Making B2B channel marketing work harder

While recent years have seen a shift towards direct selling in B2B, for many businesses the channel remains critical to success. Yet it’s all too common to hear both sides complain about the support they receive. 

B2B marketers complain that they’re simply handing across MDF cash with, as far as they can tell, little to show for it. The channel complains that vendors are not providing the right kind of support and materials to help them sell effectively (or that they simply see them as a pipeline target).

It’s less than ideal.

Next week, we’re involved in a breakfast session of senior B2B marketers exploring the whole issue of channel marketing. It’ll be fascinating hearing others’ experiences and challenges. But leading up to the session, we wanted to offer our perspective having worked with a number of vendors on their channel programmes over the years.

So here are our 5 top tips for more effective B2B channel marketing.

1: Get your focus and balance right

In any channel marketing programme, there are three core areas of focus:

  1. Selling to the channel
  2. Selling through the channel
  3. Selling the channel partner

Typically, however, vendors focus on just one or two of these. 

So they will spend lots of time and effort giving the partner a ton of information and training about their products and leave them to it.

Or they will deliver lots of end-user-based material for the channel sales team (often bottom of the funnel focused) and restrict higher value content to their own efforts.

Or, less commonly, they’ll put most of their efforts into visibly collaborating with the channel partner (often at events) to help grow the partner’s brand and reputation.

The answer is to get a balance of all three.

2. Get serious or go home

A lot of channel marketing activity suffers from being too ad hoc, too reactive. This is something most vendors would try to avoid in their own businesses, so why should it be any different for the channel?

Having a clear plan of activity, working to a common strategy, and establishing an agreed vision of success (with metrics) will keep everyone on track. What’s more, it shows the channel partner that you're serious about the relationship.

This should never be a one-way fait accompli. Too many vendors bestow their programmes on the channel as some kind of gift from above. In this, they forget that other vendors are almost certainly doing the same and that most channel partners are not in an exclusive relationship (quite the opposite).

In the same way that not enough businesses do meaningful research into their end customers, the same tends to apply to the channel. Taking time to talk with partners, understanding their specific businesses and challenges, will pay massive dividends over the long term. 

These should all be seen as basic hygiene factors for a successful programme.

3: All partners are not created equal

A small VAR is very different from a big VAR. System integrators are different again, as are distributors. A one-size-fits-all approach will tend to be a poor fit for everyone.

You may of course already have gold/silver/bronze-style tiers for partners, each with a commitment and programme attached. If not, consider creating one.

If this is not possible, look to segment your partners the same way you (hopefully) segment your customers. Look at all the elements such as geographic focus, average deal size, vertical sector specialism, level of exclusivity etc to build up personas for your different partners. 

Then, start to look at the kind of support and activity each may require.

For example, a large VAR focused on high-touch enterprise sales is likely to benefit from a more collaborative ABM-style approach or RFI support. Whereas an SME-focused operation may require more in the way of telemarketing scripts, demo materials and objection-handling guidance. 

4. Not just datasheets and PowerPoint

There is, of course, a wide range of content and activity you can provide and co-create. All the usual suspects will be there from the obligatory datasheets and PowerPoint through to the event-in-a-box and other swag that is often part of these programmes.

As we’ve mentioned, every partner is different. But remember, every partner also gets this kind of material from other vendors. So what will make yours stand out (and get used)?

While we’re not going to be prescriptive on content, here are 4 areas to consider:

  1. Think beyond product-related customer-focused content—make sure you go beyond the usual ‘what customers need to buy’ material and look at content focused on ‘how customers can solve their key issues’ and ‘why this is important and urgent for their businesses’
  2. Help your channel partners adopt challenger selling—the benefits of the Challenger Sale are well documented but rely on the seller understanding their customer’s business to a greater degree than ever before. You can help partners do this with content that places your solution(s) in a deeper business context
  3. Widen their horizons (and opportunities)—deliver content that shows how your products work within a wider solution that will help partners better serve their customers and convert higher value sales
  4. Create great playbooks—help partner sales people quickly understand the issues businesses face and how your solution meets those challenges in a way other approaches and competitors simply cant. Arm them ways to identify relevant pain points and give them answers to common objections. Go further and give them the tools to stand their ground in the face of unreasonable procurement demands. Importantly, make this playbook a quick and easy read

5. Close the loop

So you’ve run a channel marketing programme, did it work?

