Integrated Channel Platforms
Improving Sales & Marketing Performance
There’s no question today’s vast array of digital sales and marketing technologies present a unique set of challenges for brand managers, especially when complex channel relationships are involved. Breaking through the clutter and determining the right mix for integrated channel platforms to support channel partners has never been more difficult.
ChiefMarTec.com categorized over 3,500 different MarTech vendors in their annual Marketing Technology Landscape Super Graphic. This included close to a hundred related to channel, partner or local marketing and this only scratched the surface of the technologies available. Today’s channel sales and marketing professionals must decide which technologies best fit their go-to-market strategy.
While the rest of MarTech awaits consolidation, fortunately channel management has the tried and true channel portal as a space for bringing together the right mix of technologies to support channel strategies. Of course this is only true if the underlying channel platform enables easy integration of key channel components.
Sustainable competitive advantages in crowded markets
In a time of limited resources, highly fragmented markets and intense pressure to achieve results quickly, successful companies rely on proven channel solutions to streamline, coordinate and optimize their critical partner activities.
Increasingly, channel portals are perceived as absolutely essential components of any comprehensive strategy for overcoming enterprise go-to-market challenges. On the other hand, there is broad agreement that ad hoc systems or loosely connected applications can actually hamper an organization’s efforts to compete effectively for attention in today’s crowded marketplace.
Channel portals, while offering multiple benefits, can often be difficult to manage effectively. Because of their inherent complexities, channel efforts can be hamstrung at numerous points, putting sales at risk and diluting channel results.
The reliance on disparate marketing platforms and non-integrated applications to drive channel initiatives increases the likelihood of failure or disappointment.
Why integrated channel platforms are critical in today’s business environment
Make no mistake: a good channel portal is essential to the health of any business that depends on indirect sales. The CMO Council estimates that major indirect sales channels represent trillions of dollars in potential revenue opportunities. And yet many organizations still encounter insurmountable barriers when attempting to align the channel tactics that are the prerequisites for driving sales.
A recent study by the CMO Council paints a stark picture of the challenge”
“The performance potential of many organizations is still inhibited by lack of integration among channel, sales, marketing and customer service groups. Strategies and programs are developed in isolation, customer and prospect information is often siloed and not shared. Leads frequently languish, or are not properly qualified or acted upon as they lay buried or dormant in underutilized CRM systems.”
Integration is the key
Many of these inhibiting factors diminish or vanish altogether when organizations use integrated channel platforms. Tightly integrated channel platforms enable customer-focused organizations to create sustainable competitive advantages in complex, swiftly changing markets in which channel efforts are crucial to success.
In addition to ensuring superior ROI on marketing dollars, integrated channel platforms make it practical for organizations to plan, develop and execute channel enablement, through-channel marketing automation, and channel loyalty programs. Integrated channel platforms also facilitate marketing funds management (aka, Coop Advertising) and produce the data for deep channel insights.
Until recently, the means for achieving wide-scale integration of multiple sales and marketing technologies were available only to very large, well-financed organizations. Thanks to the development and widespread availability of newer and more cost-effective channel technologies, many competitive organizations are utilizing integrated channel platforms to overcome channel sales and marketing challenges and create long-term sustainable advantages.
Not just buzzwords
Until recently, “channel portal” was often a catch phrase used by sales and marketing to bundle disparate technologies and/or services into solutions that promised channel automation and optimization.
Management has gotten smarter, and they are now demanding results that can be measured. As a consequence, some providers of channel solutions have gone the extra mile to integrate critical capabilities into a single integrated channel platform. These suppliers understand their solutions must be easy to use, thoroughly reliable and fully compatible with existing sales and marketing technologies.
The newest generation of integrated channel platforms empower competitive organizations to create, produce, distribute and track the performance of sales and marketing initiatives quickly, consistently, and cost-effectively across the enterprise and at the local level.
It is reasonable to assert that in times of extreme market fragmentation, a reliable channel platform should be seen as a non-negotiable component of a sustainable channel strategy.
Integrated channel platforms provide ‘one-stop shopping’ for busy partners
Our experience has demonstrated that competitive organizations want “one-stop shopping” channel platforms that can be used easily, quickly and cost effectively by their partners. An integrated platform approach is preferred because it consolidates resources and functionality onto a single architecture. Ideally, the channel platform should deliver a common user experience that ensures high quality results on a consistent basis.
Given that opportunities for training channel partners are often limited, the channel platform should be simple, straightforward and intuitive. It should offer a range of functionality that is broad enough to accomplish the organization’s mission without inducing a sense of “information overload.” In other words, the channel platform should make life easier, not more difficult for the partner.
Making integrated channel platforms work in real-world situations
Here are two real-world business scenarios illustrating challenges of partner/channel marketing and the tangible business benefits of an integrated channel platform approach:
An enterprise software company launches a competitive displacement program to boost Q4 sales. The company’s products are marketed and sold through a complex distribution network that includes consultants, integrators, value-added resellers and various other channel partners. Each part of the distribution chain has different constituencies and different market challenges.
