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Is the tail wagging the dog?

By Channeliser

You need to “Socialise” with ALL your partners, not just the managed minority. For vendors and distributors who wants to shake the “long-tail” of inactive partners into action, you need the technology tools to engage and socialise. And I don’t mean send tiresome tweets and potted posts and neutral newsletters in the hope that something sticks, but targeted, personal interactions. Partners need to be educated, informed and engaged to sell your stuff.

Less than 10% really “matter” ?

The classic 80:20% rule for channel partners is usually nearer 90% with only 10% of partners doing regular consistent, business. The rest of your partners who are not directly managed, referred to as the “Long-Tail” may have sold your solution infrequently; they may be inactive, they may be small, they may be lifestyle businesses –there could be any number of reasons, but the sad fact is that most vendors don’t know why they are the long-tail and not producing more business for the partnership.

For whatever reason, the long-tail partners are lower performing and therefore often forgotten and neglected. As a rule, they are left to partner portals and marketing automation or, at best, distribution to manage. This isn’t good enough and can so easily be improved. Here are a few anonymous quotes I have heard recently that reflect this wedge between vendor and partner;

The 90% long-tail is ignored –but in reality, it is more like 95%

Being marginalised and ignored is never forgotten

It’s hard to have a dialogue orpersonal relationships when you aren’t PAM managed.

We can’t get any attention as the only information they want is “What’s your pipeline”

Managing the “long-tail” of partners for any vendor is invariably all about the systems that support them. Not having these in place, or slow unresponsive systems or processes can quickly sour the relationship. This includes systems that support every step of the sales cycle from marketing and MDF programs through to deal registration and sales tracking.

There is a tendency to simply email blast the “great unwashed” (and yes, I have heard vendors use that term when describing dormant and unmanaged partners). Emails are not targeted but blasted out randomly to partners and individuals.

Distribution

Distribution can and does play a vital role in managing the long-tail but beware that the vendor “attitude” towards their “long-tail” may then be reflected in the distribution tactics. If a vendor has a lackadaisical approach to their “long-tail” partners, then the distributor will reflect this. There needs to be a collaborative approach between distribution and vendor as to how to run campaigns that educates and engages their partners.

Slick logistics at distribution can take away much of the system pressure and pain for a vendor, but focused, targeted information and education, coupled with a strong proposition and commercial incentives are still required. Campaigns to the long-tail need to be built in cooperation with distribution –not left to distribution.

Take a walk in their shoes

From the partners’ perspective it is not always about getting leads but being allowed a seat at the table as many vendors exclude smaller partners from the advantages of Gold or platinum status with costly barriers such as certifications and revenue goals. However smaller partners often have real tangible value with specialist skills,or they may address a vertical niche market and vendors don’t facilitate communication and collaboration between partners which could make for a more cohesive and rich offering to market.

All partners recognize there is a market need for the large-scale partners with some corporations only buying from the “big-boys” but SMB focused partners feel strongly that small to mid-sized businesses still rely on their “Trusted Advisors” status, particularly around fast-moving,on-trend products,like security. From numerous conversations with partners their feeling is that vendors are not doing a great job of keeping this important swathe of partners informed, educated and engaged.

Don’t forget the basics

It goes without saying (but somehow, I still feel compelled to say it just in case…) that good margins, incentives, leads and joint sales engagements backed by good processes all help to ensure the vendor is easy and profitable to do business with.

But good systems of communications are an area where there is often room for improvement to ensure messaging is targeted, webinars bring variety and networking events build a closer relationship. The variety in the marketing mix all needs to be supported by a good marketing automation system with both to and through partner marketing.

Also, importantly there needs to be a way in which partners can interact with the vendor easily (that doesn’t tie up resources) and allows partners to interact with each other and build combined solutions to market. In this respect, partner advisory councils can be good but are often seen as elitist and excluding not inclusive.

It is invariably all about education, information and the help they need to compete with the big boys or the cheap retail and online outlets. The vendor who can capitalise on this requirement by putting an easily accessible, independent and agnostic training program together for partners about solution topics, (for free) which then guides them through their specific product or solutions USP’s (unique selling propositions) and how it fits in the current landscape, might go a long way towards making themselves attractive to the long-tail.

The Challenge –sorted

The long-tail of partners in an average vendor often poses the biggest challenge in terms of resourcing, engagement and loyalty and so finding new, economic and innovative ways to bring this large ecosystem into the fold can bring significant results.

You may not instantly reactivate all your inactive or “sleepy” partners,as there are nuances to your solution, your offering, your partners and the market you address. But with limited partner marketing budgets and a headcount that simply can’t run to a PAM for every 5 partners, most vendors need to improve on the ways in which they wake up their sleepy partners.

There is always the nagging thought amongst vendors that a little more time and effort on the long-tail could be most cost-effective use of funds as you may convert some inactive partners into becoming active which would have a huge effect on channel revenue.

However, invariably the funds go to the managed partners as there is a precedent that shows funds spent there,yield results. But a great deal can and should be done with social exchanges using an online platform to ease the workload and easily scale. Instead of the traditional routes whereby marketing sends everything to a single contact at the partner, a social platform allows marketing to target communications easily to the right individual at the partner –easily without increasing workload.

Change the way Marketing communication to partners

Instead of the traditional linear dialogue (or email and newsletter push) from the marketing department at the vendor to a single point of contact at the partner –you need to widen the audience and target the content.

Adding social to your “To-partner” communications provides valuable targeting so that content, messages and communications are relevant and interesting to the recipients. Marketing will most likely be the keeper of the keys to these communications, but a blanket newsletter with 20 pieces of content once a month in the hope that something sticks, won’t do the trick. Managing this process doesn’t need to be a burden with a social platform and the tools to do it right.

A social partner portal combines content sharing with targeted communications and self-profiling to help you understand your partners better to be able to send them targeted personal exchanges. Channeliser also enables partners to promote their propositions to the partner ecosystem and to connect within a closed private partner portal, so facilitating that elusive business creator; partner-to-partner opportunities.

For more information and the full story check out www.channelisersolutions.com