| targeted customer experiences

Maximizing the Relationship
with Your IT Channel
Learning from 20 Channel Marketers points to
Attracting, Driving, and Enabling
By The Wirestone Channel Marketing Team | October 4, 2008
Strategies for Igniting Growth:
Maximizing the Relationship with Your IT Channel
©2008, Wirestone, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved October 4, 2008
8
Executive Summary
The channel is the lifeblood of any technology brand seeking to achieve and sustain growth domestically and
internationally. Commanding the attention and loyalty of key channel partners is only getting harder as global forces
and increased competition compete for mindshare with the channel. Also, as marketing tools become more complex
and digitally-oriented, the gap between the marketing capabilities of small-to mid-size channel partners and the
desires of the IT brand is widening. While channel strategy priorities will differ from brand to brand, Wirestone
believes that a commitment to a three-step approach will ensure that channel partners of all sizes, go to market
activities and business models are supported and armed for success.
Jargcf Audìcncc l lJ u Channcl Markcfìng Profcssìonal
Figure 1.1
Maximizing the Relationship with Your IT Channel
October 4, 2008 ©2008, Wirestone, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved
4
Whaf Ravc You 0onc For Mc Lafclv?
Affracfìng and ßcfaìnìng 0rcaf Channcl Parfncrs
The perfect storm of events is occurring in the IT channel with the changing economy, IT spending slowing, partners
consolidating, the rise of SaaS and the resulting shift in business models. The competition for channel marketers to
attract and retain the attention of key channel partners is getting harder, especially as it becomes tempting to shift
resources, support and attention to the larger channel partners. There are certainly levels of customization with each
brand’s channel and partner’s business model most of which do not have a “one-size-fits-all” solution.
Wirestone has interviewed 20 channel executives and has drawn upon our decades of experience helping world-
class IT brands market into a channel. Our experience tells us that:
Prcmìcr hrand supporf ìsn’f a luxurv, ìf’s a gìvcn. Brand recognition in the marketplace, underscored by
consistent product quality, is decisive in the escalating competition to attract and retain quality channel partners.
Breakdowns in the brand’s product quality and brand reputation damage goodwill with the channel and make the
process of recruiting and retaining top-tier channel partners more difficult.
Parfncrs wanf aìr covcr for fhcìr ground hafflc. As channel partners organize to attack a vertical market or
region, the brand’s support with marketing and advertising helps to ease the conversations happening in the
field. Partners recognize the awareness support of the brand and reward vendors accordingly. Ensure that you are
merchandising your efforts to key and new channel partners continuously.
Lìkc anv rclafìonshìp, communìcafìon ìs fhc kcv. Best-in-class channel strategies are characterized by
dedicated, proactive communication, seamless information flow and immediate response to inquiries and/or
easy access to information. As we spoke with both channel marketers and partners, we noticed that ‘perception
is reality’ when it comes to communication and relationship management. Many channel marketers felt that
they had the tools in place to communicate marketing programs, technical information or product changes with
partners, yet the partners typically felt that communications were inconsistent, sporadic or a monologue rather
than a dialogue.
Jhc channcl parfncr’s salcs forcc ìs coìn-opcrafcd. Love it or hate it, the fastest way to the hearts of sales
people is through their wallet. The demand for their attention from IT and technology vendors results in a storm
of information, promotions and deals. Breaking through the clutter and activating this army of sales people is
critical to mobilizing a channel on your behalf. Creative, innovative, easy-to-understand and compelling incentives
will capture the hearts, minds and wallets of your partner’s sales force.
Charf an ìnccnfìvc coursc and sfìck wìfh ìf. Motivation for sales success can equal growth for vendors. Rewards
and incentive programs should be understandable for the channel partners, and seen as beneficial for channel
partners of all sizes. The best brands engage their channel partners in the business planning of quotas and sales
to ensure that the partners don’t feel that goals were set arbitrarily. Partners often feel that a goal is unrealistic,
but don’t make it too easy for them to achieve. Remember, growth is always the motivation. Also, perennially
changing the parameters of a program can become frustrating to sales people and their managers. Try and stay
true to the benchmarks of the program and minimize changes in the triggers as the channel may see this as
trickery and a move to ensure that few people achieve the goals.





