Global channel programs…I’ve been in the channel marketing business for over 25 years now and have seen the pendulum swing several times from a decentralized to a centralized structure-often within the same company.
Companies migrating to a decentralized structure (providing greater autonomy for global sales regions) are moving the control of program design and implementation strategies to the local level. The goal is to equip local managers with the means quickly make and execute business decisions that will give them a competitive advantage in those markets.
Conversely, companies moving to a centralized structure do so because they feel a need for greater control over the brand and sales process, access to more information, and lower costs through economy of scale.
The decision to change from one approach to the other are often associated with some economic trigger-such as the one the world is currently experiencing. Interesting to me is the fact that while some clients have moved from a centralized to a decentralized channel program, still other companies are making the opposite move. Clearly, it’s a case of “the grass is always greener on the other side of the hill” as global marketers get fed up with the shortfalls of one approach as they discover the remedy is found in the attributes of the other.
It has been my privilege throughout my career to have maintained many of the same clients for 5 to 10 years, or even more. I have seen the pendulum swing back and forth within many of these same clients so often it makes me dizzy. Like the proverbial pendulum which finally settles in the middle, today I am seeing a more compromised approach to global channel marketing. Because of the software available for program management today, marketers can finally “have their cake and eat it too”. Using a common global infrastructure to manage common programs such as training, sales tools, MDF/Co-op management, brand management, incentive management and more, today’s global channel marketer can benefit from the efficiencies of a common infrastructure and centralized reporting, yet provide each region with the autonomy they need to tailor the program as needed to drive immediate bottom line impact. Ahh, what a wonderful time we live in.
While this might seem like the panacea global marketers’ have been truly seeking all these years, it also creates new challenges that catch many marketers by surprise:
No one system really does everything well in terms of managing all the programs your channel partners need to successfully sell and promote products on a global scale-even Salesforce.com (despite their claims). This means that, for now at least, delivering a truly state-of the-art channel infrastructure will require integrating a desperate set of applications from a variety of providers-often in mixed environments (including both hosted and SaaS applications) to form one cohesive experience for your channel partners across a diverse multi-cultural, multi-currency environment.
- Not all systems are created equal: Make sure your program is well defined, before you select the enabling software. Clearly identify your requirements in advance of selecting your application. Software isn’t an end-game, it’s only an enabler. Your program is still the “steak”, the software you select to run it on is only the “sizzle” (caution, it’s not the other way around).
- Keeping tabs of all the legal, financial, and cultural implications of a global program requires more effort that anyone thought. CCI is not a law firm, yet clients expect us to understand legal and cultural impact of how a given incentive program will “play” with partners in Xpendastan (you know, just north of the Retalistan boarder). Well, if the laws changed yesterday impacting incentive payments to reseller sales reps, I’m not sure how we (or anyone) would know that. Even if we did-news flash-the program design, and the legal implications, are responsibilities of the global marketer. Keeping up with this might actually provide a worthwhile career for all the attorneys out there.
- Disparate systems mean disparate information. The challenge for marketers will be information overload, and identifying meaningful correlations from all the data gathered across the breadth of programs offered will keep your (or our) analysts busy. Imagine that, TOO much information! Our advice: be clear as to what your metric requirements are from onset, and those metrics align with your business drivers. Make sure the systems you are considering provides the information you need to simplify and facilitate key business decisions. When engaging new clients, we often START with the reporting requirements to make sure the appropriate information is captured at key points in the process. It’s often too late to do this once the system is deployed without wasting time or money.
There is enough content in these four points to justify its own blog topic or whitepaper. Hmmmmm, maybe we’ll have to do just that.