What Is Channel Strategy? What Marketers Should Know

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Be honest. Do you know what your non-marketing colleagues do all day?

Sure, you might have a general idea of what your co-workers in sales, finance, and HR do, at least categorically. But it seems that many of us — myself included — have those days, weeks, and months when we’re so bogged down in our own daily hustle, that we become a bit oblivious to what everyone else around us is working on. After all, that’s probably why the phrase, “put your blinders on” exists.

But while a colleague’s job might look different from our own, there’s actually quite a bit that we, as marketers, can learn from them. One of those things is channel strategy.

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That’s why I recently sat down with my colleague, Adrianne Ober, a Channel Consultant here at HubSpot. After speaking with her about what she does every day — and about the most important knowledge she’s gained in this role — I’ve realized that there are a lot of channel strategy lessons that marketers can apply to their own work.

So, what did we learn? Read on to find out — or listen to our interview with Adrianne by pressing “play” below.

What Is Channel Strategy?

A channel strategy, according to TechTarget, “is a vendor’s plan for moving a product or a service through the chain of commerce to the end customer.”

In many environments, this kind of channel strategy takes the form of a reselling program — here at HubSpot, we work with Marketing Agency Partners who not only grow with HubSpot software but also, teach their clients how they, too, can be more successful with it.

That’s where channel consultants like Ober come in. “My role is a combination of an account manager and an implementation specialist,” Ober explains, but her day-to-day work encompasses much more than that. “Our focus is to work with our new Agency Partners, to onboard them to the program and support their reselling and delivery efforts.”

Reselling programs aren’t exactly uncommon, especially within tech companies, but what makes Ober’s job different is its true partnership nature. “We really do invest a ton more than other companies do in their partner programs,” she says, “to ensure they are getting the most out of it to help grow their businesses.”

What Can Marketers Learn From a Channel Consultant?

Building Your Own Channel Strategy

Not all marketers work for agencies, but many of us are responsible for positioning our respective products and services as solutions for our target audiences. For example, HubSpot’s Marketing Software provides automation solutions for marketers — what solutions does your organization offer?

In a way, channel strategy could be described as a formal approach to word-of-mouth marketing. How can you provide solutions to your customers that they, in turn, can share with and provide to their own networks? Ober challenges and encourages marketers to ask that question, find the best answer, and make it a reality.

There’s a “relationship-building aspect” of every marketer’s job, she explains, even for those who don’t work with customers directly. Chances are, you’re still responsible for crafting the messages and content that’s going to reach customers, and ultimately, that’s one way for brands to build a relationship with a target audience — by establishing themselves as a trustworthy, shareable resource for solving problems and meeting needs.

But where can marketers begin? “Product knowledge is … imperative,” Ober says. Start by becoming an expert in the solutions provided by your organization — not just the products and services you offer, but also, with the industry at-large. “We need to be comfortable with usage and training,” she explains, in order to establish that trust with both current and potential customers.

A Marketer’s Biggest Pain Points

The thing about HubSpot’s Agency Partner Program — one that even I’m guilty of forgetting — is that its channel consultants work with marketers, day in and day out. That means people in Ober’s position hear about the most common struggles faced by marketers every day and are tasked with proactively offering solutions.

So not only can marketers stand to benefit by implementing their own strategies — but speaking with people like Ober, it turns out, can help us to take a step back, examine our biggest pain points, and figure out how to efficiently tackle them.

“The biggest struggles I hear about are pricing, process, scaling, hiring, and time management,” she explains. In other words: growing pains. “In order for agencies to scale their businesses, they need to develop a repeatable process, which means they need to have a handle on time management for their team and make the right hires at the right time.”

Sound familiar? Maybe that’s why growth marketing is such a hot topic right now — no matter the size of the company they work for, it seems that these are pains experienced by a number of marketers. Those working in SMBs are often tasked with many of the responsibilities mentioned by Ober to help their employers grow. And those working for larger organizations, while not necessarily tasked with growing the business, are often tasked with building, executing, and growing new campaigns and initiatives.

That’s why it’s so important, Ober says, to make time for the learning process, no matter how “underwater” marketers tend to feel when they’re facing deadlines and other time-sensitive priorities.

“Our most successful partners make the time to build their process, invest in the education we provide for their team and take the time to price their services appropriately,” she says. “Marketers can and should make time to keep their finger on the pulse of the industry [they work in], connect with peers, and read up on trends.”

A Similar Skill Set

Finally, I asked Ober, “What else can marketers learn from a channel consultant?” To answer that, she pointed to many of the skills required of her job that overlap with those most crucial to a marketer’s success.

“This role requires us to confidently assess a marketing strategy as it relates to the overall goals,” she says, “whether it’s for a Partner Agency’s own marketing or one of their clients.”

And no matter what their industry, it seems that skill is highly valuable to all marketers — to be able to objectively measure their own strategies, and to figure out what is (not) working.

And “even more so,” Ober explains, is the shared, necessary ability of both marketers and channel consultants “to recommend the right tools and approach to go with the strategy.”

But doing that requires a high-level of communication skills, whether you’re making these recommendations to customers, your colleagues, or your boss. “We need to be able to [identify] not only where these gaps may be,” Ober points out, but also to align them with goals. Skilling up in those areas, she says, can ultimately help marketers accurately evaluate the feasibility of a situation, whether it’s marketing strategy or budget — or being able to predict how (and if) your brand will resonate with a given audience.

Looking Forward

With INBOUND on the horizon, Ober says she’s looking forward to discussing channel strategy and exchanging knowledge with industry professionals.

“I love seeing my Partners in person,” she shares. “I’m excited to talk with them about some products that were teased last year and are in beta now.”

But maybe even more than that, is how excited she is to hear about other marketers’ ideas.

“INBOUND is a place for peers to connect, and [we all] come away from the event with a ton of ideas,” she says, “and, as a result, a ton of motivation to dig in.”

Have you used channel strategy or consulting? Let us know in the comments.

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