Although corporate brands are vitally important in driving B2B sales, B2B brands are often reliant on channel partners to sell products and services to end users. And while manufacturers and others offer traditional co-branding marketing tools, they often fail miserably at driving traffic to distributors, dealers, and other channel partners through B2B search marketing.
Channel partners often face the heat of companies whose lines they represent. Why aren’t you selling more of our stuff? What did you do with all the leads we gave you? What’s our return on the co-op dollars we gave you? What are you doing to market our products?
Channel partners, on the other hand, often complain about the lack of support. We need more co-op dollars. Why don’t you give us more leads? The leads you give us aren’t qualified. What are you doing to help promote us?
Both sides are generally justified in their stance. The root issue, however, lies not in the money spent promoting channel partners, but in the effectiveness of channel partner initiatives. With all the evidence that search plays a huge role in B2B purchases, few B2B brands have made the investment to properly optimize their own sites for search, let alone optimize their sites to promote channel partners or help channel partners with search marketing. Yet B2B search marketing can be one of the most effective, cost-efficient ways to drive traffic to channel partners and generate leads and sales.
Search marketing for channel partners? Who’s going to pay for it?
It’s hard to force a channel partner to optimize its site for search or mandate channel partners engage in PPC campaigns. And at the corporate level, it’s hard to justify pay-per-click campaigns that drive traffic to channel partners and not the corporate brand. Essentially, it would be like sending channel partners a check for every click. The answer lies, however, in organic optimization. A well-designed landing page for each channel partner on the corporate brand’s site is largely a one-time expense. Done right, it can generate channel partner leads in perpetuity with little to no ongoing investment.
We list their contact information. What more do you want?
In a nutshell? At least one unique page for each channel partner, one that speaks not only to their geography but to their expertise as well. Too often, channel partner contact information is merely an address and a link that goes to each partner’s site. There really isn’t much for the search engines to index. And that’s the problem. If you really want to drive traffic to channel partners (and you should), you need to create optimized landing pages that speak to terms searchers are going to use in the search engines. Often these pages may need to speak to geography. Prospects often start their search by looking for solutions close to home, e.g., “office furniture dealers Cleveland” or “material handling integrators California.”
Also, make sure you use generic search terms. Don’t adopt the myopic and arrogant position that every searcher knows your brand and is going to use that brand name in every search. Yes, most dealers, reps, and distributors carry products from other companies, and optimizing channel partner landing pages using generic terms may send channel partners leads that ultimately buy another brand, but wouldn’t you rather drive traffic to your dealer. If your products are good, your dealers will sell them. If they’re not, your problem likely isn’t your dealer network.
Avoiding duplicate content issues
Channel partner contact pages often look very similar; the only thing that changes is the name of the channel partner and its contact information. This can lead to duplicate content issues. The key to avoiding these issues is simple. Don’t be lazy. If you choose to create a bunch of channel partner contact pages on your site, don’t use the same page for all channel partners by merely swapping the name of the next distributor or dealer. If you do, the search engines will likely only index one of these pages and consider all the others duplicate content.
You mean we have to create a unique page for each dealer, rep, or distributor? Isn’t that’s asking a lot? Not really. Think of how much money you spend on supporting your channel partners through meetings, tradeshows, traditional co-branded print literature, developing relationships, travel, etc. The number gets big quickly. You can’t spend an hour per channel partner to develop a unique, non-duplicate-content page for each partner? It probably won’t even take you that long. And doing so will not only speak volumes regarding your support of each partner, but it will also generate tangible returns for them, something you can clearly point to as evidence of contributing to their success.
Lastly, make sure channel partner contact pages can be indexed. Too often, channel partner contact pages are database-driven pages that can’t be indexed by the search engines. Make sure your site and its content are designed in such a way that the search engines can both get to and index each of the channel partner contact pages.
Other channel partner B2B search marketing tactics
An optimized landing page for each channel partner on the corporate site is only one of the ways to help create demand in the channel. Don’t forget about other ways, too. If you have a corporate blog, use it to promote happenings at the channel partner level. Be smart about your blog entries, ensuring the content of your posts is optimized for search terms that prospects in your channel partner’s market are likely to use.
The same is true for public relations efforts. Take advantage of optimized news releases that promote channel partner happenings. Perhaps your dealer or distributor is going to carry a new line of yours, open a new location, or doing something to further support your brand. Chances are your dealer is less sophisticated regarding B2B search marketing than you are. Effectively distributing optimized news releases is another way to ensure your channel partners are found by prospects in their markets.
Your role in B2B search marketing is about generating leads and driving conversion, and there are many ways you can use search marketing to do this. But remember, it’s not all about promoting you and your brand. It’s channel partners at street level that often start and close the sale. Smart search marketing in the B2B world promotes not only the brand, but also its channel partners at well. Make sure your B2B search marketing efforts drive channel traffic at street level. If you drive searchers to channel partners, your channel partners will drive sales for you.