Partner engagement in 2023: The omnichannel difference

Being everywhere, all at once - that’s the brutal essence of omnichannel communications. But let’s face it - we don’t do this very well as partner managers (if we do it at all). All too often, we expect our partners to log into a portal, and consider the job done. But what if the engagement channels we’re using aren’t where our partners want to be? Our primary goal has to be to create the best possible experience for our partners, not to reduce the effort needed on our part.

Creating a great experience for them may very well (and often does) include a PRM platform, but it’s broader than that. Partner managers should leverage the channels our partners love and use every day. And we need to figure out which content works for each partner, and each channel. That can happen through a portal, but it also happens via email, Slack, and any number of other places.

Removing friction for partners is the essence of partner centricity

You’ve heard me talk about partner centricity before, and why achieving it should be every partner manager’s goal. Well, omnichannel engagement is at the core of that goal. How can you be partner centric if you don’t respect your partners’ desires when it comes to the channel of their choice? Ultimately, the medium is almost as important as the message itself. Informing them is, of course, key. But when you make the extra effort to communicate with partners in ways they like, they feel more valued, involved, excited.

More than a nice-to-have: Five powerful benefits of going omnichannel

In this post, we’re going to show how omnichannel can get us there, and some practical guidance on how to implement it. First up, let’s consider the benefits.

Provide a better partner experience

When you implement omnichannel engagement, you can reach partners through any channel. This means that they consistently get what they need, no matter how they choose to interact with your company. They don’t need to search for it, or go out of their usual channels. That’s a recipe for increased satisfaction and loyalty.

Increase your reach

This one is simple: by engaging through more channels, you reach more partners, and spread awareness in the places where they are most active.

Generate insights for deeper understanding

Omnichannel engagement allows companies to collect data from multiple channels, which can provide a more comprehensive understanding of partner behavior and preferences. This can inform targeted decision making and personalization efforts.

Boost engagement (leading to more partner revenue)

One of the best ways to lower the barriers to engagement is by providing a consistent and seamless experience across all channels. Engagement goes up - followed by partner revenue.

Guarantee partner loyalty

Omnichannel engagement can help foster partner loyalty by providing personalized, frictionless experiences. Partners who enjoy working with your company are more likely to become repeat partners and recommend your brand to others.

If omnichannel communication is so impactful, why don’t more companies do it?

Given how I’ve described the benefits, it’s worth considering why the uptake of omnichannel engagement in partnerships lags behind marketing and sales, where it’s not just a best practice but a must-have in today’s ROI-driven environment.

Here are, in my opinion, the biggest roadblocks:

Integrating and coordinating an orchestra of channels

Coordinating email, Slack, and all your other channels, and getting them to talk to each other - that can be complex and time-consuming. But integrating all of them is vital to achieving “omni”.

Handling complex data flows from various sources at once

Getting this right requires collecting and managing data from multiple sources such as CRM, PRM, and account mapping tools. That can be daunting for companies who have not yet learned to leverage data in this way. My take is that these companies should view the process as an opportunity to learn how to do more with their data. That’s a learning curve that nobody regrets taking.

Reaching everywhere while being present to each person - simultaneously

Omnichannel partner engagement is about more than “being everywhere”. It also aims to provide a personalized experience for each person in your ecosystem. That can be difficult to achieve without the right tools and processes in place. And it’s especially hard for partnership teams who normally don’t get enough marketing and RevOps support.

Allocating (extra) resources when things are tight

This is a major obstacle, especially because, as we know, PartnerOps rarely have enough resources as it is. But the fact remains: an omnichannel engagement strategy takes resources, both budgetary and personnel.

A tech stack that isn’t up to the job

All too often, partner managers are asked to repurpose sales and marketing tools. Marketing and selling is not the same as relationship building with partners. Retro-fitting tools built for other use cases is risky, time consuming, and ultimately insufficient.

Keeping up with shifting partner expectations

As circumstances evolve, partners’ expectations and behaviors evolve along with them. It’s not easy to keep up with these changes and keep delivering a seamless partner experience - but it is necessary. There’s no getting around this one, and there’s no hiding the amount of work it takes.

Good old fashioned fear of the unknown

When sales engagement tools came on the scene, they divided opinion. There were salespeople who warned their managers against them. Their reasons? Automating cadences would never work, because the human touch would be gone. Audiences would see through it, and sales would suffer. I remember those days (perhaps you do too?) and in hindsight, it’s easy to see they were wrong. But at the time, they were afraid machines would kill their success. In reality, these tools did the opposite, and enabled them to be more productive and more successful once they struck the right balance between automation and the human factor.

But the fear was real - and it was understandable!! Launching an omnichannel partner engagement strategy is a similarly game-changing innovation. And it’s a big commitment that comes with a lot of challenges. It’s not surprising that this makes people nervous. All I can say is that the benefits are there if you take the chance: improved partner experience, increased reach and engagement, leading to a boost in ecosystem revenue - the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.

Good news: it’s not (quite) as hard as it may seem. Here’s why.

