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What Is Channel Marketing? An In-Depth Guide

Are you ready to grow sales, reach new markets, offer new services, and rapidly scale up your ability to find new customers? Channel marketing is a strategic approach for promoting and selling your products or services through a variety of distribution channels. It's about reaching your customers right where they already are, using an ecosystem of connected partners to expand your company's footprint.  

When we work together, we grow faster together. In this post, we will cover everything you need to know to get started in channel marketing. Let's jump in! 

👉 Keep reading to learn more about: 

What is channel marketing?  

Channel marketing involves using different distribution channels to sell and market your products or services. These channels can be direct, indirect, online, offline, and cater to either B2B or B2C markets. You may also hear it referred to as channel partner marketing, channel management, or partner marketing.  

You'll select the right channels based on where your target customers are most likely to engage with your products or services. This could involve working with intermediaries like distributors or retailers, leveraging the reach of affiliates like influencers, or selling on large online marketplaces like Microsoft or AWS. No matter how you approach your channel partnerships, it's all about providing these extensions of your brand with the necessary support (and encouragement!) to market your products effectively.  

The role of channel marketing strategies is to optimize how you get your products to market via these different channels, tailoring your marketing efforts to suit different channels and partners, and effectively managing these channels. Later in this post, we'll cover the first steps for building your channel marketing strategy, but common activities include:  

  • Partnering with channel partners and establishing strong relationships 
  • Creating marketing materials and resources tailored to each channel or partner type 
  • Providing onboarding, training, and support to channel partners 
  • Coordinating marketing campaigns and promotions with channel partners 
  • Monitoring and analyzing channel performance and adjusting strategies as needed 

Channel marketing is a necessity in the modern business landscape. Leading analysts like Jay McBain note that a staggering 73% of the $4.7 trillion technology market is partner-led, and over 90% is partner-assisted. For many businesses, especially in B2B sectors, channel sales can represent a substantial portion of their revenue, often exceeding 50%. 

The role of channel marketing strategies is to optimize how you get your products to market via these different channels, tailoring your marketing efforts to suit different channels and partners, and effectively managing these channels. Later in this post, we'll cover the first steps for building your channel marketing strategy.  

What are the different types of channels?  

Choosing the right channels is crucial and will depend on your business goals and audience. However, most companies will adopt an omni-channel approach that embraces many different types of channels at once, with much overlap. These may include approaches like:  

  • Direct sales to consumers 
  • Selling via third-party partners, like retailers, wholesalers, or distributors 
  • Collaborating with value-added partners to extend their offered services 
  • Selling at events or trade shows  
  • Driving sales via referral partners like affiliates or influencers  

For example, a manufacturing company specializing in smart sustainability tech for homes might collaborate with residential construction companies and architects, integrating their smart technology solutions, like energy-efficient lighting or temperature control systems, directly into new home builds. They may also partner with local home installers who bundle their products into smart home packages that they install and service for homeowners. Additionally, they could partner with retail stores and specialty eco-friendly stores to offer their products directly to individual homeowners.  

Direct online sales through their own website would also be crucial, catering to the growing number of tech-savvy consumers who prefer shopping online. Finally, they may participate in home and garden shows, as well as green energy expos, to build brand recognition and credibility in the smart home technology market. 

Each channel offers unique opportunities and challenges. Understanding and leveraging the right mix of channels in your marketing strategy can be a game changer to drive business growth. 

Dig deeper: Throughout this post, we'll share links to in-depth resources where you can learn more about each topic. This is only the beginning of the different channels you'll encounter. Find our full guide to the different types of partners here!  

What are the major benefits of channel marketing? 

Channel marketing offers significant benefits for your business, acting as a catalyst for reaching wider markets and driving greater sales growth. By utilizing a well-crafted channel marketing strategy, you can amplify the reach of your products or services beyond your immediate capabilities. 

  • Broader target audience: Channel marketing allows you to tap into the existing customer bases of your channel partners. This means your products can be introduced to a broader audience more quickly than if you were to manage this outreach on your own. The result? Increased market penetration and a faster route to a wider customer base. 
  • Major cost efficiencies: By leveraging the resources and strengths of your channel partners, you can reduce the burden of handling every aspect of the distribution, servicing, and marketing processes. This collaborative approach spreads out the costs and efforts as well as risks. 
  • Target diverse market segments: Different channels cater to different demographics and consumer behaviors, enabling you to tailor your approach to suit varied customer needs effectively.  
  • Enhance your brand's credibility and trustworthiness: When reputable partners endorse your product, it lends additional credibility to your brand, fostering trust among a broader customer base. 

In essence, channel marketing is a strategic approach to widen your reach, reduce costs, target efficiently, and boost your brand's reputation, ultimately driving business growth and success. 

🔎 Learn more: Dig into the major benefits of channel partners, and how they can help drive growth, in our full post! 

Key channel marketing challenges to overcome 

Channel marketing, while incredibly beneficial, comes with its own set of challenges that you must navigate skillfully to ensure success.  

