Heather Galt on Channel Marketing

This is the part of a series of interviews with B2B marketers. In this post we're talking with Heather Galt from Communitech's Rev accelerator on the benefits and challenges of channel marketing.

Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Heather Galt, and I’m an Executive in Residence in Marketing at Communitech, specifically focused on Rev Accelerator companies.

How did you get into marketing?
I actually started in sales, about a hundred years ago now [laughs]. I worked as a sales support person in my first company. I saw an opportunity to expand and build the relationship between the sales and marketing team , so I moved into a marketing role. So I’ve always stayed close to the sales side of things as that’s where I started, but I really do love the marketing side.

Tell us a bit about the Rev program.
The Rev program is relatively new: we’re just starting the second cohort now. Rev is designed to help companies that have a product they know is ready for the market, that they’ve validated with customers, to build up the marketing and sales practices they need to scale their company, and hopefully grow from a start-up to a $100 million company.

In the Rev Accelerator, we give companies the tools they need to establish their sales practices, to establish their marketing, to help tell their story really well to their customers, help them know who their customers are, how to help their customers to buy and then repeatedly buy, and hopefully also to drive referrals so you aren’t always driving sales yourself. We’re hoping by the time each cohort finishes the program – about six months – that the companies we put through the program have a really solid foundation that they can use to succeed on their own.

You’re helping companies build this from scratch. For existing companies, how do you build off an existing foundation?
It’s essential that marketing and sales work closely together. They always have in the companies that I’ve worked with. To me, the best way to get marketing and sales to work together is to get them talking. If marketing and sales in a company that you’re in aren’t working together, get them in a room together.

Marketing and sales each have something to offer. The marketing team knows the market overall, they have a macro view, and they can build great tools to help the sales team be effective in closing more customers. Sales knows the customers face-to-face. They get the direct feedback, they know where the product isn’t necessarily a good market fit, they know the objections the customers have that slow down the sales process, or maybe what’s not going to allow that sale to close at all. From there marketing, and maybe even the product team, can work together to close that.

If the dialogue isn’t there, it needs to be.

"Ultimately both marketing and sales should both be showing measurable results: they should both be driving revenue"

What’s marketing’s role in driving sales?
I think marketing and sales actually have very different roles. Marketing should be connecting the company to customers and potential customers. It should be establishing a presence for the company in the market, and giving your company a voice. Marketing should know where your customers, product, and market are going – but both sales and marketing should be able to tell your company’s story. Marketing is telling that story one-to-many, and sales is telling it one-to-one.

Marketing and sales need to collaborate. They need to know their own roles, and the roles of one another, with marketing having the big picture, and sales having the one-to-one relationships that fit into that big picture.

A lot of marketing big picture stuff can be hard to measure. How do you honestly assess marketing performance?
I believe that marketing and sales should be measured along some of the same lines. Ultimately both marketing and sales should both be showing measurable results: they should both be driving revenue, they should both be driving retention, they should both be driving awareness. So both marketing and sales should be measured on those things.

Because marketing has a macro view, they should also be looking at reach and engagement in those channels to market that aren’t directly connected to sales, whether that’s social or channel marketing.  There are lots of good tools to do that, and those are essential metrics for marketing to monitor on top of awareness, revenue and retention.

So things like engagement can be supplementary metrics but revenue is the true story?
I don’t think they’re supplementary. Engagement and reach should have equal weighting when you measure the marketing team, but I don’t think those are metrics your sales team should necessarily be measured on. 

"When you’re working with a channel, they have their own objectives and you may not understand what all of them are."

You’ve worked in channel marketing for consumer companies. What did you learn, and what were the big challenges?
Channel marketing has a lot of the same challenges you have with a direct sales model. You need to understand your market, your product, and your customer. But when you’re working though a channel, you need to understand your channel really, really deeply: how your channel serves your market; what opportunities exist for that channel – not just for your product; what your channel is up to and what else it’s selling. Then you’ll have a good picture of how your product fits into what your channel is doing.

Once you know that, you can figure out the right ways to influence your channel. Influencing a channel is a lot different than working with a direct sales team. You really don’t have the same tools at your disposal, so you need to have a very compelling offer for your channel to grab their attention and get them talking about your product instead of the other products in their portfolio.

