The Channel Focus Conference is the once-a-year Mecca for channel marketing professionals in the technology industry serving North and Latin America. Each spring, roughly 300 of us make the pilgrimage to San Diego in an effort to learn that “one thing” we hope to walk away with when attending and conference, as well as to network with peers. Channel Focus hosts similar conferences serving the European market too, and many participants actually attend both in an effort to get a global perspective. Despite its significance, when one considers that there are over 10,000 channel marketers employed in the technology industry across the two American contents, I can’t help but feel that with only 300 conference attendees the profession is under represented. Clearly, many of you with real jobs can’t attend either because of the lack of available time, money, or both. However, as our service to you we have compiled some insights expressed by attendees after the conference. If you attended, we encourage you to add to the list:
· Mike Haines of Microsoft volunteered that since Microsoft started employing a Joint Marketing Planning process with partners (JMP), Co-op utilization has increased. Further, it was felt that the incremental funds were spent against mutually beneficial activities. This is interesting to me, because their JMP practice seems to addresses the two biggest issues channel marketers have voiced about their Co-op/MDF funds—the lack of ROI, and the lack of spending alignment.
· Despite the success of Microsoft with their JMP effort, the practice has been less successful for others. As a result of hosting two workshops on Joint Marketing Planning, it became clear that most people who are challenged by their own JMP initiative seem to be flailing because of poor execution: CAMs aren’t interested in working with partners to create the plan; once created, there is a lack of follow-though to assure the partner executed against the approved plan; and channel partners are often reluctant to go through the process because they simply do not understand what’s in it for them.
· The breakfast session on the first day of the conference featured a panel that included two resellers who were self described as Managed Services Providers. Panel members were to provide insight to the vendors attending the conference what will help them become better channel marketers. During the QA at the end of the session, one vendor attendee from the audience asked: “What brand are you promoting to your prospects” to which one reseller quickly responded with: “mine”. That response seemed to be a surprise to some in the audience who suddenly realized that their massive investment in marketing tools that feature vendor’s brand with a space for “Reseller Logo Here” may be missing the mark. That was interesting to me because it is an acknowledgement that we STILL live in a world in which marketers feel their channel partners are extensions of their own sales force—rather than independent businesses with their own agenda to support.
· One of the best lessons in partner communications and PRM extranets came from outside the industry—BASF–proving that there is a lot of room for improvement within the tech industry.
· Partner Rebates are effectively motivating partners to achieve more than quarterly sales goals. Properly executed, channel rebates are also used to reward partners for “Soft” goals that help enhance reseller readiness and effectiveness. Look for more information on this topic in future blogs to elaborate on this growing trend.
· The “cloud”, of course, was all the buzz–perhaps more than it should have been. From my perspective, two gents from IBM provided the best advice about the cloud and channel strategy during the lunch presentation. To paraphrase: “ Figure out your own cloud strategy, define how a channel can help you get there, then (re-) evaluate your current partners to identify who can deliver against your needs and those who can’t. Consider providing assistance where necessary”. See how succinct that was? It’s worth noting that it took them a full one-hour presentation to get there.
· Not to leave well enough alone, below are other comments made about the cloud and the channels desire to shift to a managed services model:
· End users aren’t yet asking for “the cloud”, it is all of us within the industry (vendors and resellers alike) who are promoting the benefits. It will take years for the adaption of the cloud to become “business as usual”.
· The shift to the cloud will impact hardware vendors as well as their channel partners migrate to a managed services business model. For most traditional VARS, making the shift will likely be facilitated with creative financing provided by their hardware vendors. Those that receive such assistance will have a competitive advantage. Alternatively, there will likely be a shake out of resellers who can’t adapt to the model or aren’t provided vendor assistance. Vendors will need to better distinguish the growth resellers from the lifestyle resellers to help them determine where to focus their efforts. This will likely cause a shake-out in the reseller community.
As Channel Marketers, continued dialog with your channel partners is more important than ever. They understand their customer, you understand the technology. The way businesses will buy technology is changing. Those who understand how to capitalize on the move to the cloud and managed services will prosper, but your channel model will have to adapt. It won’t be “business as usual”, that for sure. Exciting times, these.