• Without a tie-in to overarching goals, channel marketing typically takes a spray-and-pray approach to marketing with partners.
  • In order to drive better performance, channel leaders should consider three deployment options: to-partner, through-partner and for-partner marketing.
  • Gaining the right balance along all three options ensures successful engagement and execution of channel demand programs.


Over time, channel marketing leaders typically take a trial-and-error approach, looking for some combination of awareness, through-partner marketing and supplier-led marketing that yields the highest results.  

While companies refer to these terms differently at times, they can be viewed through three lenses: 

  1. Programs to drive awareness and engagement with partners.
  2. Partner-led demand programs that partners execute on behalf of their suppliers.
  3. Supplier-led marketing programs that help prospects connect with partners; these can be simply referred to as “to-partner,” “through-partner,” and “for-partner” marketing. 

This article will define these three delivery options, making some suggestions along the way on timing and duration. I’ll also explain how having the right balance can yield the highest results.

To-Partner Marketing

The first of the three delivery options, to-partner marketing is when suppliers create marketing programs, treating partners like leads, to drive partner awareness or engagement in a specific activity.

In this first option, suppliers may want to drive awareness for a specific activity they would like partners to engage in. For example, this could be deal registration or a reminder of an upcoming training program or event they would like partners to attend.

Key Examples

To-partner marketing activities might include all the communication required to get partners to attend a webinar, where they can learn about a supplier’s new portal.

Rather than taking a one-and-done approach, a supplier could send partners a timed set of emails announcing the webinar and why the partner should attend; a follow-up email would follow reminding them to register; and finally a final message could take them to a resource page where they download the on-demand recordings.

Even the webinar itself, which may provide a demo of the portal, can be considered a key element of a to-partner marketing tactic as it can contain key messages, guiding partners through best practices or activities the Supplier would like them to engage in.

Other to-partner marketing examples might consist of newsletters sent to partners apprising them of new developments in the partner program, marketing events – both live and virtual – which raise partner awareness for new offerings, or announcements for new training or certification programs.

Timing and Duration

It’s critical to align the timing of To-Partner tactics with the call to action (CTA) you want partners to execute.

For example, if it’s a webinar you’re asking partners to join, then ensure you’re inviting them three weeks out, just like you would a customer. If it’s a more immediate task, like asking partners via email to make sure they complete their profiles on the portal, take a more immediate approach by providing a link to an FAQ or guided tour so they can quickly act on your requests.

Longer, multi-touch to-partner marketing campaigns can be used to reinforce new program benefits, like deal registration or new offerings. In these cases, the campaigns should last as long as you want your partners to be made aware of the new offering – no need to sound like a broken record if the message has already been received.

Through-Partner Marketing

This second delivery option is sometimes referred to as partner-led marketing and is used to generate demand through partners by offering them tools, programs, and campaigns they can use to reach new prospects or existing customers.

Often fueled by MDF funds, through-partner marketing includes digital marketing programs, such as social selling or content marketing programs, which can be fully developed or customized by the partner with a message or CTA of their own.

Regardless, the objectives of these programs are to ensure partners can execute targeted marketing programs, upload their customer lists if needed, but not necessarily to make them expert marketers.

Key Examples

Digital events fall into this category and are becoming more relevant to partners post-pandemic, having eclipsed live events. These programs contain all of the elements needed for the partner to advertise, execute and follow up on a digital event regardless of geography. Key ingredients include a strong mailing list, registration and resource pages, and follow-up email campaigns to nurture leads.

Another example partners favor are “Social Selling” programs that allow them to syndicate content through their social accounts, like LinkedIn, and reach contacts within their network. This is a popular tactic with channel marketers who want to tap into a partner’s network of prospects and customers. Key to this program’s success is the ability to curate social content on a regular basis, then later linking this content to inbound landing pages and follow-up offers.

Timing and Duration

Ensure adoption with partners for any through-partner marketing effort by letting them know what’s in it for them and how they can participate.

Precede the actual marketing activity, like executing their first campaign, with a brief webinar you can use to invite targeted partners and track those that attend, then reach out to them immediately afterwards to execute the next step, using a partner concierge if necessary. The actual demand gen programs themselves should have a cadence in terms of touches, email drops, etc. that will support the target buyers’ journey. This should last as long as necessary, which is typically determined through marketing planning that factors in buying process, ASP, method of buying (committee, consensus, transactional) and type of demand (new concept, new paradigm or established market).

