Do end customers care about partner marketing?
The short answer is yes, they do.
The long answer? I discovered this through a 6-month dissertation research project (B2B Buyer perspective on partner marketing), which included interviewing a group of senior technology buyers within large B2B companies (250+ employees and an IT budget of over $20M). While this study was limited to the technology industry, the findings can be extended to many other industries.
Here is what I found:
Technology digital marketing is more effective with partner marketing
Through the interviews, it was apparent that the B2B buyer is not consciously looking for or thinking about partner marketing. Most genuinely struggled to define what “partner marketing” was. Having said that it was clear that all interviewees understood the concept and saw the “sum of the parts” as stronger, i.e., the collaborative efforts between various vendors and systems integrators.
This lack of conscious awareness is surprising due to the volume of “partnering” in the IT industry. As McBain (2020) noted, indirect business engagements account for more than half of global IT revenues at 64%. However, conversely, this fact could be why it is not a conscious decision. It is simply just “the way things are”. If this is the case, companies that are not representing their ecosystems as a foundation for their marketing are missing an opportunity to be more effective as the B2B buyers expect this “whole” approach.
Telling the joined-up story builds confidence
Supporting the principle of the “whole,” it was clear from the interview data that joint brands create more impact as they add value and credibility to one another. Interviewees explained that they were more confident when seeing the common logos and this gave the perception of access to credible people. B2B buyers need confidence and reassurance that the partnership is going to deliver what they need.
When the partnerships are disconnected, the interviewees felt strongly that confidence/credibility was eroded. When messaging is unclear or when one partner seems more substantial than the other, doubt creeps in. The data highlighted that a simple step to make the companies appear joined up would make a difference, e.g., joint LinkedIn adverts, and joint email logos.
Partner marketing has the biggest impact at the start of the buying journey
The research showed B2B marketers need to focus their combined partner marketing efforts on the first phase of the buying journey. This means making a concerted effort to deliver quality content focused on case studies and best practices. They need to find innovative ways to build trust with the end customer by telling real-life joint stories.
B2B partner marketers have historically used research analysts e.g., Gartner to tell their stories, and this research would suggest that it is a good thing to continue to do.
It is essential that they only deliver high-quality content to the target buyers using email marketing. Unfortunately, given its bad reputation, there is the possibility n that these buyers will no longer look at it.
They care about the joint presence on your website
Partner Marketers must also address their joint digital presence. This was a major frustration for B2B buyers in this study. According to research by Coterie (2021), nearly half of SI partner pages scored ‘okay’ on user experience, indicating there is room for improvement.
Common mistakes included poor navigation, hidden contact details, sending prospects off to partner sites (often the homepage) with no context or further information, and bland content tailored neither for partners nor for prospects. and a lack of conversion features.
Don’t forget the later stages of the journey
There remains an opportunity to influence the B2B buyer later in the buying journey by demonstrating joint credentials and providing detail about how the people, processes and organisations work together. To date, this is ignored or left to a single joint partner page website to achieve this critical job. It is acknowledged that it would be of value to extend this survey to take a sample of B2B decision-makers within the millennial category to determine if their behaviours differed from this sample.
The technical buyers are an important target
Finally, the B2B buying unit is a broad complex group of stakeholders, including technical, line of business, and C-level executives.
One influential audience revealed by this research was the technical buyer who sits below the senior decision-makers. In my experience, B2B partner marketers often neglect this group in favour of the C-levels. Nevertheless, it became apparent through this study that they have considerable influence. There is a significant opportunity for B2B partner marketers to engage this audience.
From these findings, it became clear that B2B partner marketers must tell their ecosystem story early in the buying journey using joint use cases and best practices. They need to create environments that allow the B2B buyers to both self-serve and mix with their peers.
Below is a simple checklist that helps bring these findings to life:
Pillar 1: Creating confidence.
The foundation for effective B2B partner marketing focuses on creating confidence in the ecosystem.
Are you telling a joined-up ecosystem story?
Are you explaining how the partnership will augment the B2B buyer’s own team?
Have you left areas disconnected that could create doubt?
Have you highlighted what the partnership means in terms of accredited skilled people and credible solutions?
Pillar 2: Delivering relevance.
The execution focuses on delivering relevant content and stories to the B2B buyer.
Have you focused your joint go-to-market plans on Google search, LinkedIn, analysts, and critically your website?
Do you have joint self-service options that deliver technical insights as the call to action from the stage above?
Are you delivering joint content that tells the B2B buyer new insight that they did not know previously? Do you have it for distinct groups of B2B buyers?
Can the B2B buyer engage with human experts at this stage?
Have you included relevant joint industry case studies that demonstrate that the ecosystem of partners is committed to the customer?
Pillar 3: Extend to the influencers.
The engagement phase concentrates on the complex group of influencers.
Have you defined and identified the relevant peer group for your target B2B buyer?
Have you articulated your value at both a technical and business level?
Have you disseminated using electronic WOM (word of mouth) e.g., LinkedIn, and Twitter?
Have you focused on the technical buyer enough?
Have you connected the buyer with subject matter experts to share educational insights?