December 21, 2020

Top partner marketing insights from GTM Director Diana Ishak

By Microsoft US Partner Team

The Marketing Foundations blog series aims to equip partners with marketing best practices and introduce some of the Go-To-Market with Microsoft resources available through your Partner Network membership.

Diana Ishak is the ‘woman behind the curtain,’ making things happen as Director of the Microsoft US One Commercial Partner Go-To-Market Services team. As the author of the Marketing Foundations blog series, she’s sharing valuable insights from her deep experience in partner marketing.

This post is a quick detour in the series. Diana lent us her platform and a bit of her time so we could uncover a more personal side of her knowledge through a Q&A. We sat down with Diana – virtually, of course – to learn about what she’s seen with partners in the field and her advice for partners navigating today’s unique landscape.

What’s your experience with partner marketing?

Diana Ishak: In 2015, I started my role as partner channel marketing lead in the Microsoft US subsidiary for the SMB customer market segment. I wanted to create a repeatable, scalable marketing framework to help SMB partners market more effectively. For months, I worked closely with partners and PDMs to identify different levels of maturity in partner marketing practices. Based on those insights, I launched Marketing SureStep, a step-by-step process for crafting a more sophisticated marketing funnel. Through Marketing SureStep, I provided digital marketing guidance to partners 1:1 and at scale, tailored to the partners’ stage of marketing maturity.

How has your work with partners shaped your approach to marketing?

DI: One of the most important shifts in the way marketing is run today was captured by the Harvard Business Review: “Marketing has become too important to be left just to the marketers.”

I’ve learned that marketing should be reimagined as part of every role in a company. Every employee has a web of relationships with others, whether they are customers, other partners, suppliers, or even colleagues. Since our objective is to create better value for the end customer and each of these relationships impact that objective, the way we navigate each interaction involves some form of marketing.

Knowing who you serve and how you do it best – captured in your value proposition – is the first step to creating an organization of marketers. From there, it’s a matter of communicating that value organization-wide and helping each person – from the C-suite to developers to finance – reframe their role around how they contribute to that bottom line.

Partners who want to see a healthy pipeline and business growth should elevate their value proposition to be a pillar that anchors activities throughout the organization, not just a tool of the marketing team.

Can you share an example of innovative partner marketing?

DI: One of my favorite examples is how Palmetto Technology Group’s marketing investment paid off when they improved how they told their story. Shortly after launching the business in 2007, CEO Reed Wilson observed their sales funnel was chronically dry. Identifying marketing as the missing piece, they shifted from a sales-only strategy to one that involved more of the storytelling that customers connect to.

PTG prioritized digital marketing in their business plan and annual budget, and began to see higher-quality, higher-revenue leads roll in as a direct result of those efforts. In a few short years, their small company had channeled their story into an engine for attracting and moving hundreds of thousands of customers to the cloud.

Read more: Palmetto Technology Group success story

Where are partners struggling with their marketing efforts?

DI: The areas I see partners struggling with now are fairly perennial. They have trouble finding new customers, establishing an always-on marketing strategy, and managing an effective marketing budget.

When it comes to finding new customers, my top recommendation is to begin by looking at your entire pipeline. Are you targeting the right customers? Does your message address their pain points from their perspective? Do you offer compelling content at the right time in their journey on the platforms they prefer? Walking partners through these questions step-by-step is what the Marketing Foundations series is all about. I recommend partners follow this series and familiarize themselves with different demand generation resources available through Microsoft GTM Services.

I empathize with partners who struggle with always-on marketing, a sustained approach focused on consistency throughout the customer lifecycle. It takes a mental shift and initial investment, but the beauty is that once you have the framework in place, the quality of leads will increase and the effort you put in will decrease as you scale. I recommend starting with the basics, answering those questions about who is the right customer. A major pillar of always-on marketing is solid content because it is ready whenever the customer is – nights, weekends, minutes at a time between other things. I recommend partners conduct a content audit to identify what’s working, what isn’t, and where information gaps exist. This information will be the foundation of your content marketing strategy, which forms the core of your always-on marketing approach.

When it comes to their marketing budget, partners struggle with measuring the ROMI (return on marketing investment). Justifying marketing spend remains one of the toughest tasks a CMO does. It’s not always an exact science unless you have invested in a marketing automation tool to help you track your prospect all the way to a customer win. Use tools like Google analytics, run one campaign at a time, measure and track, report back to your decision makers, and secure budget for that always-on, continuous approach. A good starting point is “A Refresher on Marketing ROI.“

What resources are available for partners just getting started with GTM with Microsoft?

 

DI: For new Microsoft partners based in the US, the blog post Partner Essentials: 4 steps to understanding GTM Resources and benefits is an excellent launch pad. It highlights must-have partner marketing resources including customizable digital campaigns in Digital Marketing Content OnDemand, the latest customer-facing Microsoft marketing content via our Sales enablement platform, and our digital content library in Partner marketing center.

 

Also, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to stay connected through the Microsoft US Partner social platforms. We’re constantly evolving our go-to-market resources to help partners reach customers and grow their business – social is a quick way to get the updates that partners need to optimize their business with Microsoft.

What best practices do you recommend for marketing?

DI: This all depends on where you are in your go-to-market journey. I recommend using a checklist to ensure the right marketing elements are in place to provide a strong foundation for your developing marketing strategy. Here’s an idea of where to start:

  • Create an up-to-date marketing plan to include in your overall business plan
  • Establish a realistic marketing budget and a plan to stick to it
  • Onboard a marketing team – either in-house or through a consulting agency – with the required skillset to execute activities defined in your marketing plan
  • Design a marketing campaign – use the Demand Generation Campaign Framework with your value proposition messaging to complete and execute your campaign plan (see worksheet below)
  • Measure your results – use data to identify what’s working, what isn’t, and if there’s another approach to pursue

Looking for a head start? Try this demand generation campaign framework and worksheet.

The next post in this series – on creating a Content Strategy – dives into much of this in more depth.

As far as best practices, there are plenty to choose from! The approaches I see a lot of partners having success with and that I would recommend exploring are:

  • Any continuous connected campaign
  • Original video content
  • Account-based marketing (ABM)
  • Influencer marketing
  • High value content
  • Integration of on-demand webinars
  • Marketing automation tools
  • Social selling
  • Email – it’s still alive and well!

What do you see happening right now with partner marketing in the time of COVID-19?

DI: Some partners are seeing the effects of digital fatigue impact the way customers engage. After nine months of online everything, attention spans and willingness to be in front of a screen are way down. As a result, partners have been trying some new things and seeing success. Some of the most noteworthy trends are:

  • Short videos that can be embedded in social posts and emails
  • Social ads on for-fun platforms like Instagram
  • Highly-focused, well-defined on-demand content that speaks to specific customer challenges

I’m also seeing more partners refocus on existing customer nurture and re-marketing tactics. This is a likely response to the overwhelming uncertainty of the times, and it’s one way partners are attempting to drive growth without venturing too far outside their comfort zone.

Next steps

In case you missed it, make sure to check out the first post of this Marketing Foundations series: 3 steps to understanding your customers. This post lays the foundation for the game-changing marketing strategy we’ll help you build throughout this series.

 

Also check out:

Coming up

Next up in the Marketing Foundations series, we’ll walk through how to craft your content marketing strategy based on your identified buyer personas and value proposition.

 

 

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