One of the key hurdles is channel conflict management between and within your channels. As you deal with multiple partners, often with their own agendas and priorities, conflicts may arise. These could be related to competition among channel partners and your internal teams or clashes over territory or customer segments. Managing these conflicts effectively is crucial to ensure that all parties work towards the common goal of maximizing sales and customer satisfaction. 

Keeping up with changing market trends is another significant challenge. The market is dynamic, and consumer preferences can shift rapidly. This requires you to be agile and responsive, continuously adapting your channel marketing strategies to align with current trends.  

Adapting to technological advancements is equally important. The digital landscape is evolving swiftly, and new technologies can revolutionize how products are marketed and distributed. Staying abreast of these advancements and integrating them into your channel marketing strategy can be daunting but is essential. This involves not only adopting new technologies but also ensuring that your channel partners are equipped and trained to use them effectively.  

Overcoming these challenges requires a combination of strategic planning, smart automation software, continuous learning, and strong communication skills. 

🔎 Explore more: Channel management is a large topic area. Find out more about the intricacies of channel management in our full guide!  

What is channel marketing software, and how can it help?  

Channel marketing software essentially acts as a central hub for managing your relationships with channel partners, coordinating marketing efforts across different channels, and tracking the performance of those channels. 

One of the key functionalities of channel marketing software, like Impartner, is its ability to automate repetitive tasks. This includes tasks like:

  • Distributing marketing materials to partners
  • Managing leads and sales funnels
  • Generating referral links
  • Organizing MDF and co-op fund programs
  • Onboarding and training partners
  • Scheduling communications

Automation not only saves time and reduces the likelihood of human error but also ensures your consistency in messaging and branding across all channels. 

Another significant benefit of the right channel marketing software is in its integration capabilities. It can often be integrated with your other critical systems, such as your CRM, ERP, LMS, and account mapping tools. This type of tight integration allows for seamless data flow and provides a more comprehensive view of your channel marketing operations, enabling better decision-making based on real-time data. 

When choosing the right channel marketing software, consider factors like the:

  • Size of your channel network and associated pricing
  • Complexity of your marketing strategies
  • Specific features you need

Reading reviews, asking for recommendations from peers in your industry, and taking advantage of free demos can also help. Ultimately, the right software should enhance your channel marketing efficiency, offer insightful analytics, and contribute to a stronger, more profitable partner network. 

⭐️ Channel marketing example: SoSafe drives 300% YoY channel growth 

"The cyber security industry is developing at pace. As part of our growth strategy partnering with resellers and MSPs to help us scale, complement our expertise and mutually grow our businesses is key. Using Impartner, it’s easy to communicate and have better engagement with our partner ecosystem.” - Dao Tran, Global Alliances Director 

Discover how SoSafe used channel marketing software to enable automation and seamless integration with their tech stack that led to them rapidly scaling their channel marketing efforts.  

Read the full case study here!

How to create a channel marketing strategy 

Creating a channel marketing strategy is essential for success. Your exact approach will depend on your industry and target markets, but the following should act as a starting point to help you develop a strategy that aligns with your growth goals.  

By following these steps, you'll be able to craft a channel marketing strategy that not only reaches your target market effectively but also builds lasting partnerships and drives sales. Remember, the right strategy is about creating a win-win-win situation for your business, your partners, and your customers. 

1. Define your market and customer segments 

Start by gaining a deep understanding of your target market. Who are your customers? What are their preferences, needs, and buying behaviors?  

Segment your market to tailor your channel strategy to reach these different customer groups. This segmentation will help you choose channels that are most effective for reaching your specific audience. 

2. Select the right channel mix 

Your next step is to choose the most appropriate channels for your product or service. Each channel has its strengths and limitations, so consider factors like market reach, cost, and efficiency.  

It's also vital to decide whether to use direct channels, indirect channels, or a mix of both. When building a larger indirect partner channel ecosystem, think about the types of partners you want to bring in to help sell and service your products.  

3. Find the best partners for your ecosystem 

Selecting the right channel partners is crucial. These could be a mix of sales-based partners, like distributors, retailers, or agents, as well as service-based support partners who can help your customers with installation, ongoing support, and more.  

Look for partners who share your brand values and have the capacity to reach your target market. Establish clear partnership terms and ensure that roles and responsibilities are well-defined. 

🔎 Explore more: Find the partners that will fuel your go-to-market strategies in our guide on how to find channel partners!  

4. Develop your product distribution and pricing strategies  

Your distribution strategy should detail how you will manage inventory, fulfill orders, and deliver your product with your direct and indirect teams. Efficient logistics are key to ensuring product availability and timely distribution. This is where understanding your supply chain and maintaining good relationships with suppliers become important. 

Also, develop a pricing strategy that keeps your offerings competitive while ensuring profitable margins for both your business and channel partners. Consider the cost of production, market competition, and the value your product offers. 

