or training? But then you start getting a few tailored emails from the vendor, maybe you click on a couple of links and watch a webinar—and suddenly you get a call from a channel account manager saying, ‘Hey, it looks like you’re interested in selling our storage solution. I can get you an incentive.’ That can really get a partner excited.”

Speaking of Long Tails

Aust says he sometimes thinks of working with long tail partners as herding cats. This is not so much because cats are difficult to control, but because cats that have not been getting much attention tend to act in their own self-interest.

“Cats like you as long as you feed them and pay attention to them and scratch them behind the ears. But if you ignore them, they’ll just wander off and get their food from the house next door. Ignored partners tend to act the same way.”

Getting that Competitive Edge

Aust’s rollout of partnermation has clearly shown early success with companies such as HP and VMware reaping considerable upticks in channel sales. But Aust sees other benefits from this innovative mix of technology and human engagement, including greater pipeline visibility, more closed sales, and more channel engagement. There’s also more buzz for the vendor as long tail partners start talking about how the vendor has reached out to them and made them feel welcome.

“The bottom line is that those manufacturers that figure out how to get the return from their partner long tail without too much investment—those are the ones that are going to win. If they can find a way to efficiently generate value out of that lower 80 percent, then they’ve put themselves a much more competitive position.”