Maximizing the Relationship with Your IT Channel
©2008, Wirestone, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved October 4, 2008
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ldcas For Affracfìng and ßcfaìnìng 0rcaf Channcl Parfncrs
At the core of the best vendor-partner relationships is the solid foundation of timely communication, mutual
respect and a focus on helping the channel partner be as successful as possible. Finding the secret formula for
communicating with your various channel partners will be relevant to your channel, but the basics of open and clear
communication will stay the same. Wirestone recommends the following ideas in keeping the best channel partners
loyal to your brand:
Conducf an audìf of vour parfncr communìcafìon cfforfs: Take a close look at your strengths and
weaknesses with your channel partner program. Develop some surveys for the sales and area managers, as
well as your channel partners. You might be surprised by what you hear. Develop a roadmap for near-term and
future improvements to the communications, and don’t forget to merchandise your investment in these efforts
with your channel partners.
Crcafc an cffccfìvc parfncr porfal: In conjunction with a personal outreach approach, build a powerful,
relevant online portal for your channel partners. First, survey your channel partners for their level of comfort in
consuming information and content via the web. The levels of sophistication of web technographics vary with
partner-size, but the mistake brands often make is assuming that partners don’t want to engage online. Best-
in-class IT brands are providing a variety of information via portals such as lead generation and tracking, deal
registration, sales history, incentives, marketing materials, support usage training, and certifications achieved.
Also, as leadership in channel partners become younger, the usage of the web increases. After surveying your
channel audience, create a partner portal based on the following principles:
An on-demand marketing-solution center: this includes a catalog, partner and program logo and guidelines,
marketing tools that provide channel partners with a means to create marketing campaigns specific to their
markets and products, a channel for discounted development and distribution of those campaigns and a
discounted or free telesales operation for follow-up.
Cohesive branding: Establish visual consistency in the eyes of the channel partner across all of your web
properties including your portal, microsites, main domain.com and promotional sites.
Intuitive hierarchy of information: Assign weight to the arrangement of available information/links based
on channel partner interest and traffic. Give time-sensitive and featured information more prominence in
order to gain attention. Organize and group areas of interest to improve navigability and focus
Set expectations: Provide an overview of the portal’s advantages and how it can help the channel partners
get the right information fast. Provide improved user expectations based on each link (e.g., If I click here,
what will happen/where will I go?)
Customized information: Create a partner portal that allows customized and weighted information as a
gateway to other more content heavy information.
Introduce top-level marketing strategy: Create a channel partner community presence and introduce
executive sponsors by way of personalized information (blog). This becomes even more powerful if your
organization has vertical experts that the channel partner can access via this community.
Provide relevant channel partner industry information: Create a reason for the partner to visit the site
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Maximizing the Relationship with Your IT Channel
October 4, 2008 ©2008, Wirestone, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved
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frequently by aggregating multi-media content from around the web for instant access by the partner.
Make their life easier by allowing them to customize the content they receive in the portal.
Push vs. pull: Introduce desktop application that allows customized information to live even closer to the
channel partner. Provide more “click through” links on the channel partner e-newsletters to drive channel
partners directly to their areas of interest.
Jakc anofhcr look af vour parfncr rclafìonshìp sfrucfurc. A best-in-class relationship management structure
would employ outside reps providing dedicated, proactive trips to most channel partners. Consider building a
tiered relationship management approach that rewards your best channel partners but ensures that emerging
and smaller partners don’t feel alienated. For example, Microsoft directly manages 1,500 partners through
area managers and “Developer Evangelists” and HP provides opportunity for partners to participate in Special
Interest Groups based on either vertical or technical specialty. They receive access to additional resources based
on commitment. Is there a more streamlined manner in which your organization could structure the channel
relationship? Consider restructuring or adding to the structure with special interest groupings, such as vertical
markets or product/service specialty. Strategically focus resources, programs and tools on the dedicated efforts.
0cvclop a communìcafìon plan fo channcl parfncrs. Opportunities for improved communication with
channel partners could include:
Dedicating an additional point of contact to mid-level or emerging-growth partners who serve as
enablement partners, assisting with marketing planning, sales strategies, etc.
Developing a communication plan for channel partners. Document what correspondence goes out, in what
format, and when. Clearly indicate how channel partners access categories of information.
Developing template for all communications (from any source) so that partners will always know how to
find information. For example, Weekly e-mails from district managers in a template format that announce
promotions, results, changes in plans, etc.
