Influencers, Alliance Partners, and Advocates–Oh My!

Technology is evolving faster than ever. With it comes massive shifts in the way we think about, strategize, and take action on marketing ideas—especially in the IT channel.

Technology marketers have to read a ton to stay afloat in a fast-moving industry. And the buck doesn’t stop there. We’ve somehow got to synthesize what we’ve learned, analyze how it aligns with our organizations and initiatives, and develop plans to implement the ideas that matter—all while getting the day-to-day done!

If you’re finding all this difficult, you’re not alone!

A recent Channel Pro UK article titled Good-bye Channel, Hello Partner Ecosystem was the perfect example of an idea-rich article that might make our friends and clients feel overwhelmed. So we decided to pitch in and summarize it—then unpack what’s needed—for you.

Here’s what high-level channel management and channel analysts say is on deck for the next wave of transition:

  • Marked increases in direct B2B ecommerce purchasing that threaten current sales and marketing paradigms for channel partners
  • Continued shift in IT purchases being made outside of the IT department by line-of-business (LOB) buyers
  • Vendor migration away from tiered programs to non-hierarchical models that better meet partners where their expertise lies
  • Growth of non-traditional partner types (e.g., accountants and marketing agencies) which Jay McBain calls “influencers, alliance partners, or advocates” that have a unique set of program and support requirements

So how does this get translated for busy Channel Marketing Managers?


Collaboration is key – Who can help me with this?

Because we’re moving from structured and tiered channel programs to distributed, non-hierarchical partner ecosystems, collaboration is key. And adopting a collaborative thinking process is also an integral part to moving forward.

We know it can be a huge pain point for partner-facing teams to find time for both tactics and strategy. Executing tactically with agency support drives revenue so that’s where all the energy goes. But how do you also find time to strategize not only what’s next but what’s going to make a difference? How do you become a high-performing intrapreneur?

Collaboration. Nothing is created alone. So developing partnerships with teammates, partners, across vendors, and with a consultative team that can step in, bring fresh ideas, dissect the root of the challenge, and implement solutions is critical.


Lines of business (LOB) buyers – You want me to sell to WHO?

Historically, technology channel partners have sold into the IT department regardless of which group needed the solutions. In many cases, that dynamic has changed. Marketing, HR, accounting, operations, and other departments have purchasing power and operate as decision makers independently from IT. Even when IT is the buyer, salespeople and marketing content have to be able to reach these influencers. And speak their language, too.

For prospecting partners, this shift causes a massive learning curve. For vendors, it represents challenges in sales enablement tactics and tools. Therefore, partners will need more support in understanding the intricacies of the LOBs they’re targeting. Channel Managers will need to embrace that selling into multiple departments with diverse needs may require business development knowledge that traditional partners may not have. Providing partner reps with the tactics and strategies they need to navigate this new situation will become central to driving revenue to and through partners.


Custom solutions – How am I going to find the time to do that?

With partner ecosystems, LOB buyers, and online options dominating B2B purchasing, partners will need more and different content for marketing and sales enablement.

For example, Directors of Marketing who vet martech stacks make judgments about partners’ marketing initiatives. It’s like a chef having opinions as a dinner party guest. They can’t “turn off” their expertise.  A marketer would evaluate and instill trust (or not) based on knowledge that the average non-marketing buyer doesn’t have. Likewise HR, accounting, and operations all have pain points, criteria, and expectations that differ from IT Directors who were once in charge of all IT purchases.

The shift indicates that while content is still king, the type, quantity, and focus of partner- and end-user-facing content from vendors will have to be more targeted and streamlined, and dare we say, personalized. Some specific changes might be to:

  • Sales enablement and onboarding content – Revisited with an eye to these end-user audiences.
  • Co-branded content – Promoting new collaborations as they form–as well as supporting materials to outline the processes, tools, brand standards, and rules of engagement.
  • Partner relationship management (PRM) systems and partner portals – Restructuring and customizing to account for new content and user needs plus facilitating collaboration.


Choosing your place on the adoption lifecycle

Like the adoption of technology itself, these changes will probably follow that familiar curve. So most channel marketing folks aren’t too far behind—yet. If you’re looking to get out in front, though, now is the perfect time to start thinking and talking more about collaboration, evolving content, and creating bridges from here to the next industry shift so we can help partners navigate and find success.

We invite you to start doing that talking—here in the comments and with us directly. We’d love to hear your thoughts!