This process will describe the campaign and assets to reach the target buyer, whether transactional purchase under $15K ASP (think broken router) that requires a one-touch inbound SEO campaign or a multi-touch nurturing program that could last for months, for an enterprise SW purchase involving multiple decision makers.

For-Partner Marketing

Key Examples

The third deployment option, for-partner marketing, is used when the supplier is delivering a marketing program or deploying a tool on their website, like a partner locator, directly to the prospect for the benefit of a partner. In the latter example, a lead is sent to the partner when a prospect requests to connect with a partner who can help them. Here, the supplier is delivering the assets directly to the customer on their website and any resulting inquiries will be passed on to a specific partner.

Another example could include a competitive marketing program, where the Supplier is trying to steal market-share from a competitor by targeting a list of prospects and later connecting them with a partner who can facilitate a try-and-buy offer. In this example, it’s better for the supplier to drive the competitive message, since the partner often plays the role of trusted advisor and it would not work well if they are seen as biased.

Timing and Duration

These types of programs should not be overused, lest they create a dependency on suppliers to find leads for partners. Instead, they’re typically used as “silver-bullet” campaigns that are targeted and used within a limited timeframe in support of an offer, such as a financial incentive offered in Q4 or competitive win-back program lasting 30-90 days.

Tools, like the partner locator or online configurator that can help a customer learn more about solutions and where to find them, could last longer but should be periodically audited for effectiveness.

Achieving the Right Balance in Marketing Efforts

There are two ways to look at the collective use of To-Through-For partner marketing. One way is to think about the three options individually, to determine if your organization is employing too much of one option over the other.

Sometimes channel marketing leaders will complain that they are doing too much for partners, handing them leads from their website with little agreement to follow-up with them in a timely manner. In this case, the supplier may be looking to shift the activities from for-partner to through-partner as in the example below:

Or you might hear them say that they spend way too much on messaging partners in newsletters, emails, events, etc. with little insight or ROI on whether their communications are resonating with partners. In this case, they may want to spend less time over-communicating and more time getting partners to take the next step.

You might be wondering, “What is the right balance?” Well, there’s good news and there’s not-so-good news…

The Not-So-Good News About Balancing Marketing

The not-so-good news is that all partner programs may be different in the types of partners they support, so no one model works for everyone.

A reseller program may require a hefty amount of to-partner marketing to remind smaller resellers to engage.

An alliance program between two suppliers that also includes direct sellers and respective channel partners could require a completely different distribution of activities.

The Good News About Balancing Marketing

You aren’t alone. Most programs already track their spend in these areas. For example, if your company is working with MSP’s it wouldn’t be hard to find the right balance for those types of partners. You would need to benchmark how suppliers, master resellers, agencies, and other channel providers engage with these types of partners.

A good rule of thumb that works with most partners who resell third-party products along with their services is to spend the majority of the effort on activities that are through-partner, mainly because these are revenue-generating and can show ROI.

Next, consider what it takes to effectively communicate with partners on these activities with at least a 25-30% investment in to-partner marketing. Why? Because if you don’t, most suppliers report that the engagement for the through-partner drops below 15% without a steady use of awareness programs reminding the partner – what’s available, what’s in it for them, how they can engage and where and when to get started.

The final delivery option – For-Partner – should be limited to specific tools or programs to help customers connect with partners, like a partner locator or a specific campaign, such as a financial offer made to customers directly and later fulfilled by a partner. Again, these are limited programs and should not, on average, take up more than 10-15% of overall channel marketing investment unless uniquely requiring you to do so. This distribution is illustrated in the table below:

Best Practice To-Through-For Partner Marketing Investment

We’d like to hear from you!

Want to gauge your own investment against other channel marketing programs? We’re surveying channel suppliers online at this link. 

Please join others in submitting your distribution and the types of partners you support by filling out the survey. Once you do, we’ll provide you with an approximate benchmark of your channel marketing investment as compared to others who are supporting similar partner types. 

We look forward to hearing from you!