May 2017 Feature

5 Steps to Successful TPMA Implementation

Now Everyone Can Get On Board

by Hobart Swan

Mike Gallagher PictureAs a partner marketing veteran, Mike Gallagher understands the urgency of the moment: Time’s a wasting, let’s install a through-partner marketing automation platform, flip the switch, and get some new campaigns going. Just hold your horses, Gallagher says, there are a few things to think through before you get too far down the road, not the least of which is how the platform will fit into your overall marketing program.

In his most recent role as senior director for worldwide & Americas partner marketing at Hewlett Packard Enterprise and, prior to that, as a senior partner marketing executive at Cisco Systems and Sun Microsystems, Gallagher has seen more than one company seduced by the siren song of these platforms. But, over time, larger companies have demonstrated the value of these platforms, and many more are starting to give serious consideration to bringing them on board themselves. They just shouldn’t leap into it without some careful thought.

TPMA Benefits Partners and Vendors — Big Time

What the TPMA pioneers have proved is that once all of the hard work is finished and the platform—and all the support needed to run it—is in place, partners will find they can be more productive than they ever imagined. However that productivity can be enhanced exponentially if the partner works with a TPMA platform provider that offers “concierge services.”

This one consideration when making a TPMA agency part of the marketing program can work miracles in terms of securing partner buy-in. These services work quietly behind the scenes to enable the partner to run very sophisticated digital and social media marketing campaigns. They can help to drive lead-passing and lead-capture processes, and then pass information to the partner and the vendor that helps both the parties understand whether the leads turned into opportunities and then, hopefully, into revenue.

The vendor can use the platform for syndicating web content. That one function alone can take a ton of work off the shoulders of a partner’s typically understaffed and overworked marketing department. The vendor creates the content once—web content, social media posts, new product data sheets, white papers, and video demos. The TPMA syndicates all that product content and places it on the partner’s website without the partner having to manage the process.

Beyond improving partner marketing, TPMA platforms can also create vast improvements in channel management.

Bringing Actual Partner Numbers to Channel Management

The irony of the partner business, Gallagher says, is that while it is such a critical part of most vendor businesses, it is also one of the perennially least understood. Until now, vendors have had virtually no insight or visibility into what was going on at the partner level.

“To this day,” Gallagher says, “even spectacularly large organizations manage the channel more by spreadsheet than anything else. You’ve got billion-dollar companies that, at the end of the day, aren’t all that sure where 40, 50, or 60 percent of their business is on any given day because they don’t have a push-button report to tell them who’s doing what business and when. What does their funnel look like? When is it going to close? What’s their sense of their upside or downside? They have no idea!”

That’s why bringing a TPMA solution on board is so important, he says. You have your sales databases, your accounting databases, your customer management tools. With a TPMA platform, you’re now able to collect objective hard data on partner activities: what they use, what is the most successful, who among them are the most innovative. In short, you’re positioned to change your partner engagement process from one based on hunches and past sales numbers to one based on fact-driven intelligence. And you’ve laid the foundation for what will be the most revolutionary change in partner relation management: the advent of artificial intelligence engines, including IBM’s famous Watson and Salesforce.com’s Einstein.

Coupled with AI or not, the TPMA platform will start creating a phenomenal amount of insightful data that’s going to give you the ability to understand and learn things you’ve never been able to do before.

Step 1: Planning

“From a planning perspective,” Gallagher says, “the through-partner marketing platform should be just a component, a part of the larger partner-marketing process you use to support your partners. What do the partners truly need from you? What don’t they need, which is actually an equally important question? What content to they really need, and how quickly and often do they need access to that content? And then, of course, do you have the capacity to produce the kind of content they need at the rate they need it?”

Typically, Gallagher says, the planning process itself is managed by the channel marketing organization. “The leaders of that organization decide that they’ve come to the point where they really do need a through-partner marketing automation platform. They’ll secure the company’s resources to get the license and off they go—and therein lies the danger if they don’t understand their partners’ needs.”

Too many companies, he says, take the “Field of Dreams” approach and assume that once their spanking new platform is up and running, partners will flock to it. “That’s just not going to happen,” he says, “not without careful planning and execution.”

Gallagher says that one of the major barriers marketing executives fail to consider is that most partners don’t have the staff to take on another big project. It is incumbent on the vendor to push adoption—to drive change management at the partner level.

