James Carbary

Founder at Sweet Fish Media

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How to Market To and Through Channel Partners

James Carbary

Founder at Sweet Fish Media

Full Profile »

Channel partners are an incredible resource. A channel partner is a company that helps you market your product, reaching buyers that you might not otherwise have access to. They also help to integrate the product into the buyer’s company. They’re essentially a middleman; you may have heard them referred to as value-added resellers. Russ Graf, VP of Sales for NetStock, spoke with us recently about the value of channel partners, particularly in the software industry, which is where NetStock operates, but the ideas and tips he brought up can be used in pretty much any field involving sales and marketing.

Basically, you want to be able to market to your potential channel partners to get them on board with your product, and then you need to be able to successfully market through them to the target companies.

Marketing to Channel Partners

They’re called “partners” for a reason: they work with you to promote your product.

For people to want to work with you, they have to first know you’re there and then trust you. They need to see the value and validity of your product so they can get behind it. So when marketing to channel partners, there are two key ideas to keep in mind.

1. Show Up

Being a part of the industry mix is a huge deal when searching for channel partners and nurturing those relationships. Simply being present for trade shows and other industry events makes it easier to market yourself and your company as invested in your product and worth getting to know.

The more rubbing of elbows with others in your industry, the better chance you have of building relationships with potential channel partners.

This also allows you to let your passion for your product shine through. When you believe in your product and its ability to help others, it’s obvious, and they’re more likely to trust you, which leads to the second point.

2. Earn Trust

Gaining trust that you are (and by extension your product is) a reliable bet is a critical component in marketing to channel partners.

This is as much about business development as it is marketing, though. The relationships formed by showing up need to be nurtured so they can grow into full-fledged partnerships. Working with channel partners is as much about business development as it is marketing.

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The best way to do this is by truly understanding the intended partners’ goals and missions, as well as how you can help them meet those goals. Exhibiting that you know who they are, what they’re about, and what they need is important in establishing trust that you are really invested in the channel partner relationship.

This is why the letting your passion show idea from earlier is important here, too.

Marketing through Channel Partners

Once the relationship is established, there’s still more to sealing the partnership and making it a successful time investment for both parties.

Understanding the business

Ultimately, you want to deliver a great product with great support and give the channel partner the tools to advocate for and market your product.

To do that, you really need to understand the nature, and in particular the size, of the channel partner’s business. The number of people and organizations they represent will have a huge impact on where you and your product fit in.

Bigger enterprises are going to require more thought to see how you can dovetail into their needs. They may be juggling thousands of customers with a wide variety of applications already in place, so knowing what teams and tools they’re already using helps you understand how to fit into the existing flow.

On the other hand, a small organization could be just one person where the owner is both the salesperson and consultant and wearing any number of other hats. With fewer tools and strategies already in place, it can be easier to point out exactly where you can do them the most good, but you won’t know that unless you understand what they’re already working with.

Of course, the bulk of the channel partner businesses you encounter will probably fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. The same rule of “knowledge is power” still applies, though.

Content

There are a variety of tools and strategies to help with marketing through channel partners, so here are a couple of tech tool ideas to think about. But, possibly the biggest thing to keep in mind is the importance of content.

Content is the supreme ruler of sales and marketing. Using blog posts, ebooks, newsletters, and a variety of other content effectively is important for any successful business.

This is particularly true while most potential customers are doing at least 60-70% of their own research by checking out websites, watching videos, and downloading content. If the content isn’t readily available, they’ll just move on to something else.

One tool to help create good, targeted content is Consensus (formerly DemoChimp). This Software as a Service produces automated custom demos using analytics to determine the information most relevant to the potential customer.

By knowing who watched what and who they shared it with, video demos can be tailored to address specific concerns as well as highlight the features and benefits most important to the buyer. This access to analytics also allows for more intelligent follow up conversations to address questions.

Drip is another nifty tool for content promotion. It provides the tools to create custom, automated email campaigns, which can help you nurture existing relationships or lead to new ones.

It provides a soft sell approach using educational content you’ve created so you can stay at the top of potential buyers’ minds, even if they aren’t quite ready yet to purchase due to time or budget or other issues.

When they are ready, they’ll have an email from you to remind them of your product, which can easily turn into “Oh look, there’s that thing that can help solve that pesky problem we have: let’s talk to them.”

Conclusion

Having a third-party channel partner as a go-between is a good way to market your product to a wider audience than you might otherwise reach.

You’ll want to market to potential channel partners by showing up to the playing field and establishing trust, and then market through them using an understanding of how their business functions combined with great content.

This post is based on an interview with Russ Graf of NetStock. You can find this interview, and many more, by subscribing to the B2B Growth Show on iTunes.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode by clicking here.

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