The key to success for any marketing manager is understanding how to generate more for less—and these days “less” keeps getting lesserer and lesserer. (Hey, it’s my column. I can invent words if I want to!) For those of us in channel marketing, the one thing both we and our partners seem to agree on is that there is too much complexity in the system for any channel program to reach its full potential.
For example, Forrester reports that the average vendor has 3-5 channel programs running simultaneously which may be directed to any one partner—most of which require unique systems and back office processes. Multiply that by the number of vendors each channel partner is working with (apparently more than 15–again, Forrester’s claim), and it’s easy to see why partners are feeling like professional program administrators. Yet they’re criticized because they’re not out selling or aren’t taking the time to learn more about your products! Striving to take complexity out of your systems and processes will result in more streamlined administration for partners and vendors alike (and who doesn’t want to do less administration!). In turn, this will encourage more partner participation. There you have it, improved efficiency and effectiveness in one fell swoop.
So here are 5 things to think about to help overcome complexity and make life easier for everyone. These are intended to be easy fixes—but then again, things aren’t as simple as they seem sometime. You be the judge!
Do you really need approval processes of more than 2 steps for channel programs? Or do you just need “Access to data”? Requiring more approval steps than you need slows things down and is time consuming for all parties. In talking with most clients, when they really think about, the answer is “No”—data access is just as good. (In essence, it really comes down to the difference between approval and simply being informed). This helpful hint applies to your Opportunity Management, Co-op/MDF, Special Pricing approval processes in specific.
Qualitative feedback is a good thing. It helps you understand program perceptions about what is working or not from the stakeholders that matter. I can tell you for sure, what is NOT working is having your partners complete the surveys and not subsequently hearing the outcome of the survey results and intended/completed actions. As a result, according to Forrester, partners are increasing feeling like completing the surveys are a giant waste of time—and are getting turned off to the entire notion of survey completion, which in turn encourages future non-participation.
Lengthy Payment & Reimbursement Processes
While this process applies to all your incentive programs, it particularly applies to your co-op/ MDF reimbursement. Best practice is that reimbursement is less than 30-days. This is their cash flow you are fooling with.
Complex Program Guidelines, Rules & Regulations
Yeah, it’s making your financial folks happy, but do you think your partners are only working for you? Lack of program understanding and/or too many regulations results in partner frustration and program non-participation. Communicate programs in terms of WIIFT benefits (“What’s In It For Them”, for those of you living in space the last few years). If you are expecting your partners to figure it out on their own, make it easy for them (see the next section, too)
Escallation processes for technical, sales, and marketing issues should be easy and clear for all partners. You may think they’re self explanatory, but apparently most partners don’t think so. (Again, you only work for you, they have to figure it out for 15+ plus vendor programs.) My own informal interviews suggest that Channel Sales Managers (or Channel Account Managers) seem to be managing more partners than ever before as marketer’s attempt to trim costs. Therefore, consider outsourcing level 1 support for many of the more common partner issues. For instance, we perform this task for many of our clients relative to partner support on both marketing and reward programs.
Hopefully, you’ll find one of these suggestions easy enough to include on your “To-Do” list!