Too many programmes fail due to woolly or absent evidence of success. All too often, this comes down to a reticence about sharing data. But without this, how will you ever justify your investment? It’s critical that you agree in advance what will be measured, who will measure it and when the data will be delivered.

There are an almost endless number of metrics you could focus on. Your chosen ones will reflect your business priorities. However, we’d suggest the following 6 for starters:

  1. Uptake rates—it’s basic but fundamental: was the content and material used? When you consider that a worryingly high volume of marketing-created sales content is never used by in-house teams, why should this be different in the channel? This is where some form of digital asset management (DAM) system will help as it’ll show you who downloaded what and when
  2. Partner-generated revenue—did sales increase? Did they do so above market norms?
  3. Conversion rates—did the channel partner convert more leads into sales than they otherwise would have done? How do these compare to historic figures across your channel partners?
  4. Sales velocity—did the partner shorten their sales cycle? Were you successful in helping them close more deals faster?
  5. Satisfaction—on a purely subjective level, were they happy with the programme? Is their relationship with you stronger as a result? Do they have active suggestions for what else you can do together?
  6. ROI—from a commercial standpoint, was it worth it? Did it significantly contribute to you hitting your own numbers?

For many B2B organisations, the channel is critical to success. While this article just begins to scratch the surface, hopefully it’ll provide some food for thought for anyone struggling to make their channel marketing work harder.

Got questions/comments? We’d love to hear them.

Drop us a line at hello@consideredcontent.com


Revenue responsibility: are you owning it?

The Revenue Rift Report by Considered

Chances are, when you started your role in B2B marketing, you weren’t tasked with revenue generation. After all, delivering the company’s income has traditionally been the responsibility of sales with marketing more often offering up-stream support.

Take a look at the sales team in your own organisation. They spend weeks on end developing business opportunities, making contact with leads, forecasting revenue pipeline, juggling buying committees, and closing deals. It takes persistence, time and not a little luck to hit their quotas.

So what happens when less and less of the sales process is actually under their control? 

What happens when senior management decides that marketing should be more directly responsible for revenue?


The new revenue reality for B2B marketers

In most B2B companies today, sales still carries significant quotas, but marketing is becoming responsible for an ever-increasing amount of revenue. In our latest research52% of mid-market and enterprise marketers said they are under ‘a lot of pressure’ to deliver pipeline and revenue. This increases to 56% when we look just at enterprise marketers. 

52% of B2B marketers are under a lot of pressure to deliver revenue and pipeline

What’s more, it’s increasing. 

A massive 86% of respondents say the pressure has become worse in the last 12 to 18 months. Just under half (49%) say it’s increased a lot. 

Of course, advances in campaign analytics and marketing attribution have made rapid improvements. Today, more than ever, marketing can see the direct results of its activities all the way to bottom-line revenue. It’s imperfect certainly, often showing more correlation than causation, but it’s leagues ahead of where it was just a few years ago.

What’s more, the modern B2B buyer is showing an increasing tendency to avoid sales until they really have to. They’re doing more online research and content consumption, becoming more informed before making contact. In fact, LinkedIn found that the average decision maker reads 10 pieces of content before completing their purchase decision.

Simply, they’re spending more time as an ‘unknown’ – more time on marketing’s side of the fence.


Greater accountability = greater power

While the pressure is on, to be clear, this isn’t bad news. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that marketing was under constant pressure simply to prove the value of its existence

Having responsibility for the bottom line is a dramatic improvement in comparison. It demonstrates that companies recognise marketers as not merely the brand’s purveyors of creativity, but contributors to the business and its growth in a meaningful way.

