This content is part of the Essential Guide: IT channel sales and marketing strategy for the digital era

Channel marketing plan a must for partners

A well-honed marketing plan provides insight into who your customers are, what they need and how you can help them with what you know and what you sell, Jennifer Anaya writes.

If your marketing efforts seem ineffective, or worse, are not delivering the results you expect, then you may be overlooking the most important thing: a channel marketing plan.

Just to set the record straight, a checklist of webinar topics or a schedule of when you plan to send email blasts to prospects about the latest and greatest technology you offer, in hopes they will buy, is not a plan. A plan details who your customers are, what they need, and how you can help them with what you know and what you sell. By communicating this information, you can be top of mind when they are ready to engage.

A well-crafted channel marketing plan can also keep you focused on your goals and keep you from wasting money and, more importantly, time. The good news is that it doesn't have to be overly complicated -- one page can be enough -- as long as it includes answers to these three critical questions:

What are your business objectives?

Build your channel marketing plan on the business goals that it will support. Take a look at your business plan, and look for answers to questions such as:

  • How much do you plan to grow your revenue? And your profit margin? By when?
  • In which markets do you excel, and where do you want to expand? Which customers do you excel with and why?
  • Are there new markets you would like to tap into? What are you doing today that gives you an edge in those new markets?

Who are you marketing to?

Once you have established your business goals, you need to identify how you'll achieve those goals, and that starts with defining your customers. If, for example, you want to double your revenue, this may be difficult to achieve by selling to small and medium-sized businesses. Instead, you may need to consider a move upmarket to tap into larger businesses with broader technology solution needs.

A well-crafted channel marketing plan can also keep you focused on your goals and keep you from wasting money and, more importantly, time.
Jennifer Anayavice president of marketing for Ingram Micro North America

Segmenting customers only by size is challenging since every business is different and places different demands on your company. You will have greater success if you focus more narrowly on vertical niches. So, for example, take a close look at the different types of businesses you serve today. What categories are they in? Do you specialize in their industry? Have you developed expertise within your team to service them, such as engineers who know Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act standards, and could that expertise be used with other businesses that are like them? Many partners have found luck reorienting their technology practices around specific verticals such as hospital or ambulatory technology offerings where they create a strong skill set and business acumen. They expand their businesses geographically around that niche, instead of trying to be a general service or solution provider in one market.

The more specific you can be, the better you will be able to identify the decision-makers and influencers -- in the case of midsize hospitals, hospital administrators and nurses -- and what they are looking for in a solution, so that you can tailor your messaging and expertise around what they most need.

How will you reach them?

With your target customers clearly set, you can focus marketing strategies and define the right activities that build trust and a dialogue with the decision-makers inside those businesses. In B2B, it's less about mass advertising and more about one-to-one engagement. So, look for opportunities to influence or nurture prospects toward a buying decision. Map them out quarter by quarter along with your budget, but be flexible as opportunities may arise along the way that you may want to add or substitute.

At the core, you will need a website with search-optimized content paired with a marketing automation platform that is linked to your CRM system. This will enable you to see which activities are working -- and which ones are not -- so you can make course corrections.

If you are not sure how much to invest in marketing, a good rule of thumb is 7% to 10% of revenue. You may be able to secure vendor marketing funds to offset or supplement your budget if you can articulate your business goals, and how they relate to the vendors' goals. Define who you are targeting and what you are going to do that best represents their products or services as part of a greater solution sell. However, don't expect your vendor partners to fund your marketing activities 100%. It's critical that you put skin in the game, including staff that is dedicated to marketing your company, to ensure your company is at the forefront of each marketing activity.

Upon completion, your one-page channel marketing plan should map back to your brand promise  (i.e., what you do, how you do it, why you do it, and for whom you do it) and your business objectives, while including a list of activities as well as associated budgets and loose timelines.

Don't overthink it. Your channel marketing plans undoubtedly will change over time as you learn what works and what doesn't. But creating an initial roadmap will keep you moving in the right direction toward meeting your business goals.

Three critical questions for a channel marketing plan

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