Empower Your Sales Channel with Service-Led Vendor Relationship Management

by | Nov 2, 2021 | Distribution Channel

As a purveyor of products/services to channel partners, you naturally want to do whatever you can to help your partners market and sale your product. You likely even have your own marketing campaigns ready to go, just waiting for your dealers, distributors, and other third-party sellers and vendors to execute them. So what can be done? What vendor relationship management strategies will help you communicate the value of co-marketing efforts? Here’s what I suggest:

Provide cobranded marketing content, materials, and resources.

It’s imperative to provide your partners the resources and content necessary to market your products. Providing these resources helps you enable your channel partners, getting them on the same page as you and unifying various channel partners who may have wildly varying skills, knowledge, personalities, and processes. Some resources you could offer include:

  • Books and ebooks can be easily downloaded if you provide them in .pdf form. Channel partners have the option to download them to ebook reader devices, their phones, or printing them off. They’re an excellent resource for those who like to digest long-form information.
  • Webinars attach a face and personality to the information you want to impart. They can be interactive, with both audio and visual elements, making them potentially more engaging to some channel partners than web or paper content.
  • Videos are absolute ideal learning format for many people. Some concepts, processes, and features are best understood by showing the viewer how it’s done.
  • Web content is easy to provide in a simple, free, widely available format. It’s a great way to repurpose, repackage, and repeat important concepts.
  • Infographics bring important stats to the forefront, along with providing visuals such as charts and graphs. They make excellent resources for your visual-learning channel partners without requiring the time and resource investment of creating webinars and videos.
  • Emails are a classic, immediate source of information that many of your channel partners may still prefer. Use them as automated follow-ups or prompts, curation of multiple content pieces, or simple information delivery.
  • Corporate events are prime opportunities to both build stronger channel partnerships, while listening to and educating them in a setting that’s exciting and engaging.

Offer an effective marketing platform.

Offering a sales and marketing platform that’s useful and intuitive is vital if you want channel partners to use it to adopt and execute your marketing campaigns. Many of today’s businesses are reaching a critical mass when it comes to business software—there often just isn’t enough time and resources to adopt and learn them all. When asked what attributes of a marketing platform make them more likely to participate, vendors surveyed by OneAffiniti cited the following:

  • Easy access to reporting & leads. Instant access to sales and marketing performance data is absolute essential in today’s ROI-driven industry landscapes. Salespeople and marketing professionals expect to be able to justify campaigns with performance data, and present successes to executives and decision-makers.
  • Access to downloadable sales & marketing assets. If your channel partners can’t quickly and easily access the materials they need to create good marketing campaigns, they’re not likely to spend a lot of time tracking it down. There’s simply no time. Providing a wealth of up-to-date, accurate marketing assets.
  • Ability to integrate the platform with existing systems. The more channel technology that filters into yours and your channel partners’ workflow, the more important integration capabilities are. Otherwise, channel partners risk losing track of important customer and sales data, as opposed to funneling all the data into a single, widely accessible, authoritative source.
  • Easy access and interface. This is a no-brainer, right? If your channel marketing platform requires a steep learning curve, isn’t intuitive, or fails to do what channel partners need it to do, they won’t use it.
  • Content customized. Taking your asset and resource library to the next level, you can create personalized and customized content that is specifically relevant to certain sales channel members. This will make your channel marketing vastly more convenient and engaging to channel partners.

Provide support and services.

If you use and endorse your channel marketing platform, you should be able to provide platform support and services to your channel partners. Your channel members are partners in your sales and marketing success; it’s natural that you should thinking of yourself as an extension of their marketing teams. This not only serves the purpose of teaching your partners how to effectively use your channel marketing platform, it builds a more positive, trusting channel partnership.

  • Automation and scheduling. As OneAffiniti’s Joel Montgomery says, “It’s important that the technology available makes it as easy as possible for partners to approve, schedule and customize campaigns.” Automation and scheduling make complex and vast marketing campaigns accessible and conventional. It’s incredible useful in today’s complex channel ecosystems to use automated messages that prompt customers through the buyer’s journey.
  • ROI and gap analysis. Your channel partners, just like you, need to validate and assess their channel marketing efforts. You should offer ROI and gap analysis services to point them toward key performance indicators (KPIs), useful real-time and exportable reports, and identify areas of both challenge and opportunity.
  • Proactive, collaborative planning. In an ideal partnership with your channel members, you feel like a single team. No matter how easy-to-use or powerful your channel marketing platform is, true competitive advantage in your sale channel comes from the lightning-bolt inspiration, creativity, and innovation that come from collaboration. Make your teams, knowledge, skills, and experience available as a resource and services to your channel partners.

Use incentives to drive behaviors.

Last but not least: an incentive program is extremely helpful in developing new habits in your sales channel partners. According to OneAffiniti’s survey, “72% [of channel partners] said that they would be more likely to consider a brand-provided platform in exchange for incentives and 35% ‘strongly agreed’ that incentives would push them in that direction.”

Not only are incentives useful in a practical, behavior-driving sense, they build up positive emotion and excitement with your channel partners, adding personal value to your vendor relationship management.

Two channel incentive strategies that are particularly useful in motivating marketing platform usage:

  • Points-based incentive rewards

    All non-cash rewards make excellent motivators. I recommend a points-based incentive program (i.e. participants earn points as a currency that can be spent in an online merchandise rewards catalog) in particular for two reasons. The first: points are more closely tied to luxury rather than necessities. Recipients tend to spend debit/gift card rewards on utilities like gas, groceries, and bills, whereas points are used for home goods, entertainment, electronics, even vacations—you know, things that actually feel rewarding.

    The second reason I recommend a points-based incentive program is that they are better suited to long-term vendor relationship management strategies. Participants accrue reward points over time for using your channel marketing software, redeeming them for both high- and low-value items, sustaining engagement and excitement over a time period.

  • Training incentives

    Using an incentive program with a training incentives platform, you can administer training content in various forms. Offer your vendors videos, webinars, courses, quizzes, and daily trivia. With a rewards delivery feature directly integrated with the training platform, you can give vendors instant reward funds or points for proving their knowledge and use of your marketing platform.

As a manufacturer relying on your vendor or channel partners to sell your products, effective marketing through the channel is crucial. It’s not always enough to simply provide a great channel marketing platform for your vendors to use. Your partners have their own goals and responsibilities which take priority over learning your marketing platform. You can encourage marketing platform adoption with a strong vendor relationship management strategy that includes providing sales enablement resources, effective marketing platform features, support, services, and incentive rewards. Doing these things will help bring channel partners to your marketing platform and strengthen partnerships.

<strong>About </strong>Nichole Gunn

About Nichole Gunn

Nichole Gunn is the VP of Marketing at Incentive Solutions, an Atlanta-based incentive company that delivers advanced, agile B2B customer loyalty and channel sales incentives programs.

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