January 2011 Feature

The Top 10 Focus Areas for Channel Marketers In 2011

The New Year has begun. Good, bad, or indifferent, many of us start the year with a fresh slate and a new set of challenges.  What job-altering trends are we as channel marketers in for?  Find out here.   This list is based on feedback from those who matter most—you as channel marketers as well as direct feedback from partners. The information presented was gathered through a culmination of surveys, interviews, and industry conferences that all occurred within the last two months. The good news is that it seems like the business climate for ’11 (oh-eleven?) is better than last year, so there is a desire to capitalize on this optimism.
The following list is representative of the top areas and initiatives where most of you will be directing your attention for 2011 as channel marketers. While these areas of concentration are seemingly universal, they are not presented in any rank order as the relative importance of any one will certainly vary.

  1. Improve channel analytics which covers the many different dimensions of how we measure channel performance. First, this  requires centralizing program data from a variety of disparate sources to provide an accurate picture of how any one partner is performing across multiple dimensions (for example, training, deal registration, MDF, etc).  The second is to establish benchmarks for relative performance between partners (often referred to as a scorecard) which is used to help establish best practices of top performing partners.  Lastly, to gain an understanding of the relative performance of any one program for its ability to impact partner performance relative to other programs. This will help channel marketers to understand what programs work well and are therefore worthy of additional investment.
  2. Reduce program complexity which is something that plagues channel marketers and their partners alike.  In this case, complexity refers to: a) the management of the various disparate systems required to manage today’s channel programs, as well as b) streamlining processes to minimize the load on resources and to reduce turnaround or improve response times.
  3. Improve partner sales and marketing aptitude. This is something that vendor and partners alike are clamoring for—which makes it a real win/win scenario.  Accomplishing this can take on many forms, including: training, lead distribution, marketing automation (by providing turn-key marketing programs), providing SE or marketing personal for 1:1 assistance, funding subsidized employees (although this tactic is losing favor among vendors), and specialized certification and accreditation programs.
  4. Revisiting Deal Registration Programs.  It seems like the darling, gee-whiz, have-to-have program of the last decade (?!) is losing steam.  Vendors and partners alike are questioning the value of their current program. Deal Registration (or opportunity management) was born to improve pipeline visibility and to reduce channel conflict.  However, for many vendors it’s just another incentive program, and many partners feel that these programs are too much work for too little reward.  Is your deal registration program flawed or rewarding partners for sales that would have occurred anyway?  If you feel that way, apparently you’re not alone.
  5. Joint Marketing Planning (JMP) is the most popular search term on our site, and it’s one of the hottest topics of the year. Properly done, JMP brings many benefits, including: sales and marketing alignment, provide a leading indicator of how well partners will perform (both individually and en masse), as well as help ensure efficient utilization of resources.  Performed poorly, it’s a waste of time for partners and vendors alike by adding a useless layer of complexity and animosity.  There are many best practices to help you conduct JMP practices effectively. Look for a feature article on this topic next month.
  6. Social Media is the hot topic of this decade (so far). This shows up in many varieties within a channel marketing strategy, including: vendor-to-partner marketing, partner-to-end user marketing and partner-to-partner marketing.  Be sure to have a strategy and don’t try and boil the ocean—crawl-walk-run as you gain feedback and experience. Interestingly, none of our clients formally include social media as a reimbursable activity on MDF programs (without a special request form)—which I think is correct position, for now.  At a minimum, though, vendors should provide tools that partners can use in social media campaigns, such as YouTube videos or other compelling content.
  7. Creating a strategy for the Cloud/Managed Services. If social media is the hot topic of the decade, then this is the headache topic of the decade.  While clearly different, the cloud and managed services are closely related in that they dramatically change financial relationships, bring on new questions like “who owns the client,” and are the foundation for a make-or-break business model for small to mid resellers (I predict this single topic will be responsible for dramatically reducing the reseller population in the next 5-10 years). Aberdeen suggests that managed services is the must-do initiative for 77% of resellers, and our own research echoes that.
  8. Revisiting MDF programs.  The apparent lack of ROI from their existing promotional allowance programs (for example, Co-op/MDF) are causing many vendors to re-think their offering—either by eliminating them altogether, or by reducing their level of funding. Conversely, partners see real value in these programs—indeed more value in them than deal registrations programs (see point #4, above). Our own informal investigation suggests that the reasons vendors haven’t seen the value in their programs is either because their program doesn’t have clear objectives, or it hasn’t been updated to address the current GTM needs for some time. Think about that as it relates to your program, as it is certainly a key topic for us drawing traffic on our blog (find out for yourself at blog.www.channelmanagement.com).
  9. Revisit partner portal.  Not so long ago, partner portals were homogeneous brochureware that partners often accessed through a common login. Now, partner portals feature targeted content, personalized notifications, and manage literally every interaction between vendors and their partners, as well as those individuals working within them.  Call it “PRM” if you like, but properly executed, it is the single point of truth for all partners and channel programs.  Poorly executed, a partner portal adds to complexity, can be confusing, and provides no redeemable value to anyone.  There is a lot of ground between “proper” and “poor” indeed. Regardless of where they fall on this spectrum, vendors are pushing their portal more towards “proper,” because few are really executing them to their full potential.
  10. Revisit partner segmentation strategy.  Not so long ago, segmentation was simple. There were volume based models (for example, Gold, Silver, Platinum medallion models) and maybe there were one or two channel designations (Like “VAR” or “Retailer”).  Segmentation 2.0 added some form of certification level as segmentation criteria.  Enter Segmentation 3.0.  This encompasses all the prior criteria encompassing all the various channel types that exists today (such as consultants and managed services providers). The 3.0 goes further to consider performance ratings for vendor sponsored programs (such as attaining minimum close ratio on deal registration), customer satisfaction scoring, and more. Also considered is end user alignment which will directly correspond with how the various end user/consumer segments buy their category (vertical expertise, service offerings, etc). Therefore, accreditation and segmentation characteristics will blur as vendors strive to apply more focus to their resources.

So, now that you’ve read these—which of these key topics are on your to-do list?