• Channel communications (particularly to-partner communications) are vital to developing relationships, building trust, and generating revenues with sales partners.
  • Capturing and retaining partner mindshare is a competitive endeavor.
  • To-partner communications should focus on delivering value to partners and partnerships.
  • Experts advocate providers speak to solving partner pain points and how they help partners grow their businesses.
  • Brevity and relevance of to-partner communications are all-important to cut through the noise.
  • The timing of to-partner communications is often overlooked and can substantially impact the efficacy of through-partner campaigns.
  • When it comes to metrics, traditional engagement metrics matter but sometimes overlook meaningful relationships and soft measurement metrics like loyalty.
  • Centralizing your metrics helps you respond to trends and quickly improve your “to-partner” communications.

9 Best Practices for To-Partner Communications

Talk with an expert in the channel about partner communications, and they’ll tell you it’s essential to relationship development, trust-building and revenue generation. All are true, but those communications don’t happen in a vacuum. You must compete for sales partner attention with:

  • Competitors that also work with your sales partners. Many sales partners have portfolios of service providers – including your competitors – upon which to draw.
  • Competitors that want to work with your sales partners. Your sales partners – especially the most active and productive – are aggressively recruited by many of your competitors.
  • Everything else in your partners’ email boxes, SMS messages, social accounts, voicemail boxes and event calendars. Your partners face the same onslaught of communications overload that you do.

To help you get the most from your partner communications efforts, we interviewed eight industry experts:

What Are To-Partner Communications and How Do They Differ from Through-Partner Communications?

Our experts had lots to say about partner communications—so much so that we’re running their advice in two blogs: this blog on to-partner communications and another forthcoming blog on through-partner communications. The line between these two terms is drawn at sales enablement.

When discussing to-partner communications, we’re talking about communications expressly created and sent to sales partners for:

  • Recruitment
  • Engagement
  • Enablement
  • Retention

Common to-partner communications include information, such as:

  • Partner program benefits
  • Compensation and incentives
  • Company news and events
  • Product information
  • Industry updates
  • Training
  • Partnership management meetings like channel program QBRs

Through-partner communications usually refer to communications designed to be passed through partners. (Don’t overlook distributors. Two-tier distribution models are not going anywhere, according to our 2022 channel partner program predictions.)

Through partner communications, then, include marketing:

  • Through sales partners to end-users
  • Through distributors to their sales partners
  • Through distributors and sales partners to end-users

Benefits of To-Partner Communications

To-partner communications are essential to your channel partner engagement plan and help you achieve several strategic objectives within the larger umbrella of partner communications we touched on earlier. Here are some concrete examples:

  • Bridging the gap between partner organizations and yours. You likely have plans and programs in place to engage your partners and grow your partnerships. Those all require to-partner communications, often in multiple layers. Let’s say you’re holding a webinar for your sales partners. You need to communicate to partners as follows:
    • Invite them to register and attend the webinar.
    • Deliver the webinar content.
    • Follow up with emails after the webinar.
  • Building trust with partners. Communicating with your partners helps you establish trust. That’s because you’re demonstrating:
    • attention, investment, and commitment to the partnership.
    • knowledge, leadership, and understanding of your partners’ challenges.
  • Generating revenue. Communicating to partners and capturing mindshare dramatically increases the likelihood that the partnership will generate revenue, which is what brought you together in the first place.

Nine Best Practices in To-Partner Communications

Digging into our discussions with experts, we found nine noteworthy best practices your team should consider.

1. Make to-partner communications about your partners

Our experts expressed a range of preferences regarding the frequency and format of partner communications (see point 4). However, they agree on the nature of the content; it must focus on providing value to partners rather than promoting you and what you need from them.

“All to-partner communications should demonstrate that you understand your partners’ businesses, what they need and how you can help,” says BuzzTheory’s Henderson. “Even when you’re communicating about your company, your products, or an award won, present the information in ways that benefit your partners, e.g., how this can help them prove your joint value to their client, close the sale and grow their revenue.”

NVIDIA’s Coltrane agrees and advocates for creating a “help first” mentality. “To do this effectively, there needs to be a deep understanding of your partners’ needs,” she says. “This requires not just marketing at them but having a path for true dialogue. Request feedback often and show that you’re listening by putting that feedback into action.” 

2. Tailor to-partner communications for partner types and titles

Tailoring content by business model and individual roles is another way to deliver information that resonates with your partners.  

“There’s no ‘one size fits all’ strategy when it comes to communicating to channel partners,” Margolis says. “[T]hey’re constantly being bombarded with information from vendors. It’s important to ‘cut through the noise’ and communicate to partners based on their preferences and specializations. At the end of the day, relevancy and authenticity are key to successful to-partner communication.”   

Tenuto at Zift Solutions notes that best-in-class partner relationship management (PRM) suites can simplify the process of creating relevancy by role and company type. “The challenge with customizing your communications is scaling them,” she says. “Your PRM should be able to manage your segmentation and unique messaging so your communications team can focus on delivering the right message at the right time to the right party.”

3. Get to the point in to-partner communications

Another tenet our expert panel agreed on is that brevity is a virtue when delivering to-partner communications

“Keep it brief and to the point!” says OpenText Security Solutions’s Bill Steen. “Partners, like all of us, have way too much information being pushed at them. Email, newsletters, blogs all need to be consumable very quickly with an eye to how you are solving a partner problem. 

Flannery from Fastly echoes these sentiments. “Now more than ever, partners are inundated with information,” she says. “To be effective, partner communications need to be clear, concise and focused on what’s meaningful from a partners’ perspective. It’s about providing value for partners. If your communications don’t offer real-world value, they will ultimately be ignored. They also need to be actionable.”

