• To adapt and thrive, channel marketing leaders must understand how to address future expectations of B2B buyers
  • Partners are affected by current market pressures and buyer realities, so channel marketers must develop keen insight into the channel’s needs
  • Five identified areas of opportunity should drive the agenda of B2B channel marketing leaders in 2021

A critical priority for B2B channel marketing organizations is establishing annual plans that drive the desired level of engagement, performance, and ROI across the channel partner ecosystem in alignment with future buyer needs and considering current market conditions. This year has been unlike any other. Although we hope a return to normal is near from a business perspective, we expect the effects of this year’s events to have an impact on our plans for the upcoming year.

Understanding partner and buyer needs is paramount during 2021 planning. The current market disruption will have an ongoing impact on the channel, and channel marketers must cultivate acceptance and empathy toward partners and their buyers during these challenging times. To help channel marketing leaders prepare, we recently published our Channel Marketing Planning Assumptions research brief, which describes five key trends that will affect channel marketing in 2021:

  • Respect buyers by developing a true solution approach. B2B suppliers must develop an understanding of what buyers buy from their channel partners, as this may extend beyond what the supplier sells. When organizations are creating a buyer-aligned strategy, understanding buyer needs is the most critical area of knowledge because it drives true solution mapping. Indirect buyers often prefer to work with channel partners to purchase complete solutions to their business needs. This situation may result in complex solutions that include the definition, implementation, management, and support of multiple supplier offerings as well as multiple partner offerings (i.e., supplier 1 + supplier 2 + partner 1 + partner 2 ++).
  • Understand that leads are not the goal. Historically, many suppliers have focused on campaigns and demand programs for partners that abruptly stop when a lead is generated. The goal of channel demand programs should not be leads, but rather closed/won opportunities and revenue. Channel marketing must design demand programs that support the complete buyer’s journey and extend beyond lead generation to revenue achievement.
  • Accept revenue responsibility by enabling partners. As buyer expectations evolve, so should a supplier’s revenue enablement mindset and approach. Revenue enablement assists all individuals who interact directly or indirectly with the buyer and customer — not just the partner sales rep.
  • Invest in partner experience. Many organizations have undertaken efforts to understand the impact of the recent market disruption on buyers and customers — and channel marketing must also undertake efforts to understand the impact on their partners. Reinforcing channel marketing’s commitment to partner experience is required to keep current on partners’ needs as well as their level of satisfaction.
  • Be proactive and adaptive in the planning process. The lack of market stability and evolving circumstances increase the complexity of the annual planning process for 2021. For this reason, channel marketing leaders must be proactive and allow for adaptability and agility in their annual planning as conditions will change throughout the year.

In times of disruption, channel marketing leaders must align closely with their internal colleagues while listening attentively to their partners. The current market instability and predicted changes in buyer expectations have an impact not only on direct business, but also indirect business. These five trends should all be top of mind for channel marketing leaders finalizing their plans for 2021.

If you’re a Forrester SiriusDecisions Channel Marketing client, access the Channel Marketing Planning Assumptions research brief. Not a client? Explore Forrester’s B2B research.