Fuel Growth Podcast: Succeeding with Channel-Led Growth
On this episode of the Fuel Growth podcast series, my co-host Clint and I got to sit down with ZINFI’s Chief Executive Officer, Sugata Sanyal. Over the past three decades, Sugata has worked for companies like Honeywell, Phillips, and Dell, building global teams across direct and indirect channels. Sugata has a unique specialty in solving complex industry problems that create new business opportunities through channel ecosystems, which led him to found his company ZINFI in 2008. ZINFI’s mission is to solve the challenge associated with selling and marketing through the channel.
How to Use Modern Channel Marketing Techniques to Create and Sustain Growth
In today’s selling environment, it seems like everywhere you turn, someone is trying to sell something to you. And if you’re feeling this, so are your customers, which is why it may take more marketing touchpoints than normal to break through and really resonate with them. That’s where channel-led growth comes in. Sugata believes that in order to be successful, marketing professionals should strategically use different channels to communicate with potential customers about their products and services—channel-led growth is not a one-size-fits-all plan. Modern growth plans aimed at expanding your customer base typically include a variety of combined channels and strategies, such as:
- Direct or indirect marketing practices
- Distribution networks
- Mediums of communication such as social media, advertising, email, etc.
Sugata kicked this topic off by saying, “to sell a product to a customer who is buying very differently, for example, searching online, watching videos on YouTube, chatting with groups, it’s new. The list of people that are touching the customer is no longer just the vendor, there are multiple factors influencing what you look at, what you buy, how you try it, and how you talk about it. All of these players together are now considered to be the ecosystem that’s actually influencing consumption of something all the way from promotion to purchase and beyond”.
With the explosion of social websites and an increase in consumer online presence, marketing has evolved from one-way messaging to conversational and interpersonal communication. Consumers are looking at reviews, talking to others, and doing extensive competitor research all before they ever create a first touchpoint with your company. Sugata echoed this when he said, “a lot of products today are sold through digital word of mouth because buyers are going online and searching. You no longer have to drive to a local store to find out what’s on the shelf, by the time a buyer goes to the shelf, he or she pretty much knows what they’re going to get”. Savvy companies are realizing this, shifting their marketing strategies, and creating a presence on the channels their audiences are on to make sure they’re considering this new buying journey.
This type of omnichannel growth makes it possible for companies to use a multi-channeled and multi-partnered approach to sales to boost engagement, expand outreach, and streamline the customer journey.
How to Use Technology to Drive Growth in a Channel-led Model
In our conversation, I asked Sugata what technologies he has seen deliver the best growth between a business and its partners. He responded by saying, “if you’re selling a transactional product, and you have a whole bunch of people that carry your product, how you serve your customers and partner networks is simple. You don’t need a partner portal, you just bring them in, give them a priceless sales tool, and you’re done with it. But if you’re working with somebody with a long sales cycle with a multi-month deployment, then how you serve that partner through the entire lifecycle engagement with the end customer is going to be different. You’re going to need a full-blown partner relationship management platform. The key is to find a platform that is flexible enough because chances are, if you’re a large, complex organization, you have all of the above—you’re selling a transactional product, but you’re also selling a highly complex product. You need a platform that can address both ends of the spectrum”.
At the very foundation of any healthy channel-led marketing strategy, you’re going to find a network of partners, aka your boots-on-the-ground advocates. While finding ways to efficiently manage your partners can be a challenge, it’s a crucial component that can enable your organization to grow and scale and record-breaking speed. This is why Sugata pointed to partner relationship management tools as a must for modern organizations.
With a partner and customer relationship platform, each person that touches your company will receive a hyper-personalized and relevant experience. Sugata added, “we’re seeing an evolution of more complex solutions where a channel plays a very, very important role in selecting, designing, and defining products. Buyers are smarter today; they have lot more information in their hands because they want to do this research on their own”.
With a CRM platform that provides multichannel customer data in the form of profiles, it’s easy for you or your partners to engage with customers in ways that you know will be beneficial to them. You know what they like, what channels they engage with the most, how much money they’ve spent with your brand, potential up-sell opportunities, and so much more. This is where a well-tuned relationship management software or system can truly help organizations to realize their channel strategies and business goals.
Top 3 Channel Lessons learned in Sugata’s Career
Here are the top three lessons Sugata has learned throughout his career:
“For smaller to mid-sized companies, one of the mistakes we have seen is that, without figuring out the direct fulfillment model, some things cannot be sold directly, they have to be sold through some sort of distribution network. For whatever reason, maybe local permit reach, or geographical distance, you need somebody to carry your product for you. Unfortunately, that leads to companies thinking the way to reduce the cost of sales is by building a partner network right off the bat”, said Sugata.
If you’re trying to sell your product globally, and you don’t have a global support infrastructure, or you have localization, language issues, or other complexities at play, you may be better off hiring some direct sales and marketing people to carry your product in those markets first. That way you can establish those workflows before you bring partners on board. This will save you from partner frustration and possible bad word-of-mouth associations.
“For established organizations, one of the main areas of challenges that happens is when large companies buy small or midsize companies. What tends to happen is that you end up rolling those organizations over, absorbing them, and taking control of their selling streams”, said Sugata.
If those organizations have channel or partner programs in place, too often they get lost in translation and don’t really get carried over to the operation side of these larger organizations. For example, let’s say you’re a multi-billion-dollar organization, and you just acquired a $50-200 million company that predominantly sells via a specific channel, and then you go a pull a 180° and enroll them in something totally different, those existing partners are going to get frustrated, quit, and end up going to a competitor. Integration of those smaller organizations into a broader organization and rolling the existing partner program over a multi-year cycle is absolutely critical.
“Companies that think about building the channel as a cost-saving mechanism first are more often than not setting themselves up for failure. If your whole thought process is around how you can go-to-market on the cheap, that’s probably what you’re going get in the end, cheap”, said Sugata.
Instead, if you’re investing in the proper channels to get to buyers that you wouldn’t be able to get to otherwise, you’re going to invest in it, you’re going to make it real, which means you dedicate the time and resources to train and certify people so you can help them knock down barriers and create have a successful channel strategy.
With so many ways to modernly communicate with your consumers, a channel-led growth model helps companies to create and deploy an integrated strategy for the most seamless targeted approach. It creates unified messages across vast mediums which allows for customers to embark on a unified and logical journey across all channels for a consistent brand experience.
Want to learn more on the subject? Listen to our full podcast conversation here for a more in-depth look into how building a channel-led go-to-market strategy can help your organization grow its customer and partner base and reach new audiences. If you want to catch up on our previous episodes, you can do so here or on your favorite podcast app.
As we wrap up season two of our Fuel Growth Podcast, Clint and I want to thank everyone who has tuned in and listened along the way.