Many channel support programs on the market today really just involve providing free software, marketing collateral and sometimes low qualified leads. Few are really focused on helping partners to sell joint solutions effectively. Even fewer are focused on developing long-term co-marketing success with a demonstrable return on investment (ROI).
Co-marketing is a practice that allows two or more companies to work together to drive sales opportunities that benefit all of the partners involved. A successful co-marketing campaign allows different companies to leverage the strengths of each partner to succeed in ways that each individual company cannot do alone.
One such example is IBM and Oracle, two large yet different IT companies with complementary products and services, who have been alliance partners for a variety of campaigns since 1986. The results of the collaboration between these companies are hardware platforms and application systems that work together to provide companies with reliable IT services. Personnel are trained on both IBM hardware and Oracle applications to efficiently operate and maintain mission critical systems for companies around the world. Sometimes the joint offering is promoted via direct sales staff from both companies, and sometimes through mid-market partners.
Co-marketing goes beyond marketing and channel support: it is a program that requires full participation and commitment from all parties involved to result in success.
2. Creating Co-Marketing Alliances
An effective alliance of partners is the primary concern in ensuring a successful co-marketing campaign. Each partner contributes to the relationship in a different way, and in some cases, three or more partners are needed to provide a robust, successful campaign.
2.1 Types of Co-Marketing Alliances
Every co-marketing partnership is different, but there are a few primary types of co-marketing alliances in the IT sector:
• One Large + One Small – In this scenario, a large company, such as IBM, may partner with a mid-market company that focuses on a specific niche market. IBM can take an existing IT product, tailor it to that specific niche industry, and the mid-market partner can leverage its own customer base plus the name recognition of IBM to market this tailored product.
• Two Large – Co-marketing campaigns don’t always have to include a large company and a small company. Two large companies with complementary product or service offerings can form alliances to develop a product that benefits the customer bases of both companies.
• Two Large + One Small – In this case, two large companies partner with a single mid-market company to drive leads to that company. For example, IBM and Oracle can form an alliance with a mid-market company who has developed a product that is complementary to IBM and Oracle’s offerings. IBM and Oracle can funnel leads to this mid-market partner from their own customer base, or assist the partner in driving and managing new joint sales opportunities by themselves.
The key to success in forming a co-marketing alliance is to bring together partners with complementary product or service offerings that are committed to each other’s success.
2.2 Engagement Models
The engagement model for the co-marketing alliance outlines how each partner will contribute to the overall alliance. In some cases, one company will generate leads then pass them to a partner to nurture. In other cases, each partner funds the campaign equally, and each generates leads from its own customer and marketing base. Some of the basic engagement models include:
• Large company generates leads, passes them to partners
• Large company provides marketing funding, partners develop and implement co-branded campaigns to generate leads
• Alliance partners co-fund campaign, all partners generate and share leads
The design of the engagement model depends on the types of companies involved in the alliance, the intended participation of each entity, and the goals of the campaign.
3. Keys to Successful Co-Marketing Campaigns
It can be difficult to design a marketing campaign with only one company involved; adding one or more partners can significantly complicate the design and execution of a campaign. By being aware of potential pitfalls, using the right resources, and instilling accountability in all partners, a co-marketing campaign can meet or exceed all expectations.
3.1 Overcoming Obstacles
One of the challenges is finding the right partners to form a co-marketing alliance. Many co-marketing campaigns occur naturally, when partners working together on other projects decide to initiate a new campaign together. However, in some cases a smaller company may have co-marketing campaign ideas that could involve a larger company, and may need assistance in approaching a larger company to form an alliance.
Some of the major obstacles that can be encountered in forming a co-marketing alliance include:
• “We don’t have the time/money.” – Many organizations may initially balk at the time, money, and personnel that are required to create a co-marketing campaign, without really understanding what really is required. Many co-marketing campaigns can actually save all of the partners time and money in the long run because efforts aren’t duplicated by each partner.
• “I don’t even know where to start.” – Organizations that have never developed a co-marketing campaign may feel intimidated by the process. One option is to work with an alliance partner that has significant expertise developing its own co-marketing alliances. Many larger companies have significant marketing experience and the in-house staff to adequately design and manage co-marketing campaigns.
Once an alliance has been formed, the design and execution of the marketing campaign can also contain many pitfalls, including:
• Poor Planning – Alliances that fail to plan are planning to fail. A successful co-marketing campaign requires integrated planning by all partners within the alliance at the very start of the design process.
• Misalignment with Partner Messages – A large partner could potentially force a smaller partner to conform to the large partner’s established messages, even if they don’t exactly align with the message that the smaller partner wants to portray.
• Not Using Available Tools – Each partner in a co-marketing campaign has their own resources that they can provide, whether it’s funding, personnel, or software tools. If one partner does not take advantage of the tools that the other partner has provided, then they reduce the overall value of the campaign.
