As a channel marketer, you’ve likely spent countless hours creating a channel fund program for your channel partners, only to find disappointingly low engagement and low adoption rates. It’s extremely frustrating. You may even be thinking that it’s time to go back to the proverbial drawing board. Perhaps you’re considering restructuring your accrual calculations or, even worse, decreasing the amount of funds you provide altogether.
Restructuring makes sense if few people are utilizing the funds. But maybe the platform you are using, if you’re using one, is the problem. Your channel partners hate new technology, that has to be the reason they aren’t engaging with the program. Right?
Whether through a co-op program, an MDF program, or a combination, channel fund programs enable channel partners to market. However, offering them only channel funds does not minimize the effort needed on their part to market effectively. You want them to use your funds strategically and in alignment with your corporate strategy, but without proper tools, and burdened with complicated processes, how can anyone possibly expect their performance to be impactful?
Channel fund-only programs lack guidance. That sounds like a bold statement. You’ve provided program guidelines. You labored over those for months a few years ago and have been making incremental updates ever since. How can I say it lacks guidance? You feel as if you have been guiding laboriously! Let’s be honest though: Your channel partners aren’t reading your guidelines. To be fair, when was the last time you read instructions to put together some furniture or children’s toy, let alone instructions on how to market your business? While guidelines are helpful, your channel partners need more guidance and tools to make their jobs easier. If you have independent or non-captive partners, this is even more critical.
Providing pre-approved, customizable content within your brand guidelines is the perfect way to start increasing engagement. Without pre-approved content, your partners are either reaching out to you directly for custom creative, or they are marketing your brand without you ever seeing the materials they create. Channel partners are desperate for content they can quickly customize with their contact information and with imagery that resonates with their customer base. Utilizing a tool that also manages your channel fund program can allow for funds to be directly applied when ordering the content. This removes many arduous steps for your partners. They won’t have to wait on creative. They will no longer need to submit for reimbursement and potentially be denied. They will no longer front 100% of the marketing cost, which is often a main deterrent to program adoption. Talk about making it easier for them to market your brand.
Another step to enhancing your channel fund-only program is providing approved vendors for your channel partners with which they can engage to execute marketing. Many reimbursement requests are denied because of a mistake or lack of alignment by the vendor. Simply knowing who to work with removes the barrier that often follows having funds to market and the right content. Channel fund-only programs provide the money, but without approved vendors, how can you be confident your funds are being spent correctly?
Pre-approved, customizable content and approved vendors are helpful to your channel partners who want to do it themselves, but what about those who simply do not have the time? This is where a marrying of the two can close a large engagement gap. By providing opt-in programs, the partners who have limited time can subscribe to marketing that gets executed on their behalf. Like pre-approved, customizable content, funds can be directly applied each month based on your program’s eligibility rules. For example, if a paid social program is 75% eligible, the channel partner’s credit card is only billed for the remaining 25% as long as they have enough funds for the eligible percentage. And the paid social program can be aligned with your corporate goals to ensure alignment at every step of the way.
These advantages of through-channel marketing automation only begin to scratch the surface over channel fund-only programs. At the end of the day, it is imperative that we reduce as much friction as possible for the partners. Providing funds is a huge first step, but if you are still not seeing the level of participation you want, through-channel marketing automation should be the clear next step.
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Vice President, Product Management