Using an integrated channel platform, the software company provided an automated marketing portal and associated marketing funds to all of its many channel partners and resellers. When the company announces the competitive displacement program to its distribution chain, each entity on the chain is able to create, produce and disseminate branded marketing materials that have been customized specifically to address the challenges and opportunities of its own unique market. To ensure participation the software company also pre-approved funding for these programs and promoted them on their channel portal.
As a result, the competitive displacement program is rolled out quickly, smoothly, and cost effectively across multiple diverse markets. The software company’s competitors – which rely on heavily centralized marketing strategies – cannot respond quickly enough with counter-offers and lose valuable business in a critical quarter.
A large insurance company launches an initiative to convert term-life policy holders to whole-life policies. The insurance company’s products and services are sold through a national network of agents and brokers. In the past, all marketing materials were created and produced by the company’s marketing department, and then distributed by mail or courier throughout the company’s sales network. This approach worked until recently, when the company’s traditional markets became more fragmented and a new field of more agile competitors emerged.
To overcome these obstacles, the insurance company turned to an integrated channel platform. The platform enabled the company’s channel partners to download digital marketing templates that can be easily customized to address the specific needs and concerns of local markets. The digital templates have protected fields to ensure strict regulatory compliance. The company also created direct mail pieces with unique URLs, enabling marketers to track the effectiveness of each campaign with maximum accuracy.
As a result, the company was able to convert a significant percent of its term-life policy holders to whole-life plans, increasing the company’s profitability and creating new opportunities for additional up selling initiatives.
Integrated Channel Platform capabilities and benefits
What should buyers look for when considering a channel platform? Clearly, a comprehensive solution should include a user experience that is consistent across all facets of the platform. The platform should include a carefully selected palette of user-friendly tools and applications that are easy to use and accessible from a secure site.
Based on our experience with hundreds of customers in a wide variety of industries, we believe a comprehensive channel platform should include the following integrated components and features:
- Messaging System to broadcast significant news and updates to channel partners.
- Learning Management System for providing field training and sharing of best practices. This enables companies to continuously improve their channel’s ability to execute.
- Sales and marketing digital asset management system that stores current, corporate-approved customizable templates and marketing assets for easy access by authorized users. A centralized online library ensures only up-to-date materials are used in campaigns. The library should function on two levels, enterprise and local, enabling managers to store and use locally-produced materials (e.g., photos, logos, graphics), as well as corporate assets.
- Templated creative environments enabling authorized users to customize national promotions for local markets on a 24/7 basis. Corporate marketing can quickly respond to changes in the market by easily distributing new templates that protect brand standards yet enable local customization, without sacrificing brand integrity.
- Turnkey media fulfillment enables distribution partners to execute campaigns directly from the platform, substantially decreasing turnaround times and creating tangible business benefits by getting your message out to markets sooner and more effectively than your competitors.
- Marketing funds management (also known as coop advertising). This application enables easier partner participation in ongoing marketing programs. When marketing funds management, templates, and turnkey fulfillment capabilities are all offered, distribution partners can access accrued funds in real-time to pay for campaigns executed from the platform(no submitting claims/proof of performance and no out-of-pocket expense for eligible activities.)
- Lead & list management enables brands to pass partners leads and track their progress. Also, allows partners to upload their own lists or purchase targeted prospect lists enabling them to identify and acquire new prospects while maintaining and managing existing clients through more effective targeted communications. These applications make it easy to cross-sell new products/services to existing customers and to engage with new customers more effectively.
- Analytics and segmentation to select and fine-tune marketing initiatives for maximum impact. Analytics also support efforts to optimize ongoing campaigns and improve success rates of future campaigns.
- Dashboard reporting capabilities to access and create real-time, online reports based on customized specifications. Dashboards help managers track resource usage more effectively and plan more intelligently for upcoming channel activities. This type of reporting creates transparency at two critical levels, enterprise and local, enabling managers to see which tactics and initiatives and working, and which need additional tweaking or refinement.
- Optional: Channel loyalty system to encourage and reward channel partners for performing various sales and marketing tasks.
Reaching markets quickly and effectively
Modern markets are unimaginably complex. Traditional channel management methods are simply too slow and cumbersome to keep pace with ever changing demands of fickle buyers with higher expectations and less patience than ever before.
That’s why channel platforms are so relevant and so essential to competitive business organizations. Integrated channel platforms enable companies to reach diverse audiences quickly and effectively – without sacrificing brand integrity or risking potentially costly regulatory glitches.
The ability to deliver fresh, undiluted, clearly branded content and marketing across multiple channels to carefully targeted audiences has become a tangible business advantage. Companies that stick with old-fashioned methodologies are likely to find themselves falling behind competitors with more current channel platform capabilities.
Now that many of these critical capabilities have been consolidated into “one-stop shopping” channel platforms, it seems likely that competitive organizations will consider these platforms essential to the success of their channel strategies.
This is why integrated channel platforms are considered the central element of an organization’s channel sales and marketing technology stack.
Learn more about channel incentives, our Channel Success Platform™, SPIFFs, rebates, Co-Op/MDF, volume incentives, sell-through allowances, and reward points programs.