Is your job to generate leads for a telecom or data center brand?
If so, I bet you're already familiar with value-added resellers (VARs) and channel partners.
But what happens once you have them? Do they occupy the 900th row in a spreadsheet (or PRM) to be forgotten?
Too often, that's the case. These are vanity metrics.
Providers are "getting by" in spite of themselves and leaving so much money on the table with partner audiences. They deploy appointment setters to fill partner rosters and pour money into tradeshows for this purpose alone. It never crosses their mind to design "step 2".
Have you overlooked the fact that channel partnerships reward quality, not quantity?
Hi. My name is Corey Northcutt; I've built (and exited) two brands in telecom and managed services. I currently run a boutique digital marketing agency. This one. We partner with telecom brands on search and content marketing. Don't worry: this is where my self-promotion ends.
I simply need you to understand that this isn't another "10 tips" post. It's a guide. And it's based on well-tested systems that are working right now for dozens of savvy brands across the full spectrum of telecom.
The Role of a Channel Partner
So, you've just be-business-friended a new channel partner.
You've got a folksy business development rep armed with calendar reminders. They say to shoot your partner's folksy business development rep casual emails. Invite them to coffee. Touch a little base. If they're lucky enough to be top-of-mind at the right instant, maybe they'll send a nice intro email one of these times.
There's nothing wrong with that. It deepens relationships and relationships are critical.
But it's a heck of a lot of time and investment to maintain a lead stream. Aside from the fact that it scales horribly, doesn't it feel really round-about? There must be more you can do, right?
What you need is a deeper integration. It works one of two ways.
Option A: Integrate with your partner's product for cash. Become part of their proposal process. Their staff gets trained on your solution on top of their own.
If you can pull this off, do it.
But in my experience, this method is over-hyped. It's challenging. Tech brands are forever lagging in their own product marketing and team training. You lay that extra burden on C-Levels when asking to be a core piece of their business. Your offering (and its future) will always be a bit of a wildcard to them. That's a hard sell.
Option B: Be proactive. Get in front of their whole audience and stay there. Cross-pollinate.
Make this your mission.
Chances are, the timing is wrong for most of their clients to buy from you right now anyway. Telecom solutions are intent-driven. They're not an impulse buy like a funny hat. This means that a big problem is being solved. That problem is made from thousands of smaller problems.
This is why a long-term, joint marketing plan makes so much sense.
Think about it.
Let's say that you have 20,000 customers. So do they. You also have 20,000 former clients (a wasted asset for most). You've also embraced account-based marketing (ABM) and have 200,000 relevant prospects monitored.
People trust you. Both of you. Up and down your funnel. You work tirelessly to increment these relationships every month. A small pivot doubles those results.
What you're missing is the right plan. Leads arrive from seeds, nets, and spears. Sure, you'd love a direct introduction. Landing a specific client through an intro (a spear). Your system needs seeds and nets too.
The Channel Partner Content Strategy
The ideal channel partner marketing strategy is a lot like doing inbound marketing with two brands.
But it's so much more powerful.
There are lots of ways to hop in front of 240,000 new pairs of eyeballs. Channel partner marketing does something better than other tactics: it builds trust.
When a trusted brand builds another up, it provides instant validation.
Trust is everything in telecommunications. It's why your sales cycles are so long. It's why your industry, in particular, invests so heavily into face time at tradeshows.
The best strategy will bounce the attention between channels. I'll demonstrate what I mean.
Example Channel Partner Campaign Plan
Let's say that your brand runs a fiber network, offering transit and transport services to businesses. Your channel partner is a systems integrator that consults with clients on their infrastructure as a part of a bigger picture.
You each have a blog, social media, email lists, and client databases. But yours hears from you regularly. You can always do more, but at some point, there are diminishing returns. You're kind of preaching to the choir.
You need to expand your reach. You can do it by stepping in front of each of these owned media channels.
Just make sure that you do it tastefully.
You'll do four things:
- Get introduced.
- Respect the context of each medium and give something before you take.
- Show don't tell. Demonstrate your expertise.
- Escalate in a low-friction, Choose Your Own Adventure way.
