5 Reasons Why Palo Alto Networks’ Channel Marketing is so Successful

Palo Alto Networks ran a 5.5.5 channel marketing program, with StrategyMix in the Australian market, in the second half of 2015. The “5.5.5” stands for 5 partners launching 5 campaigns over 5 months.

This program was very successful, based on the following measures:

1) High Partner Participation

While many vendors struggle to get their partners to participate in their marketing programs, Palo Alto Networks were able to quickly sign up 5 partners, which was their target number for the first pilot program.

2) 100% Utilization Rate

And while most vendors experience utilization rates of around 20%, the utilization rate by the Palo Alto Networks’ partners was 100%. This means that all the partner campaigns were run on time, like clockwork. There were no “failures to execute”.

3) Very High Response Rates

Where most vendors are suffering declining response rates, the partners in the Palo Alto Networks’ marketing program achieved response rates of between 2% and 6%, which is well above the industry average.

In our 2015 Benchmarking Study, the Palo Alto Networks’ partners held 5 of the top 6 places.

By these measures, the Palo Alto Networks’ Channel Marketing program was significantly better than the industry average, which leads us to one obvious question – why?

I have spent some time reviewing this program and have identified 5 reasons why this channel marketing program was so successful. They are:

Reason No 1: Great Content

Nearly all vendors tell me they have great content, which is not always true. Palo Alto Networks, on the other hand, really did have great content and this is evidenced by their high response rates.

It is interesting that 40% of the Palo Alto Networks’ content was external, which means that it was seen as independent and unbiased. One of their assets had an average open rate of 18% and an average response rate of 3% across their partner network.

I think that part of the reason why the Palo Alto Networks’ campaigns performed so well, was due to the way the campaigns were selected. Instead of using “gut feel”, Peter Murphy and his team only selected content that were “proven performers”. All the content had previously achieved high response rates in other markets.

Reason No 2: Managed Solution

Most vendors instruct their partners to use self-managed channel marketing portals, where the partners are expected to log on, upload their data, figure out how the system works, find relevant campaigns, set up the emails and then launch them.

Of course, this rarely happens because most partners lack marketing resources or time and so never get around to it. This is why the average utilization rates for self-managed portals is so appallingly low at 20%.

Palo Alto Networks, on the other hand, selected a managed service. All the partners had to do to participate was say “Yes” and provide a copy of their marketing data. Everything else was done for them.

Given that it was a managed solution, it is not surprising that the partner utilization rate was 100%.

Reason No 3: Data Enhancement

Most vendors find that their partners are reluctant to use their best marketing data, ie: their hot prospect and customer data.

For Palo Alto Networks this was not a problem. This is partly because they didn’t expect to just use the partners’ data, but they went out of their way to enhance the partners’ data by putting budget aside for a database building program.

So, with the Palo Alto Networks’ Channel Marketing Program, the partners got better data “out” of the program than they put “into” it.

For further information on how to build a responsive database, you might like to read our blog: How to build a responsive database (for resellers).

Reason No 4: Partner Branding

In many channel marketing programs, the email communications have the “look and feel” of the vendor, usually with the partners’ logo placed in the top right corner, in a rather tokenistic way.

This is one reason why many partners refuse to participate in so many vendor-led marketing programs. Partners care about their brand and want to be seen as independent, trusted advisors, so they are obviously not keen on sending vendor-centric communications to their most valuable customers.

The Palo Alto Networks’ program was very different. All the communications had the partner’s “look and feel”. The landing pages mimicked each partner’s website. All the emails used the partners’ colour scheme and corporate design, which was instantly recognizable by their customers. This not only increased partner participation in the program, but also increased response rates because of the relationship that existed between the partner’s best data (prospects and customers) and the partner’s brand.

Reason No 5: Events

The last element of the Palo Alto Networks’ 5.5.5 program was an event. Each event was run by the partners. This gave the salespeople from each partner the opportunity to meet their prospects face to face, which helped to develop personal relationships.

To support the events, Palo Alto Networks put aside a telemarketing budget to run an attendance drive to maximize delegate numbers. The purpose of the first four campaigns was to educate the prospects, provide them with valuable information and “warm them up”, so they were more likely to attend the event. This strategy worked extremely well.

Most vendors don’t include events or webinars in their channel marketing programs but instead rely on assets that are easier to schedule and deliver – such as white papers, case studies and online videos. In my view, more vendors should include partner-run events in their channel marketing programs.

What next – the future is looking bright

Palo Alto Networks have now developed a channel marketing program that is going from strength to strength.

Because of the programs’ early success, it is now much easier to sign up new partners into their 2016 marketing program. They have also been able to sign up partners that were previously reluctant to participate, because they erroneously assumed that the Palo Alto Networks’ campaign was the “same” as all the other channel marketing programs that vendors keep asking them to participate in.

Palo Alto Networks also had an eye on the future and were one of the first vendors to trial the much more advanced “1-to-1” channel marketing solution. By running early pilot programs, they were able to gather hard evidence to help them make better investment decisions in 2016.

So while many vendors scratch their heads and wonder why their channel marketing programs are not working, Palo Alto Networks developed a program which not only worked but has become the foundation for even better channel marketing in the near future.

Well done Palo Alto Networks.