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What is partner marketing?

Technology vendors the world over use partners to reach end-customers; no single vendor has the resources to handle every customer interaction in-house. Channel partner marketing plays a vital role in getting the most from these relationships.

Essentially, effective partner marketing ensures that partners understand the vendor’s value – both to them and to their end-customers – and that customer value is communicated effectively to the market. Partner marketing drives partner engagement with the vendor’s brand, creates mindshare, helps stimulate customer interest, generates leads and, ultimately, drives sales.

Recent world events and business technology improvements have driven a rethink of many traditional in-person channel partner marketing activities – including trade shows, conferences, vendor-specific events, seminars and hospitality opportunities. This has seen digital marketing come to the fore, as reflected by the growing focus among CMOs of big brand companies on ensuring they offer customers the best possible digital marketing experience.

This makes it more important than ever for vendors to understand which channel partners have what it takes to drive their digital marketing campaigns forward and effectively convert digital leads into sales. We’ve already seen how large technology brands like Microsoft have increased their focus on ensuring their partner marketing helps partners differentiate their offer to customers in this evolving, digital world.



To-partner and through-partner marketing – what’s the difference?

Of the four types of partner marketing, the two main types – to-partner and through-partner marketing – have distinct but complementary roles. Each demands a different approach from the vendor, using different resources and marketing activities.

To-partner marketing is all about helping partners understand why they should work with the vendor. It deals with the question ‘What’s in it for me?’. Partners need to understand what sets vendors apart from the competition, who may also be working with said partner. The aim is to establish mutual interest.  Then, to win, and maintain, channel partner mindshare. Mutual interest is that the partner is committed to driving sales of the vendor’s solution.  Mindshare for modern partner ecosystems is about presence (regularity of contact), training, incentives and ease of doing business. Mindshare is impossible without Mutual Interest, so Mutual Interest comes first. Typical to-partner marketing targets all personas within the account. It provides value propositions, customer and product insights, training and promotions through activities that might include email, newsletters, e-books, white papers, and social media.

It is important to perform the right type, and level, of to-partner marketing at each stage of the partner lifecycle. If content is not personalized and partners are not nurtured well through all phases, they may be put off or feel disengaged and neglected, for example.

Once the right potential partners have shown commitment, or signed up, it is equally important for vendors to ensure their to-partner marketing matches each partner’s needs along the partner marketing journey, and does not follow a one-size-fits-all approach, which is unlikely to succeed. Understanding all the brands competing for mindshare is key to matching to-partner marketing propositions to needs.

Through-partner marketing involves providing partners with the tools, resources and support they need to take vendor brand and product messaging to the market themselves. The aim is to make life as easy as possible for the partner. Typical through-partner activities might include providing access to a library of easily customizable content, event support, delivery tools and pre-packaged demand-generation execution plays.

Channel partners should benefit from vendor support at every stage in the customer acquisition process: vendors can offer targeted partner enablement programs that help drive through-partner marketing success. This might involve help to target and identify end-customer targets, help with content to generate leads, and presales support to design solutions and close sales. Vendors might involve a partner marketing agency to help deliver such enablement programs.

The other types of partner marketing that are talked about are ‘with-partner’ and ‘for-partner’ marketing.

In basic terms, with-partner marketing covers joint marketing programs, usually undertaken by vendors with their largest partners, where there is particular customer value offered through their combined products and services.

For-partner marketing is really just marketing performed by a vendor that is designed to generate customer interest and leads, which are then followed up by partners.

Find out more about to- and through-partner marketing:


How is partner marketing funded?

The way partner marketing is funded varies considerably, and has an impact on both the type, and size, of partner that vendors can attract, and the types of activity those partners are willing or able to undertake.

In essence, there are three main funding models for partner marketing:

  • marketing development funds (MDF) – this is typically a pre-allocated ‘pot’ of money used by the vendor to fund the development of a market served by its channel partners. Each MDF marketing partner must submit, and obtain vendor approval for, some form of costed marketing plan for any payment to be made
  • contra-revenue funds – these are typically accrued by established partners as a percentage of the revenue they generate. Partners need to submit an evidence-based request for approval before the funds are paid
  • co-operative funds – these are most often used for shared-cost marketing initiatives, usually defined by the vendor.

Allocation of funds for traditional MDF marketing is increasingly difficult, and the way it is spent is under more scrutiny than ever before. Meanwhile the potentially limitless contra-revenue rebate tied to partner sales is often left unspent as companies are unsure what this funding can be used for to be compliant with financial regulations.

