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Boundary spanners welcome

The Coterie Community is starting 2023 with a flurry of activity as it seeks to recruit new members and put partner marketing on the map. James Goulding reports

Last year, when Helen Curtis, Founder of partner marketing agency Coterie and co-founder of the Coterie Community, searched LinkedIn she found more than 3 million people who describe themselves as partner marketers or ecosystem marketers or channel marketers.

The three terms are essentially interchangeable, but they all involve the same thing – bringing in, orchestrating and managing partnerships with multiple parties/brands and creating a value proposition for products/solutions with multiple stakeholders, including other vendors and channel partners.

In this respect, partner marketers (the term preferred by Coterie Community) face different challenges to traditional marketers.

At an early meeting of Coterie Community, a Professor at the University of Huddersfield described people in such roles as ‘boundary spanners’.

“We were all going ‘what’s a boundary spanner?’,” explains Curtis, “but apparently there’s a lot of academic literature around boundary spanning. It’s where you have one foot in your organisation and the other foot in another organisation. Because partner marketers spend so much time working with their partners, as well as back into their own organisation, they are constantly having to switch mindset.”

This is a growing requirement in the IT channel, which is now more focused on providing solutions and services that involve an ecosystem of collaborations and partnerships with multiple parties. As well as having to develop a joint value proposition covering several brands, partner marketers are finding that, because of the pace of change in technology, they need to refresh that proposition as often as every six months.


The ongoing transition to an ‘everything as a service’ consumption model, highlighted by Coterie Community members as a key trend this year, along with sustainability (see page 36), adds more complexity and introduces the notion of ‘always on marketing’.

“Historically vendors sold a piece of hardware and it was kind of job done; they sold something into the channel, who then sold it on and that was that. Whereas now, with as-a-service consumption, the marketing that you have to do has evolved and changed because you’ve got to be constantly nurturing the partner and getting the partner to be constantly nurturing the customer. So it’s a kind of always on marketing. You can’t rely on some of the traditional ways of marketing that you’ve done in the past.”

These are distinct challenges. Yet, until Coterie Community was set up with funding from Innovate UK and in partnership with the University of Huddersfield (until 2024), there was no one promoting and raising awareness of partner/channel/ecosystem marketing and nowhere people involved in these roles could go for advice, support and learning.

“I’ve been in this industry for more than 20 years, at Coterie and before that at Fujitsu and Intel and BT, and there’s never been anywhere for people in partner marketing to come together. You go to all the channel events or the marketing events and there’s no place where we can go that’s dedicated to the challenges that we face. Even in our own organisations, we have to tell our peers what partner marketing is, and you’re thinking ‘This is crazy because these partner marketers represent such a huge amount of revenue and lead generation, yet people don’t really know what they do’.”

On the map

Last March, Curtis set up The Coterie Community to do two things: to put partner marketing on the map and make sure it gains recognition in the marketing, channel and IT communities; and to build a community where partner marketers from technology vendors, ISVs, systems integrators and service providers can share learning and best practice.

“There are three elements to what we do as a community. The first is Connecting. We meet in person once a quarter and online once a month at First Friday meet- ups, where community members take it in turns to lead discussions on a challenge they face. The topic at our next First Friday meet-up is something along the lines of how do you manage 600 partners, 5,000 marketing activities and seven marketing resources across Europe? How does one person orchestrate that in an effective way to generate an ROI? Everyone shares their insights and then we write them up as mini papers for members to take back into their own businesses. We are effectively building a partner marketing brain for the future because there’s nothing else written on this subject,” explains Curtis.

“The second element is Share, which is all about best practice sharing. Fleur Copping, Head of Strategic Alliances at Fujitsu, did a video for us around what she wants from partner marketers. Colleen Fogerty from Atos did one on Ecosystem Marketing. We’ve done some as well, around value proposition and development. And we’re getting them to write mini-papers, so we’re building a bank of videos and papers and best practice.

“The last element is Learn. We’re conscious that there’s no formal learning out there around partner marketing, so we’ve put in place a Partner and Ecosystem Marketing practitioner certificate. This has just been approved by the CPD, so it goes towards your personal development within your business as well. That’s part of the membership fee. And then we’re also working with the University of Huddersfield on a micro credential, which will be a Masters-level module on leadership in partner marketing.”

Next steps

With these building blocks in place, including a website featuring public and member-only content, Coterie Community is now looking to attract members. At the end of last year, it started signing up individual and corporate members and in February it is launching a discounted virtual membership that enables subscribers to attend the 12 virtual meet- ups but not the quarterly face-to-face meetings. There is also the option of digital membership, which gives access only to Coterie Community content.

There are currently around 10 Coterie Community members, with another 10 being processed, and for the time being Curtis has no idea what level of take-up to expect.

“We’re not sure what this community is going to look like. Will it be a huge community? Will it end up being a core community – it is predominantly in the UK at the moment? Is it going to be a community of 40 or 50 people? I don’t mind what the outcome is. For me, it all comes back to why we are doing it. It’s about bringing partner marketers together and creating that best practice and starting to spread the word about partner marketing out into the industry. If that ends up being a community of 200 people, it doesn’t really matter as long as we achieve what we set out to do.”



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