The Channel: Your Biggest Ally
Channel marketing is at the center of many B2B strategies. And for good reason. For companies that go to market through some sort of channel (dealers, distributors, wholesalers, independent agents), having well-informed, engaged, and inspired channel partners will contribute greatly to their success.
The bulk of channel marketing happens in the B2B space. In fact, the front end of it is always B2B. The question is whether you’re facing a B2B2B situation (the channel’s customers are also businesses), or a B2B2C situation (the channel’s customers are consumers). Our focus here will be the former, but many of the strategies carry over into the B2B2C space as well.
There are a number of factors that make channel marketing a strategic challenge:
- Competing brands. In order to serve multiple customer needs, some dealers carry additional brands with which you must compete for the dealership’s time, attention, and resources. Some dealers even stock directly competitive products.
- They own the customer and the market. Your dealer or sales channel is the face of your brand in their local markets. In most cases they own the relationship and the valuable customer data, and represent your brand to local partners, suppliers, and media.
- They’re independent businesses. Dealers will make decisions that benefit their business and ensure their future. These decisions won’t always be in your best interest. The more win-win opportunities you can find to align your priorities with theirs, the more success you’ll have.
- They’re usually not marketers. This often depends on the size of the business. If they’re large and have multiple locations, they are much more likely to have a dedicated marketing person or team. However, that can mean that a small team of marketers are responsible for multiple locations across several cities or states, all vying for their attention and marketing resources.
- The channel feels left out. Many companies don’t have a good track record of prioritizing communication to their sales and distribution channels. It can seem easier to communicate directly with customers and assume the channel will know what’s going on. But when that happens, channel partners will feel like they’re the last to know when something big happens.
The last thing you want is them finding out what you’re up to from their customers — they’ll feel foolish and it will look like you’re not communicating with them. These challenges set the stage for an interesting and unique marketing environment. One that can be mutually beneficial, greatly amplifying your brand’s reputation and your sales numbers, or one that can pose a serious hurdle to your organization's growth and future success. How you market to and through your channels makes all the difference.