To leverage a popular phrase that I’m seeing popping up in all sorts of professional development circles: “culture trumps strategy.” I can safely say that “execution trumps strategy” as well. Therefore, “culture” and the ability to “execute” are linked by their common ability to trump a sound strategy; don’t overlook the one at the expense of the other.
Applying this insight to channel programs, I will state that the reason that most otherwise well-thought-out programs fail is because some aspect of that program wasn’t executed properly. We have observed this personally from program to program, vendor to vendor, and channel to channel. The more things change, the more they stay the same— as many executional failings seem to be a constant. Note that I’m not talking about ill-conceived programs that never had a chance of success. Generally, the executional flaws occur because they may cost time or money (in a rush to get to market) or because it was thought that the “missing ingredient” was superfluous or ignored in the hope of creating of a short cut. Don’t let that happen to you!
Below are the top five executional violations that can quickly derail a well-thought-out program:
- Communication. Violations here can be categorized as both quality and quantity. In terms of quantity, many marketers dramatically underestimate how much communication is involved to build awareness for your program among your channel partners. Remember, your partners are getting bombarded by messages from one or two dozen vendors. They can only absorb so much content, and overlook the rest. In terms of quality, we find that often the communication isn’t expressed in terms that optimally position the program benefits for your partners as a compelling value proposition (the “what’s in it for me” messaging, as I like to refer to it). Rather, the messaging seems too self-serving for the vendor.
- Administration is overly complex. If there is one thing your channel partners don’t have enough of, it’s administrative resources. If the cost/hassle of administration is perceived to offset the benefits of the program, this will actually work against you by creating an image of “not channel friendly.” As business people, your channel partners have a lot of programs that require administration spanning their various vendor relationships. The time required to administer these programs is often underestimated by them and deferred due to other priorities.
- Taking too long to pay rewards or reimbursements. The flip side of overly complex administration for your partner, is overly complex administration processes for you—the vendor. This manifests itself as long approval cycles and/or a cumbersome administration process that delays reward payments. As a general rule, all payments should be made in fewer than 30 days from the completion of the activity—and ideally fewer than 14 days.
- Interest wanes over time. All programs have a life cycle. Generally, interest is highest in its early stages, only to fade over time as the novelty and uniqueness of the program wears off. For that reason, it’s important that marketers modify programs to keep them fresh— as well as to continue to ensure their relevance as market needs change.
- The program is assumed to have universal appeal. Your channel partners are each unique businesses. Even if they share business models, they all have different motivations—and vendor loyalties. The significance of this observation increases in proportion with partner size and/or importance.
We are a big proponent of testing all programs where possible. Ideally, such testing can take the form of a field test of all program components, or simply a “sanity check,” by polling key partners (and other stakeholders) in advance of incurring the time and expense of a full-scale rollout. Also, don’t try and “boil the ocean.” It is better to start with a basic program that has all the foundational elements, then add enhancements later. For more information and other tips to ensure that your program is a success, check out this eBook from CCI.