A new report published by channel and partner strategy and execution specialist Coterie, and The University of Huddersfield, suggests the past year has acted as a hard refresh as B2B marketers attempt to reach prospects and customers during extraordinary circumstances
Research conducted with a range of senior level partner marketing professionals in 23 high profile organisations, identified a number of critical ways that vendors and partners should uplift their partner marketing to ensure the most successful and profitable outcome today and over the next three years.
A key takeaway from the report was the market’s change of heart when it came to tiering partners, the long established hierarchical system based on volume or revenue. From stalwarts such as HP and IBM to start-up cloud born vendors with minimal channel experience, the idea of tiering partners based on revenue into Gold, Silver and Bronze layers has long been standard channel practice. Yet, as respondents stated, the idea of partners ranked by volume of sales says nothing to their expertise or ability to implement and understand a customer’s technology and business challenges. In its stead, partners want segmentation based on marketing skills mapping, and a continuous mapping process to move and adjust as end-user and partner needs change.
“Solution providers are crying out for a new system of accreditation that recognises their skills and artistry, rather than their sales and chicanery,” said Helen Curtis, Founding Director at Coterie. “The old channel hierarchy is no longer fitting. To rate the channel on their sales, rather than their solutions, is to reward short-term targets over long-term relationships,” she added.
Consumerisation of IT
The report cited artificial intelligence, the prevalence of cloud computing and mass disruption – culturally and economically – as some of the challenges facing channel organisations today.
Moreover, a year spent working from home has further accelerated the consumerisation of IT. End-users are in the driving seat – they know what they like and are influencing IT managers, who in turn are pushing partners and ecosystems to deliver what they want, when and how they want it. This, according to the report’s authors is leading to much more flexible and malleable ecosystems that must be marketed to accordingly.
The report also notes that consumers and end-users are less interested in the individual technological elements, and instead, find it essential to buy and consume products and services that work together seamlessly, delivered through ecosystems of connected organisations.
As such, the authors argue that selling must change to provide more value and that the idea of helping customers with pain points is reactive and not innovative enough. Instead, the authors counsel, ecosystem marketing should be focused on a more proactive approach based on primary research, an approach that flips a traditional sales model to focus on challenges that customers will experience in the future and marketing to solve those new challenges instead.
The authors describe ecosystem marketing as the Cinderella of B2B marketing – often left as an afterthought when it comes to initial strategic discussions. But, they warn, this Cinderella effect has consequences for budgets, resources and ideas, a lack of which only further inhibits what channel managers can achieve.
Respondents repeatedly referenced the lack of innovation in ecosystem marketing, something which according the report is crucial for success, especially in today’s world of digital fatigue and marketing noise.
Ecosystem marketing is a constantly changing and specific discipline, most recently having morphed from partner marketing to a true ecosystem mind-set. Successful ecosystem marketing has agility and innovation at the core, where new partnerships and established relationships co-exist, according to customer need.
The research findings point to the need for an ecosystem mind-set change, with a focus on agility for successful B2B marketers. The service-centric nature of technology means constant ecosystem evaluation and adjustment to change is necessary. The report notes: “Ecosystem cannot be just a change in vernacular – partnerships are multi-vendor, multi-partner, and organically grow and subside depending on customer requirements. This may result in more short-term ecosystems.”
“Our report highlights several areas of focus for those of us within this industry, and raises more questions that will require an ecosystem working together to answer. The end of traditional tiers as we know them is just one casualty of the ongoing pandemic, the full repercussions of which – and how it will shape our lives as consumers and marketers over the next several years – we will only discover once the dust has settled,” Curtis concluded.