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Communicating with Channel Partners: Considerations and Tips

I often see my customers struggling to write good content on their partner newsletters, e-shots and portals. Having done it myself for many years, I must admit it’s a tough job and it’s so easy to get it all wrong. I would like to highlight just 3 issues to consider together with a few tips on how to make sure partners really get the ‘right stuff’.

Consideration # 1: the 80-20 rule
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but only 20% of your partners will truly be interested in what you say. Whatever your channel strategy, whatever programs you put in place, whatever tools you provide, I have seen it time and time again: only 20% of your partners will be engaged with your brand. These are the few for whom you are important and for whom you represent a nice chunky part of their business. And within these 20%, only a further 20% will actually read your news consistently and with the care it deserves.

Consideration #2: you are one of many
For all partners, even your top 20%, you must remember that you are not the only vendor they work with at any given time. They have other hardware and software suppliers they also have to deal with on a daily basis. Some research firms indicate that a ‘typical partner’ can deal with 18 vendors regularly. You are only part of one solution and they may have multiple customer propositions. So, for them, your news is not THAT critical; it is part of everything else they do, and often what they do themselves is more critical to their business…

Consideration #3: partners cannot be bundled as ‘one group’
A typical mistake we marketers are guilty of, is assuming that our ‘typical partners’ speak the same language. We conveniently assume, for the sake of making our programs and emails easy and cost-effective, that they are all very technical and care about our technical news. We forget that many are in sales or marketing or procurement functions. So, typically, we don’t tailor our messages to each of these audiences, and instead create one news-for-all.

There are several other considerations to take in account – if you have different product lines or if you serve very different vertical/ horizontal markets, then not all your partners will want to ‘follow’ these or be informed about these. If you are working globally, you will also need to tailor your news to your local markets – yes, people don’t react to the same content tone/ approach.

You get the gist…communicating with channel partners isn’t a job for the faint hearted! So, let me help you; here are a few things you can do to drive partner engagement.

Tip #1: Really Smart Tools
I will start with something which no one wants to talk about. There are partner portals and communications platforms that can really help. I will blow my own trumpet by saying that our own newsondemand newsletter platform and our own portal capabilities (especially our smart resource library) can give your partners the ability to select what they want to follow/ hear about. By giving them the choice to opt in or out of certain content (especially if you organise this by product line, vertical and/or horizontal segments), you will guarantee better engagement/ readership levels.

Tip #2: There is only ONE story
All I hear about these days is ‘content stories’. People believe they have to create stories to sell the content. It is quite true, of course, but when you are dealing with channel partners, there really should only be one story – how your organization will make their organization more profitable! Everything else should support this story. So, don’t try and be too creative, stick to the one story and make sure everything you do and communicate is about that! Changing stories would be like changing value propositions… it will bring confusion!

Tip #3: Simple Writing
Because most of us don’t have the resources, budgets or tools to send different copy (of the same announcement) to different audiences, whether they are in management, sales, technical or marketing functions, we are left with having to create ‘one style fits all’ content. If this is the case, make sure it is clear, concise, and can be read and understood in 30 seconds, by everyone. Most partners don’t have the time to read lengthy content.

Tip #4: Catch their Attention 
Make your email title meaningful – it’s for 100% of your partners; make your news articles very brief (and clear) – and I mean 3 lines, maximum. If we can do it in 140 characters on Twitter, let’s try to do it in our newsletters too! Make sure however your 20% of partners also get what they want– the full news by adding a link to ‘read more’ to enable those who are interested. Don’t try to squeeze all the news in your newsletters.

Tip #5: Make your newsletters news-worthy
There is no point in communicating about old news, simply because you missed your last deadline or because you need ‘space-fillers’. Keep to current items. Sadly because most of us still rely on ‘monthly newsletter schedules’, we tend to spend a lot of time collecting news, organising, translating and sending it. By the time the newsletters are sent out, they are old and it’s very likely your partners have seen or heard of the news elsewhere. This will not help you achieve great results!

Tip #6: Show Your News
Images should not be used to lighten the newsletters or make them pretty. Space in an email or newsletter is worth gold. Use images to add to your copy. Make them tell the story. Your partners will see them first. Images should grab their attention much faster than the text you write beneath or around it. So, don’t include one image/ icon for each news item, but focus on key news and develop your few images around them.

Tip #7: CTAs that Work
Some news articles will not require an action, but these should be few. Most news items should require your partners to do something – check more details, register for an event, view a file or research report. Make sure your Call to Actions (CTAs) are clear and obvious. You don’t want to lose your partners through their journey.

Tip #8: Think about Responsive Designs
We can no longer ignore mobile devices; in fact we need to assume that your news is likely to be read on some mobile device of some sort. Your email or newsletter design must be constructed to render best on these devices, as the first priority!

Finally, an email or newsletter should be 600pixel wide; that’s the norm! Don’t use bullet points; they are likely to break your HTML. Don’t use multiple fonts or font sizes; it will be confusing and messy.

So, that’s it…just a few tips from me. I hope they help. If you would like to discuss these or bounce around some ideas, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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