But it does mean a greater emphasis on accountability – and that means delivering hard numbers. In fact, in our research, 31% of respondents say increasing marketing-driven revenue is a key marketing priority for the year ahead.

It also means implementing brand and demand strategies that can handle a greater part of the sales cycle, as the marketing department is also handing off opportunities at later stages than before. 

And it means having a far better relationship with sales.

Ultimately, it means marketers can no longer collect email addresses and pass them to sales as ‘leads’. They need to take a more rigorous approach, tracking prospects across the entire lead-to-revenue cycle, assessing and scoring them against meaningful metrics at every stage.


Getting performance metrics right

The move to more bottom-line responsibility means fluffy lead metrics are out (as are vanity measures of engagement such as likes and shares). So what replaces them?

The number one performance metric for the marketers in our survey is delivering marketing-generated pipeline/revenue – even ahead of closed:won rates. This is both a reflection to the increased pressure they face and a demonstration of a move to adopting a more commercially-focused mindset.

The reality is that, today, marketers have access to a wider range of data than ever before, and can respond it far more nimbly as well. As such they can gain greater intelligence and insight into buyers and trends than ever before (far more than is generally available to sales).

What’s more, marketing is a function that understands the wider market. The CMO is predominantly a market-facing role. It’s their job to be able to understand and respond to changes in customer expectations and demand.


The time to act is now

The results from our study are clear: it’s time for marketers to take responsibility for more of the pipeline, and ownership of the revenue targets.

Yet even as recently as January 2018, Deloitte reported that only 6% of CMOs are actively working on growing global revenue. And as a result their report points out:

Many CMOs struggle to establish the kind of interdepartmental collaborations that can allow them to expand their influence – and value – beyond the marketing organisation.

Not good.

So what does this mean in practice?

While nothing here is rocket science, becoming more focused on the bottom line can often mean flipping traditional approaches on their heads. Simply, it means starting with revenue and working back:

  • What’s the revenue goal? 
  • How many new customers will it take to meet it? 
  • What kind of customers?
  • What’s the typical ratio of sales qualified leads to get to that number of clients?
  • And how many marketing qualified leads need to convert? 

This will also mean balancing your short- and long-term objectives. The danger of developing a revenue obsession is that longer term brand building gets ignored. However, significant research shows that without investment in your core brand, long-term revenue growth will stall (see How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp and The Long and the Short of It from the IPA). 

It’s about balance. 

On one hand, it means focusing on lead generation and revenue acceleration over the near term (the next two or three quarters). This may mean building what’s starting to be called a Revenue Operations (RevenueOps) capability that’s custom tuned to moving prospects through the sales cycle and converting more of them at each stage. 

But it also means continuing to build a distinctive, relevant brand that will deliver a revenue multiplier over the longer term. 

It is still the case that buyers tend to select from a surprisingly small number of potential vendors. These will be drawn from those that they are somewhat familiar with (and will be the ones they tend to research as a trusted source of information). The reality is, you need to be on their radar before they begin the purchase process. And that means growing your brand.


Reaping the rewards of greater accountability

The new revenue reality comes with a higher level of pressure and responsibility for sure. But it offers rewards, as well. 

According to Gartner, marketing leaders that own or share P&L responsibilities command 20% larger budgets.

That could go a long way towards making the purchasing process better for sales and buyers – and getting marketing closer to its revenue target. And ultimately, it will allow marketing to fully take its place at the top table of business decision making.


Download your copy of the Revenue Rift Report and get the full picture on what other marketers just like you are doing to meet the challenge of delivering for the bottom line. Got questions? Contact us at hello@consideredcontent.com, we’d love to help.

Running the numbers on B2B social media

Today, so most articles will tell you, if you're not all in on social media, you're doing marketing wrong. Worse than this, you're a luddite. You just don't get that the world has changed. B2B buyers have moved on. They're much more likely to check out Twitter and LinkedIn than read your lame white paper or latest ebook. And email? Pah! 

