What Should Your 2021 Channel Marketing Strategy Look Like?

by: Nichole Gunn February 23, 2021

Many B2B industries fast-tracked digital adoption and altered their sales models in 2020. There is good reason to believe these changes will stick. A McKinsey report showed that 91% of B2B companies say they are “very” or “somewhat” likely to sustain their new sales model for another year. These changes present an opportunity for B2B companies to pull ahead of the competition with quick responses to shifting buyer expectations. By adapting your channel marketing strategy, you can stand out as a valued brand. Here’s what I recommend:

Incorporate more video into your channel marketing and sales funnel.

At least one thing about the COVID-19 pandemic was a great success: the shift into video contact with sales reps. Four out of five B2B buyers now say they prefer video-conferencing over audio/phone connections and only 20–30% of B2B buyers ever want to interact with reps in person again.

You’ve likely already invested in a high-quality video-conferencing provider such as Skype, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams. The next step is to incorporate video into your sales funnel and online channel marketing.

Sales enablement platforms like Salesloft and Drift are designed to optimize and accelerate the sales funnel, which includes video features. Salespeople can quickly record or upload videos. You can integrate these platforms with your CRM and marketing automation systems so you can maintain accurate contact and purchase data about customers, while adding them to video-based sales and marketing campaigns.

Creating video content requires a joint effort between marketing and sales. Content writers may need to take a training course or two in scriptwriting, while sales will may need to work on translating their sparkling personalities from real-life to video. This is a great opportunity to align sales and marketing messaging!

Focus on journey-based improvement to your sales channel.

Everyone in your organization plays a part in the customer journey. Instead of working in silos, with each department in your organization focusing on improving the functions of their department, make collective improvements to your customer journey and how everyone in your company views it.

A 2020 Walker report on B2B customers found that the customer experience is more important than ever, so much so that organizations should structure around it:

Employees can no longer see their role aligned with a particular business function. They must see their role in a broader context recognizing their influence along the full customer journey.

You can work with a customer experience (CX) committee within your organization, or work with CX professionals to create a plan that defines every department’s role in the customer journey. This will help employees empathize with customers and see the larger context of their roles. When everyone is working in alignment toward the same goals, your channel marketing strategy will be much more effective.

Steer your channel marketing with customer insights, not customer data.

Customer data comes from many places: transaction information, product usage, customer-facing employees, customer support systems, loyalty programs, surveys, chat, social media, your sales database... You need this data, but you also need a process for turning that data into shareable insights. Think quality over quantity. As the previously cited Walker study suggests,

Take the time to analyze and discern which sources of information will produce the results you’re looking for... Distribute insights broadly. When data produces actionable insights, share the findings in a simple way — not only with the affected areas of the business, but more broadly to the departments that support good customer experiences.

Here’s an easy way to start: try giving your sales and marketing reports titles in the form of simple questions. If the data you’re presenting doesn’t answer simple questions like “How many qualified customers did we convert in Q1?” or “What’s the total value of this month’s opportunities?” then you should probably rethink the data you’re reporting on and why. Good data should lead to good insights—ask questions, make observations, propose hypotheses. These insights should guide your channel marketing strategy.

Focus channel marketing and sales on job completion, not sales progression.

What the heck do I mean by that? Focus on completing the sale rather than moving a prospect through the pipeline. I know what you’re thinking: isn’t moving someone through the pipeline how the sale is made? Yes, but the problem is that the pipeline can be very misleading. Where a lead is in the funnel doesn’t tell you that they’ve already passed the “demo” stage once before, or that they began research several months ago and are now starting over. The sales funnel isn’t linear.

As a 2020 Gartner study found, the B2B buyer journey isn’t the marketing-to-sales hand-off it’s traditionally viewed as. Leads don’t complete the digital marketing portion of their experience, then transition to in-person sales interaction. They loop back around, skip steps—maybe they fact-check sales reps by returning to the research phase. There is no line between sales and marketing, from their perspective.

With this in mind, build a channel marketing strategy in which sales and marketing interactions run parallel to each other, not as stages in a progression. Here are a few things I recommend:

  • Get sales reps familiar with the content marketing and assets they can pass along to inform leads. Their talking points should be harmonious with the messaging in your ebooks, infographics, articles, white papers, etc.
  • Build sales interactions into marketing’s campaigns and lead flows.
  • Use sales enablement and/or channel management software to collect all your customer data in one place—not just contact info, but a record of all their interactions with you, digital and in-person.

When sales and marketing are aligned to bring leads to the finish line, your lead interactions will be much more effective.

Drastic, industry-wide shifts like the recent pandemic don’t occur frequently (something I’m sure we can all take comfort in). Just like many other, less impactful channel disruptors, it presents an opportunity to outshine your competitors. By incorporating the above four tactics into your channel marketing strategy, I think you’ll be in a great position to prove yourself a trustworthy, helpful resource to your soon-to-be clients.


About Nichole Gunn

Nichole Gunn is the VP of Marketing at Incentive Solutions, an Atlanta-based incentive company that delivers advanced, agile B2B customer loyalty and channel sales incentives programs.