Ongoing global health and economic concerns have highlighted some of the fundamental issues associated with traditional funding models. Many leading technology vendors have recognized the challenge and have implemented special measures to help their channel partners weather the storm.

As partner marketing becomes an increasingly digital play, it’s important that vendors are able to flex and make it easier for the right partners to access appropriate funding. In order to maximize the value of their marketing spend, vendors need to address funding models in tandem with true insight into partners’ digital marketing and growth capabilities.


Find out more about how vendors can maximize the value of their partner marketing spend: download our free white paper ‘Crack the code to effortless partner marketing: a transformative approach to partner marketing in technology channels’.

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What are the key elements of a successful partner marketing program?

While there are a number of partner marketing best practices, no two vendors are the same, and no two channel partners are the same. This means that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to partner marketing. The objectives and elements of each program will depend on the position of each partner in the channel marketing journey with the vendor.

This is why any channel partner marketing campaign needs to start with an assessment of the digital marketing capability and brand engagement of every partner in the vendor’s network. The next step is to apply ‘partner lens’ analysis to identify and group partners in a way that they can be targeted with appropriate marketing support and digital marketing activities.

Based on this analysis, vendors can take advantage of a set of partner management blueprints for working most effectively with each group of partners and maximizing campaign success. These enable vendors to plan and execute campaigns that engage partners with exactly the right content, tools, and level of support they need to succeed – either directly or in partnership with a third-party provider of packaged or concierge services.

Typically, packaged partner marketing programs might include a combination of services like those shown in the table:

Planning support Audience build Demand generation Engaged nurture
  • Value proposition/ Go-To-Market message
  • Campaign planning
  • Content audit
  • Content creation
  • Data acquisition
  • Transcreation
  • ROI reporting
  • Lead tracking
  • Email nurture
  • LinkedIn advertising
  • Banner advertising
  • Social media
  • Paid social
  • ABM
  • Account-based marketing (ABM)
  • Digital nurture
  • Content syndication
  • Social media
  • Webinars
  • Live events
  • Telemarketing
  • Demand boost day
  • Engaged nurture
  • Social media
  • Sales enablement toolkit
  • Tele-nurture
  • Inside sales


The aim is for vendors to build the right relationships with the right channel partners, based on their strategic fit, level of engagement, and particular strengths.

Any channel marketing program needs to strike the right balance between encouraging partners to make the most of automation platforms and tools – including channel marketing portals – and engaging in real human interaction where it’s needed, even as almost every interaction between vendor, partner and end-customer is increasingly virtual.

Find out more about targeted partner marketing campaign execution: download our free white paper 'Building the right relationships with the right channel partners: a targeted approach to through-partner campaign execution'.

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How do vendors ensure they are working with the right partners in the right ways?

As business interactions of all kinds become digital, a key challenge for vendors is ensuring they have the right partners on board to generate and convert leads in a more virtualized buyer journey. Vendors need a way to identify and engage the best partners to work with in digital marketing.

One way vendors can do this is through capability targeting. Based on the latest data analytics technologies, tools are now available that will not only identify the true digital marketing capabilities of every channel partner in a vendor’s channel network, but will also identify how engaged partners are with the vendor’s brand.

Using this information, vendors can engage the right partners on the right activities, provide targeted support and funding where needed and, ultimately, deliver better results from their digital marketing spend.

One technology vendor that has put such precision targeting into practice is Dell Technologies, which used our Intelligent IndexTM to identify the digital marketing capability and brand engagement of each of its channel partners. This has helped Dell engage the right partners on the right activities. The company can now provide targeted support by understanding its addressable market, and how to precisely target and get MDF dollars to the partners that are really going increase speed to revenue.

Find out more about how vendors can ensure they engage the right partners in the right ways: download our free white paper ‘Uncovering channel partners’ digital marketing capabilities: a data-led approach to boosting through-partner campaign effectiveness


How is partner marketing success measured?

There are a huge number of potential metrics that can be applied to gauge the success of partner marketing programs. Vendors have been known to measure the number of partners engaged, the number of deals registered, the revenue generated from partners, and partner satisfaction, to name a few. These are good numbers, but they all tend to provide a historical view of performance.

Marketing capability analysis is different because it provides a true measure of partners’ true digital marketing capabilities and engagement with the vendor’s brand. Such predictive analytics have proved time and again to be a strong predictor of future performance for a number of technology vendors’ partner marketing programs.

Find out more about how to unlock effective partner marketing: download our free white paper ‘Crack the code to effortless partner marketing: a transformative approach to partner marketing in technology channels’.

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