Crcafc and promofc a channcl-advìsorv hoard. Many IT vendors maintain channel advisory boards, but fall
down when merchandising the effort and continually engaging the key members of the board. Raise the profile
of the board by creating a brand identity for the effort and elevating the prominence and importance of the
effort to your organization. Roll out reintroduction with objectives, schedule, bios of representatives, how a CP
can apply to be on board, how a CP can submit information (via forum on MOL?), how results of meetings are
announced, and how final outcomes/improvements are communicated.
1usf Add Wafcr.
ldcnfìfv fhc mcans fo drìvc qualìfcd lcads ìnfo fhc channcl
In a recent survey of channel partners conducted by ChannelWeb, 82.7 percent of respondents specified that they
are motivated by qualified leads provided by the IT vendor.
Is that statistic any surprise? Who wouldn’t want qualified leads spoon-fed to their business? In our research,
channel partners specified that a clearly defined lead program should generate leads to channel partners, and allow
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Maximizing the Relationship with Your IT Channel
©2008, Wirestone, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved October 4, 2008
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the manufacturer to track and measure lead activity. The best-in-class IT vendors are engaging the field sales teams
and sharing leads. Their process follows a highly proactive approach in working with their channel partners. The
channel partners are engaged by the vendor’s sales people for joint sales activity in vendor and net new accounts
and collaborate at the initial discussion stages of a new opportunity.
Pcrccpfìon ìs rcalìfv wìfh channcl conßìcf. In our research, there often existed a perceptual gap between how
the channel partner felt about the velocity and quality of the leads being directed to them by the vendor and
how the channel marketing managers at the vendor felt about the volume and quality of the leads. In addition,
partners often felt that the best leads were saved for the vendor’s sales force and never passed along or worked in
conjunction with channel partners.
0ualìfv vs. quanfìfv. Simply creating cold leads for the channel partners isn’t enough. The best vendors are
investing considerably in lead-nurturing strategies that qualify prospects to the parameters established by the
new business strategy. Then, and only then, are the leads turned over to the channel partners for either direct
close or joint sales efforts. Partners expressed that they would like to spend a greater majority of their marketing
development funds on lead generation activities rather than other types of broader marketing efforts.
ßulcs of cngagcmcnf. A critical step in assuring that the vendor’s sales personnel and the channel partners are
aligned on deal development is to have a common philosophy as to the policies and code of conduct in working
leads in the channel. Tie this code of conduct closely to performance reviews and bonuses as to avoid favoritism
and/or shady activities. For example, IBM’s 35,000 field sales people sign a code of conduct that they will do
everything in their power to avoid ‘unhooking’ a deal from one channel partner for another. A well-written code
of conduct will include roles and responsibilities in name and non-named accounts with a mutually agreed upon
list of named accounts and an escalation process should conflict occur.
ldcas for ìdcnfìfvìng fhc mcans fo drìvc qualìfcd lcads ìnfo fhc channcl
The panacea for a solid vendor-channel relationship with regards to lead generation is an active, proactive lead
sharing system for creating, nurturing and parsing leads to partners at the various tiers of engagement. Providing
brand support for the purposes of helping the channel working and closing deals is also a critical component of
driving business for both organizations.
Ccnfralìzc dcal rcgìsfrafìon and acfìvc follow-up. Think about developing a service that allows the more
advanced and higher-tier partners in your relationship management program to register deals online through
an extranet. Develop a “guaranteed” follow-up timeframe (72 hours) from your sales personnel to follow
through on the lead for validation and routing to the most relevant vendor sales reps or partners.
Wrìfc vour codc. Create a code of conduct or rules of engagement in working with channel partners that
each person on your sales team signs and posts in their office or cubicle. Make it part of your culture by
incorporating into performance reviews and bonus structures. Merchandise the code with your partners when
recruiting and attracting new partners to represent your brand and products.
Show Jhcm Jhc Moncv. Don’t be shy about merchandising the investment you’re making in the channel



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Maximizing the Relationship with Your IT Channel
October 4, 2008 ©2008, Wirestone, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved
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relationships. Speaking in objective, dollars-and-cents terms illustrates your commitment to helping your
partners be as successful as possible. Make sure to measure your partner’s use of resources for both pre- and
post-sales support.
Jcach Jhcm Jo Fìsh: Fccd Jhcm For Lìfc.