• Overly Complex Messaging – Messaging between personnel and partners within a co-marketing campaign has to be tailored to each of the parties receiving data. For example, CFOs will want to stay on top of ROI figures for the campaign as a whole, while CIOs will focus on ROI for web and email efforts. C-level executives need big picture information while personnel executing the operations of the campaign need specific technical information targeted for their function.
• Lack of Lead Nurturing – The majority of leads that will be generated during any type of co-marketing campaign will be long term and will require a nurturing process. Treating these leads as one-time sales chances and avoiding building a relationship will result in failure. Lead nurturing also has to be performed by the right people. Leads generated by marketing personnel need to be passed to sales personnel who can follow up and nurture these leads. In a co-marketing alliance, these leads often have to be passed from one partner to another.
• Overwhelming Smaller Partners – A Common complaint from smaller partners is the “peak and trough” problems of running one-off campaigns that generate a high volume of leads quickly, and then nothing until the next campaign six months later. Partners are overwhelmed with the volume of leads initially, do not have the resources to follow up properly immediately, lose momentum with the leads, which is later followed by a trough.
• Lack of Sales Process Training – Smaller partner companies and their account managers may have unrealistically high expectations of leads. They consequently do not manage them through a formal sales process that enables the lead to progress naturally through specific stages of a standard sales process. In effect, they “blow” the lead by expecting it to close too early.
3.2 Using Third Party Agencies
For companies that have never been involved in a co-marketing campaign, it may be difficult to navigate the design and implementation process. Third party channel marketing agencies with experience facilitating co-marketing alliances can provide significant support in designing and implementing a co-marketing campaign, no matter what size your business is. Third party agencies that understand the complexities of multiple stakeholders can help cultivate the relationships between all of the co-marketing campaign partners. A third party agency can also:
• Improve marketing efforts through CRM integration, management training and marketing workshops
• Provide Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) that guarantee a certain level of pipeline
• Provide smaller partners with additional marketing support to bolster their marketing resources, and provide “hand-holding” through the process, reducing the footprint on partners
• Empower sales personnel through recruitment, training, and resources
• Create lead generation through multiple integrated tactics
• Cultivate customer loyalty through keep-in-touch activities, developing customer satisfaction surveys, “drip marketing” and creating customer panels
The bottom line is that a third party agency that specializes in developing co-marketing alliances can help guide businesses of any size through the process of developing and executing a co-marketing campaign and navigate the alliance partners around potential pitfalls. A third party agency can help to significantly improve the performance of a co-marketing campaign by facilitating communications, keeping all of the partners on track and providing the tools and resources needed to succeed.
3.3 Instilling Accountability
When working with one or more partners, it is vital to have an established system of communication and accountability. This will ensure that all parties know and understand what is expected of them, and task lists and timelines are clearly established and communicated to all team members.
One of the best ways to instil accountability right from the start of the project is to begin the alliance with an advance marketing workshop. This workshop, which involves all parties in the alliance, lays out the blueprint for the campaign and allows for consensus to be reached on all matters in campaign design and execution. This type of workshop should include:
• Determining the specific marketing tactics and mediums that will be leveraged as part of the marketing campaign
• Determining the specific engagement model between all parties in the co-marketing alliance
• Creating alignment between all marketing messages and all alliance partners so that a consistent message is promoted
• Developing targeted messaging and communication tailored to the needs of each recipient.
When all partners are at the same table, literally, from the start, the chances of success for the co-marketing campaign increases significantly.
Another tactic to instil accountability in each party is to engage people who have sales quotas. People who have specific sales goals or work on commission-based compensation models are more sensitive to the effectiveness of marketing methods, because they can see the results of success or failure in their numbers, or their pay checks. These employees are often more willing to be engaged with their counterparts across the alliance to make the partnership work.
Accountability should be three hundred and sixty degrees. Sometimes there could be four or more parties to a co-marketing campaign, e.g. Two strategic partners (e.g. IBM and Oracle)
Partner marketing team
Partner account management team
Product marketing team
A mid-market partner (e.g. Value Added Reseller)
A marketing agency
All parties should be held accountable for their commitment, co-operation and deliverables. There should be an all-round “partnership” relationship by all parties, rather than a “client-supplier” relationship that restricts honest feedback.
Finally, as part of the commitment to clear communication amongst partners, it is critical to identify, report, and manage key performance indicators (KPI), such as numbers of new customers and retention of existing customers, throughout the campaign. Identification of KPIs should take place during the initial design of the co-marketing campaign, but these numbers need to be communicated and acted upon as needed as the campaign plays out to maximize the performance of the campaign. Strategies need to be in place to react to KPI changes, whether positive or negative.