K-12 Channel Marketing: A Lost Art and Opportunity

With all the whoopla about content marketing these days, you may feel that offering webinars and free information is your best opportunity to attract business.  But the loud buzz about content marketing has caused me to stop and wonder, "What happened to channel marketing?" Is it out of favor, a lost art, or was it never really part of the canvas for the K-12 industry?  Could it be a great sales opportunity for your company?

It's About Motivating Sales

Let's be sure we are on the same page when I use the term "channel marketing." I'm referring to marketing programs and related tactics that motivate people (who play a role in selling your product) to behave in a particular way that drives sales. It's not channel management or channel development, per se. Instead, channel marketing focuses on promotions, educational resources and campaigns for channel partners — agents, resellers, system integrators, independent reps, or distributors — and could even target your direct sales reps.

Channel Marketing is the Missing Link in K-12 Sales

Earlier in my career, as a manager for B2B and B2C sales, channel marketing programs were what I spent a lot of my time on.  But in the K-12 B2E space, I haven't seen it, have you?  If you know someone who does channel marketing in the K-12 space, I'd appreciate it if you would let me know. I'd love to do an interview on STS radio with a K-12 focused channel marketing champion. I think channel marketing would make a big difference in boosting sales for many companies who offer products and services to educators. But what I think of as "channel marketing" is not well understood, nor is it discussed at K-12 industry meetings — and as far as I know, it is not an investment that managers in our market are making.

Do You Have Leaky Channels?

Fear is one reason why this approach isn't used. Channel marketing is sometimes thought to be at odds with direct marketing programs. I remember when I was in education sales at Apple. There were ongoing debates and concerns about channel marketing programs that created "channel leakage." That's another wierd term that channel geeks toss around that education marketing and K-12 sales professionals don't seem to know or care much about.  A channel leak is akin to channel conflict and may be caused by ill-conceived channel marketing programs.

Perhaps the most obvious reason why channel marketing is missing from K-12 sales and marketing plans is the dominance of direct channels. Most companies that sell to schools employ their own territory reps. Not many companies use indirect channels like resellers, distributors and VARs and only a few have inside sales teams. Most K-12 managers don't consider their own direct field reps to be channel partners.  But in my experience, I think they are more similar to indirect channel partners than they are to corporate employees. They are living somewhere in their assigned territory, sometimes thousands of miles from the home office. They tend to operate independently like a franchise or independent agent.

Five Things to Look for in a Well-Conceived, Artful Channel Marketing Program

  1. Makes attracting new business easier
  2. Ensures a consistent brand image and message
  3. Builds trust and loyalty
  4. Motivates action
  5. Rewards desired selling behavior

"Seminar in a Box." It's a Channel Marketing Classic

A proven channel marketing program is a "seminar in a box." The idea is to put everything together to make it really easy for a sales rep (channel partner) to do a high quality, branded sales presentation to a group of prospects.  I remember taking this type of marketing kit to resellers, showing the boss the contents, and asking him (or her) to commit by filling in a program sign-up sheet.  The great looking presentation slides, handout materials, customizable ad slicks, promotional templates and a step-by-step guide made it a "no brainer" to say yes. To further motivate the desired behavior, I offered a SPIF (Sales Performance Incentive Fund) for every group presentation they delivered. I paid a cash reward for every person who attended one of the presentations.

How to Get a Tighter Grip on Sales

Most companies support their education sales reps and K-12 channel partners by providing a few sales tools, slide presentation templates and other marketing "stuff." The best companies feed their sales reps qualified sales leads. But what I'm talking about is a more buttoned down, comprehensive education marketing approach that gives the management team a tighter grip on the wheel and keeps channels focused in a unifed direction and on target.

I'm not suggesting we pull back on content marketing in favor of channel marketing. Quite the contrary. Any and all marketing is encouraged for K-12 focused companies that usually underinvest.  Content marketing and channel marketing should be complementary.  What I am suggesting is that leaders of the education industry adopt channel marketing and create a buzz around it that is as loud as the buzz around content marketing.  If we do, we will see increased sales, greater efficiency, and stronger brands.

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About the Author

Glen McCandless is president of Focus Marketing Inc., a business development firm that specializes in the educational technology market. Glen has over 25 years of experience helping companies efficiently and effectively sell and market technology products and services to K-12 and higher education buyers. For more information, please contact sts-info@agile-ed.com.

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