Still with me? Let's get started.
First, there's a large problem to solve. Here, let's say that it's a RadWare DDoS mitigation deployment that's really enhancing the value of your transit. Let's also say that one of your partner's key market segments is centered on financial advisory firms.
The 11-Step Channel Marketing Plan
Step 1: Spell out timelines for the project and make sure that either party is on board. Dividing up the work and getting full buy-in early is key. Make sure you both feel good about the scope.
Step 2: Create an outline. Don't get too formal yet. I recommend that your company lead this. First, because it's the hardest part. Second, because it's an opportunity to really nail down messaging. Float it by your partner's content team/agency in an editable format for inspiration. Try to make your focus specific. In our example, let's say that you both agree to focus on the CFO persona. It's a common play.
Here's your title:
The True Cost of Network Security on Financial Advisory Firms
Step 3: Work out your keyword strategy with an autosuggest-driven keyword tool like KeywordTool.io or UberSuggest. Choose strong problems for chapter titles. Then, carefully pick supporting problems to sprinkle into subheadings and body text. Here's a quick visual of what that looks like:
You'll need to apply some brain to this data to be sure that these problems are relevant. Don't optimize by demand volume first. The best search phrases are sales triggers.
Step 4: Get your marketers on a call with your partner's marketers. Firm up as much as you can together on Google Drive.
Step 5: Each of you writes two chapters of the ebook.
Step 6: Edit and design the document.
Step 7: Each of you publishes two chapters of the ebook to your own blogs in alternating weeks. You'll need mild editing an copy to preface it. First, introduce your partner at the start. At the end, you can provide three calls to action. I recommend all three to maximize your results.
- Follow the partner's blog for the next post.
- Download the whole ebook by entering your name/email.
- Check out the partner's services if there's an immediate need (and enough trust now).
Don't worry about the fact that you're just regurgitating a lot of stuff from the ebook. People don't consume your own media channels the same way that you do and most of it will still be fresh to most.
Step 8: Promote these blog posts each multiple times on social media, tagging the partner's official channel and brand evangelists. For better results, create custom social card images and consider a small budget for paid post boosts.
Step 9: Activate a related, 5-email drip sequence for opt-ins. Don't overthink these emails: they should be absurdly simple. I see almost every brand get email marketing wrong in this regard. Just because you can design something to look like it's fresh out of Mad Men doesn't mean that you should. Our testing repeatedly proves that people prefer a friendly 2-liner like you sent it from Gmail over a colorful billboard that forces them to scroll and read.
Step 10: After the blog posts are out and you've given time to score some Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs), send a blast to each other's email list. In this running example, it should reach 480,000 (240,000 x 2), minus those that have already opted into the drip sequence. This will usually be your grand finale and result in most of the draw.
Step 11: If this campaign is converting well, keep promoting it. Consider running boosted social posts. If you designed your search strategy well, these posts are now evergreen. Track them in Google Analytics over the long-term, and watch as this campaign continues to stream leads while you get to work on the next.
If you like the result, you can also brief the sales team on it. It works as neutral collateral for both brands, since a third party has given validation.
If both partners are happy with the performance, you can also build on this concept in an additional phase. Place guest editorials and do podcast interviews that call back to it. Draft more blog posts along a common theme to gather more prospects. Longer-term, you can also re-engage this list by doing a joint webinar.
If you've done everything right, your traffic, leads, and average monthly sales will be forever higher. Maybe not by multiples on your first try. But permanently so.
You'll look for traffic from organic search. You can pay for a tool like SEMrush, and see the full breadth of keywords that your content ranks for. Usually, a strong blog post ranks for 50+ keywords; not just the words in your headline.
As your partner's content marketing develops, you'll get increasing referral traffic from them too. Not to mention, niche-relevant backlinks that help even your product/services pages rank better.
What matters most is that you commit to the process. Do this again next month with a new partner. Even if your first run at it isn't spectacular. As you layer on new content, links, shares, and relationships, the effects are cumulative.
Instead of doing content marketing in a vacuum, deploy this system, and get a reliable ROI from your partnerships.