5 Ways to Use Partner Data to Optimize Your Channel Marketing

Ellen Linkenhoker
Ellen Linkenhoker

Two channel partners looking at data on tablet devices

The world of channel partnerships has historically been forced to make decisions based on relationships, hunches and outdated best-practices—often due to the lack of available (and good!) data. Savvy channel professionals are looking to the future and the power of data to bring their partner strategy of the past into the ecosystem of the future.

Slow & Steady Wins the Data Race

The key to using data to improve your channel strategy is to start small. To know if your data is accurate—and to sleep a little better at night—test the validity of your channel data by starting slowly. Take incremental steps by putting a small amount of data into play, confirming its usefulness and gradually repeating the process. Think about where you can make the biggest impact in your current program and start using data there.

In addition to making an impact on your performance, using data in your partner program will likely differentiate you with your partners. Giving them a more tailored and focused partner experience will deliver on the promise of partnership and inspire loyalty.

“Smart channel professionals are looking at data across the partner journey as a way to differentiate themselves from the competition and accelerate faster in the market.” — Jay McBain

When it comes to making data-driven decisions for channel marketing success, here are five ways you can start small and still make a huge impact on your channel program:

1. Develop Partner Segmentation & Personas

Marketers have long known the value of a segmented market. That theory holds true for partner strategies as well. The value of using data to achieve these segments versus using a legacy framework is a resulting strategy that will motivate the right behavior.

Updated partner segments and personas will also help you answer questions like:

  • “Will spending money on this group of people generate better results than money spent elsewhere?”
  • “We have a new product to launch, where should we pilot our new marketing initiatives?”
  • “What do I need to create to support my partners?”
  • “How do I best reach and communicate with this group of partners?”
  • “How should I expect this type of partner to perform?”

While partner segmentation could be as simple as geographic location, other demographic information should be considered like: partner type, partner size, the level of sophistication with your products, who their end-customer is by size or vertical, and how much they sell of your brand (more on this down further in this article).

Once you have your demographic segmentation, personas will allow you to take a look at how these partners do business. Consider reaching out to your partners with a survey, picking up the phone, or purchasing a research study to get a first person view of their ‘personality’. This should bring to light how they like to receive information, what types of support they need when they interact with their clients, and what they find most valuable about your partnership.

To sum it up, the data you’ll want in order to start with segmentation and personas is:

  • Partner demographic information (location, size, type, etc.)
  • Partner customer types (who do they sell to?)
  • Partner selling style (how do they sell?)
    • Partner sales data (more details later, we can help)
  • Partner personality (how do they like information, what support do they need, etc.)
  • Partner perceived value (what do they like most about how you work today)

The best thing about partner segmentation and personas is that you can use them to enhance virtually EVERYTHING else in your partner strategy: from recruitment through enablement to sales.

Already doing this? Take a step back and evaluate if your current segmentation is truly aligned with differences in needs and sales behavior. If you’ve been using the same geographic or partner size segmentation we commonly find—it may be time to see if that framework truly fits.

2. Track Sales Performance & Market Share

This may seem like the opposite of “starting small," but in reality you can start where you are and begin collecting more pieces of transactional information as you go. Ideally you’ll want to track different types of sales data.

For product based companies, you’ll want partner sales data like:

  • Units sold (when, how many, what price)
  • Sales cycle (how long did it take to close the sale)
  • Who was the buyer (depending on your partners, this could be general information like size or industry, or the client specific details like name and location)
  • What else did the client buy

For services or value-added based companies, you’ll want partner sales data like:

  • Services sold (when, how long, what price)
  • Implementation fees or add-ons
  • Sales cycle
  • Who was the buyer
  • What else did the end-client purchase

Ideally you can start to track purchases through your partners to the end-client. This can become difficult because many partners want to protect their buyer relationship. There are ways to incentivize sharing (rebates, claims, etc.) and build trust (through deal registration and protection) that can help you collect this information.

