Most companies don't sell directly to customers. You can't, for instance, buy a 20-ounce Coke from the Coca-Cola company. Instead, you buy it from a convenience store, which got it from a distributor, which in turn got it from Coca-Cola (or maybe a partner factory or wholesaler).
Tracking the path goods take from producer to consumer can get complicated. That's where channel marketing managers come in. These professionals work with firms to find the best channel partners, help intermediary channel partners identify profitable sales streams, and make sure that sellers have everything they need to market products effectively to the end customer. Their overarching goal is to maximize the potential of all channels.
Channel marketing managers are sometimes involved in designing marketing campaigns that target consumers but typically spend more time thinking about business-to-business marketing strategies. They want to get their companies' products onto as many store shelves as possible via whatever channels make the most sense. Channel marketing managers do a lot of research, make a lot of phone calls, shake a lot of hands, and stay on top of a lot of numbers.
On its PRM Channel Best-Practices Blog, Channeltivity described the hybrid role in this way: "You've probably already noticed that the channel marketing manager position doesn't fit neatly into either the pure sales or pure marketing buckets. It's really a hybrid of these two disciplines. And with the scope and volume of skills and responsibilities required, it's a role that needs a fairly senior person as well."
In this article, we'll answer the question "what does a channel marketing manager do?" by covering the following:
Channel marketing managers are marketing professionals who implement marketing programs targeted to intermediary and consumer-facing distribution channels. They promote products and services to third-party businesses (aka, channel partners), including:
All of these channel partners represent opportunities to put products and services in front of prospective buyers—and to do it more cheaply. Companies hire channel marketing managers to move as much product as possible without making a substantial investment. Traditional marketing, content marketing, social media marketing, email marketing, lead generation, inventory management, customer experience, and consumer sales become the responsibility of channel partners. Producers who invest in a channel marketing strategy thus have more resources to focus on production and product marketing.
Channel marketing managers don't just manage channel partnerships. They also have to find new channel partners, build and maintain relationships with those partners, and make sure that partners are communicating the unique value of the products and services they're selling. Channel marketing can involve contract negotiation, the creation of marketing materials, and more. The company that employs a channel marketing manager determines what exactly they do, but in general, the responsibilities of channel marketing managers include:
On top of all this, channel marketing managers also have to watch vigilantly for signs of channel conflict. Decisions made by one channel partner can have an impact on the performance of another channel partner, and it's up to the channel marketing manager to prevent these issues so all partners do well.
Small firms typically don't need channel marketing managers because they're much more likely to sell directly to consumers. Most companies that hire channel marketing managers are large and distribute many product lines across an extensive sales territory. Coca-Cola is a perfect example. Retailers all over the world stock Coke, making it impossible for the Coca-Cola company to handle production and distribution and retailing on a global scale. Creating and maintaining channel partnerships around the world is a big job that takes a lot of time and involves a lot of moving parts.
Nearly all employers advertising for channel marketing managers require applicants to have a college degree. Even so, many don't specify a particular type of degree or the highest level of education they need. Most channel marketing managers have a bachelor's degree in marketing, communications, or business. However, it's not unusual for professionals in this role to have studied supply chain management, logistics, or business law. Experience may matter a lot more than training when your goal is to become a channel marketing manager. Employers tend to prefer applicants who have previous experience in:
In many cases, channel marketing managers transition from marketing management, channel sales, marketing director, or account management positions into channel marketing.
There are no dedicated degree pathways just for channel marketers, which is unfortunate because what channel marketers do is typically very different from what traditional marketers do. Most channel marketers have degrees in:
A degree in sales or a degree in business administration may be more useful than a degree in marketing unless you can find a marketing degree program that devotes some class time to channel marketing. The best ways to determine whether any degree program will help you in a given career are to read program guides carefully and to look at where program graduates are working. Many schools publish this information, but if you don't see it on a program website, you can always ask the admissions office for this data.
Some do, and some don't. A master's degree is almost always an asset when you're looking for work, but trying to nail down which degrees employers prefer applicants to have one can be tough. Companies looking for marketing managers often ask that applicants have a "BA, BS, MA, MS, or equivalent degree in marketing, business, or communications." That's pretty vague, which can be frustrating if you want to stand out.
There's an upside to this vagueness, however. You don't necessarily have to have a master's degree in marketing like an MS in Marketing or even any master's degree at all to land a channel marketing manager position. A bachelor's degree in business plus relevant experience in channel sales is typically enough to help you land a channel marketing manager job.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't track income for channel marketing managers, but many websites do. The average salary for channel marketing managers is about $82,000, according to PayScale. The highest-paid channel marketing managers can earn $115,000. Also, channel marketing managers typically receive medical and dental health benefits in addition to a base salary, and perhaps also cash bonuses tied to the performance of various channels.
Prior experience and skills will probably have the most significant impact on your earning potential. You'll earn more if you can demonstrate that you've generated substantial revenues for past employers. You'll also receive more if you have project management experience, strategic marketing experience, and experience working in channel sales.
Advancing in channel marketing typically means landing a director or vice president of channel marketing position, and chances are that you'll make significantly more if you can work your way up to a directorship.
The cons of becoming a channel marketing manager can seem to outweigh the pros at first. Right off the bat, it can be hard to choose a degree when you're aiming for this role. The easiest way to get around how squirrelly employers can be about educational requirements for this position is to look at a lot of job listings. As you browse want ads, you'll start to get a feel for the kinds of degrees employers are generally looking for, and this can help you decide what degree or degrees to pursue.
Getting the required degree isn't the hardest part of becoming a channel marketing manager, however. Channel marketing managers travel frequently, which may appeal to some but can be a major disincentive to others. Maintaining channel partnerships can mean being on the road a lot; not everyone is cut out for this job.
Channel marketers also have to hit revenue goals without necessarily having any communication with end consumers, because channel partners can be very protective of their customers. Not having a direct line to customer insights and desires can be stressful when sales goals aren't met.
That's not the only source of stress for channel marketing managers. A company's choice of partner channels and distribution models can make or break the organization. When a channel isn't performing, there are contract terms to consider. Switching rapidly to another channel may be all but impossible. Consequently, channel marketing managers are under a lot of pressure all the time.
But if you can handle that pressure, the big pro of aiming for this role is easy to see. Channel marketing managers can make a lot more money than other marketers, and their earning potential is usually higher, too. And for someone who loves traveling, meeting people, and optimizing sales and profits for everyone involved, it can be as enjoyable as it is profitable.
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