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Partner engagement crucial to making MDF work

Closer and early collaboration appears to be the key to making sure that marketing development funds are not being wasted

There are anecdotal reports of serious amounts of marketing development funds (MDF) being left unused by the channel.

The reasons for that situation often settle on the complaint that the processes a partner has to go through to get funds is too complicated.

Speaking to MicroScope recently, Helen Curtis, founding director of channel marketing experts Coterie, said MDF was still too complex for many across the channel.

“Sometimes it could be more hassle than it’s worth to the partners if it doesn’t do what they need it to do for their customer,” she said. “It can feel really last-minute and not very planned and is very reactive. Some of them still work on quarter-to-quarter funding, and that doesn’t necessarily correlate with the end B2B buyer, with tech buyers getting more and more sophisticated as well.”

Trying to improve the MDF situation, the advice from others in the industry is for closer engagement between channel and partners and distributor and reseller.

Ashlyn McLean, vice-president global partner experience at eSentire, said timing was one of the key aspects that could determine the success of an MDF campaign.

“MDF works well when both partner and vendor align their goals from the start,” she said. “Our Co-Marketing Fund Programme prioritises investment with partners who actively participate in joint planning, co-marketing and co-selling throughout their lifecycle, enabling us to invest with partners regardless of where they are in building their book of business with eSentire.

“MDF on its own is not successful – the focus has to be on identifying the right partners and enabling them with co-marketing, co-selling and technical support to achieve productivity and predictability in their business.

McLean advised the channel to have the MDF conversation early, alongside more prescriptive onboarding and partner management that happens in the development of a partner and vendor relationship.

“One thing about MDF that is often overlooked is how it works when companies have tiered partner levels,” she added. “Often, MDF is tied to specific levels, which makes it harder to access for smaller partners. We took the decision that our partner programme should have no tiers and that MDF funding is entirely discretionary.

“This means that we, as a vendor, have to do more upfront work with partners on planning ideas out, but that means that we can put funding into those partners that want to work with us and be proactive.”

Distribution is often the recipient of MDF to drive various vendor campaigns and again the key advice is for strong collaboration if those efforts are going to deliver results.

Kate Jacobs, senior marketing manager at Nuvias Group, said her company took steps to avoid funds being missed by partners.

“We involve partners in the planning and running of any activities funded with vendor MDF,” she said. “Our strength is in our relationship with partners and in selecting which partners might be interested in, and benefit from, any specific activity or initiative. For us, putting MDF to good use means supporting partners in growing their business, whether it is by finding new leads, developing them or sharpening their knowledge and skills.

“We tend to focus on smaller projects that can benefit a wide selection of partners, rather than large ones reserved for the top of the funnel. MDF-funded activities and campaigns are designed to support good-quality leads, to generate awareness, to educate and to achieve long-term goals together with partners.”

The danger is that when that dialogue across the channel is missing, then the MDF will end up being untouched or wasted, said Jacobs.

“MDF funds go to waste when there is not a good partner engagement,” she added. “Campaigns and activities need to be agreed and planned with partners, and the right partners selected for the right campaigns. It is important to monitor development and repurpose funds before campaigns fail.

“MDF-related activities must run in synergy with sales activities – supporting the same objectives and targets.”

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