What is partner marketing?

All you need to know about partner marketing

Typically, partner marketing refers to a marketing strategy or model in which the vendor and their channel partner work together to promote and sell the vendor's products and services. However, there’s one exception to this definition, which is to-partner marketing, wherein the vendor markets the potential benefit of the partnership to its channel partner.

Partner marketing can be divided into four major types-

  1. 1. To-partner marketing

  2. 2. Through-partner marketing

  3. 3. With-partner marketing

  4. 4. For-partner marketing

Let’s learn what each of these forms of partner marketing mean and when vendors should be engaging in each of these.

To-partner marketing

To-partner marketing refers to marketing the value proposition of the partnership and the vendor’s products/services to the channel partner. To-partner marketing is aimed at existing and prospective partners. To-partner marketing looks at partners the same way corporate marketing looks at customers. To-partner marketing is directed at helping vendors attract, recruit and retain partners. Before signing up a partner, to-partner marketing focuses on attracting them to become a part of the vendor’s partner ecosystem. Content, messaging, marketing campaigns and efforts are directed towards educating the prospective partner and convincing them to see the value the partnership can bring to them. Often, vendors make the mistake of allowing to-partner marketing to take a backseat once the partner signs the partnership contract and is onboarded. However, for successful channel partner relationships, it is important that vendors treat to-partner marketing as a continuous process. Just like how companies wouldn’t stop marketing to customers in order to retain them, vendors also need to have to-partner marketing campaigns in place so as to-

  • Keep partner engagement levels high
  • Motivate partners to sell for them
  • Retain existing partners and grow their partner ecosystem
  • Enjoy partner mindshare in a highly competitive channel environment
  • Build strong channel relationships

Typically the content and tools shared with channel partners as a part of to-partner marketing campaigns include research papers, information about the industry they operate in--such as industry trends, forecasts, analysis, stories about winning partnerships--such as case studies, testimonials,, etc. To-partner marketing may also include workshops and courses that help partners boost their sales revenue-- such as a webinar or training session on best practices to help them sell more and faster. Sharing information about new product/service launches, updates on vendor products/services, etc., also falls under to-partner marketing. In terms of helping partners see value in the relationship with the vendor, vendors may also share information about any updates to the partner program or any other benefits that the vendor may be offering to their partners.

To summarize, we can say that to-partner marketing is a process that starts when the vendor identifies a potential channel partner and continues throughout the relationship, covering partner attraction, recruitment, onboarding and retention. As with any form of partner marketing, one of the goals of to-partner marketing is also to help partners sell more, faster. But, that is secondary. The primary goal is to help potential and existing partners see value in the relationship. While the other forms of partner marketing may be focused on the end-customer, the spotlight of to-partner marketing is always on the partners. In to-partner marketing, the messaging, tools, content, strategy and campaigns are directed at helping partners understand the benefits they will derive from the partnership, from selling the vendor’s products/services.

Through-partner marketing

Through-partner marketing is when the vendor enables the partner with tools, messaging and training to take their product to the market by themselves. Unlike with-partner marketing where the vendor and the channel partners market jointly, in through-partner marketing, the channel partners are primarily responsible for marketing the vendor’s products or services to the end customers. The vendor 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 vendor that they can use to invest in additional marketing activities. From the company’s perspective, through-partner marketing is the 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. The channel partners are trained by the vendor, provided with the necessary marketing materials, and then it is largely upto the cannel partners to market and sell the vendor’s products/services.

Through-partner marketing is a more hands-off approach to partner marketing in comparison to with and for-partner marketing. Hence, this form of partner marketing is more suited for partners who are more mature and have the ability, experience and willingness to promote the vendor’s products/services on their own. In through-partner marketing, the vendor’s corporate marketing team typically creates the marketing and sales content and provides it to the partner who is then responsible for amplifying the messaging across different marketing and sales channels. The partner, in such cases, is usually allowed to tailor the messaging to suit their brand narrative as well. Co-branded content plays a big role in through-partner marketing. From the vendor’s perspective, through-partner marketing involves being flexible as a brand and trusting their channel partners to take their products and services to the next level in the market largely on their own.

