For several years as a research analyst focused on B2B channels, I conducted dozens of benchmark studies that closely examined how channel marketers invested their budgets. My research included some of the top channel programs such as HP, Cisco, SAP, and many others large and small.  

While going into great detail on how much and which initiatives they invested in, I collected how much they spent in three categories: To-, Through- and For-Channel Marketing. That research stands on its own and is available through SiriusDecisions, who continues to publish excellent channel briefs and core strategy reports. But here’s what was really interesting: most suppliers want to know how much should they spend in each bucket.


How Do Suppliers Spend Their Channel Marketing Budgets?

How companies invest in channel marketing, from agency involvement to tools used to deploy marketing campaigns and partner engagement, is uniquely different based on the type of channel a supplier has and the products or services on offer.  

A two tier-channel – one consisting of a supplier-to-reseller model – typically invests the majority of their budget in “through-partner” marketing (>50%). This generates demand and creates leads for partners and suppliers (hopefully!). Next, they invest almost a third (25-30%) in “to-partner” awareness programs, to remind partners what initiatives, activities, and training are available. Lastly, they invest a small amount in “for-partner” marketing, which is sometimes found when suppliers run marketing campaigns directly aimed at end-user customers, but pass these leads to partners instead of taking them themselves. 

For instance, a supplier may run a financial stimulus campaign at the end of the year to motivate customers to “buy-now” and get one extra month of maintenance, or defer payments to the new year. These programs are much more reassuring when offered by a large supplier, like IBM, than a small partner who may not have the financial where-with-all to stand behind such an offer. In these cases, the supplier may spend up to 15% of their budget in these types of supplier-to-customer programs, or what some call “for-partner” channel marketing. It’s not a large amount, and it mostly is used as a silver bullet to accelerate sales or fill an important marketing gap for partners.


Is It Time to Rethink For-Partner Marketing?

I learned through benchmarking that some suppliers are very different in their channel marketing spend than others. Suppliers who have many smaller partners that only do one or two transactions per year, commonly referred to as “long-tail” partners, tend to see less engagement from these partners on their portal when asking them to use this to access new marketing programs. Many have given up on marketing with these partners, who seem to be less engaged or distracted. 

However, one thing that many suppliers suffer from is the lack of data they have on these partners. In some cases, they may even be bigger than expected, yet not focused on some suppliers and very focused on others. If suppliers were to collect the right data, like vertical industries partners sell to, certifications or other channel programs they belong to and the products and services they sell there, then they could run marketing programs for these partners, helping generate new leads FOR them versus trying to continually improve their marketing capabilities in order to market THROUGH them! These programs would take an “AutoPilot” approach, linking partners to pre-set campaigns and letting them run with little or no partner intervention. The partner would benefit by receiving the leads, then following up with customers. 


Putting Your Channel Marketing on AutoPilot

In order for the “AutoPilot” approach to work, suppliers would need to capture important data on each partner. Sometimes this can prove to be quite elusive, especially if it’s not already collected during the partner’s onboarding. While there are tools in the market that are traditionally used to gather intelligence on buyers, they can be used to do the same for partners. Linking these tools to a database where partner data can be kept, then later accessed by a channel marketing engine would be ideal. This way, marketing programs can be developed with target partners in mind. The campaigns would be aligned to both the target customer and the partners who may already have specific expertise. 

Next, suppliers would need one platform where all this data lives, because it would be too difficult to connect disparate data. For example, partner data may reside in a PRM, while marketing programs could be stored in a corporate Eloqua platform or even a channel marketing and management (CMM) software. While some companies may find ways to integrate two or more of these platforms, gathering intelligence and using it to execute laser-focused channel marketing campaigns is a whole different matter! An all-in-one approach allows for easier integration of data since it’s all housed in one source. This can prevent some confusing mash-ups of channel platforms — at Zift, we’re all about preventing ChanTech Frankensteins

The last step would include running the programs for the partners. This may sound strange to some, but anyone that knows my thinking here knows that I’m a big advocate of taking the “easy” approach when it comes to partner marketing. Instead of trying to convert partners who admittedly don’t invest in marketing and don’t have extensive marketing teams, why not just get them to agree to execute the programs on their behalf? Marketing enablement is key here: best practices indicate that partners who attend marketing training are much more likely to take the next step and execute a marketing program.


But instead of taking them to a portal, where they can become pseudo-marketers and customize whitepapers or echo social posts, why not have everything ready for them using the data collected on the target partners and offer them a set of plays they can simply execute?  Welcome to the new world of Channel Marketing, where applications sit on a common data stack, where partners don’t have to become expert marketers to generate leads, where suppliers don’t have to struggle to engage partners but drive value from day one!

To get a more in-depth look at how to-, through-, and for-partner marketing can strengthen your channel strategy and demand creation, download the SiriusDecisions Research Brief, Building Discipline into Channel Demand Creation, here.