Written by Craig Varljen
I love my position at ReachForce, which is establishing and running Channel. I get to do a little bit of everything: evangelize, brand, market, sell, negotiate, develop, provide support, innovate, cultivate, and contribute to growth. In my spare time each day, I enjoy reading and comparing effective Channel Models and Channel Growth Strategies (usually ones that always focus on IT traditional Channel Strategies). I compare what I read to what I discuss with my service and technology partners within the martech space every day. While there are similarities, there are also stark differences that contradict the very core of most recognized Channel Models/Strategies.
Since it’s not often discussed, I thought I would share a few of my top reasons why Channel is critical to the success and growth of martech companies.
Your competitors are doing it even if you aren't
Unless you have the unique privilege of never dealing with competitors (concerning for numerous reasons and something I can discuss another time), you need to embrace Channel. Everyone has direct or indirect competition as well as slight or glaring overlaps with other technology companies. Marketing Service Providers (MSPs) are critical for growth in the market. They are held in the highest regards with their clients. A company's marketing and leadership teams spend countless hours interviewing, comparing, and reference checking MSPs before deciding on one. It's a big decision and has a direct impact on the bottom line: the revenue number. These partners become trusted advisors, master consultants, and/or an extension of the company's marketing organization. If you are not striking relationships with MSPs, your competitors are and you need to catch up.
It's confusing out there
I have watched the number of companies in the martech space explode to over 5k in just a few years. Just 7 years ago there were only about 150 technologies included within martech, in 2014 about 1,000, and now over 5,000. It's tough and confusing out there and there’s a reason Scott Brinker has to redo his Supergraphic every year. Not to mention the impending consolidation of companies that is inevitable. The martech space cannot support this explosion in companies. With so much overlap, eventually some will run out of money, lose their footing, or just get gobbled up by a larger fish in the same pond or a different fish in a different pond. It's hard enough to get your name out and keep it top of mind in a normal market, but in an exploding market like martech, it's exponentially more difficult.
ReachForce lives in the data management space. The space is somewhat nebulous, and it can be difficult to see what is essential to your company’s success day to day due to its ever-changing nature. Enter Channel. The MSPs are the eyes and ears of the market because they are in the trenches every day, all day. They spend countless hours in their clients Marketing Automation systems, addressing issues, finding issues, creating campaign and tracks., which means they have their finger on the pulse of the client and the market. If you don't strike those relationships, convey the value of your solution, and continue to educate the MSPs on it, good luck breaking into high growth. The MSPs are uniquely positioned to clear the muddiness and navigate through these waters and bring you along for the ride--if you do it their way. This means no "bull in the china shop" selling to them or their clients. I’ve found more success by embracing the idea of selling to experts: I understand that if they say it’s not a good fit, it probably isn’t a good fit. However, I only do that with partners that truly understand my solutions and the value we drive, but I also know when my knowledge is outmatched by decades of fieldwork.
It takes a village
Martech partner ecosystems are strikingly similar to the well-known Information Technology Value Added Reseller (IT VAR) Channels. Your partners become a virtual salesforce and certainly don't cost near what a full-time employee (FTE's) does. If your company needs to a) scale fast, b) create mindshare and/or brand awareness,c) create trust in the market you serve, d) make up a small gap in revenue for the quarter: partners can make that happen, and fast. If your company is looking to innovate your product, check with your partners first. They know whether it's what the market demands or not. If your company is releasing a new version, module, or new product, let your partners know first and coordinate a joint release. Your marketing budget can go a lot farther with this approach.
In summary, your partners can and should be a critical piece of your overall strategy. Whether you need branding, technical expertise, scaled growth, reduction in churn and/or thought leadership, the Channel is and always will be, in my opinion, the best path to success in the martech space.