I’ve just published more Vendor Selection Matrix reports – on channel marketing and enablement. I’d been curious about this topic all year, expecting great change and progress compared to my last review in 2017. I’d assumed this software market would be energized by a clear transformation in the relevance of channel strategy for modern businesses.
Let’s be honest, for decades channel marketing and enablement was just a peripheral process in most industries; the mantra was: “first we sell direct and then we’ll find some partners”. Which was fine for firms selling physical products (or on-premise software) needing knowledgeable sellers to present and position the offer to buyers.
But now almost every industry is morphing to an “as-a-service” business model. And buyers are pulling the service based on their own research. And no, channel partners are not being “dis-intermediated” (that strange cliché of the 1990s eBusiness articles) – they’ve become even more influential and advocational. But their business model has changed and they’re more than likely to live off revenues earned from the end-user than the manufacturer they occasionally represent. And instead of resellers or distributors, they are called affiliates, referrers, associations, communities, groups, ambassadors.
Earlier this year, I was sitting on the top floor of Salesforce Tower in San Francisco and reviewing the briefings I had heard that day: how does this SaaS provider plan to recruit 250,000 new partners in the near future? Salesforce executives had stated that this was the only way that it can double its revenue in the next five years. The why has been clear to me since years: the success of any new business software apps will be dependent on the recommendation/influence of many intermediaries, most of whom the vendor will not even know or recruit directly as partners. Lawyers, tax advisors, estate agents (realtors), financial advisers — basically, to cite the nursery rhyme “the butcher, baker, and the candlestick maker”. The how is certainly more of a challenge; you cannot hire enough recruiters and channel managers to handle that volume – it needs to be automated to the highest degree.
Salesforce even engaged researcher IDC to produce a report predicting that Salesforce and its partners will between them create 4.2 million new jobs and $1.2 trillion in new business revenues worldwide over the next 5 years.
Enter the need for a much more strategic channel marketing and enablement software stack. Now, our vendor selection matrix research starts with a global survey. We firstly defined channel marketing and enablement as all processes cover the tasks involved for a manufacturer distributing products and services through partner organizations as their indirect channel. And we asked the 1500 respondents to name and score the vendors they know in that context. The 20 vendors with highest ratings and sufficient mentions are then profiled in my report. The survey also returned that the second most important priority for buyers considering software solutions is “Coverage of all three components”, i.e. Marketing, Enablement, and Sales Enablement.
The resulting vendor landscape does not yet reflect this market need. Most of the vendors still focus on either channel marketing (usually called through-channel marketing automation, TCMA) or enablement (partner relationship management, PRM) only. In my briefings with the vendors, my test question was “how do you handle affiliate partners then” and the response was mixed. The vendor landscape continues to be highly-fractured with deep specialization. I am not confident that many of them will not be able to react to the disruption described above — manufacturers seeking a channel platform that can support a highly-volatile partner community through a much more complete business cycle: from connection to order processing and service delivery.
So I have ended up producing three reports on this topic profiling the vendors in their chosen sub-categories.
- TCMA: The vendors that have the heaviest focus, or focus solely, on channel marketing processes
- PRM: The vendors that have the heaviest focus, or focus solely, on channel enablement processes
- CME: Those vendors servicing both channel enablement AND some marketing processes.
Incredibly, 3 vendors selected and reviewed by the survey respondents have insisted on being left out as they see themselves as “The leading vendor for …..” (they each wrote that). Those vendors in the survey that do cover BOTH channel marketing and enablement are (listed alphabetically): Ansira, ChannelXperts, Impartner, TIE Kinetix, and Zift Solutions. I see only these vendors, plus the newer vendor Impact (did not have a sufficient number of respondents to be profiled), being able to cover the next generation channel management needs. Interestingly, Impact has introduced the term Partnership Automation and talks about “automating the partner lifecycle” – a quite different perspective.
The top five vendors rated by the users for PRM are (listed alphabetically): Channeltivity, ChannelXperts, Impartner, TIE Kinetix, and Zift Solutions. The vendors Ansira, ChannelKonnect, Magentrix, Oracle, Salesforce, and Webinfinity complete the list of vendors who cover the channel enablement processes. (Note that this list includes the vendors named above.)
The top five vendors rated by the users for TCMA are (listed alphabetically): BrandMaker, ChannelXperts, Impartner, TIE Kinetix, and Zift Solutions. The vendors Ansira, Brandmuscle, Bridgeline Digital, ChannelKonnect, Elateral, Netsertive, and SproutLoud, complete the list of vendors who cover the channel marketing processes. (Note that this list includes the vendors named above.)
Abridged versions of the reports can be viewed here. Contact me if you’d like more detail.
I’m coming to the end of my first year back as an industry analyst and thanks to all of you who recognized me from previous contacts and worked with me in 2019. Through my collaboration with Research in Action GmbH, I’ve interviewed thousands of marketers on their business processes automation. And I’ve also talked to some 120 marketing software vendors and some have told me that I’ve set a new standard for market analysis. Here are a few general impressions from the year.
- Business POV is the right approach. My research reviews MarTech from the business practitioners’ point of view and names their most important business process, or perhaps family of processes. Why? Well, that’s how business people plan their automation projects and look for suitable software or SaaS suppliers. In our interviews, we discuss the process first and then the vendors they work with to improve that process in their company.
Many vendor CMOs tell me that this approach has been an eye-opener to them and some have even debated changing their messaging. On the other hand, quite a few still respond that they prefer to see themselves in a different technology category (than where customers named them?) and that I am therefore “wrong”. Others gladly take note of competitors they’d underestimated.
- Tech marketers still misunderstand the significance of brand. I’m amazed at how many MarTech vendors still only talk about themselves and their products, relying on product-based differentiation to be noticed. They don’t get that their customers are now expecting every aspect of their experience with a vendor to be as sophisticated, consistent, and frictionless as those they have with the most admired B2C brands.
Many vendors object to the weightings of selection criteria I use. But Customer Satisfaction and Price/Value Ratio feedback does far overweigh what people think of the product itself. The emotions that buyers experience when they consume a vendor’s content and engage with its employees define a company’s brand more than the product or service.
- Perception is reality and so important. We ask survey respondents to rate the vendors they know well – but that doesn’t mean that they’re customers or users necessarily, so it’s also an awareness and perception survey. Business professionals care about whether a vendor is innovative or if it has a partner ecosystem rich enough to reach their needs (geographic or industry), and they form those impressions based upon what information is available.
Incredibly, I have heard counter-arguments from several vendors that they only reveal their innovation and go-to-market strategy to anybody under non-disclosure terms. These day, so many vendors are eliminated from a list by buyers doing their own initial research – and the vendor doesn’t even know about it.
Next year, I will continue the same research process and revisit most of the topics covered in 2019. It will be interesting to see how the vendor landscapes change.
I will also be doing other research in collaboration with the B2B Marketing.net organization, based in London and Chicago. My first project is to prepare the keynote research, and a premium report, for the next GetStacked conference in March 2020, where I will report how B2B companies are planning and developing their marketing technology stacks. This is nice extension of the work described above and is determined by their conference schedule. Later in the year, I will explore other topics across B2B marketing.
Always keeping you informed! Peter