In my experience, when you’re most effective in a channel marketing role, you’re working at all levels of that channel’s organization, and you have a really deep understanding how that channel works, but also what the day-to-day looks like in that channel.

Is that very relationship based?
Very much so. When you’re working with a direct sales organization, your company overall has the same objectives, so it’s easier to get and maintain alignment. But when you’re working with a channel, they have their own objectives and you may not understand what all of them are. You may not know what the drivers are behind their objectives. So it is very influence driven: sometimes it’s incentives, sometimes it’s uncovering a really deep need they have that they can solve only (or best), with your product.

"Start by looking for where the channel has a need, not where your company has a need."

As most companies are going into 2016 planning now, what advice do you have for marketers building a plan for their CMO?
As a channel marketer, I would look for underperforming pieces of the channel. Maybe it’s a path to market or a particular product set they’re missing , so they’re not reaching their goals. Maybe it’s an underserved customer or market segment that they could engage. As an outside person working with the channel, you have a unique view that your channel may not have. Show your channel the opportunities they have for growth, and how your products can fill the gap you’ve found. If you focus on how to make the channel successful, to give them a win with your product, then you both succeed.

But really, the place to start when you’re looking to find that is by looking for where the channel has a need, not where your company has a need. If you can find on a way to improve that channel with your product everybody wins.

What are the big differences between channel marketing and B2B marketing? Honestly, B2B is most of what the channels I’ve worked with are doing. So it’s also B2B2B. The B2B practices you’d find in direct sales, you’re using similar things but taking them one step further.

You incentivize your internal direct sales person, so you’re going to do the same thing with the channel. You’re going to find something that’s going to motivate them to close the customer and make it easy for them to close the customer with your product. The difference is the product set – and sometimes the diversity of the product set offered by the channel is an advantage for the customer because it simplifies the buying cycle.

When do you decide you need a channel strategy over a direct strategy?
That’s a very good question. It differs by product and by customer. The time that you’re ready for a channel strategy is when you have enough of an established customer base and enough of an established company, that you can handle a step-change in scale. Your channels will add exponential, not incremental, change in growth. When you have a high-performing channel, they have so many feet on the street that they’ll make so many customer connections you never would have had on your own - and that will exponentially drive growth.

But, at the same time, the channel will need support and their customers will need support. That means your company needs enough structure and process, and robustness in its product set, to handle that.

"It’s gone from marketers being the starting point for telling the story at scale to customers being able to tell your story at scale."

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the marketing over the past decade?
You’re starting to make me feel old, Marko! [Laughs] If you look at storytelling, which is one of the biggest jobs that marketing has, over the last decade it’s gone from marketers being the starting point for telling the story at scale, to customers being able to tell your story at scale.

Organic growth, influencer marketing, and content marketing have taken on a whole new level of importance. It’s true in B2B, it’s true in B2C, it’s really true across the board. The most successful companies are the ones that give their customers great tools and great reasons to be vocal about their company.

What are your favourite resources for marketers?
I love Seth Godin. I love his blog. I love his books. When I’m in need of inspiration his blog is one of the first places I go to.

I also love Simon Sinek’s “How Leader’s Tell Good Stories” which I watch when I need inspiration. It’s a great TED Talk.

I love reading company’s origin stories. So in the last little while I’ve read TOM’s, Zappos, Amazon… lots of different company stories. I find them exciting because you learn about their customers and the internal workings of their companies, but you also learn how they tackle their market.

The other resource I’m liking these days is Hubspot. I know it’s funny to push a vendor, but they tend to have really good interesting resources, especially for B2B marketers.

Oh, totally. I’ve found lately the best content I’m getting is from vendors, not from independent writers.
I know, it’s surprising. But back to the last question, content marketing is giving your customers great reasons to talk about your stuff. That’s exactly what those vendors are doing. It’s smart marketing. 

Most important question of them all – favourite ‘90s dance song?
You made me laugh with this one. I’m actually an ‘80s girl, so thank you – I’m feeling flattered! My go-to ‘80s dance songs are like Rock Lobster [Marko laughs], YMCA, Depeche Mode and U2. Yeah, that’s my decade.

Okay, we’ll go with Rock Lobster.