This first US-based Channel Meet Up event saw leading British channel experts joined by European and American counterparts to discuss the key issues around building an effective strategy for partners in Europe.
Compared to the US, the Brits have always been a little detached from their near neighbors (even before Brexit), which gives them a wider perspective on the nuances of dealing with channel partners across the continent. The Brits Are Coming event was designed to capitalise on this diversity of approaches and encourage the pooling of best practices from across the globe.
A VALUABLE FORUM
Gathered at the Quadrus Conference Center in Menlo Park, CA, they looked at the finer points of localization, presented success stories, and dove deep into key questions like ROI, onboarding and long-term activation.
Most marketers struggle to find a forum in which they can discuss the specific pain points of B2B, so the Channel Meet Up is a great way for channel marketers to exchange ideas on subjects like partner recruitment, engagement, and performance.
Oliver Choron, CEO and Founder of purechannelapps, kicked off proceedings with a talk on getting things right locally. You probably wouldn’t use the same communications strategy for Texas as you would for Minnesota, and there are far bigger differences of culture and language in Europe.
It’s a group of 51 nation states, with 23 recognized languages and 28 separate currencies―they don’t all use the Euro. In France, it’s fine to take a small glass of wine with your lunch. In Greece, the ‘OK’ thumb and forefinger sign is an offensive gesture. You walk a cultural tightrope when you go to market in any continent.
The channel structure is significantly different too, with over 106,000 channel firms in EMEA, compared with 53,000 in the Americas. Vendors in the US work with just 12 distributors; there are 125 in Europe. And rules on incentives vary from place to place―a successful promotion in one country could break the law in another. This background instantly suggests that success for channel programs in Europe will never be a one-size-fits-all affair. The best results will come with a customized approach tailored to each individual partner’s business needs.
THE FIVE KEY FACTORS OF EFFECTIVENESS
With Oliver’s insight setting the scene, Tim Harmon, Managing Director of researchers Nuvello, took a look at the five key factors from Europe to consider when creating a globally-activated channel. He focused on the concept of the “right” partner, with a scoring formula based on engagement, performance and commitment.
Loyalty was one of his key priorities, with the emphasis on effective onboarding and an incubation period designed to get partners fully engaged. The sooner they can reap the rewards of the partnership, the more committed they will be.
Tim also looked at the question of incentives, pointing out that monetary rewards are not always effective. Training, demo products, marketing support and other mechanisms may often be seen as more valuable, and can also help to overcome regulatory problems.
Kathy Contreras, Senior Research Director at Sirius Decisions, explored the question of channel marketing as an engine of growth. She too used the magic number 5 to summarise the key elements of a channel-driven growth strategy.
Beginning with Leadership, and the need to set measures of ROI for your channel program, she discussed Organization, Skills, Infrastructure (including processes) and Incentives as critical success factors.
Kathy emphasized the importance of training and sales enablement, and the need to be flexible in responding to change. And she pointed out that, in measuring the success of your channel program in Europe, you need to be conscious of its impact on other activities, ensuring that it is delivering full value against your investment of time, funds and energy.
THE PAINS OF PORTALS AND MDF
At the break-out sessions, one of the key pain points raised was the question of partner portals. With only 17% adoption of portals by partners worldwide, mobile-optimization and personalization were seen as key differentiators.
You need regular updates and valuable content if you want to keep partners engaged. As Karen Hartsell of Intuit pointed out, it sometimes pays to go rogue and hire an outside consultant to build and operate your portal.
Marketing Development Funds (MDF) were the subject of the afternoon’s discussions. Tony White of Birch Worldwide and Gary Morris, from Successful Channels, presented the findings from the Channel Investment Benchmarking Report, an in-depth study of 19 widely differing MDF programs.
Key take-aways included the importance of maximizing partner engagement by keeping things simple, with the use of pooled funds and a single approval process. Controlling spend and ensuring predictable ROI, with effective data collection and management strategies, were also highlights of the report.
The key takeaway from The Brits Are Coming? We all have lots to learn from one another. Embracing a global perspective will truly open up a world of possibilities. As twogether’s Alex Norbury observed while moderating the session on improving partner marketing across a diverse range of needs and regions, getting a grip on ROI is both the most important objective and the biggest challenge. What was more surprising? So many vendors are at a crossroads with their global partner marketing strategy – the hunger to see how others are shaping their programmes was met with “uncertainty” – we’re still trying to figure things out.
When you’re head down, focused on your numbers, or traveling far and wide to keep partners or end customers excited and engaged, you can easily lose touch with the ways things are changing in the energetic world of the channel. As the fourth Channel Meet Up proved, it pays to meet up with your fellow professionals from time-to-time and check in on the bigger picture.
Next time, Channel Meet Up crosses back to the UK, with a gathering on 6 October. Visit thechannelmeetup.com/events to find out more, and go to The Channel Meet Up Group on LinkedIn to join the global conversation.