Retro Vibes: Take Your Channel Marketing Strategy ‘Back to the Future’

What’s old is new again. Look at Top Gun: Maverick, a sequel 36 years in the making and the #1 movie in 2022. The song of the summer? “Running Up That Hill,” recorded 37 years ago by Kate Bush and made new again as Max’s Song in Season 4 of the Netflix sci-fi retro hit Stranger Things. These retro vibes aren’t just for pop culture. They impact all walks of life and can even teach us a thing or two about effective channel marketing.

So much has changed for B2B companies in the past two years: Nearly every brand’s channel marketing strategy desperately needs a refresh. And right now, the best way to look ahead is by traveling back to the future. So, slip on your best pair of ‘80s-style wide-leg jeans, and let’s find out how to go retro with your partner marketing strategy.

Nobody puts channel marketing in a corner

Yet, that’s exactly what too many companies do. First, they create a campaign in a box. Then, they give it to their partners, and they expect the magic to happen… only to find out it falls flat or that their partners don’t use it at all. Talk about a wasted opportunity. 

It’s more common than you think. DemandGen’s Report, 2022 Channel Partner Marketing Benchmark Survey, says that only 18% of companies believe their channel marketing efforts are “very effective.” That means 82% of companies already know they need to improve their channel marketing strategies.

Where’s the disconnect? B2B companies and their channel partners come from two different walks of life – just like Baby and Johnny in “Dirty Dancing.” 

B2B companies profit from software and/or hardware sales and assume their channel partners do the same. However, channel partners most often make their money on the services they wrap around hardware or software sales.

That’s why Step 1 in your retro channel marketing strategy is to fix the disconnect by letting go of the status quo. If your channel marketing program isn’t effective, choose to start fresh. Toss any one-sided marketing materials that talk only about the features your solutions provide. Get rid of anything that you know partners aren’t using.

I gave her my heart; she gave me a pen

That famous John Cusack line from “Say Anything” sums up your channel partners’ heartbreak when you don’t listen to them. Remember, most channel partners are small-to-midsize firms. They can’t afford to have their own marketing teams. They rely on you entirely. And if you deliver them lackluster co-branded channel marketing materials, they’ll be devastated.

To avoid this anguish, move on to Step 2 of your retro channel marketing strategy: talk to your partners! Ask them:

  • What’s keeping them up at night?
  • What do they see in the marketplace?
  • What tools do they need to be successful?
  • What’s resonating with their buyers… and what isn’t?

Don’t just have conversations with one or two partners and call it a day. Instead, talk with multiple partners of varying sizes. Take detailed notes. Then review those notes and make sure you incorporate their feedback into your channel marketing strategy reboot.

That’s why they call them channel partners. If they were easy, they’d call them something else.

If I were to sum up the complex world of channel marketing in one line, this (slightly modified) #dadquote from “Sixteen Candles” would do the trick. Channel marketing is overly complex on purpose. You have two sets of buyers to please. That’s why you’ll need to develop two (or more) buyer personas–one to determine your company’s ideal “crushes” and the other to find out who your channel partners crush on.

This is where Step 3 of a retro channel marketing strategy comes into play: Reevaluating all your channel marketing materials and starting to bring your reboot to life.

I recommend breaking down your existing material into these three buckets, using your buyer personas as your guide:

  1. Recruitment – Look at how you’re onboarding partners and use your partners’ input to develop that message
  2. Continuous enablement – Take a deep dive into the tools and training your partners need to succeed
  3. Co-sell and co-market – How can you take your partners’ feedback and create campaigns and sales materials they’ll really use

Once that’s complete, move on to step 4 of a retro channel marketing strategy: prioritize. Choose the materials—a sales deck, one or two campaigns, new case studies—that will help you help your partners the best in the new year. If you follow this formula, you’ll already know what will work and what won’t because you’ve already asked your partners and listened to their feedback.

When channel marketing hits 88 miles per hour, you’ll see some serious sh*t!

Doc Brown’s time-traveling Delorean from “Back to the Future” can’t compare to the hyperspeed benefits of modern channel marketing. DemandGen Report says 96% of B2B leaders expect revenue increases directly attributed to their partner ecosystems. Now that’s some serious sh*t!

This reminds me of one of the less-than-awesome trends we expect to see in 2023: a potential economic downturn. The word “recession” is on everyone’s minds these days. Yet channel marketing brings a potential silver lining.

Your channel partners serve as your company’s extended sales force. The more you empower them to spread the word about the value your company and their companies bring to your customers, the better you’ll weather any economic storm. Just make sure you’re giving them the support they really need, not just the support you think they need.

Channel marketers: Who ya gonna call?

Listen, we could debate all day about whether an all-male or all-female cast created the funnier “Ghostbusters” (Hint: “Girl power!”). But at the end of the day, we’re not movie critics. We’re real, authentic B2B marketers, and we’re here to help your channel marketing teams transform faster than “The Karate Kid” morphed into “Cobra Kai.”

Check out our approach to channel marketing. And if you have any questions, send us a message. Our Head of sales and marketing, Ricky Spiese, will get you an answer pronto!