When you communicate with your distribution partners, do you talk to them or do you talk at them? Think of the last time you were on a plane—did you listen to the flight attendants give their pre-flight announcements, or were you thinking about how excited you were (or perhaps not) about getting to your destination? Or have you heard the same rundown so many times that you don't find any new value in what's being said?
If engagement from your channel partners is low or declining—make sure your communication strategy doesn't sound like those pre-flight instructions. You might be talking at your partners instead of engaging with them.
Your distribution partners may not be engaging with your building materials brand because the resources you provide aren't valuable to them. They may be:
- Difficult to find
- Not useful for the work they do for your company
Making sure the resources you supply your partners are relevant and manageable will help drive engagement. Below are some tips to change up your communication strategy to encourage your partners to work with you.
Not every partner has the same resources or team available, nor do your building materials partners all serve the same purpose in your channel—accounting for their different needs will help engage them.
Segmenting your partners by what they do (distributors, contractors, architects, builders, etc.) as well as company size or what position within the organization you’re communicating with (sales reps, managers, technicians) will help get the right information into the right hands.
A robust CRM can help you with list creation and contact segmentation to keep your different partners organized by how they work with you. The right workflow strategy can also enroll new partner contacts into the right lists automatically.
Feedback & Collaboration
Your distribution partners might not be engaged with your company because they’re not getting what they need from you. There are two things you can do to open up communication with your partners so it’s a two-way street: ask for feedback and offer opportunities to collaborate.
Channel partners are a lot like customers. When they have a poor experience working with you, they can stop selling your products—just like a customer who has a poor experience will stop buying from you. How do you know when channel partners are struggling, or what they’re struggling with?
Instead of conducting a quantitative survey like NPS, consider using a survey that asks for qualitative data in the form of short answer questions. Keep surveys like these to a few questions to increase submissions and avoid survey fatigue. Ask your channel partners what challenges they face with your products or working with your company, including any technology like a PRM or partner portal, and ask what they need from you to meet those challenges.
As a building materials manufacturer, all your partners interact differently with your products. You'll want to develop any surveys for a specific categories of partners, like builders who install your products versus a distributor who's selling them to builders and contractors.
Conducting a qualitative survey like this will take some time, but the time you do take to listen to your channel partners will be well spent. Having a better understanding of what your partners need allows you to meet those needs versus offering tools or opportunities that don't make their lives easier.
As the brand name manufacturer, you have the national (or international) brand recognition with your end users, but your partners have the local market knowledge and influence over their audience. You can leverage their influence with end users by offering them high-quality marketing materials and strategies to help them close more deals.
Through channel marketing automation (TCMA) is a marketing technique built specifically for businesses who sell primarily through distributors and other third-parties—a useful technique for building materials manufacturers. In TCMA, you, as the manufacturer, assist your partners with marketing and selling materials by providing pre-built campaigns and sales playbooks to help drive their business.
In addition to assisting your distribution partners, TCMA allows you to develop a more consistent experience with your brand, because all of your partners will have the most recent materials that are expertly designed.
However, when you're sharing marketing materials with your partners, you need to offer them opportunities for credit through co-branding. This is an effort to sell more of your product, but your partners are the ones with the feet on the ground—no distribution partner wants their logo hiding in the corner when they're the one making the sale.
Direction & Guidance
Since not all partners are the same, how can you ensure the marketing materials you send to all channel partners are used effectively? Often times, smaller partners might not have the resources or a dedicated marketing team like larger partners. On the other hand, larger partners could have a marketing strategy that’s not perfectly in line with yours.
Every partner needs to be successful with the materials you provide them. Include a checklist with any marketing or sales materials you provide so channel partners know what to do with them. A checklist with branding guidelines ensures everyone is on the same page with how your materials are used—and also guides more partners to success.
Goals & Incentives
Incentivizing channel partners to use your marketing materials, complete additional training, or even answer a survey will help get them involved. Setting goals, and offering incentives for reaching those goals, can get channel partners excited.
For example, you might set a sales goal of 10% growth from the prior year, and distributors who meet that goal receive a co-op reimbursement or discount on ordering your products. In the case of builders or installers, you can incentivize training by offering special promotions or certifications that add to their authority in their local market.
Even though you’re building materials manufacturer, your distribution partners are exactly that—partners. When you work together, you both will see success.
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