If Content is Still King, Data is Heir to the Throne

Content marketing is becoming a primary strategy to solve the challenges of massively scaling and diversifying marketing channels. But content does not naturally support both scale and diversity at the same time. The only thing that scales as endlessly and cost effectively as the digital world is data. As a result, data marketing is on the rise and will ultimately inherent the throne as the core strategy for modern marketing. What is data marketing? It’s using interactive data to directly influence or add value to your prospects, customers, and partners. Think of it as content marketing without the editorial. Data marketing is already fueling the rapid growth of content marketing. The best pieces of content marketing are typically wrapped around a compelling piece of (static) data. The key is that stripped of editorial, data must become interactive and not only deliver personalized insights but capture and bring user input back. 
Modern business solutions are increasingly deployed in the cloud on SaaS platforms that capture every transaction of every user. SaaS vendors are finding huge value in these datasets. They provide empirical evidence of best practice, efficacy, and cost effectiveness. Marketing and sales automation vendors can show their customers and prospects what types of campaigns result in the greatest lead generation, the highest value and velocity through the pipeline and the greatest return. They can tell them what type of social media content and cadence is most effective on which social media channels. This insight represents enormous value-add over and above the operational efficiency the systems provide.
Consider the power of this model applied to channel marketing. A SaaS platform for channel enablement can offer partners a single point of access to content repositories, transaction systems, execution environments, (inbound and outbound marketing, sales process tools) and social networks. If it’s constructed properly it provides a place for partners to get work done, not just a library to read about how to get stuff done. For smaller partners that lack infrastructure and staffing resources this is an invaluable resource. As they use the platform it captures:
  • Engagement – who’s downloading what how often from the platform
  • Transactions – deal registration, order submission, billing update, MDF reconciliation.
  • Execution– the number of leads their marketing has produced, how leads are progressing through their pipeline
  • Social interactions – groups they join, how they participate, what SMEs they interact with.
  • Performance data – closed deals, order value

Access to this data can be offered from the platform through the development of a few simple forms and reports. The more data partners provide, the greater the level of analysis and insight they get in return. This information can be used to identify best practices of the top performers and shared (in aggregate) with other partners to help them run their businesses, resulting in better overall performance of all partners.
By utilizing pure data as collateral, companies can deliver highly targeted proprietary insights at scale much more efficiently than they can with content. While the role of content will in no way diminish, companies that master the art of data marketing will have greater levels of engagement, retention, and revenue with all their key constituents than those that rely exclusively on content marketing. 

Connectedness – The Missing Metric for Sales Enablement

Enablement programs for B2B sales and channel resources tend to focus on activities – trainings, certifications, portal visits, most popular assets, most posts per person, ratings, etc. These are all indicators suggesting enablement resources may have been consumed. But they don’t do a very good job of measuring one of the most important objectives of enablement – changing behavior. New platforms that integrate publishing, process, and social capabilities are making it possible to track behavior patterns in the context of specific business processes. Hidden in this data are the daily habits that differentiate our best direct and indirect sales resources. Sales enablement professionals need to find this data and share it with the rest of their sales audience.
This is a particularly crucial for the on-boarding process. Regardless of whether you’re training a new/replacement sales rep or bringing on a new partner and their employees, connectedness is a key metric that you need to capture and track. It is the only way to continually optimize behavior. You can capture financial and operational data with most of the content management, CRM, and marketing automation technology out there. But these systems are not explicitly designed to capture patterns of behavior. Even those with social networking capabilities are not being used effectively in this regard.

Sales enablement professionals need to use social networking as a basis for propagating best practices. The measurement should span not only person to person networking, but also track community membership, links to all manner of resources from internal portals, as well as communication with subject matter experts, peers and mentors. To be most effective, this capability should be deployed within a process driven platform for sales enablement, as opposed to an old school portal based on a publishing model. These new platforms go beyond simply providing access to content. They are process driven and deliver content, sales plays, transactional capabilities, and more all in the context of the company’s go to market strategy. In addition they have or are easily integrated with enterprise social networking capabilities which are crucial to facilitating and capturing how people interact with all the great resources they contain. 

There are two key dimensions the connectedness metrics should include – the number of connections to the right resources and the cadence of communication. For example:
  •          Which internal portals/systems do they log into – how often?
  •          Which SMEs do they interact with – how often?
  •          Which internal communities have they joined – how often do they visit and contribute?
This data can be invaluable in helping new reps and partners become more effective faster. What behaviors do our “A” reps and best partner reps exhibit? The intention is not to gratuitously boost hits and visits to marketing collateral, but to find the right level of connectedness for different types of reps. Being able to show other reps and partners that they can boost performance by making simple behavioral changes like subscribing to certain resources, joining communities they didn’t know existed, or increasing the frequency of communication is the path of least resistance to effectiveness.