“Even the largest partners are lucky to have five or six people in marketing. On the demand side, they have at least five or six companies on their line card, plus maybe two or three strategic vendors—all of whom are clamoring for attention from these few people.”

Vendors should realize from the outset that they need to assign staff to manage the platform and all that goes into making it work. They need to plan for the appropriate resources, identify staff with the appropriate skills to generate content and campaigns. Vendor staff, in tandem with partner marketing services agencies, can relieve partners of tasks like writing marketing plans, executing campaigns—or even spending hours solving really mundane but eternally vexing and time-consuming problems like getting their logo correctly aligned on marketing materials.

But even with all these services at their disposal, some partners will still reject the notion of using the platform.

“There’s this funny struggle when a partner says, ‘Well, I don’t want to take the standard vendor content because I need to make my own brand so I can stand out from my competitors,’ by which they mean other partners. When push comes to shove for some partners, they’ll completely avoid the agency service, make a couple of boilerplate changes to a piece of collateral or even an entire campaign, and just push the ‘execute’ button because they really don’t have the time to do anything more innovative.”

Step 2: Selection

It would be nice if there were a checklist vendors could use to manage the TPMA platform selection process. Unfortunately, Gallagher says, every company he’s talked with about this process says they created their own set of criteria. Even so, there do seem to be some common attributes to look for in a platform provider:

  • How much experience each TPMA has at managing syndicated content and doing digital marketing campaigns. These days, Gallagher says, most platform providers will claim social media capability. Vendors need to do their homework to find out which providers have outstanding capabilities. There are TPMA vendors out there that are doing work in social media at a massive scale. They could be the next in play in the platform.
  • Does the provider have the capacity to connect its platform to other key marketing platforms? Such integration will be increasingly important in the future. Providers need to be very adept at it. “Frankly, a perfect example of this is CCI’s ability to do really world-class MDF payments. Zift Solutions has a storefront that could connect electronically into the MDF process that CCI manages and make the entire process drop-dead easy for the partner.” Essentially, vendors need to think of the TPMA not as a stand-alone solution, but as one component that needs to be able to fit in with other components—even ones that haven’t been created yet. This ability to sort snap-and-go with other platforms, systems, and databases will be very critical—and very exciting—in the next few years.

The selection process can become very challenging for vendors with a global footprint.

“Often,” he says, “platform selection can become a very difficult political problem. Let’s say that the folks in Asia have had experience with one platform provider and the folks in Europe have had experience with another. They both want their provider to win and they’re not at all keen to support the other platform, regardless of its merits. The different offices need to hash out their true requirements. They need to have the arguments, have the debates, have the tough conversations and then come to a united decision.”

The last thing a vendor needs to do, he says, it to try to work with two or three of these platform providers simultaneously.

“We’ve seen a lot of companies do that and it’s not a particularly great experience. At some point in time, resources will get tight and only one of the platforms will get the appropriate content and things really start to go south.”

Step 3: Design

There’s a new challenge when the vendor begins to insert the platform into the overall partner marketing process. Gallagher says that it’s common for operational people want to figure out how to make sure they’ve got every single potential situation covered. They want the platform to be ready for every eventuality—to arrive with the flexibility to do everything. Having been around the block a couple of times in this process, Gallagher is not a big fan of this approach.

“I actually believe there should be lots of higher-level executive engagement in these early stages to press the importance of keeping the design simple and streamlined versus trying to do everything for everybody and all at once. To be sure, once an organization matures, the time will come to be more complicated or sophisticated. But at the start, simplicity is far more effective.”

As with the selection process, there are some basic parameters to consider when figuring out what you want the TPMA platform to do. You need to decide how to connect the TPMA to your own infrastructure. Will you (can you) connect it up to Salesforce.com or whatever CRM system you’re using?

“An even more interesting thing to consider,” he says, “is whether your partners will allow you to connect your TPMA platform to their CRM system. I think some very beautiful and very surprising things could happen when the partner and the channel sales team have real-time visibility into what’s going on. All of a sudden, the trust level between vendor and partner has a completely different dimension.”

Gallagher says he has done experiments in which his organization passed leads through Zift Solutions to a series of partners.

“Because we had visibility into what they were doing with the leads, our partner business managers were not uptight because they could see they were getting the real story on what was going on. The partners felt good that they were being clear with the status of the leads, and that the channel sales team could clearly see that status. There was no suspicion on the part of the channel team that a partner was just sitting on a lead.”

