Back to newsletter
Do You Have a Well-Balanced Channel Program?
by Craig DeWolf, CCI Vice President of Sales and Marketing
It's the time of year to review your channel program to see how far it will take you for 2011, 'cause change is in the air. Here's a quick list of criteria that will give you a good self-examination of your program and, more important, an idea of where to focus your efforts in roughly the time it takes for you to read this article ... imagine that!
When people think of their "channel program," they perceive a myriad of individual programs that touch channel partners at various phases of their life cycles from recruitment through maturity, sales readiness through market development. Assessing each one can weigh you down in the details and keep you from seeing where your priorities should be. This is, effectively, an inability to see the forest for the trees. After all, you only have so many resources available, so focus on what's important.
All the individual initiatives that make up your entire channel program break down into the following four areas, presented here in hierarchical order. So, if the first level is in question, it will make focusing on the remaining levels trivial.
Level 1: Value Proposition
The value proposition to your channel partners is not about why your product is so great; it's about "what's in it for them" and it has to be all about them (your channel partners). This is your business proposition that supports how they can uniquely benefit from your product. It is less about your program and more about how your product will help them make money by getting new customers, adding on sales to existing customers or opening new market opportunities. This clearly must differentiate your product from those of your competitors, and it's not about the technology, unless the technology is part of the story. It's about WIIFM. If you are selling a new technology, it's going to be a completely different message than if you are replacing a competitive product in a technology category they currently offer. In addition to the value proposition, this also includes all financial benefits that being a partner of yours delivers: hard financial benefits (via increased sales and revenue) and soft benefits as well (via financial incentives and valued-added services/support).
Level 2: Sales Readiness
Conduct a sales readiness assessment of all the elements provided to get your partners up and running hopefully painlessly, including everything from sales training to SE support, and all the tools and skills they will need to demonstrate product claims as well as install, service and support your product on the back end. This may be called "certification" in your organization or not. But whatever you call it, you may want to revisit it and make sure even your "mature" partners can deliver against expectations. It is always good to do a gap analysis here to see how your partners align with your end-user customers, in terms of geography, value-added capabilities, and method of engagement that aligns with your end-users and their preferred buying process.
Level 3: Program Support
It is only here that we bring up the individual programs you'll need to facilitate the co-marketing of your product, including co-op/MDF, lead management, deal registration and more. The biggest issue facing channel marketers here is program complexity and a poor understanding of how these programs benefit them. You work for one vendor; they work for 15 or more. Don't assume they know your program as well as you do and when/where/how to take advantage of specific components of it. Joint marketing planning (or joint business planning) is a good place to start to ensure alignment of your offering with a specific partner's go-to-market strategy. Taking the complexity out of your system and processes is another.
- Out: Having a "the more the merrier" channel strategy.
- In: Having the right channel partners with the right programs to get the job done.
Level 4: Program Infrastructure
Finally, you'll need the infrastructure and resources to deliver all of the above: people, software and processes. It's the value proposition that gets you hired, but it's the failure to execute that will get you fired. A lot of programs that are otherwise well-designed fail because of poor execution. And indeed, poor execution is the No. 1 cause of program failure in my experience. If you've passed the test on all of the above, you're allowed to get into the details here. One big error people make is to start off with the infrastructure software (you know, the latest PRM toy) and THEN try to figure out how to use it. That's backward, IMHO. Have the processes, metrics and communication requirements thought through first. The resulting infrastructure should include a comprehensive way to report on key program metrics and progress against your KPIs. After all, you want to be able to justify all this time and money, don't you?