If you market your products through a reseller channel, one of the hardest tasks can be providing sufficient support to your channel partners while maintaining control over marketing communications and keeping your costs down.
At Xerox Channel Group (XCG), UK Channel marketing manager Terry Witham has been able to turn a difficult job into a competitive advantage by harnessing the power of the Web.
XCG sells printers, copiers, faxes and multi-function devices through a network of 400 European channel partners.
According to Witham, "Communicating with channel partners is key. The quicker we can distribute information on products, promotions and upgrades, the stronger our position, especially compared to the competition."
However, Witham admits, until the company began investigating productivity solutions, it didn't realise just how serious some of the issues it faced in its channel communications were.
Previously, the company's approach was to print large numbers of standard brochures, all branded with Xerox's central telephone numbers and addresses. This created two risks.
First, it was possible that all the brochures would not be used before aspects of the marketing mix changed.
Second, standardised brochures didn't provide good support for channel partners undertaking their own marketing communications activities.With a standard brochure, there is always a strong possibility that when customers ring the central XCG telephone number they won't be directed to the partner who sent the brochure, and it is almost impossible for partners to track the effectiveness of their campaigns.
"If we can personalise brochures, there is a much greater chance that partners will use them in their mailshots and day-to-day marketing," Witham points out.
"That is likely to result in increased business for both the reseller and XCG. It also helps us to build better relationships with our channel partners, because we are giving them more of what they want. But if we asked our printers to produce short runs of, say, 500 brochures for each of 50 resellers, we would find our costs escalating very quickly."
This is where Elateral's Channel Manager comes in. It allows XCG to post the basic skeleton of a brochure on to a Web site in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). Each channel partner can then use this template to create a customised brochure incorporating its own logo, name, telephone number, address and even a brief description of the company. The partner can then use a local printer to produce as many brochures as it needs for its own marketing activities, with more copies run off only when required.
Witham points out that this results in a slight increase in the cost per brochure, but produces significant savings overall because brochures are no longer wasted, while storage costs are slashed.
For example, the first region to use Channel Manager UK has seen print output cut by around 60%, and XCG estimates it has been able to save 20% of its staff time by streamlining the process for devising and approving new brochures.
Furthermore, regional managers and channel partners can identify aspects of brochures which may make them ineffective in a particular market before printing.
Witham points out that channel partners still have the option of using standard XCG brochures. However, he says, Channel Manager really comes into its own when resellers want to run special promotions, because customised brochures can be produced very quickly.
If a reseller wants to focus on just a few products, the XCG team can quickly pull relevant information into a single file and upload it to the Web for further customisation by the partner. At the same time, Channel Manager allows XCG to retain tight control over the degree of customisation permitted.
Initial results suggest this approach is highly effective, boosting sales of products promoted through brochures developed using Channel Manager by around 80%.
XCG is now looking at other ways it can use Channel Manager to support its channel partners.
"The key benefit from Channel Manager is that it has helped us to build better relationships with our partners," says Witham. "That's even more important than the cost savings and increased sales we have achieved."
Template for marketing success
The problem: how to provide customised brochures for channel partners while maintaining control of messages and keeping costs down
The solution: distributing skeleton brochures over the Web that can be customised and printed locally
Xerox Channel Group's solution allows them to:
This was first published in April 2000