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Down with the hierarchy

Coterie global partner marketing report signals the death of partner tiers 

Tiered partner programmes have been a mainstay of channel engagement for what seems like forever, but could their time be up? 

A new report from Coterie, the dedicated channel and partner strategy and execution specialist, and The University of Huddersfield suggests that the hierarchical systems we have all grown used to may not be the right model for partner marketing in an age of disruption caused by everything from cloud computing to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Based on interviews with senior partner marketing professionals in 23 organisations, Ecosystems 2.0 – How to drive marketing value from your most important relationships draws attention to and makes the case for ecosystem and partner marketing – what Coterie describes as the Cinderella of B2B marketing. 

Helen Curtis, Founding Director of Coterie, said: “One of the things we were interested to learn was how having ‘everything-as-a-service’ is completely changing things and creating the need for partners to work in an ecosystem. What does that mean from a partner marketing point of view?” 

Coterie describes an ecosystem as a group of vendors and partners that come together to create a proposition for a client that the client can then modify, for example by taking out one component and inserting another in its place. 

Curtis points out that this approach is becoming increasingly popular with end user customers. 

“The market is so awash with vendors and choice for CTOs and CIOs that companies coming together in an ecosystem can be better for the end customer and good for marketeers – it is a 1 plus 1 equals 5 story. We have really seen over the last year, and even more so in the last six months, that there is more of an appetite for working together than there has been before.”

Jo Dunkley

Jo Dunkley, Director, Partner & Propositions Marketing at Coterie, adds that this trend is really being driven by the market. 

“In the past, partner marketing has been very much about pushing your product out. But more and more, ecosystem marketing is requiring marketeers to address how they work with partners. The value proposition is becoming important: it is not just a question of displaying a logo; it is about understanding that joint value that a vendor and a partner bring. And, it might not be just one partner, it could be as many as eight partners.” 

The transition from shifting product to creating a joint value proposition clearly calls into question the fairness and effectiveness of tiering partners by volume rather than, say, their expertise or understanding of a customer’s technology and business challenges. 

New skills 

Not surprisingly, the ability to understand how multiple parties can work together and make a difference to the customer and then to articulate that very succinctly demands a different skillset from marketeers. 

“There is a need for marketeers to be very customer-focused and there is a need for marketeers working in this area to be much more digitally savvy, because when customers buy solutions, they do a lot of their research online,” explains Dunkley. 

“Partners can add value to that, because the joint value proposition is very much part of that buying journey and if the partner is present, they can capture that there, rather than through traditional channel marketing tactics. They need to upskill and take a bit more notice of this marketing area that we call the Cinderella of marketing.” 

Curtis adds that the pandemic has strengthened the case for a more skills- based, digitally savvy approach. “You have always had to have really good interpersonal skills in partner marketing, because it is about relationships. But with the pandemic, you have to try harder because you can only communicate through a video screen.” 

On top of that, she says that ecosystem marketeers need to be much more active in predicting and pre-empting demand through thought leadership and targeted marketing. 

“Before, things were a bit more slow- paced and things were a bit more fixed and marketeers could support sales teams in a business in a more methodical, programmatic way, but now they have got to be a lot more agile.” 

Dunkely adds: “What I find interesting is using partners to develop value propositions from a market trend point of view, rather than just a product push: getting partners involved in what’s new rather than just selling off the truck; adding value early on to the very end customer through thought leadership co-creation, rather than bombarding them with loads of LinkedIn ads; getting them to be much more strategic.” 

Summing up, she says: “Something like 60% of IT revenues go through some indirect route, so it’s crazy that partner marketing, ecosystem marketing ends up on the bottom of the marketing agenda. We think it should be at the top.” 

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