Being able to collect, track, and analyze this data—either yourself or through a partner collecting this information for you—will yield answers to questions like:

  • “Where do I have the greatest cross-sell opportunity?”
  • “Which types of end-clients are purchasing specific products/services?”
  • “Which partners are selling the most?”
  • “Which partners are selling the products with the most profit?”
  • “Where are we seeing buying cycles?”

The key to making this type of data analysis possible (and less painful!) is automation. You can use automation to create custom analytics, increase marketing and sales efficiencies and prevent information and tasks from slipping through the cracks. Automation should make a channel marketer’s job easier and improve the quality of data by eliminating the potential of manual mistakes.

Figure out where you can make integrations, create incentives to collect where you can’t, and develop process and trust for the rest. These steps will go a long way to help collect the data you need in order to answer the million dollar questions. (Literally.)

Already collecting all this sales data? Consider opening up your insights to your partners. You probably have a bigger picture than they do into how clients are buying. Share with them new strategies and watch you both succeed.

3. Provide Relevant Partner Enablement

Every channel manager I’ve ever met has a partner portal: the place they house all the information a partner could ever need to know about their products and tell their clients about their brand. And that is the problem. It houses EVERYTHING.

Imagine for a moment that you’re a reseller and are prepping for a client meeting to pitch them a combination of products that best fits their needs. You’re looking for the exact sell-sheet with specs you remember seeing, but all you keep finding are the implementation guides and pricing sheets. Gah! What now? You need to be able to share this with your client…

This story plays out one of two ways. They either:

A.) Eventually find the document or end up emailing their partner point of contact.
B.) Decide to swap out the product for one they know will work and they have information on.

Either way, the partner isn’t moving forward with a great perception of your brand and may choose to select a different vendor in the future. This is where the usefulness of data can solve our problems. You can use the partner segmentation and personas to provide only relevant content, add in a level of data on the end-user in your partner ecosystem and you’ve got hyper-relevance and a great partner experience.

This level of data will help you do things like:

  • Provide relevant content for sales reps (sell-sheets, presentations, prospecting tools, etc.)
  • Support sales engineer and services teams (implementation guides, FAQs, process docs, etc.)
  • Align marketing teams (co-branded materials, stock videos, re-usable content, etc.)
  • Tailor training to partner types and participants (certification, prospecting, implementation, etc.)
  • Enhance sales success by providing industry content to partners working in verticals
  • Simplify incentive views (only eligible participants see corresponding promotions)
  • Send announcements to relevant groups of people

This list could go on and on. What it comes down to is providing each person in your partner ecosystem the most relevant pieces of content, training and information. The beauty of data in this scenario is you can finally reach the PERSON. Not the "partner."

In order to do this, the data you need (if you don’t yet have partner segmentation and personas) is:

  • Partner demographic information (location, size, type, etc.)
  • Partner customer types (who do they sell to?)
  • Partner selling style (how do they sell?)
  • Partner personality (how do they like information, what support do they need, etc.)
  • Partner staff and roles (if they won’t provide it, still split out the information and use role-generic log-ins)

Already doing this? That’s fantastic! We recommend seeing what else you can consolidate and update. Are your incentive/promotion details and progress viewable? Can they see how much they have sold or helped implement in the last quarter? Do you have a view for the executives? When was the last time you updated your materials?

4. Evaluate Which Incentives & Promotions Are Performing

Let’s circle back to the business driver of having a partner program in the first place—to reach more people and sell more products/services. At the very core of its existence your partner program should be making you money. If you don’t have the data to know if it’s working or not—we need to fix this*!

*If you don’t have your partner sales data (clean, usable and accurate) go back to #2.

To know what’s working, see which activities are generating the most sales. Take a look at the buckets of general motivation tactics given to partners for desired behaviors, including:

  • Sales incentives and SPIFFs (travel, cash, gift cards, merchandise, etc.)
  • Market development funds (MDF) (funds dedicated to driving marketing/sales activities)
  • Co-op funds (funds given after sales activity has occurred)
  • Discounts/rebates (discounts given on bulk purchases or money back for selling products)

The vital piece to using this data appropriately is attribution. Tying back the opportunities and won/lost sales to these activities. This can become difficult when investments made at the organization level, like MDF and Co-op are used to create leads that are then counted against sales incentives, SPIFFs, and discounts and rebates.

