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Brands Still Need to Help Smaller Channel Partners Reach Customers, Even With End of Pandemic in Sight by Miles Beacroft, OneAffiniti

Though our attention has been held in the grips of the global pandemic for more than a year, business can now begin to visualise the world returning to a more normal state. For channel partners selling OEM solutions, there are a number of challenges that remain ahead, even as the health crisis levels out. Brexit is just one of these.

Mid-size and smaller channel partners have been fighting multiple fires simultaneously over the last year. Many have been forced to furlough marketing and sales teams as previously reliable revenue sources have dried up and customers seek more self-service engagement options. These smaller companies have also had to evolve their offerings to serve the exploding demand for digital transformation products and services. The totality of these challenges is unprecedented in such a compressed time frame.

As the pace of global business returns to something more resembling pre-COVID 19 in the UK, it will not be business as usual. With the uncertainties around Brexit remaining, UK businesses don’t yet know how trade with the EU is going to play out. If the past three months are any indication of the future – particularly as supply chains have failed and availability for critical components remain questionable – then we are in for a bumpy ride at least for the foreseeable future.

For mid-size and smaller companies selling OEM solutions within the UK, the next six months will be a critical time period. These businesses have been hit particularly hard and the ones that have survived this long are short on resources and budgets to market to their target customers. Business owners understand that future success hinges on reaching new customers, but proper marketing is too time consuming and expensive. Without in-house resources to help, many are also struggling to leverage digital platforms.

Interesting that during this same time period of uncertainty, brands have begun activating their channels by rolling out aggressive campaigns to solidify existing relationships and pre-empt competitors from capturing market share. Though the effectiveness of these campaigns during this period will be widely monitored as an indication of the rate of recovery, they have been more selectively applied in support of larger, Tier 1 partners.

For all partners, there is no doubt that these branded campaigns will likely help drive demand. However, mid-sized and smaller channel partners are unlikely to leverage these due to the pressures mentioned. The reality is that these sophisticated brand campaigns are tailored for businesses that have in-house marketing. While new, much-touted technologies have undoubtedly streamlined the process and effectiveness of channel marketing for these businesses, the simple truth is that smaller companies lack the ability to leverage these assets.

Mid-tier (and smaller) channel partners are simply overwhelmed with keeping their businesses afloat and are too resource-constrained to dedicate the time and energy to leverage sophisticated vendor marketing campaigns.

Mid-sized and partners are certainly eager to restart their proactive marketing efforts and they have strong value propositions to communicate. But the process of logging into partner portals, downloading brand information and product sheets, customising that information to fit into a partner’s needs, and then determining the best outreach methodology to maximise lead generation is asking too much.

Research done by our firm three years ago proves out that smaller partners at that time lacked the resources to make that process work. And the world has changed dramatically since then, with smaller businesses having even fewer resources available today to make those brand campaigns work for them. In many cases, it is the business owners themselves who are most likely the ones trying to put campaigns together while also managing through multiple simultaneous challenges.

Mid-size and smaller partner companies need specialised tools and services, along with dedicated account experts who can offer support and guidance from the perspective of non-technical users. One of the most important, and proven, characteristics of effective outbound marketing is the need to establish a regular cadence of contact with customers, rather than one-off campaigns that are hastily sent out with minimal follow up and effectiveness measurement.

Also, we know that outreach that includes relevant and engaging information for customers on topics that customers would find useful is critical. In the current business landscape where customers do the vast majority of research online before making contact – if they make direct contact with sales teams at all during the buying process – they are searching for information that resonates with them and the problems they are trying to solve.

It would not be shocking to anyone to learn that the smaller the channel partner business is, the less loyal they are to specific brands, all things being equal.  This stands in stark contrast to large tier-one partner companies. A critical way for brands to solidify the vendor/partner relationship with these smaller businesses is by providing effective marketing solutions that are simple to use and effective. For brands to invest here, the dividends earned on these relationships will be felt for years and could greatly impact future deals.

Single-click access to easily customized co-branded content can also be paired with campaign tools that can be pre-arranged to push timely information to potential buyers. Newsletters, relevant content, microsites and social media selling are all examples of effective marketing tactics that can drive demand without requiring the partner to hire a dedicated team of experts. While brands invest heavily in their sophisticated, multi-tiered portal offerings and technologies for their largest partners, those tools require resources normally deployed by multinational corporations with dedicated channel marketing teams.

Brands can add programs geared for the unique needs of their smaller partners that adhere to all brand consistency requirements and generate qualified sales leads. Of course the question always revolves around cost and return-on-investment.

In terms of investment, the often overlooked variable is how these tailored programs will yield revenue-driving results. In the UK, the evidence is clear, as 95 percent of partner companies we have on-boarded participate in brand campaigns.

In an independent study conducted by Forrester Research on the effectiveness of Through Channel Marketing (TCM), we learned that 80+ percent of mid-tier and smaller partner companies choose not to utilize the partner tools that brands make available. But, when these same companies have access to programs with “single-click” and effective marketing tools with the right engagement content, the utilisation is close to universal. Further, when these partner companies share their closed business data to accurately verify sales successes, the measured ROI is high.

Now that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel with the pandemic, and begin to address the serious issues raised by Brexit, economic conditions will undoubtedly improve. Smaller UK partner companies may need to work twice as hard in the short term to generate customer demand, but now is the time to re-establish their value to customers in the context of this quickly evolving marketplace. If brands will step up and help them, vast potential will be realised.

Author:   Miles Beacroft, OneAffiniti

Miles is the UK Country Manager and the Executive Vice President of EMEA for OneAffiniti, a leader in through-channel marketing solutions for global IT partners and brands. With a career spanning senior marketing and general management roles within Fortune 500 Global technology organisations and award-winning B2B integrated marketing agencies, Miles is uniquely qualified to help companies understand the power of marketing in any sales opportunity.

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