It’s the time of year when, like most of you, I take stock of the year we’ve closed and look ahead to the New Year! As I make my own business plans for 2015, I’m also thinking about what might happen in the world of Channel Marketing. So, here are my predictions! I look forward to reading them in a year to see if they came true!

1. Inbound Marketing Comes To The Channel

Inbound marketing is the practice of sharing great content with strangers with the hope of attracting, educating, and converting them into leads and eventually customers. Outbound, or traditional marketing is the practice of screaming a product message at anyone and everyone with the hope that someone will eventually listen and care about your product.

Inbound aligns with how the modern buyer wants to learn, shop and buy. Outbound rarely aligns with anyone. Channel marketing is typically a few years behind the direct marketing world, both in practices as well as technology. Channel marketing is still mostly outbound-oriented. Inbound momentum is just starting to build on the direct side. But the need for inbound is just as high in the channel as it is on the direct side.

My prediction is that the inbound methodology and technology will make its way to the channel in 2015. While there are already inboundy-activities taking place in the channel now, much of it happens without a true inbound marketing plan and approach, designed to speak to the buyers throughout their journey. The technology available to automate and support inbound in the channel is immature today and developing slowly. I expect the pace of innovation to pick-up in 2015 as demand driven by vendors and partners grows.

2. More Channel Marketing Automation Software

I pay a great deal of attention to what’s happening across the entire marketing technology arena. I love the annual Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic and have it printed and hung on the wall. There are so many companies already in marketing technology (947 different companies on the 2014 Supergraphic, if you can believe it), yet none of them are specifically focused on channel marketing automation or through-partner marketing automation. There are at least 100 vendors in various facets of this space.

SiriusDecisions released a methodology called Fast-Tracking Demand in B-to-B Channels that, according to SiriusDecisions, companies are increasingly adopting as their way of packaging their channel programs to include training, concierge services, and turnkey marketing plays. Channel marketing automation software is the easiest way to adopt the Fast-Tracking Demand methodology. But vendors and channel partners are still relying on Google searches to find tools.

I predict that the industry will place more focus on channel marketing automation software, which will be driven by customer demand. Vendors that go to market through channels and partners need help and more industry coverage of this category of software will improve their ability to find solutions for their needs.

3. Channel Marketing Campaigns Get Integrated

The era of single-vendor channel partners isn’t entirely gone but that kind of channel partner is more and more rare. What companies do you know that specialise in just one vendor’s product line? Not too many, I bet. Most channel partners carry several vendors’ products and solutions in order to meet the complex needs of their customers. It makes great sense for them and their customers but it also makes life very complicated.

For a channel partner to participate fully in all of the programs, campaigns, and initiatives of even their top 2 or 3 channel vendors, it takes an incredible amount of resources and a strong commitment. If the channel partner consumes all of the programs, campaigns, and initiatives from the various vendors, all of the information exists in silos since none of the channel vendors typically collaborate on campaigns.

Channel partners simply don’t have enough time or marketing skill to take distinct campaigns and bring them together into a single cohesive story. Joint marketing programs like the HP/Microsoft Frontline Partnership are the ideal scenario and can serve as an example to others. Together, the two companies bring their stories together and share campaigns with partners that carry both product lines. More channel vendors and distributors will take note of this opportunity to provide integrated campaigns and reduce the friction that channel partners experience as they attempt to plan and execute demand generation campaigns.