I recommend measuring MDF and Co-op on higher level sales metrics like lead generation, pipeline expansion, cross-sell opportunities, deal sizes and new market entrances. Use the hard sales metrics to measure the success of sales incentives, SPIFFs, discounts and rebates because these are the things the sales, service and sales support employees are being motivated by (and are ultimately the people making the sale).

Being able to use data to measure the performance of your incentives and promotions will help you answer questions like:

  • “Are my incentives increasing sales?”
  • “Are my incentives increasing sales with everyone or just some people?”
  • “Are my partners motivated by different things?”
  • “Are my MDF and Co-op investments working?”

These questions can be sliced and diced a hundred different ways to measure effectiveness—but it all requires data.

We can’t leave this section without talking about incentives and promotions for non-sales related activity. This can still play a critical role in your partner strategy. Let’s do a bonus round and cover some data opportunities for this…

4.5. Evaluate Which [NON-SALES] Incentives & Promotions Are Performing

Most channel managers are already encouraging and likely incentivizing their partners to participate in non-sales activities by offering something of value.

This could be offering:

  • Fast-start bonuses to recruit new partners
  • Badges, points, or directory listings to reward certifications
  • Rewards to support staff and sales teams for improving customer satisfaction ratings
  • Prizes to spur the adoption of new processes

The list could go on, but the point is it’s just as important as the sales incentives to achieving the goals set forth for your partner program. The only difference is the type of data you need to collect to measure success.

Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, the KPIs to measure could include things like:

  • Customer survey scores
  • Number of new partners recruited
  • Performance of new partners after 1 year
  • Engagement with certification programs
  • Sales increases from certified partners
  • Adoption/use rates of new processes or technologies

The big takeaway here is to think about formalizing some of your non-sales incentives and promotions to capture a bigger return on your investment and see a faster implementation.

Already doing BOTH of these data optimizations? Consider consolidation. Do these all live separately? Try and get them in one place so people participating in more than one initiative have a better experience. Also think about pooling the rewards earned for participation.

5. Make Decisions in the Present Based on Past Performance (Dashboards!)

Every single one of these data optimization ideas will benefit from creating a centralized place to capture the trends, metrics and ultimately insights that are made available to you through these initiatives.

Having a dashboard will help you identify trends to:

  • React to market pressures
  • Address slipping sales by rolling out a SPIFF
  • Evaluate the performance of incentives and promotions
  • Measure portfolio changes
  • Evaluate engagement and certification
  • Answer your questions!

This list could go on for days, but what really counts in a dashboard is what you and your organization find valuable. Make sure there is data to answer the questions you have, your boss has, the executives have, and your partners have. Definitely don’t forget about your partners, when they can see their progress and dashboard, they can also make even better investments (which could be pushing their teams to sell more of your products/services!).

Getting the dashboard right gives you a pulse on your data, period. This can quickly become your most valuable resource when it comes to making a future investment or changing-course on an investment you’ve already made. The most important thing to remember with this data is that the insights you pull from it are what matters.

Channel partner data visualization graph

Your data is only as good as the questions you’re answering with it.

If you’re looking to get a leg up on the competition, consider digging into your data to differentiate yourself. In the ultra-competitive and ever-changing world that is channel, it might not be easy, but it’s worth it.

Need more ideas for engaging your channel partners? Download our eBook, “Is Your Channel Strategy On Autopilot?” to learn how you can start increasing your partner support.

Ready to boost your channel engagement strategy's results? Download our ebook.

Ellen Linkenhoker

Ellen Linkenhoker

Ellen is a life-long learner who finds joy in exploring new ideas and thrives on disruption in all forms. She is an award-winning marketer and navigates all things channel, incentives, and tech. In her role as an Insights & Strategy Leader at ITA Group she keeps a pulse on the changes in the market to direct the vision, position, and evolution of their incentives portfolio. Her position as a leader on the American Marketing Association board keeps her immersed in the latest trends and advances in the marketing field. When she’s not working or volunteering you can find her competing on the volleyball court or working on home renovation projects with her husband.