The role of Through-channel marketing automation (TCMA) in through-partner marketing

Through-channel marketing automation (TCMA) plays a significant role in helping through-partner marketing campaigns succeed. Also known as Distributed Marketing Management (DMM), TCMA is the process of using technology, primarily, sales and marketing automation tools to help channel partners leverage the company’s brand and corporate marketing and sales assets to grow their brand and ease their workload. TCMA benefits both–the company and the partners by infusing a lot of efficiency and effectiveness into partner marketing. TCMA allows companies to have greater control over their marketing messaging and brand when selling through partners. From the partner’s perspective, it offers them the opportunity to piggyback on the company’s strong brand presence and marketing programs as well as access valuable resources they don’t have the personnel to create. Let’s explore further the concept of TCMA, the key components, the benefits, and the role it plays in the success of the channel sales model.

Some of the key mechanisms used by TCMA to automate the through-partner marketing process are:

Content Syndication

Content syndication tools automate web and social content delivery paths to ensure Marketing Messages created at the corporate levels are automatically co-branded and personalized to reflect the partner’s brand and resonate with their local audience and market. Powerful content syndication tools help companies enable their partners to engage in local marketing effectively across the web and social media platforms by giving the corporate marketing team the ability to share and personalize all content types (web pages, micro-sites, blogs, landing pages and social media posts) with partners.

Through content syndication tools, companies can:

  • Enable their partners with white-labeled or co-branded content to help build thought leadership and build their local brand locally brand
  • Effectively drive lead generation for their partners
  • Amplify corporate messaging and brand through partner websites while helping partners enhance their social and web presence
  • Ensure the messaging across all partner websites and social media channels is consistent and true to their brand
  • Monitor the effectiveness and use of corporate marketing and sales content at the partner level

Webinar Syndication

Webinars are a great way to attract leads. TCMA helps companies use webinars to drive even greater lead generation by allowing companies to promote their webinars at local, channel partner levels through webinar syndication. Companies can build powerful landing pages and email campaigns promoting the webinars, customize them for their partners, and send them to their prospects on behalf of the partners. Sophisticated webinar syndication tools take care of the leads upon registration by automatically routing them to the right channel partner based on predefined rules.

Video personalization

Modern TCMA tools take personalization to a whole new level with video personalization features. Partners can personalize the intro and outro of corporate marketing and sales videos and also add their brand elements such as logos to them, thus taking the personalization to a much higher level.

MDF Management

Market development funds (MDF) refer to the financial resources that a company provides its partners in order to help them engage in sales and marketing of the company’s products and services. TCMA automates MDF management making it smoother, quicker and more efficient. For example, companies get the ability to

  • Approve/reject MDF requests
  • Create new, personalized MDF fund plans,
  • View MDF management-related reports easily
  • Partners can also raise MDF requests and track their status (approval/rejection) just as quickly.


TCMA uses powerful asset co-branding capabilities to help partners leverage the corporate brand while also building their local brand. It allows companies to create everything their partners need from their corporate offices and automatically customizes those assets to reflect partners’ local branding. Companies can customize email campaigns, landing pages, proposals, advertising campaigns, videos and other marketing and sales materials automatically

Email marketing automation

TCMA leverages email marketing automation to make partner email marketing campaigns more quick, easy, and effective. Just like other marketing assets we discussed above in the co-branding section, emails can be personalized too, helping partners add a more personal touch to their email interactions with leads. Moreover, companies can set up and run automated lead nurturing drip email campaigns on behalf of their partners and route those leads to the respective partners.

Benefits of Through-channel marketing automation

Through-channel marketing automation benefits both, the vendor and its partners.

How do vendors benefit from TCMA?

From the vendor’s perspective, engaging in TCMA ensures that the company’s brand, voice and messaging are not diluted or compromised via its widespread partner network. It gives companies greater control over their brand and goes a long way in ensuring the company and its partner network are on the same page in terms of marketing and sales messaging. It also helps companies establish their brand better in local markets through mechanisms such as co-branding and personalization.

How do partners benefit from TCMA?

From the partner’s perspective, through-channel marketing automation helps them market and sell better by allowing them to leverage:

  • The company’s brand strength, value, and presence
  • The marketing and sales campaigns and assets generated at the corporate level by the company
  • The power of localized marketing automation which helps partners build and grow their own, local brand and market presence at the ground level

The role of TCMA in the overall success of the channel sales model and partner relationships

Though TCMA, as the name suggests, is mostly about partner marketing automation; it plays a huge role in ensuring the overall success of partner relationships and the channel sales model in general. When we step back and look at the big picture, the key elements of TCMA that we discussed (personalized marketing across various media, MDF management, co-branding, and email marketing automation) ultimately make it easier for the partners to market and sell the company’s products more effectively and also helps them do so, faster. Partners are naturally more engaged with the brand/company that drives maximum sales revenue for them with minimal effort. TCMA allows vendors to strike this elusive balance for their partners easily, thus boosting partner engagement levels in the process. An engaged partner ecosystem translates into great partner relationships and results in rich ROI to both parties involved.

