Defining Your Partner Marketing Strategy Through 3 Lenses

15 Jun 21

CMOs are under more and more pressure to quantify and justify their marketing strategies. But one critical and often overlooked part of this equation is the partner marketing strategy. CMOs must market to, through, and with their partners to generate more leads, awareness, reach, and revenue.

As a CMO, your time, attention, and budget have competing priorities. You and your team are focused on building a strong and credible brand. Your CEO and board are asking you to quantify the impact of your marketing budget. Your sales team is asking for better leads and more “one-pagers.”  And then there are your partners—perhaps not even asking or knowing to ask for anything at all (but more than likely an untapped resource).

With Marketing being pulled in multiple directions, your partner marketing strategy is possibly your last priority. But it could be your biggest asset if you focus on how and on whom to spend your time and budget.  Make sure your partner marketing dollars are going where they count. Use this channel partner scorecard to see how your partners compare to your ideal partner profile so you can get the most ROI from your marketing strategy.

Marketing TO Partners

When marketing to partners, you are communicating directly to your current and/or potential partners. Think of to-partner marketing like customer lifecycle marketing with distinct stages: recruitment, onboarding, engagement, and retention. The main goal of this type of partner marketing is awareness, whether that is awareness of your company, your solutions, and/or how your partnership can be mutually beneficial. Help partners understand who you are, what you do, and what’s in it for them.

Remember, you are competing for mindshare with other vendors—your partners, particularly resellers and distributors—are not likely only selling your products and solutions. To-partner marketing helps keep you top of mind throughout the partner lifecycle, whether that be finding and recruiting more partners or growing and retaining the partners that you do have.

Your marketing budget at this stage will likely be spent on e-books, whitepapers, events, newsletters, and social media to spread awareness of who you are and how you can benefit partners. Content is typically focused on:

  • Sales incentive programs
  • Onboarding
  • Training opportunities
  • Product launches and updates
  • Cross-sell and upsell opportunities

Success for this type of partner marketing is a measure of your reach in the partner community. More specifically, you should be measuring how well you are reaching your ideal partners. If you’re like many CMOs we see, you are fighting for marketing budget and may be underfunded, leaving partner marketing budget even lower on the priority list. How you devote those precious dollars between partners should be led by the types of partners you want to attract, engage, and retain. Not every partner will be worth your budget, so spend it wisely and put it where it counts.

Marketing THROUGH Partners

When marketing through partners, the customer is your end goal, and the partners are the medium through which you reach them. It is an indirect channel that relies heavily on the partner’s level of marketing sophistication. So why not make it easier for them? Even if your partners do have a strong marketing team, you can’t leave your brand in the hands of someone else, nor can you assume that they will create and execute campaigns on your behalf.

Through-partner marketing provides a platform that empowers and enables your partners to create and drive business at scale. When evaluating your through-partner marketing efforts, make sure you are equipping partners with the tools and materials they need to reach customers at each stage of the journey.

Common assets at this stage include:

  • Customizable, branded assets
  • Campaign in a box
  • Enablement materials
  • Training modules

The easier you make it for your partners to market your solutions, the more success you will have at this stage. We’ve seen many partner programs have a robust partner portal for training and enablement, but marketing content can often be an afterthought. Ensure you are leveraging your partner portal (if you have one) for easy access to your assets and campaigns, not simply training materials.

Measure the success of your through-partner marketing efforts by the number of leads and revenue your partners are bringing you. While some may want to measure success just by leads, this ignores the rest of the customer lifecycle. Your partners are often responsible for retention, cross-sell, and upsell efforts. Make sure that you have the marketing content to support the entire customer lifecycle and not just the top of the funnel.

Marketing WITH Partners

When marketing with partners, reaching the end customer is still the goal as it is in through-partner marketing. However, with-partner marketing is a more sophisticated, high-touch activity that you will reserve for specific partners. With-partner marketing could entail:

  • Funding for specific partner use
  • Co-branded, joint campaigns
  • Coordinated marketing and sales efforts
  • Co-authorship of blogs and whitepapers
  • Co-branding on websites and social media
  • Hosting or attending events and tradeshows together

Your top earning partners are the most likely to deserve this type of detailed attention—your partner marketing strategy and budget should not be one-size-fits-all. However, there may be circumstances in which a partner who is doing little business or a potential new partner may be a good candidate; it depends on their potential to sell your solutions. Or they may have strong brand power or knowledge of a local market that you are trying to break into that justifies the additional budget and effort of your partner marketing team.

When it comes to selecting partners for with-partner marketing, make sure there are no conflicts of interest. Are you and the partner aligned on target customers, campaign goals, and KPIs? Even some of your top earning partners may not be a great fit for co-marketing efforts if they feel their marketing dollars are better spent on a different target customer.

Where possible, make sure you and your partner are sharing data to track the progress and returns of your co-marketing efforts. Even if you’re not doing a true co-marketing effort and are just funding your partner’s marketing efforts, understanding the return on those investments is key, whether your goals are around leads, conversion, or ROMI.

Marketing flows to partners based on the relationship they have with your company. Market to your partners to bring awareness to new partners and retain mindshare with current partners. Market through partners to control and send the right message to end customers. Market with top partners who have complementary solutions and similar end goals.

How you deploy your partner marketing dollars across partners, and the type of marketing can make or break your partner marketing strategy. Make sure that you are evaluating your partner ecosystem and those relationships to reap the most rewards. Use the channel partner scorecard to identify which partners to reward with your budget, whether that’s with to-marketing, through-marketing, or with-marketing.


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