Mimecast’s Morreale also focuses heavily on brevity and relevancy. “Partners are inundated with vendor emails daily,” she says. “Keep to-partner communications frequent but short, sweet and to the point to remain top-of-mind.”

Margolis of 360insights advises: “They need to understand what’s in it for them in the first few seconds or they will tune out.”

4. Be purposeful about frequency and format of to-partner communications

Given the universal state of content overload, our experts expressed concern about to-partner communications fatigue. How to solve it, however, is a matter of debate. 

Margolis of 360insights recommends that vendors “aggregate your content into a newsletter, so you’re not sending too many one-off emails.”

Whitfield from VanillaSoft concedes that channel marketers are “treading a fine line between frequent comms [and] actually adding value.”

“We avoid regular, routine emails so that when our partners hear from us, they know it’s something useful, not a routine weekly newsletter which they may not care for,” Whitfield says.

However you choose to communicate with partners, it pays to be purposeful.

5. Timing is everything with to-partner communications

Whitfield also points out the importance of timing in to-partner communications, especially if you’re expecting action or results by a certain date.

“True partners are worth the extra time and thought, but we often forget to give them enough time to actually execute a campaign or promotion,” Whitfield says. “For example, your Valentine’s sale. Tell them on New Year’s, clearly and effectively. Follow up. Don’t tell them on Feb 1st.”

6. Mix it up when planning to-partner content

Sending the same communications over and over is not only boring but fails to activate all roles – sales, technical and support – within your partner audience.

“Partners want variety,” says Fastly’s Flannery. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, and if you have a large partner ecosystem, they’ll be looking for different things. Whether it’s education, SPIFFs, communications, programs, campaigns, etc. – partners need to see the value in what you’re providing. And it’s important to listen to your partners to understand what their specific needs are and how you can help them be more successful.”

OpenText Security Solutions’s Steen says, “A good mix for to-partner communications should include company updates, new incentives, research/market trends and materials for ‘through’ communication to the end-customer.”

Morreale from Mimecast advocates for regular updates that touch on multiple areas, including “end of week updates, partner action items/deadlines (i.e., compliance), upcoming events/activities, new trainings/certifications, partner SPIFFs, enhancements to partner programs.”

7. Vary delivery channels for to-partner communications

“The medium is the message,” a phrase and philosophy espoused by Marshall McLuhan, resonates in the context of to-partner communications. The idea is that the form of the message –  book, white paper, email, text, webinar, audio, video, social, etc. – changes how it’s perceived. Each signifies something different, perhaps urgency, education, entertainment, etc.

Additionally, the delivery appeals to different targets. Gen-Xers, for example, are notoriously averse to phone calls and emails but seamlessly move across multiple text and chat platforms.

The lesson here is that along with a variety of content, try a variety of delivery options. “Email isn’t the only way to push content to partners,” says BuzzTheory’s Henderson. “Since the pandemic, partners have gotten more adept at social media. Engage them through your social channels with video, blogging, downloads, etc. And, now that partners are in the field again try business texting for reminders about promotions and incentives deadlines or training times.” 

8. Measuring the success of to-partner communications is an art and a science

“Communication metrics are always a bit of an art and a science, but I believe it boils down to engagement,” observes Flannery from Fastly. “If your partners aren’t engaged, then that means they aren’t seeing joint revenue opportunities or value in partnering with you. On the surface, engagement can be measured by things like open rates, click-throughs, portal sign-ups, etc., but I think it’s more important to ask partners what’s working for them and what else they might need.”

Margolis from 360insights puts it this way: “There’s a short answer to [the question of measuring to-partner communications success] and a long answer. [The] short answer is increased opens, clicks and responses. More important [than those metrics] is a bit challenging because it’s loyalty. How do you measure loyalty? Over the long term, it’s revenue increase per partner, but it’s also how they talk about doing business with you. We all know how hard it is to measure anecdotal information.” 

Henderson from BuzzTheory agrees, noting that it’s not unusual in the channel for some of the most loyal partners to engage with their channel contacts inside an organization outside of the digital communications stream.

“Of course, you want to measure opens, clicks, views, downloads, portal logins, and so on,” Henderson says. “But there are partners who, when they see an interesting email, pick up the phone and call their channel manager or remember to follow up with a prospect. Oftentimes, these are loyal, high-producing sales partners that view your team as their team. Overall, you want your numbers moving in the right direction and your program growing. But you also need to recognize that your dashboard doesn’t show a complete picture of how your growth is happening.”

9. When it comes to hard metrics, the usual suspects apply

“[At a] base level, [you have] the usual suspects,” says VanillaSoft’s Whitfield. “Open rates, replies, general engagement metrics. Beyond that, revenue per partner.”

“Typically, we focus on the traditional metrics such as… open rates, click-through rates and asset downloads,” says OpenText Security Solutions’s Steen. “We also do partner satisfaction studies for how partners rate our communications for what they need.”

Surveys are valued by Coltrane at NVIDIA as well and are in her list of success metrics, which include “typical marketing metrics (opens, clicks), survey results; activation of campaigns as a result of to-partners comms.” 

Mimecast’s Morreale mentioned many of those same metrics, including “number of downloads, unique/returning viewers to the website, clicks on hyperlinks, partner/customer registrations.”

Finally, Zift’s Tenuto points out that centralizing activity and reporting can provide a clearer picture than cobbling together data from multiple sources. “Ideally, you’ll want to integrate all data sources into your PRM to provide a holistic dashboard,” she says. “The easier it is to see your data and the less time you spend trying to patch it together with spreadsheets or other measures, the easier it is to spot trends and improve partner engagement.”