With-partner marketing

With-partner marketing, as the name suggests involves the vendor and channel partner jointly hitting the market to promote vendor’s goods and services to the end-customer. It helps the partners benefit from their association with the vendor and their brand. Like through-partner marketing, even in with-partner partner, it is expected that the channel partner has the resources, expertise, experience and willingness to market and sell the vendor’s product and services effectively. In with-partner marketing, both, the vendor and partner come together to leverage each other’s brand power and market presence. Co-branded collateral, joint marketing activities such as webinars, workshops, tradeshows, events, etc play a significant role in with-partner marketing.

With-partner marketing especially comes into play in channel partnerships where the vendor and partner complement each other by offering different products/services that support one another. An example would be Lenovo and IBM in the past or Microsoft and Intel. In such cases, both brands have a strong market presence and become even stronger through their partnership.

For-partner Marketing

For-partner marketing, as the name suggests is when the vendor markets for their channel partners. In for-partner marketing, the vendor basically plans, deploys and executes marketing campaigns on behalf of the channel partner. This is a very hands-on approach is partner marketing and the vendor retains full control over how their brand is portrayed and the messaging is disseminated. For-partner marketing leaves barely any scope for brand dilution and ensures the vendor and the channel partner speak to the end-customer in ‘One Voice’.

3 Scenarios where for-partner marketing may be used

Scenario 1: The vendor-partner relationship is new, i.e, where the channel partner has been newly recruited

While every channel relationship will involve some degree of for-partner marketing, typically it is more common in channel relationships where the partner has been newly recruited or lacks the marketing experience, expertise and resources to go to market with the vendor’s products/services effectively or where the partner’s brand and local presence is so weak that they need the vendor’s brand to make a dent in the market or, when the partner sales model is very low-touch such as referral or influencer partner model.

While it makes sense for vendors to engage in for-partner marketing campaigns in the case of newly recruited channel partners, it is important that over time, vendors groom the channel partners to grow into a more mature role where they can market and sell the vendor’s products/services without such a hands-on approach to partner marketing. Otherwise, the vendors will forever be stuck doing the marketing for their channel partners and the channel partners, on the other hand, become dependent on the vendors for leads, which kind of defeats the purpose of going to market with the channel partner, as such a relationship starts to mirror the relationship between the vendor’s corporate marketing department and its direct sales team.

Scenario 2: As an incentive or motivator for partners who are performing well

For-partner marketing may also be used as a motivator for top-performing partners, kind of like an incentive wherein the vendor appreciates the channel partner’s superior performance by reducing their marketing workload or by running helping them market even better by running marketing campaigns on their behalf.

Scenario 3: The vendor wants to leverage the channel partner’s brand

Similarly in channel partnerships among two equal brands, vendor might engage in for-partner marketing with a view to leverage the partner’s brand to boost vendor’s market presence.

At the end of the day, no matter what kind of partner marketing strategy is adopted by the vendor, the ultimate goals remain the same--to help partners sell and market the vendor’s products/services easily and quickly, so they (channel partners) can drive revenue for themselves. Vendors need to understand that channel partners are basically business owners. They have their own business to run and are looking to generate revenue for themselves. Unless a vendor has an exclusivity agreement with the channel partner, chances are, channel partners have multiple vendors they sell for. Some of these vendors may even be competing with one another. In such a scenario, the vendor whose leads are the easiest to close and whose products are the fastest to sell becomes the channel partner’s favorite. If vendors want to win partner mindshare and subsequently business, they need to ensure their partner marketing initiatives are aligned with the idea of helping channel partners-

  • Sell vendor’s products and services, faster
  • See the value in being an engaged partner to the vendor
  • Grow as a brand and sales organization
  • Generate revenue through selling the vendors products and services
  • By collaborating with partners who share similar audiences, businesses can leverage their partner's customer base to drive traffic, generate leads, and ultimately, increase sales. However, it's important for businesses to carefully select their partners and establish clear goals and expectations for the partnership. By doing so, businesses can create mutually beneficial partnerships that drive growth and success for all parties involved.