Forrester’s 2023 predictions for B2B marketing and sales leaders have a common thread: They all, in one way or another, speak to the criticality of aligning around the customer. In a recent webinar, my colleague Amy Hawthorne and I dove deep into two of those predictions, both of which have made waves in the market. Amy explored the prediction that the number of demand teams reporting into sales will jump to 20% this year. (Look out for her forthcoming blog post recapping that prediction.) Here, I’ll recap the transformation underway in many channel marketing teams and address a few of the questions asked in the webinar.
Prediction: In 2023, 40% Of B2B Organizations Will Say Goodbye To Their Channel Marketing Function
Channel organizations are at a pivotal moment. They continue to see a sharp increase in and expansion of new partner relationships. As B2B buyers’ processes continue to evolve and where and how they purchase continues to diversify, partner ecosystems, both formal and informal, have become indispensable to B2B companies’ overall growth strategy.
This evolution is fueling the revamping of what is currently known as channel marketing into a partner ecosystem marketing function. This shift will disrupt B2B organizations — and it will require a groundbreaking functional transformation.
Serving Complex, End-To-End Customer Needs
In Forrester’s most recent Buyers’ Journey Survey, nearly 70% of over 10,000 buyers reported that they purchased their offering from an indirect route to market or channel partner, rather than directly from the supplier. This underscores the importance of partnerships as a key source for B2B buyer purchases. Yet B2B buyer preference extends beyond purchase source.
Often, buyers are looking for solutions to their business problems, rather than a single product or offering. For this reason, they may choose to work with an independent third party instead of, or in addition to, working directly with the supplier. Building and orchestrating a partner ecosystem that includes both traditional route-to-market partners and nontraditional partners (such as those that create or build their own offerings; participate in joint development and design; or commit to joint go-to-market efforts, such as co-marketing or co-selling) is essential to support the needs of buyers and customers who require complete solutions for their complex business challenges. It’s no surprise that nearly half (49%) of B2B channel leaders we recently surveyed told us that they expect and are planning for the number of partners in their ecosystem to grow.
It’s important to emphasize that a partner ecosystem strategy starts not with partners, but with buyers. Companies need to understand who their buyers are, where those buyers want to buy, how they prefer to buy, and most importantly, what buyers actually purchase at the point of transaction. These insights help ensure that you choose the right partners as you build your partner ecosystem.
Moving To A Partner Ecosystem Approach
We received questions in the webinar around the steps needed to shift from a channel to a partner ecosystem approach. Even if you’re not planning to move away from a channel marketing function, the first step is to make sure you’ve clearly defined who your partners are and what their business models are. What values do they offer related to your offerings to the buyer and customer? Are they marketing your offerings? Are they selling or recommending their offerings? Are they providing services or support for your offerings? Are they providing their own products and offerings to buyers and customers? Defining the unique partner business models is essential because it’s the cornerstone for establishing a successful partner ecosystem.
Also, know who within your partner organizations you need to work with: If a partner is helping to market your products, you should be engaged with the marketing personnel; if they are helping you to sell or they are co-selling with you, you should be in contact with the sales teams. Understanding those personas and ensuring you have the right enablement and engagement incentives for the right behaviors is key. Lastly, guide them in the relationship you want to have with them. Communicate what you expect: Don’t leave them to figure out what you want them to do.
Similar guidance applies If you are new to channel marketing. Start with developing a solid understanding of your partners, their business models, and what they offer to customers, and then detail your key partner personas. Create a map of the journey you want partners to engage in for partnership success, recognizing that this will be different for different partner types.
To Win In 2023, Alignment Is Imperative
Another question we received that spoke to the unifying theme of our 2023 predictions was whether the partner ecosystem strategy should be integrated with demand and ABM marketing. The answer is a resounding yes. Alignment helps ensure a consistent experience for buyers. Channel/partner ecosystem and demand teams have an equal responsibility to share buyer insights and integrate processes, both to benefit partners and to equip them to better represent, market, sell, and support your offerings.
More broadly, alignment in the service of the customer — in strategies, processes, and resources — is essential for B2B organizations to win. There is always room to improve alignment, even in organizations where it is relatively strong.