0o hcvond co-markcfìng, cnahlc fhc channcl fo hc hcffcr markcfcrs
Many of the small–to mid-size channel partners we spoke with yearned for the marketing and selling expertise
necessary to grow their business. It is clear that many of the smaller channel partners do not have the wherewithal
to properly segment, target and nurture their territories. This goes beyond basic marketing knowledge and more
sophisticated techniques, to include advanced web strategies such as search engine marketing, use of blogs and social
media and employing a vertical market attack strategy. Vendors have a great opportunity to go further than just
offering marketing materials and templates, but to mentor and educate their channel partners to be better marketers.
Fcwcr, hìggcr, hcffcr. Channel partners often expressed a state of confusion or overload with the velocity and
relevance of the programs and tools offered by a vendor. Look at the program from their perspectives; they
are bombarded with messaging, promotions, web-based tools and other training programs by many different
vendors. Capturing and holding their attention is harder to accomplish. In our experience, vendors launch
programs and solutions into the channel without establishing the appropriate metrics and usage measurement
devices. Often, marketing staff at the vendors is just “checking a box” when they launch a program rather than
developing an insightful program and optimizing as feedback comes in from the channel.
Lcf fhcm hc. More often than not, territories of channel partners overlap, especially the smaller organizations.
The management of the partners also understand that vendors often provide templates and information in the
same format to all partners. This boxes the partners in and can minimize the opportunity for personalization
and customization. Channel partners seek to differentiate and would welcome an opportunity to package your
information within their brand voice and identity.
Lìghfcn up. Many channel partners like the marketing tools that vendors provide to them either through a web
portal or extranet. In addition, many vendors provide web-based solutions for partners to dip their toe into e-
commerce. However, the usage of those systems often come with restrictions in only selling the OEM’s products
through those systems.
For smaller channel partners, it usually isn’t reasonable to expect them to manage separate web presences
for their different brands or for them to only represent one brand in the market place. Try to find other ways
to capitalize on the investment you’ve made in the system brand rules versus competitive set. Think about
how Progressive Insurance shows consumers their pricing against the rest of the market – this demonstrates
confidence in your products and services.
8c acfìvc. For a large OEM vendor, where the channel marketing team spends their time is often the $64,000
question. With a channel partner count that can often run into the tens of thousands, making them feel like
they are getting the attention of the brand can be a daunting task. For the loyal and higher-tier channel
partners, create a compelling method of engaging them in active marketing planning. The partners long for your
expertise and guidance on how to not only represent your brands in the market, but also how to outsmart their




Maximizing the Relationship with Your IT Channel
©2008, Wirestone, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved October 4, 2008
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competition and create new value from their territories. Train your district managers to not only be great sales
people, but also to be consultative marketers. They are often perceived as the face of the vendor and passing
along their expertise to the channel partners can be invaluable.
ldcas for supporfìng channcl parfncrs wìfh go-fo-markcf sfrafcgìcs and fools fhaf cnahlc salcs succcss.
Crcafc a huìld-fo-suìf promofìonal calcndar. Sales managers at the channel partners expend a great deal of
energy trying to keep their sales team focused. With a high-velocity of promotions being launched by vendors
all at once, it fragments the attention of the sales team. Create a marketing calendar so that sales managers
can pick and choose promotions based on their business objectives and customer needs.
Acf lìkc an agcncv. Vendors often have world-class marketers among their ranks that are typically only
focused on advancing the agenda of the vendor’s brand. Small to mid-size channel partners long for that
marketing expertise. Think about developing a marketing curriculum that partners can access through an
Academy-format whether online or offline. One possibility is to engage an outside partner to develop the
structure and administer the program on your behalf. Start with the basics of marketing (segmenting, targeting,
value proposition etc.) before launching to more advanced topics.
Faìl fo plan, plan fo faìl. Creating and sustaining a dialog with your channel partners with regard to their
business and marketing plans is critical in achieving joint success. Help them accomplish the quotas you’ve put
in place for them. However, knowing that all partners are not equal, finding ways to make everyone feel special
is the secret sauce. Think about developing an online planning tool that creates joint business plans and makes
subsequent recommendations for marketing tactics to reach objectives for the partners.
Sharc and sharc alìkc. Channel partners almost always long for more qualified leads. Having a vendor program
that pre-qualifies leads based on the marketing campaigns launched at the vendor level is important. Allow
partners to access telesales qualification through the use of their supplied marketing funds. Partners often
don’t have the resources to qualify leads appropriately and will offer their loyalty to the hand that feeds them.
Through your partner relationship program, offer more services to higher-tiers and don’t forget to merchandise
those services to companies at the lower-tiers; this may motivate them to achieve higher-tier status.
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