5. Set up the right channel marketing software 

Before you begin managing channel partner relationships, you need a foundation to build on. The best channel marketing software can empower you to set up and scale your ecosystem, no matter what stage of growth you're at.  

🔎 Dig deeper: From reviews to analyst recommendations, we cover the ten steps to take to ensure you find the right partner management solution for your needs.  

6. Train and support your partners 

You'll want to offer comprehensive onboarding and training to your channel partners, educating them about your products, brand values, and effective sales techniques.  

Providing ongoing support and technical upskilling will help them develop within their capabilities, while also fostering brand loyalty to your ecosystem.  

7. Support your channel marketing campaigns  

Of course, you must provide your channel partners with the necessary marketing, sales, and promotional support materials they'll need to effectively sell and service your products.  

This could include co-marketing initiatives, promotional materials, and product training. Helping your partners understand and sell your product effectively is a win-win for both parties. 

Learn how you can set up an automated channel partner marketing strategy in our MasterClass episode with Gorilla!  

8. Motivate partners with the right incentives 

Implement channel incentive programs to encourage your partners. Set achievable sales targets and offer relevant rewards for reaching these goals.  

This will not only boost sales but also foster a positive and motivating relationship with your partners. 

9. Monitor performance to drive improvements 

Regularly assess the performance of your partners and other sales efforts against your channel analytics and KPIs. The best channel marketing software tools do this process automatically, creating dashboards and graphs that you can share with both internal and external teams.  

Also, gather feedback from your partners and customers to identify areas for improvement. This continuous evaluation will help you tweak your ongoing strategy for better results. 

10. Maintain open communication to build relationships 

Finally, keep open lines of communication with your channel partners. Building strong, trust-based relationships is key to a successful channel marketing strategy. Regular interaction and updates will keep everyone aligned with your goals. 

The market is always changing, so your channel strategy should be adaptable. Be ready to adjust in response to market changes, customer feedback, or new technological advancements. Staying flexible and responsive will help you maintain a competitive edge. 

⭐️ Channel marketing example: Lookout empowers partners with a go-to platform 

"Our partners are our extended salesforce, and our partners’ success is our success. We wanted to provide the best partner experience and have everything in one place for them to navigate." - Dinara Bakirova, Global Head of Channel Operations 

Learn how Lookout's emphasis on a partner-first experience helped them rapidly reduce manual work, centralize their partner tools, and more.  

Read the full case study here.   

What does the future of channel marketing look like?  

Keeping an eye on new channel marketing trends will be crucial for partnership leaders who want to stay competitive in evolving marketplaces. Here's some to watch.  

Increased emphasis on AI and machine learning  

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are making it possible to analyze vast amounts of data to gain deeper insights into customer behavior and preferences.  

In the future, expect to see AI being used more extensively to personalize marketing efforts, optimize partner selection, segment partner training efforts, and enhance both partner and customer experiences. This could mean more sophisticated predictive analytics for channel performance, automated content customization for different channels, and AI-driven chatbots for improved partner engagement. 

Rise of hyper-personalization and omnichannel efforts 

Customers expect a seamless experience across all touchpoints, whether online, offline, or through social media. In response, businesses will need to refine their omnichannel strategies, ensuring consistent branding and messaging across all channels and partner types.  

Hyper-personalization, driven by data analytics, will also play a key role in delivering more tailored experiences to both your partners and end-customers. 

Emphasis on collaborative ecosystems of partners 

The concept of channel marketing is expanding beyond traditional sales-only partnerships to encompass wider ecosystem collaborations. This includes alliances with non-traditional partners like influencers, complementary brands, and service providers. Such collaborations can open up new markets and customer segments.  

Expect to see a rise in collaborative marketing efforts where businesses co-create content, share data insights, and leverage each other’s strengths to grow faster, together.  

Grow your channel marketing strategy with Impartner  

At Impartner, we're committed to helping channel marketing leaders like you learn more about the industry so you can make decisions that drive growth. 

Ready to get started? It's time to meet Impartner.

Each day millions of partners in nearly every industry across the globe access Impartner. Why? Because the partner experience matters and leading channel organizations agree. Impartner is the fastest-growing, most award-winning channel marketing software.

Our channel partner relationship management and partner marketing automation solutions help companies accelerate revenue and profitability through their indirect sales channels at every partner lifecycle touchpoint. From partner training and certifications to communications, business planning, and performance compliance, Impartner handles it all and more with best practices and automation built-in.

Need to accelerate your partnerships? We’re ready when you are. Click the banner below to get started!

About the Author

Impartner is the fastest-growing, most award-winning provider of partner management and partner marketing automation solutions. We've been around for decades, and were the first to coin the term "PRM". Today, over 40,000 users leverage Impartner to manage millions of partners within their ecosystem of distributors, resellers, and more. We draw on decades of experience with best practices in the channel to create content that helps partnership leaders grow their careers and scale their programs.

Profile Photo of The Impartner Team