The main point, he says, is to keep the initial design simple and see if you can lay the foundation for integration into partner CRM systems. This one achievement, he says, would be “a big win” for both the organization and the partners.

Step 4: Integration

“You have to start by very humbly realizing how few resources partner organizations have to help you implement a system like this. You have to ask yourself whether you’re making it easy for them or just adding another burden. A big lesson for me, and I think for everybody, is that you really have to stay consistent and engaged with the partner as you go through the implementation process.”

The human element of just being engaged can make all the difference, Gallagher says.

“If the partner has six or seven companies on their line card, and one or two of them are there to help them incorporate new technology that will make their life easier, what are they going to do? They’re going to spend their time with the folks that help them figure this all out.”

And, in truth, it’s about a lot more than just making a partner’s life easier. One of the trends Gallagher is seeing is that the new solutions partners are offering are so complex that they must be in a position to market multiple vendors at the same time—which gets back to the element of trust.

“Partners are beginning to realize that if they are to successfully market complex solutions, they need to make sure vendors can see they’re taking full advantage of co-marketing opportunities, that they’re not wasting the market development funds and other energy the vendors are putting into campaigns. Smart partners see how much TPMA platforms can help with that and want to engage.”

Fundamentally, Gallagher says that even with enthusiastic partner engagement, vendors need to be conservative and start simple. “Get the platform up and running. Start with one or two partners, pilot a few projects, find out what works and what doesn’t, and then refine from there.”

Step 5: Measurement and Management

It’s the old adage, Gallagher says: You can’t manage what you can’t measure. “The ability to actually see how marketing investments translate into true opportunities and then into revenue is powerful. To make visible what has been invisible for so long is a remarkable step forward for the channel partner business. Making important decisions by gut just doesn’t cut it anymore.

“The beauty of new TPMA platforms is that they all have some level of analytic engines that enable you to cut the data any way you’d like. If I’m the marketer at a particular partner and the sales team is putting pressure on me to develop leads, I want to say, ‘Well, you know, look at this traffic we’ve been driving to you guys. Here’s the leads we’ve developed out of it. Unfortunately, you’re not converting those leads into opportunities or taking them to close.”

It gives the partner marketing person a way to talk from a data point of view. At the same time, the vendor is looking at the aggregate data across all the partners and realizing what’s working and what’s not.

But having said that, he notes that measurement quickly becomes the easy part. The discipline, he says, comes with doing something meaningful with the measurements.

“Vendors need to persistently manage partner engagement to make sure that they’re using the platform correctly; that they’re growing in their use of the platform. They need to pay special attention if there are numerous participants in the value chain: the TPMA, the marketing services agency, the partners and, perhaps, their own agencies. For partners and their prospects to have a great experience, vendors need to make sure the value chain is efficient and smart about finding errors and fixing them.”

Sleek new technology or not, he says, people can still continue to play the blame game. The vendor’s role in TMPA adoption is to get beyond finding mistakes—make it clear that no one is going to get yelled at or penalized for making a mistake. The goal needs to be identifying problems, fixing them, and moving on. And if a solution can’t be found, the vendor should be prepared to call in senior executives or other resources to help find it.”

And all of this needs to be done, Gallagher says, with a recognition of where many partner organizations are in their own evolution.

“A partner may see the writing on the wall that this kind of technology will soon become a must-have. But at the same time, they may not be very comfortable with it or have the time to learn how to use it. Many partners are still in the world or golf tournaments and will have a hard time making the change.”

Build a Foundation of Trust

Stepping back from the mechanics of choosing and implementing a TPMA solution, vendors need to keep in mind that an enormous amount of buying decision are being made by much, much younger employees. And because of who they are, the way they grew up, and the digital services that have grown up around them, they don’t buy the same way others have done before them. And this can have profound implications for vendors themselves.

To match these new buyers, Gallagher says, channel professionals must develop the technical expertise to do proof of concepts and go through deployment. They will need to develop very specific vertical expertise and, in doing so, become the new purchasers’ trusted information sources—to the point where they can assume the role of brokers, helping purchasers choose which vendors to include in a complex solution.

“TPMAs can do two very important things for the channel. On one hand, they can quietly and efficiently work behind the scenes to run marketing campaigns and gather performance data. At the same time, they can make this information transparent and easy to digest. And in doing these two things, they accomplish the most important thing of all: Building trust between and among vendors and partners. As solutions grow increasingly complex and require the participation of more and more parties, this trust will be fundamental to success.”