Channel Champion Blog

Normally when authoring this column I prefer to pass on some interesting bit of wisdom or insight that will make you, as a channel marketing professional, rub your chin and think “that’s interesting” in a thought-provoking fashion. Well, without completely abandoning that goal, I would like to combine the insight portion of this posting with a bit of a rant. However, rather than share some breakthrough trend, I thought I’d go back to basics—‘cuz the cutting edge stuff won’t work without the basics.

A recent installment of this blog touted the significance of partner sales rebates as a predominant incentive vehicle in channel marketing (a close #2 behind MDF programs as expressed by our survey responders, in fact). For context, in this case, sales performance rebates refers to incentives paid to partner companies as a result of attaining some pre-determined milestones defined on a quarterly or annual basis. Within that prior blog entry, I promised to devote more content on the subject over time due to the programs’ popularity. Well, as luck would have it, we are currently deploying as many as a half-dozen such programs for a client of ours. Now, to say this client is a large, multi-national technology powerhouse would be akin to calling King Kong “a tall ape”. However, as they are fans of this blog, for obvious reasons I have to obscure the details. My fear is that I’ve already said too much and they will recognize themselves as the subject of my rant….

To begin, my review of their “program guidelines” (at least they have one) took 30-minutes to really understand, despite the two page brevity. The portion of the guidelines devoted to the subject of Program Eligibility took as much focus on each individual sentence for me to comprehend as reading Shakespeare did as a class requirement in the seventh grade. Again, in the interest of anonymity, I have to disguise the facts—but to give you a flavor of the point; the first sentence read something like this:

“The program is open to all resellers with blue eyes and blond hair, who happen to prefer loafers. However, their first name has to be only one syllable and last name has to be no more than two. As long as they don’t have an older sister, then the following other requirements must also exist…”

And that was only one of SIX such bullet points—JUST TO DETERMINE IF YOU ARE A QUALIFIED PARTICIPANT. What is worse are the few paragraphs and bullet points that explained what a qualified reseller had to do to actually earn a reward. Again, there were so many conditions and if/then scenarios (e.g.: “…must have sales of X product of at least $Y AND sales of Z product of $M, THEN…”). It took no less than 12 separate bullet points (each a full sentence or more) and 2 tables to explain what a reseller would have to do to earn a reward with an explanation what the reward would be. It took an entire page of examples to help the reader comprehend the program by presenting various scenarios of how rewards may be earned.

And there are 6 of these programs! Point being, any one reseller may be subjects of, and have to comprehend, multiple rebate programs—just from this one vendor.

But wait, there’s more! If one was lucky enough to actually fulfill all the requirements for eligibility and eventually earn a reward, the back end reward payment is automatic. To that end, I envision a typical reseller struggling to figure out what the program was in the first place—only to get frustrated and putting aside the “flyer” in some file akin to casting it into obscurity. Then, as if a gift from God, a check magically shows up at the end of the quarter—without the reseller’s full comprehension of what the check is for! Hmm, there’s an effective “incentive” program if I ever heard of one—as I often say, “there’s nothing like passing out free tickets to people already standing in line to waste your incentive budget”. This becomes even more interesting when it is pointed out that there is currently no vehicle to inform the reseller of their progress against the program’s goal at any point mid-period.

There are so many things wrong with this picture. Having said that, I’ll end my rant. (Thanks, I feel better now.)

That brings us full circle to the title of this entry: “KISS and tell” (it is assumed you were wondering how that would come around). The title itself refers to the violations herein of the two most basic principles of effective channel marketing:

KISS or “Keep It Simple Stupid.” While acknowledged as a broadly used term, no where does the principle apply more than in channel marketing. This is because vendors often make the (incorrect) assumption that their partners are as engaged and as knowledgeable about their channel programs as they are. Wrong. Partners have a variety of programs thrown at from at least 8, and as many as 20 vendors. In this case, this particular vendor may have represented a significant enough portion of a partner’s business to command the mindshare necessary for them to take the time to comprehend the program. However, many channel marketers’ aren’t so lucky. Interestingly, the one simple part of this program was that the reward payment was automated. That might have been the one area where forcing the partner to actually acknowledge the accomplishment or initiate the payment process might have encouraged more engagement—as it currently is, it only created entitlement.

“Tell,” in this instance, refers to the importance of clear and repetitive communication. Most programs fail because of poor execution, and poor communication is the biggest portion of that. The occasional email, web posting and newsletter aren’t enough. In this example, there should be more passive and proactive information exchanges between the vendor and the partner throughout the program period to inform the partner of their progress to date. No matter what your communication vehicles of choice are, the old axiom applies: “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.”

If you as a channel marketer remember only these two principles, you’ll likely do well for yourself.