I’ve been implementing omnichannel experiences in marketing for many years. And I won’t sugarcoat it: it was hard. In many cases, the main difficulties were the breadth of data sources, the complexities of journeys, and the range of personas. And there were many others besides these.

But in a sense, we’re actually lucky in partnerships. Our data structures are less complex, and we have a lot more data than we think, not just in our CRMs, but especially via account mapping tools that generate massive amounts of data. Also, PRMs are realizing that creating silos full of inaccessible data is not the future. As a result, they’re more open to providing data to other tools. Even better, we normally have a great understanding of our partners, which is the foundation of omnichannel engagement.

I’ve literally talked to hundreds of companies about this. And through that process, it dawned on me that all we really need to do is get started. And because we all expect it to be nightmarishly difficult, the reality, though challenging, may come as a pleasant surprise.  

Getting down to brass tacks: how to proceed with omnichannel engagement

Now that I’ve (hopefully) convinced you that it’s worth diving in, let’s dive in.

Step 1: Adopt a “partners first” mentality

Begin by considering your partner journey. What are your partners hoping to get from it? What are their goals? Whatever the answer, your partners should be the subject of that sentence. In other words: “this is easy for us” or “this is bound to impress them” just won’t cut it. Make sure it’s about them, first and foremost.

Step 2: Segment your audience

It’s vital that you know who your target audience is before you proceed. Figure out which channels and messages are most relevant and most likely to engage them. Often, people start with tech partners, or SIs. Within each of those, there may be smaller audiences like account executives or customer success managers. Each of these segments or sub audiences may have their own interests and needs.

Step 3: Select your data sources and maximize personalization

The key data sources are your CRM, PRM and account mapping tools. For a PRM, ensure the data is accessible (this may require an API or Zapier). Ideally, you want PRM data pushed into your CRM, which can then become a single source of truth. You can leverage that data to customize content and create unique, engaging experiences.

Step 4: Identify your engagement channels

Once you know who you’re targeting, you can start to identify the channels that will be the most effective in reaching them. Email and Slack are the most common, but I personally see PRMs as one of these essential channels, too.

Step 5: Develop a content strategy

A key part of an omnichannel engagement strategy is creating consistent, relevant content that will engage your target audience. This may include blog posts, one pagers, videos, and other types of content.

Step 6: Integrate your channels

Once you’ve identified your channels and developed a content strategy, it's important to integrate them to ensure a seamless partner experience. This may involve using a partner engagement platform to coordinate your messaging across channels. If you have the resources, time and capacity, you can also take tools that were built for sales and marketing and try to tweak them for partner engagement (thought that normally is a risky bet to make).

Step 7: Monitor and optimize

An omnichannel engagement strategy is not a one-time effort. It requires ongoing monitoring and optimization to ensure that it is effective. This may involve testing different messaging and targeting approaches, or adjusting your content strategy based on feedback from partners, or based on observation of what works.

Start small, win big: how to win when you don’t have the luxury of time

2023 is about achieving fast results and proving value quickly. We can’t spend months assessing and evaluating. But at the same time, rushing carries the risk of making rash decisions. So, we find ourselves in a bit of a bind. What’s the best approach to take?

Begin with defining small pilots, keep it lean. Test and iterate. Start with one or two channels, like email and Slack. Figure out what works for which use case. Then, define a process, implement a tool for basic automations, and note the results. Then you’ll be ready to roll out, step by step, iterate, and push ahead.

Handy tip: Start with the long tail

My advice is to focus on long tail partners first. These are the most neglected, usually because partnership teams don’t scale quickly enough (or at all), and they simply can’t engage everyone in their ecosystem. But believe, you’ll be surprised by what can happen when you start to engage them. I’ve seen companies double their long tail revenue in very short timeframes. When you go from having no real omnichannel engagement, to making long tail partners feel like they matter, you might stumble upon a gold mine. Many partner organizations aren’t leveraging this resource, and that’s a mistake.

2023: A window of opportunity in trying times

They say that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” - but I don’t agree. To be honest, the idea that great things happen when people are forced to adapt to adversity, has never sat well with me. The unvarnished truth is that people are losing their jobs, and that sucks. It’s likely that we’ll see even more layoffs and budget cuts in partnership departments. I can’t - and won’t - sugarcoat that fact with platitudes. It’s not right, and it’s short-sighted. But it will happen - and we need to figure out ways to move forward in spite of that.

We will all need to reassess many things we’ve been doing for years. We need to get leaner, drive efficiencies, do more with less. And because I’m a hopeless optimist, I see plenty of opportunities. One of the most promising of these is omnichannel engagement. After all, this is still one of the most underutilized strategies, and we haven’t even begun to tap its potential. Now is the time to dive in.

Going forward, those who are able to reassess their partner strategies and implement omnichannel engagement will set themselves apart. This has happened before, in the world of CRM. Marketing automation and sales engagement tools enabled their early adopters to achieve results that old school methods simply couldn’t deliver. Those were exciting times, and they changed everything. Now, it’s our turn to change partner management for the better.

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