As a result, you need to get over yourself, stop selling and start engaging them on their terms, where they hang out online. You need to create great, click-worthy content that can be shared on social media. You need to make it bite-sized, snackable. And you need to take advantage of all the news-jacking, listicle, 'What David Bowie taught me about the enterprise technology stack' techniques that amp up your likes and shares. In fact, you really should be thinking about moving on from traditional social media, the real action is now on SnapChat. 

As a result, the number of B2B social media marketers has exploded. They're blogging, tweeting, sharing and engaging their communities. The costs are pretty low in hard cash terms (until they take the pay-to-play options) but they're investing masses of time and effort into making this work. As most will cheerfully admit, no one has all the answers yet. This is an emerging discipline. In fact, key to success is that you keep experimenting – because, what works today won't necessarily work tomorrow.  

Taking stock

While it's true that social media is a rapidly evolving space, we’re now a number of years into the social revolution. And while many (especially in B2B) were a little late to the party, we should now be seeing some pretty reliable evidence of just how well social media is delivering. 

The next question is, of course, how to measure results. In the early days, measurement tended to be focused on social media metrics themselves – shares, likes etc. This may have been developed further into reach and engagement. But, fundamentally, it was about how well any individual brand's content and communications was performing in social media itself.  

More recently, attitudes have hardened somewhat. Boards are looking at social activity and asking precisely what it's doing for the business. That is, is it converting into leads and ultimately sales? This is a tougher exercise. Outbound campaign activities can track leads pretty effectively – we monitor everything and traffic is generally driven to specific landing pages. But while B2C marketers have some great attribution tools, in complex sales with multiple decision makers it can be difficult to trace back effectiveness to a social Typhoid Mary.  

But what if we simply look at a metric such as website traffic? This gets us away from the social being about social issue and demonstrates some tangible movement towards greater engagement with the brand and its products and services. It is, of course, nowhere near perfect but, if nothing else, it's an interesting exercise. 

With B2B Marketing's upcoming InTech and InProf events, we thought we'd look at just how much web traffic social drives to leading technology and professional services firms. Now, getting access to this data can be a little tricky. However, by all accounts, Similarweb is reasonably accurate in estimating figures on relative sources of traffic (at least accurate enough for our rough and ready exercise here). So we looked at the stats for the top 10 companies on Nasdaq and the top 10 professional services firms as rated by Accountancy Age

Let's start with the tech firms... 

No tech firm in the top 10 exceeds 5% of website traffic from social media 

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This was a surprise. I don't know about you, but as a guess, I'd have expected most of the leading tech companies to be nudging up around 10% of their traffic coming from social media. To me, that feels about right given all the noise and the fact that, in B2B, technology companies tend to be early adopters. 

Ironically, the top performer is Apple, a brand famous for doing not very much in the social space. They hit the heady heights of 4.89% of traffic coming from social. This goes to show the power of a strong brand – if brand is less about what you say about yourself and more about what others say about you, Apple is reaping the rewards.  

In second place comes Amazon with 3.91% from social. Here we may be getting some bleed-over from the B2C/e-commerce side of the business (I'd be very surprised if the Amazon Web Services part of the organisation sees that much traffic from social).  

Third is Alphabet (the holding company for Google) with 2.12%. The irony here is that most of their traffic (42%) comes direct and not via search. 

None of the other seven breaks through the 2% barrier – so from top to bottom, it reads: Intel (1.93%), Microsoft (1.65%), Comcast/Xfinity (1.59%), Facebook (1.41%), Cisco (1.09%), Amgen (1.07) and Gilead Sciences brings up the rear with 0.65%. 

So what about professional services? 

Only one professional services firm in the top 10 exceeds 2% website traffic from social media 

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Now, despite the great strides being made by a number of professional services firms in content marketing and thought leadership (not to mention their industrial scale recruitment efforts), I'd expect them to perform a bit worse than the tech companies in driving traffic from social. What can I say, it's a prejudice.  

