Partner Marketing: An overview

Any discussion on the channel ecosystem is incomplete without partner marketing. Our blog this week touches upon partner marketing and its various types.

Partner Marketing: Definition

Partner marketing is a part of an enterprises go-to-market strategy that focuses on helping channel partners market and sell the company's products/services effectively. It plays a key role in the success of the channel-based sales model.

While the corporate marketing team usually serves the internal, direct sales teams in the company, partner marketing involves working closely with the channel ecosystem and its various players to communicate the value the company brings to the market. Partner marketing platform is the bridge that connects the company, channel partners and even customers with one another.

The four types of partner marketing

Partner marketing can be broadly categorized into 4 types. They are as follows-

To-partner marketing

To-partner marketing involves marketing the company's products/services and value proposition to potential and existing partners. While the concept of marketing to potential partners is simple-adding new partners to its channel ecosystem will help the company grow its market presence, client base and consequently, revenue, the importance of marketing to existing partners is often questioned. If companies have channel partners already working with them, then is there a need to market to those existing partners? The answer is, yes. Just as a company would continue to keep their existing customers engaged with the brand and look to retain them, it is essential to keep channel partners engaged and interested too. Just like customers having multiple sellers in the market to buy from, channel partners often work with multiple vendors. Hence, it is important for the vendor organization to reach out to even existing partners and remind them of the value they add to the partner's business and brand. Consistent and effective to-partner marketing can help companies enjoy better partner mindshare.

With-partner marketing

With-partner marketing is when the vendor organization and the channel partner market the company's products and services together. Tactical examples of with-partner marketing include joint webinars and tradeshow appearances, co-branded marketing campaigns, etc. Such joint marketing initiatives are beneficial to both, the channel partner and the vendor organization. With-partner marketing allows channel partners to leverage the company's brand in the marketplace and also offers them marketing guidance along with a proven marketing process.

From the company's perspective, with-partner marketing opportunities lend more credibility to their channel partners, which can go a long way in helping them gain their customer's trust, translating into more sales revenue. Also, in cases where the partner is also an equally strong/well-known brand, the vendor organization also benefits greatly from with-partner marketing. An example of this would be the partnership between Lenovo and IBM or Microsoft and HP, where all the brands had good market standing and created great synergy. In case of foraying into a new market, joint marketing initiatives with a partner who is already well established in the market definitely help build credibility. Another advantage of with-partner marketing is that the chances of brand distortion are less, as most marketing activities are jointly undertaken by the company and its partner. The vendor company has greater control over how its brand is portrayed.

Through-partner marketing

Through-partner marketing is when the company markets via its channel partners. Unlike with-partner marketing where the company and the channel partners market jointly, in through-partner marketing, the channel partners are primarily responsible for marketing the company's products or services to the end customers. The company usually provides the channel partners with the training, product/service education and marketing collateral they need to market and sell their products. The partners are also provided MDF (market development funds) by the company that they can use to invest in additional marketing activities.

From the company's perspective, through-partner marketing is most agile and theoretically checks all the boxes for which a vendor organization chooses to sell through partners. Through-partner marketing calls for minimal effort from vendor organizations. They just have to train their partners, provide them with the necessary marketing materials and then it is largely up to the channel partners how they market and sell.

For-partner marketing

For-partner marketing is when companies market on behalf of their channel partners. When engaging in for-partner marketing, vendor organizations take on the maximum load of marketing efforts. They run marketing campaigns/events and generate leads for their channel partners. Like with-partner marketing, for-partner marketing also provides the company with greater control over brand and messaging, as it is the vendor organization that does most of its marketing by itself. From the partner's perspective, for-partner marketing is one the best forms of channel marketing because the company does most of the marketing work including lead generation for the partner. The partner's job in such cases is to primarily close the sale.

Which partner marketing strategy is the best?

There's really no right or wrong answer to this question. Each partner marketing method has its own pros and cons. Depending on the market situation, the partnership cycle/stage, partner skills, strengths and weaknesses, companies may have to adopt different partner marketing strategies. In fact, companies cannot stick to one single partner marketing strategy and may engage in all of them.

For example, to-partner marketing is not something that companies can ignore, ever in this highly competitive channel environment where multiple companies are vying for partner attention. With-partner marketing really helps in the early stages of the partnership cycle where partners are still new to the company and its products and services. With-partner marketing offers companies the opportunity to hand-hold partners through the initial stages of the relationship and helps them cement the brand, product positioning and messaging pretty well early on. It also helps the vendor-partner relationship as partners feel well-supported.

Through-partner marketing is a great choice when the vendor organization wants to go to market in a short timeframe and the partners are pros in marketing and selling the product/service line offered by the company. In situations where there's less time from ramp to revenue, through-partner marketing can help companies accelerate their journey towards their goals, provided they have chosen the right channel partner.

For-partner marketing works best when your partners are invested in the partnership from the sales perspective. It is also a good strategy to deploy when a company has a strong marketing team and wants to scale up its sales using a widespread channel partner network, instead of adding to the internal direct sales team. For-partner marketing is a good partner marketing strategy to deploy for referral partners, wherein the vendor organization does all the marketing, generates the leads and just passes them on to the partners for closing.

Partner marketing efforts undertaken by the company go a long way in helping channel partners feel supported by the company. The company that offers the most support, at the right time, in the right manner will naturally rank higher with channel partners. No matter what partner marketing strategy a company chooses, in what combination, at the end of the day, the goal should be to make it easy for channel partners to sell and drive revenue.

Liked what you read? You might find our whitepaper, "Aligning Your Partner Marketing to the New Buyer's Journey", interesting. Click here to download our whitepaper.


Mindmatrix is a leading provider of PRM software, channel partner marketing software and sales ecosystems enablement solutions including partner portal software. Since its inception in 1998, Mindmatrix has been focused on helping companies sell more, faster. A pioneer of sales (direct & indirect) and marketing enablement technology, today Mindmatrix is the only company offering a fully unified platform (Bridge ™) that connects and enables sales (direct & indirect), marketing, alliances and partner ecosystems. Backed by Mindmatrix's innovation and expertise, Bridge expands sales ecosystem enablement beyond its traditional boundaries to cover not just Sales Ecosystem Enablement, but also Partner Marketing and Multi-vendor Solutions Management