Today many large high tech companies report it takes a year to get a sales rep fully up to speed with the pipeline needed to meet quota in the following year. Clearly there can be a lot of process, product, market, customer, competitive, etc. knowledge that needs to be transferred. But don’t neglect to transfer the behaviors that will help them  best utilize the resources the organization has offer.

For more information on IDC’s sales enablement research, please contact me: gmurray (at) idc (dot) com.

Channel Marketing from a Sales and Marketing Perspective

Complexity and Diversity at Scale
Channel marketing in large high tech companies is one of the most complex and diverse operational activities in all of marketing. Complexity and diversity are pervasive across: market, product, program, even organizational structure. Channel Management groups typically report to either marketing or sales. The trend today favors the sales reporting approach, especially for regions outside of the US. The in-country channel manager will either be or report to the regional head of Sales. Channel Marketing typically sits within channel management or corporate marketing. In many companies the main function of the channel marketing team is to act as a conduit between business units/product management and worldwide channels. This creates an inherently complex organizational structure from which a wide range of additional sources of complexity and diversity must be managed.
The Sales Perspective
From a sales perspective, channel management is all about recruiting and performance – identifying key opportunities and the partners best suited to capitalize on them, and investing in their success. This typically involves working with key partners to develop business plans, including staffing, investment planning, and performance goals. However, it is rare that these business development plans include specific marketing plans developed in conjunction with the vendor’s channel marketing team.
This is a critical point of failure for many channel programs. Most partners do not have the marketing expertise needed to manage full scale, long term strategic branding and lead generation campaigns. Many do not even have marketing staff. As a result, much of the marketing effort focuses on discrete expenditures such as events – it is not managed as a coordinated set of campaigns optimized for a multi-channel, multi-touch, long sales cycle lead generation process.
The Marketing Perspective
From a marketing perspective, channel management is all about programs. Programs for recruitment, training, and of course, performance. Given the immense diversity in the channel it is impossible to offer a one-size-fits-all approach to channel marketing programs. But it is equally impossible to individually serve the needs of every partner.
The Partner Perspective
From a partner perspective, channel management is about of all things, consistency. It takes on average about a year for new partner programs to be fully adopted and implemented so changes must be highly rationalized and carefully rolled out by vendors.
Standardization and Specialization
Thus the need to find a balance between standardization and specialization. To find the right balance, specialization decisions have to be made first and the first specialization decisions that have to be made are about standards. The question is: what can we offer to every partner in each category and what opportunities/requirements are there for custom programs? This should be asked across a defined set of categories:
y Partner class: (Platinum, Gold, Silver, etc.): this one is obvious and universally addressed.
y Partner type: (Dev, VAR, ISV, SI, etc.) This one is also obvious but there is a lot of room for creativity. For example, do VARs get a special “turnkey” product offering that is not available to others?
y Region: This is an especially challenging area for channel marketers as there are real market differences in terms of culture, technology adoption/maturation, regulation, as well as language that make regional marketing more decentralized.
y Technical/Product focus: The need for specialization here is largely determined by the breadth of your offering portfolio. But companies with hundreds of solutions need to be especially careful not to overwhelm the partner community.
y Strategic alignment: Making changes to your market direction or product mix requires a huge commitment from the channel and they will require not only special programs but also special monitoring and guidance to ensure effective changes are made. Data is particularly important and additional incentives for feedback may be necessary.
y Partner potential: This is a two-fold problem – identifying the high potential partners and understanding the specific drivers of their business with your brand. Getting these research issues right is critical to moving the most valuable growth opportunities up the performance curve.
Standard marketing programs, campaign models, events, collateral and other go to market assets can be designed for each of these categories. Then specialized programs can be overlaid to facilitate coverage of partner capabilities relative to market opportunities.
It is important to understand that marketing programs for high tech sales must be highly leveraged over a wide range of media and market segments. They must be managed with a long term perspective. Most MDF, JDF, co-marketing approval processes focus on short term, discrete activities such as an event and are measured on 30 day or 60 day timelines. However, this is not an effective way to market complex solutions that require great education and deliberation on the part of the buyer.
IDC Recommends
To address this, IDC recommends that companies better coordinate their sales and marketing teams with respect to channels. Channel marketing should develop marketing plans as a normal part of the business planning and market development process. In addition, the partner community should be researched and assessed with the same depth and regularity applied to the markets they serve so any changes in business drivers can be quickly identified and incorporated into channel programs in the most appropriate way.