An Act-On Conversation: Jay McBain and Atri Chatterjee Discuss Best Practices in Channel Marketing Communications (35 Types of Media Required)

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iTunes brand imageEditor’s Note: Jay McBain is Chief Marketing Officer for ChannelEyes, a young company that’s reinventing the way vendors communicate, educate, and engage with their value- added resellers and channels. Jay spent almost 20 years in various executive sales, marketing and strategy roles within IBM and Lenovo. He’s a frequent keynote speaker on channel marketing, and he’s had a slew of honors such as being named to the top 40 under 40 list by the Business Review. Atri Chatterjee is Act-On’s Chief Marketing Officer.

This blog post is an edited transcript of the Act-On Conversation Jay and Atri about the evolution of best practices in channel marketing communications. You can listen to the podcast of the Conversation on the podcast player below, or download it on iTunes.


ATRI:  In our first podcast with Jay, he covered the definition of channel marketing, which we also know as indirect marketing or partner marketing. And he told us how to build a channel and how sales and marketing can work together to maximize the opportunity through the channel. Jay is here with us today to talk more about marketing communications and the challenges of channel marketing, and how the perfect storm of technological advances, consumerization, competition, and evolving business models are driving change. Welcome Jay, and thank you for joining us today.

JAY: Well thank you, Atri. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Key changes in channel marketing in the last 10 years

ATRI:  Jay, you’ve been focused on the channel business for a long time, ever since you were at IBM and then after that at Lenovo. Tell us some of the key changes that you’ve seen in the last few years.

JAY:  The last few years have been a time of transformation within the channel, both in how many different channels have had to change their own businesses (depending on the industry), and also in how vendors and manufacturers and all kinds of companies have had to work with channels as well. I would say 10 years ago that there was really a five-point plan in terms of building a channel program. Having a solid portal, supporting that with email and phone, advertising, and having an event strategy, were basically the core tenets of a channel program. That was the table stakes to developing and enabling a channel program.

There have been quite a few changes. Towards the last part of my career at Lenovo, we spent quite a bit of time and money with research companies looking at these changes; we were looking at the different behaviors and the changes going on in the different industries. We found startling results.

The channel partner’s communications preferences have changed

JAY:  One is: When we asked people what their preferences were in terms of communication, we got back 35 ways that people prefer to be communicated with. And whether it’s their primary, secondary, or tertiary preference for types of communications, the map had changed, and new social networks were emerging.

Right now we’re on a podcast. That was one emerging trend. Vodcasts, webinars, and all different kinds of vehicles were popping up that connected the channel partners and became their individual preferences. So if you don’t participate in some of these vehicles, you may not reach the audience that you’re intending to reach. It was kind of shocking as we looked through the 35 and ran the numbers.

Face-to-face communication and email are still the top two ways, but there were some surprises. For example, 2% of people love Twitter. That doesn’t seem that important. However, it’s the fastest growing of all 35. So it’s something that’s hard to ignore. And if you don’t get started, you may be a little bit behind as that sweeps up.

Atri ChatterjeeATRI:  That’s really interesting. Back in the day it used to be all channel partners went to a single portal. It was a single broadcast environment; you could communicate with all your partners that way. If they needed to find out anything, they could go back to the portal website. But what you’re describing now is quite different. Thirty-five is a large number. Is there a way to figure out what’s actually working? You talked about email a little bit. You talked about Twitter and how that’s growing. If I were running channel partnerships at a company, how would I approach this?

JAY:  That’s an interesting question. And different companies are having different successes. But when I look at boiling this all together and coming up with the best practices, one thing that most companies are doing is really broadening their approach. Most of us grew up in the world that you pick two or three things and do them extremely well. And we knew that was the key to business success.

Most channel professionals no longer go to portals

JAY:  What we’re finding now is the value of the concept of “roughly right.” What if you did 35 things at 80% effort? That doesn’t mean making spelling mistakes. It doesn’t mean sloppiness. What it does mean is: it’s just not perfect. But your quantity has gone up, perhaps holding the quality as a constant and then your approach across the market.

I’ll give an example. You mentioned partner portals.: Different industries have different kinds of portals that people log into. Research is showing us today that 95% of professionals are no longer going to portals. They’re not logging in, they don’t remember their passwords. And they’re not going places to find information. So this whole idea of push and pull has changed within the channel.

Another thing that’s quickly emerging is mobile. In these different channels, agents and dealers and resellers and the like, 95% of them have smart phones, and many of them have tablets as well. They check them 110 times a day. We’re finding out that the first thing they see in the morning is their smart phone. And the last thing they see before they go to bed is their smart phone. And what’s more interesting, more than the 110 checks per day, is two-thirds of them are now reporting that that’s the primary way they want to conduct business. If they want to get information, or use a sales tool, or get educated, or whatever they need to do, they’re looking now to their mobile device as their primary source of working with you as a vendor or manufacturer.

