Pandemic exposes channel digital marketing skills gap

The shift to digital marketing has been a bridge too far for some partners and has highlighted that more effort is needed in this area

There is a need for vendors and partners to step up their digital marketing skills, after the experiences of the last 18 months exposed a shortfall in expertise.

Channel marketing experts Coterie, along with research partner the University of Huddersfield, have produced a report, Driving value from Ecosystems 2.0, that shines a light on the state of play, with it clear that partners must be prepared to reach customers in different ways.

“Traditionally, partner marketing and channel marketing has been a lot of face-to-face and very event-driven,” said Jo Dunkley, business development and marketing director at Coterie.

“But following the pandemic and everyone being indoors and online, it has accelerated that search online when you’re looking for solutions. About 46% of the buying journey is done online. So, from a marketing point of view, that skillset is completely shifting to be a more digital requirement.”

The report found that the emergence of hybrid working meant that the relationships the channel cultivated with customers were shifting virtually and that had to be embraced, which was not always an easy task for some partners.

Despite the shift to digital, Coterie found that many in the industry simply did not have the expertise in-house to react to these changes. The findings identified a shortage of partner marketing professionals with digital skills, which included messaging, branding research skills and community building. Getting hold of someone with all those attributes was a challenge.

Dunkley said it was unlikely that things would ever go back to normal because the shift towards digital had pre-dated the pandemic and the buying process had been shifting online for more customers.

“It’s all about having the content online, so that people can self-serve and find the information they really want and then, at the end of the journey, it’s all about reinforcing that message so they feel they’ve made the right decision,” she said.

The University of Huddersfield’s Shona Bettany said the changes to the world caused by the coronavirus had exposed some problems.

“The pandemic has undoubtedly acted as a challenge and ultimately forced many companies across the industry spectrum to stop and reconsider, and the findings derived from our research suggest that partner marketing is not exempt from the changes wrought by this historic period,” she said.

Dunkley added that there was pressure on vendors to also make sure their channel marketing was hitting the mark because if it failed, there were serious financial implications.

“With 60-65% of revenue coming through the channel, why wouldn’t you have an experienced, rounded marketing operation and a team that can develop propositions that can be easily understood, and develop campaigns so that buyers can easily find the content when and where they need it, within that buying cycle?” she said. “I think it’s become an essential.” 

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