You focus your marketing efforts on your customer, but before you ever get to the customer, there are producers, distributors, retailers — every link in the distribution chain is another client, each with their own concerns and preferences. In order to make your marketing efforts work, you have to focus your efforts on the right channels, in the right way, at the right time.
Your marketing efforts are focused in some way on promoting and cementing your relationship with the customer. But who exactly is the customer? While the customer is the person who purchases from your company, there are many “customers” whose attention you need to grab in the long chain that leads to your customer: your channels of distribution.
Consider bananas. The farmer produces and harvests the bananas, the exporter ships them out of country, the importer takes possession of them, the distributor makes sure that they find their way into retail stores, and the retailer then sells them to the customer. And while certain links in this chain may be less exposed than others, each is vitally important to the overall process.
This is where channel marketing comes into play. Channel marketing is the process by which organizations are able to direct their marketing efforts towards the various levels throughout the channel of distribution, rather than just towards the end buyers. Why is this important? Well, for one thing, unless you can successfully market your product or service to the various levels of the channel that leads to the end customer, that customer will never even have the chance to do business with your company, much less become a brand advocate. For another thing, studies indicate that well over half of the buying cycle occurs before a potential customer is ever contacted. Channels should be a major focus of your marketing efforts.
Of course, it’s one thing to advocate the importance of channel marketing, and a completely different thing to identify the components of a successful marketing channel strategy. Let’s discuss a few that come to mind.
One of the most significant changes to the sales landscape to have occurred in the last half-century is the rise of inbound marketing. Rather than being marketed to, buyers prefer to discover for themselves the products and services in which they might potentially invest. As a result, more businesses are introducing content marketing efforts. The buyers who are located further up the chain aren’t much different. In fact, among B2B buyers, most are 66–90% of the way through their buying journey before they ever reach out to a vendor. How can you use this to your advantage? Tailor your online content to appeal to distributors and retailers, and not just to end-of-the-line customers.
Businesses are now increasing brand awareness and driving traffic back to their own sites with social, and B2B companies are researching potential partners, and to establishing business relationships on social media channels.
To make the most of the opportunities that social media has to offer your channel marketing strategy, you should focus your efforts where they’ll do the most good. LinkedIn, for example, may not receive the flood of daily traffic that the more popular Facebook and Twitter regularly get. However, LinkedIn caters to a business audience, making it a perfect arena in which to attract potential B2B and channel clients. In fact, among B2B marketers, LinkedIn is the most popular, with 91% preferring it over other platforms.
Marketing channels rooted in social media also have the added benefit of featuring built-in networking capabilities, so the chances of one lead developing into several is greatly increased.
Of course, even though a huge percentage of modern business takes place over the virtual landscape of the Internet, don’t underestimate the value of meeting clients face to face. Why is this? An opportunity to demonstrate a product for a potential client provides obvious advantages in cementing a business partnership. One study shows that 90% of business communicators believe that their sent messages will be able to easily convey intended tone and meaning to the recipient, when in fact 37% of the time the recipients are unable to grasp tone and meaning from messages alone. Meet someone, and you have an opportunity to influence them face-to-face.
Customer relationship management (CRM) tools make it possible to maintain and access detailed records regarding customer data and history, and also help facilitate communication between customers and various levels of your organization.
CRM can often mean the difference between maintaining a working customer rapport, and losing those clients who would otherwise be profitable. Gartner forecasts that the CRM market will be worth $36.4 billion by 2017. So, shouldn’t it be a foregone conclusion that the B2B market, specifically in regards to channel marketing, would also benefit from adequate CRM systems? Additionally, other tools, such as Community Cloud, can provide the individuals in the different levels of your distribution channel with the information and connections that they need in order to get the most out of your partnership.
Selling a product or service is seldom as simple as one buyer interacting with one seller; instead, it involves an entire sequence of buyers and sellers, each purchasing and then passing along through multiple individuals stretching from the original producer all the way to the final client.
Recognizing the value of each member of this sequence is the first step to maximizing your channel marketing strategy. However, once that recognition has been gained, you must take the next crucial steps: Tailoring your strategy to appeal to the various links in the channel. The good news is that if you can master this process, then your business will have the advantage of being able to attract and retain not only the shopping-cart customers that are often the focus of most marketing campaigns, but also the clients that make it possible for those customers to experience what you have to offer.