ATRI:  That’s great information. So, say I’m a small company and I need to figure out how to balance all this stuff out. The way I prioritize it could begin with saying: “Well there’s a megatrend going on, people are using mobile devices. What are the types of activities I do that can be consumed on the mobile device? Can I focus on those and expand from there?”  Perhaps that’s one way of prioritizing these things. So email’s still important, but things like Twitter, or Facebook, or some of the other social networks where people are getting updates on the mobile device, are also important.

JAY:  Yeah, how to prioritize is a great question. It’s probably the question that I’m asked most often. I had the personal experience of working at IBM. I had 450,000 colleagues. When you have that kind of mass, you have 10 people dedicated to Twitter, you have 50 people dedicated to email. You have the 35 vehicles, and you have hundreds of people that you can apply to these media as their key jobs. I now work in a startup where there’s one, maybe two individuals, who can do this kind of stuff. How could you possibly cover 35 vehicles? Forget about roughly right. How could you even get started?

The answer, and what we’ve been able to implement here, is to change the cadence. So in the old world we try to create content five times a day, a specified number on Twitter, so many vodcasts and podcasts and webinars. So the cadence, the amount that you can do of each, is less. But I would argue strongly that you still have to cover all 35.

So what you may do as a small company is produce one really, really good piece of content, for example a one blog post a month. Out of that blog post you can kick out one Twitter post per day, one Facebook post per day, schedule them, just bring pieces of it out. Then convert that blog post, whatever the subject is, into a webinar. And maybe you run a quarterly webinar instead of weekly or daily. You run it once a quarter, or once a month. A press release once a quarter, or even once a month if the subject is that important. But all of these 35 vehicles now anchor on good content and good email marketing to get out to your audience, and to participate in all the different areas.

How to measure the success of channel communications

ATRI:  I think that’s very insightful. One final question today. Marketing as a field has changed dramatically from the emphasis on branding and so on to the emphasis on metrics and measurability. How do you suggest a company measure success in their channel communications? What sort of things should they be looking at as the leading indicators of doing things successfully?

 width=JAY:  When I started in marketing, my boss said that you spend 50% of your marketing dollars well and you waste 50% of your marketing dollars. You just don’t know which 50% is which. So we’ve come from this very nebulous area of trying to throw spaghetti against the wall and get something to stick, to everything we do now across all 35 vehicles is traceable, trackable, and measurable.

There’s a list of metrics. You can track impressions, and how many people click based on those impressions, and then how many people convert based on those clicks, then figure out the cost of getting those conversions. And then through the sales cycle, you can track these marketing-qualified leads through sales accepted, and then to sales qualified, and then right down to the cost of acquiring a customer, and then customer life cycle costs. And if you’re using a platform like Act-On, you can have all this data funnel down to a scorecard in a dashboard.

Even though ChannelEyes is a small company today, we run a dashboard. The data comes to us automated, out of our CRM system as well as Act-On. And we’re able to produce, for our board members as well as our management team, the levers and dials that we need to pull as a team. And that age-old question is, if I gave you $100,000 more dollars, where would you spend it? And you just bring back up the dashboard and show them the levers and dials that drive the sales at the bottom of the funnel.

This is critical. The marketing job role has been elevated in the organization – because it’s now quantitative. For the first time, financial executives are looking at your data and understanding some of the levers and dials. And they’re partnered with you to make it happen. That’s a big change from even five years ago.

ATRI:  Oh absolutely. And that’s very insightful of you. One of the things we talk to many of our customers about is that you may not be able to measure the return on investment in every single case, you may not be able to measure the actual quantum of sales you got from a particular activity. But you may be able to measure intermediate results, like how many people clicked on something, or how many impressions you got. You can see trends from that, and that is better than no measurement. Depending on what vehicles you’re using, you may be able to get different levels of measurement.

You also need a way to benchmark yourself and look at improving. Which is something else that you’ve talked about, when you’ve got 35 different vehicles that you’re using, they’ll have different areas of measurement that one has to be able to look at and interpret and go from there.

JAY:  That’s exactly right. And we’ve actually used a – I love analogies if you haven’t noticed already – we use this analogy of the dandelion: In your yard you’ll have a dandelion, and it’ll send out 1,000 seeds. Other than not knowing the ground conditions and the level of moisture and all the variables it takes for one of those seeds to plant, you just know that your yard will turn yellow after a certain amount of time. We’re at a point now, if you have 35 vehicles and you’re running all of these concurrent campaigns, and all of these seeds are flooding into the marketplace every day, there are so many variables on whether (and how) that impression will ever be seen.

However, as marketers our job is to make the yard turn yellow with dandelions. And that’s why we’re doing it. We’re getting much better, maybe not on a seed-by-seed level, but at a more aggregate level of predictive analytics, reporting these things internally, and being able to act on them.

ATRI:  That’s a great analogy. Thank you, Jay. I really enjoyed hearing how you approach the formidable problem of marketing into the channel today.

JAY:  Thank you, Atri. Really enjoyed it.

Did you miss Jay’s and Atri’s first conversation about the basic of channel marketing? Catch up with it here.

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