Looking at the average traffic from social media across the top 10, for professional services firms this stands at 1.48% (compared to 2.03% for the tech firms). So not a massive difference. 

The leader in professional services is Deloitte with 3.25% (the only firm to exceed 2%) which may be a reflection of the brand's increasing focus on the digital world and extensive content creation. 

Second comes EY (Ernst & Young) with 1.75% and, tying for third on 1.68%, are BDO and Mazars.  

The rest? PwC (1.62%), KPMG (1.44%), Smith & Williamson (1.4%), Baker Tilly (1.04%), Moore Stephens (0.46%) and finally Grant Thornton on 0.44%. 

Overall, the vast majority of professional services traffic comes via search (in tech it's more evenly split between search and direct). Again, this may be a reflection of their focus on creating thought leadership-style content. 

Just three MarTech companies in the top 10 get over 5% of their traffic from social

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Ok, what about those businesses that have really committed to the whole notion of social – the MarTech companies? If anyone is really showing the strength of social media marketing, it's these guys. They're the ones really spending the time and money to grow significant followers and engage with them on a day-to-day (minute-to-minute) basis.  

To get a selection to analyse, we turned to inbound.org's list of the top MarTech companies. This is determined based on scores across Twitter followers, Facebook fans, Buzz and search authority. So what did we find? 

The clear winner is Visual.ly, blowing the other nine away with 18.76% of its traffic coming from social media. The brand has built up 138k Twitter followers and 177k Facebook fans – though this is far less than some far worse performing brands in the top 10. In fact, it stands at number 10 on inbound.org's list. Unless these figures are skewed by something like their content for clients being hosted by them and linked to direct, whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it right. 

In second place comes Hootsuite on 7.5% (with 7m Twitter followers and 562k Facebook fans) – still creditable by the standards we've seen in the Nasdaq and Accountancy Age lists. Considering how core social media is to Hootsuite's business, a poor showing here would be pretty damning. 

Third comes StumbleUpon on 5.42% (with 91.4k Twitter followers and 653k Facebook fans). Again, their business is centred around people using their service to find and share content so you'd certainly hope they'd do well.  

No-one outside the top three manages to exceed the 5% mark however, the rest of the top 10 reads: Hubspot (4.78%), Adobe (4.31%), Moz.com (3.44%), Oracle (2.82%), Salesforce (1.6%), Dell (1.5%) and MailChimp (1.35%). 

So what’s going on?

There could, of course, be a multitude of conclusions to be drawn from this analysis. 

Maybe the data is wrong. It is, after all, an estimation (even though Similarweb is generally seen to be pretty accurate). If this is the case, these brands could be doing way, way better than the data suggests. 

Maybe our expectations are too high. Maybe the above results are good and reflect a positive result for the amount of cost and effort that’s going into them. 

Maybe we’re measuring the wrong thing. It could easily be argued that we should be looking at what’s happening on the social networks themselves. It could be claimed that this is where the real action is precisely because today’s B2B customers are spending more time on these networks precisely to avoid brands’ own highly controlled sites. (For example US firm PerkinElmer is cited by Trackmaven has having exceptional engagement on Facebook with 89.45 interactions per post per thousand followers, yet Similarweb rates its social traffic at just 0.58%.) 

Maybe we’re not factoring in ‘dark social’ – traffic that simply cannot be currently tracked. Possible, but if feels a little too much like a get out of jail free card for my liking. 

Recent research by Vanson Bourne found that while 94% of tech marketers are using social, only 2 to 3% thought they were doing it extremely well. And it is taking a lot of their time. As one respondent noted: "Social media [is] a big time suck for a marketing department. The tactics have changed [but] the buyer and the way they buy hasn't changed." 

So what do you think? I’d love to know. (In fact, if you’re going to be at InTech/InProf, feel free to search me out – you can also find me on LinkedIn – I’m fascinated by other B2B marketers’ experiences.)