Channel Marketing During COVID-19: Your Partners Need Support and MDF Now More Than Ever

Undergoing change during unprecedented times is inevitable and most businesses are pretty equipped to handle industry changes under normal circumstances; however, we’re not living during normal circumstances. As the ongoing effects of COVID-19 disrupt how companies navigate sales and marketing team efforts, one thing remains strong — humanized marketing messages and transparent community support is what is pushing industries forward. And while companies are finding new ways to successfully support their customers, some channel partners are left wondering how their role and partner community will be affected. In reality, channel partners need just as much support from you as your customers do. Effective channel partners are backed by a strong partner community which plays a key role in helping to scale high-growth companies. And there’s no better time than now to prioritize building a stronger network of partners that’s bulletproof to COVID-19 disruption and beyond. Let’s get started on how you can improve your channel partner support in order to stay competitive and profitable.

Put your money where your (marketing) mouth is: Provide channel partners with more market development funds

Businesses in any industry need to keep marketing and they will always need marketing if they want to continue growing — so do channel partners. According to SiriusDecisions, high performing companies allocate 17% of their total marketing budget to channel marketing and invest 23% more in market development funds (MDF) than low-growth organizations. Throwing marketing dollars into just any program won’t solve everything, but using your marketing dollars wisely while addressing the needs of your company and your channel partners, will. Successful vendors support their channel partners as if they were catering to their own clients through persona messaging, engaging the partners that are executives, marketers, salespersons, technicians, and more. With this, comes the importance of communicating how your company will continue to support its channel partners through existing or new market development funds (MDF). Be very specific in addressing how to navigate through the current climate of COVID-19 — for example, helping partners find ways to reallocate MDF to other campaigns or initiatives if the funds were earmarked for live events that were canceled or postponed. Use these two tips to help your company budget its marketing dollars wisely:

  • Address the market trends: Do not cut back on marketing funds for the sole purpose of “playing it safe.” Although marketing budgets across various industries have undergone setbacks during the current COVID-19 era, budgets are still holding steady because marketing dollars still need to be used elsewhere, i.e. digital campaigns and market development funds. And now is the perfect time to put the needed attention and resources into MDF.
  • Sustain the needed amount of market development funds: Ask the right questions — what can you provide your channel partners with so they can leverage marketing funds and what resources do your channel partners need in order to grow and retain business?

There’s no “I” in “team,” but there’s an “E” for evolve: Train your channel partners on fundamental marketing tactics

Channel partners may not say it, but they need more than marketing dollars to succeed. The average channel partner has very little marketing resources and budget dollars — 84% of the partners did not have a dedicated marketing resource according to Zift Solutions. Most partners don’t have the staff, skills, and expertise needed to run certain marketing programs in-house. One way to enable partners to succeed in selling your product or service is to provide resources and opportunities for their teams to upskill. For example, one of our clients who specializes in accounting technology and provides software-as-a-service has successfully launched an ongoing webinar series geared towards helping their channel partners with marketing tactics. Channel partners are able to learn the basics of fundamental marketing through on-demand webinar episodes, virtual event support, and other branded and tailored resources. Setting your partners and their marketing efforts up for continued success is all in the details — don’t create training material that’s too advanced, but do focus on what resonates and what can get real results. Create a channel partner training program that utilizes the following:

  • Fundamental marketing training: The goal is to educate partners about marketing fundamentals that work for their company and team. Start by understanding the expertise and limitations of your partners and work with them by filling in the knowledge gaps. Deploying something like an ongoing webinar series that teaches channel partners about marketing fundamentals is an easy, scalable resource that your partners can consume on their own time.
  • Upskilling programs: Offer training resources that your team can easily execute such as free webinars, digital guides, infographics, pre-recorded videos, and an online support hub. Progressive training programs that are easily accessible through a community portal will help partners transform their skillset and ultimately their business (and yours.)

Uncomplicate partner programs and watch your partners (and your business) flourish: Provide channel partners with more turnkey marketing programs

Now, with the right marketing budget and a skilled team to make your marketing goals happen, it’s time to simplify the campaign process, making it so easy for your channel partners to market your product or service that there’s a low chance for failure. According to the 2112 Group, 73% of partners say that vendor channel programs are too complex. Companies thrive when their partners thrive, and if partner programs are too complicated, it creates an inefficient channel sales environment that can hinder scalable business growth. Here’s where turnkey programs are the answer. Establish ready-to-use marketing campaigns that can be easily deployed by partners with existing tools and resources. Provide channel partners with everything they need to successfully launch and maintain marketing efforts that get results:

  • Plug-and-play campaigns: Create a series of turnkey marketing campaigns that work for your specific channel partners. How your partners deliver marketing campaigns to customers depends on what guidelines and resources you provide them with. Ensure your brand image and core messaging remain strong whether one, fifteen, or one hundred partners launch your turnkey campaigns.
  • Asset toolbox: Empower partners to deploy customizable and relevant content by providing templates such as approved offers and demos, static and digital content such as infographics, ebooks, whitepapers, checklists, videos, and more.

Successful organizations are looking to invest more in channel partners and programs that go beyond their own sales process or any one-time event (digital or live) — it’s all about long-term growth and innovation. Creating a channel sales ecosystem that fully supports every partner and stakeholder will help build network trust and sales efficiency. High performing industries are progressing, and Unreal Digital Group can act as a strategic partner that can help you stay competitive in an ever-changing market.

Contact us if you have any questions or would like to learn more channel marketing, trends, and other ways to connect with and grow your partner network. And, be sure to follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook so you don’t miss out on additional strategies and insights.