It’s ok to be different: it’s the channel, it is different

Channel Marketing is often perceived as inferior or less cool than traditional B2B marketing and I think it's about time we had a look at that. Perhaps it's because there are often numerous levels through which channel marketing must filter, with adding extra complexity when things like language variables, localisation and partner tiers present themselves. It can get confusing to try and accommodate all this. And yet, this is not a bad thing. It just means we are different. Good different.

Despite these layers and intricacies, the outcome of a channel campaign can be just as creative, compelling and successful as its bigger, cooler, often more favoured B2B sibling. There is no reason why you cannot be creative with your channel marketing and partner communications. Your agency should be keeping you up to date with the latest trends and making recommendations as to what you can do to make your next campaign stand out. BUT… and here’s a big shout… you don’t always have to follow the crowd and be seen to be doing cool stuff. And that’s part of the issue for me: Being seen to be doing something rather than just doing it! Who cares if it’s not cool or funky, if it gets the job done and the results you need? I think there is a laziness to following suit just to be fashionable, it’s outdated. For me, old fashioned is cool! What do you and your partners care more about… flashing lights, bells and whistles because it’s new and fashionable, or just getting results and making it as easy as possible for them to sell your stuff? This is about function. And in the channel, function is cool!

It’s OK to be different.

At 6ft 4, bald, not choosing a nice, local, stable career like everyone else and being a goalkeeper, I am very comfortable with being a bit different. I love being the only person running one way when 20 other people are running the other (it has caused a few injuries along the way but it comes with the territory!). I am not about to burst into ‘This is Me’, but actually, being different has seen a new lease of life over recent months since we all learnt a little more about the story of Mr Barnum.

B2B marketing is increasingly under the spotlight in terms of getting results. CMOs are stricter than ever in their measurement of ROI. And rightly so. It’s no different in the channel. If anything, it’s probably more important. There I said it, the channel is more important! If you disagree, answer me this, when anywhere up to 100% of an organisation’s revenue comes through an indirect sales channel, why would it not be massively important.

It’s struggling to carry a double-edged sword, uphill with a rock on one side and a hard place on the other that channel marketers face everyday; “be more creative”, “come and check out what we are doing”, “look at how cool this is”, “this is from the US, please go and channelise it”. This is the grind that B2B puts on the channel and it’s something that unwittingly channel people feel that they need to respond to. But guess what folks, there are a few things in the channel that are different… and that’s ok! Try going back to the US and all their fancy new stuff and telling them ‘no thanks, we are just going to send an email, because we know that’s how our partners want to receive information”… haha good luck with that!

This isn’t about not doing cool B2B stuff in the channel, it’s about knowing when to, and importantly, when not to. This isn’t about not knowing the latest techniques in the channel, it’s in fact the huge opposite. It’s knowing them so well, that you know when and what to do, what’s needed and what’s not. That’s a massive difference… and it makes a real difference.

What is the channel about…? Selling stuff, getting partners to sell stuff and making sure they sell more of your stuff than they do of your competitors’ stuff! Anyone reading this not from the channel, welcome to day one of Channel School: We get other people to sell our stuff because collectively they have access to a much wider audience than we have access to. It’s pretty simple. In fact, looking at it like this, maybe that’s why B2B has to spend its time thinking up all these new things… to access the type of audiences we have in the channel. If anything, we actually go about it better. Instead of fighting our way through, how to try and reach them direct, we use our partners to reach them. If anything, this neglected, troublesome, less cool sibling, could actually be described as the smarter one… You spend all that time and money and head count trying to get there direct, we just get other people to do it for us, in half the time, with much less budget and using a much smaller head count. But that’s fine, you carry on, you are very cool…

So, with something so simple, why should we feel compelled to over-complicate it? I love B2B marketing by the way. I crafted my trade at one of the countries most successful B2B Agencies and so I love it. I am in no way under-valuing B2B here. The point of this is more about accepting difference and doing what needs to be done. Channel partners live to sell. That’s what they spend their time doing. It’s what they like doing and they are bloody good at doing it! They rarely have much of a marketing resource and even less marketing experience to craft and execute (complicated) marketing campaigns. So, in the channel it’s about making the partner’s job of selling your stuff, as easy as possible.

Now if that means doing something cool and funky, then it absolutely should be done (and I still love doing it!) But if that means getting good, clear communications out to them, about the things they want, when they want it, then that is far more important than adding some frills and sparkles.

If partners need more information, give it to them. If they need to be shown the best way to share your proposition, message, story, content with their customers, show them. This is about education and enablement, through experience. Helping them to do what you want them to do. And not just expecting them to already know or be able to do it, simply because they do it for others.

If you employ a new direct sales person… do you just expect them to start selling on day one simply because they have come from another sales job and sold some stuff before? No, there is a full programme of induction and training on how they should be doing it for YOU. Partners need to be given this same attention to ensure they have everything they need to do the best job possible for you. Otherwise they will do it for someone else.

So, in the channel, more than ever, you need to keep sight of the core objective at all times. What will ensure your partners do the best job possible of selling your stuff, before they sell anyone else’s? It means picking the right activity for the right purpose. If that means going super cool and funky, if that will achieve your objective, then do it, absolutely, go for it. BUT if the better option – because you know your channel and your partners – is to just send them a good email or give them a call, then just do that!

Get thinking. Make the most of your channel and how you can educate and enable it. Make your partners happy through ease of doing business, clarity, education, experience and giving them whatever they need to do the best job possible, for them and for you.

Don’t waste your valuable time getting sucked into doing it for doing its’ sake, just because you read it in B2B Magazine, or Campaign, or The Drum, or Marketing Week (all great publications by the way!). Do what you know will get the results you need, in your channel with your partners. And if you don’t know… ask. Ask your partners, ask your people, ask your agency.

B2B marketing and Channel marketing should not be a them and us, direct vs indirect battle of importance. It should be a collaboration between good people who know their objectives and their desired outcomes, and who work together towards the best possible outcome.

Have the confidence to do great things, be creative and get the right results.

Being brilliantly simple can be just as powerful as being simply brilliant.

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