Holy Partner Business Planner, Robin!
The “batwing” company has a system that works
Channel Management Insights speaks with Justin Turner of Motorola Enterprise Mobility Solutions
Channel marketers have had promotional allowance programs for decades. But the problems with them are as old as the programs themselves: How do channel marketers measure their return on investment (ROI)? Are they giving the right amount of money to each partner? Are the partners spending the funds in the best ways?
One approach to making promotional allowance programs more accountable is by tying funded activities to a sales and marketing plan in a process that is akin to joint business planning between a vendor and its channel partners. This joint business plan — or planner — includes specific business goals with their respective sales and marketing strategies for key channel partners. Included in this business plan is a listing of specific tactics tied to each initiative.
The use of such a planner helps provide all parties with a strategic view of how the activities and expenditures contribute to the overall business plan. Ideally, the plan tracks progress to goal attainment as each activity occurs in a better effort to define ROI for all promotional allowance expenditures. Despite the many benefits of this “top down” view of sales and marketing activities between a vendor and its channel partners, planners — and the related process — haven’t been used extensively in channel marketing. However, they have been used in many industries and regions successfully for years.
To help explain how planners can be used to optimally grow channel revenue and track investments, we decided to seek input from a true veteran on their use. Motorola has developed a partner business planner it’s successfully deployed with its channel partners for some time. In fact, its application contributed to EverythingCHANNEL, one of the IT channel industry’s top influencers, awarding the company a five-star rating for its channel program six years in a row.
To find out about the company’s highly successful process, Channel Management Insights recently spoke with Justin Turner, EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) channel marketing manager for Motorola Enterprise Mobility Solutions. The following is a summary of that interview.
CMI: At Motorola, who initiates a partner business plan?
Turner: We do. We’re trying not to go straight to giving away marketing money, but to step back and determine why we’re doing the activity. We use our PRM software program’s business planning module, which is ready out of the box and only requires a little customization for our needs. We also created an Excel spreadsheet template that our CAMs (channel account managers) can use with the partners when offline.
Motorola’s CAM meets with the partner, talks about the process and shares this template. Preferably, the partner and CAM plan together using it. In this way, the CAM is heavily involved and becomes a trusted adviser, so the partner can concentrate on strategic goals. However, sometimes the partner completes the template alone or the CAM handles it. Once the template is filled out, it’s sent in to us for consideration.
CMI: What is contained in a partner’s business plan?
Turner: The plan has three levels. No. 1: determining what we expect from each other — the overall goal for the year. To do this, we have three value propositions. First, Motorola’s value proposition to the partner, what Motorola brings to it and how they work together. Second, the partner’s value proposition to Motorola, what it markets. And third, the partner’s value proposition to the marketplace. We would like to avoid our partners targeting customers that are all in the same market. Also, we need to consider what critical success factors are involved — anything not directly in control of the partner that might affect its success or profitability, such as a technical factor it can’t control.
The second level involves choosing SMART [specified, measurable, achievable, results driven and time-bound] objectives for the year. A bad objective would be “grow revenue.” Of course, we want to do this, but stated this way, the goal isn’t measurable. You have to say how much, the time frame, by doing what, etc. Companies tend to struggle with being specific, but they must be. Also, the goal must be achievable; it’s pointless aiming for something that’s unattainable. And by results driven, we mean a goal that can be achieved within one year.
The third level occurs when we assign activities, such as advertising, case studies, direct mail, public relations, search engine marketing, seminars or trade shows. Then, Motorola assigns the marketing development funds (MDFs).
Too many channel marketers want to go straight to the third level. For example, partners say they’ve always gone to a trade show and need $5,000 to do so again. But it’s better to step back and figure out why you are giving partners money before you do it.
CMI: How have partner plans provided more control to partners?
Turner: It’s not necessarily control. But the plans do help them improve their business processes since Motorola is almost giving them consultancies. The plans also give them a framework to think about their businesses and objectives and a template to help them plan.
Using the template, CAMs talk to partners about their pain points and help them grow. Not all vendors have the time or resources to train their CAMs to be trusted advisors in this way.
CMI: Is partner business planning a substitute for MDF spend prior approvals? Or do they work together?
Turner: At Motorola, they’re completely integrated. There’s no MDF without a partner business plan and no partner business plan without an MDF. We identify what to do first and then provide resources.
CMI: Does Motorola require that its channel partners create, submit and manage their activities to a plan?
Turner: Yes. The Motorola sales manager and I — sales and marketing — must approve each submission. Once we approve the plan, the partner does the activity at its own expense. After it’s done, and the partner demonstrates it was done, Motorola pays its percentage. The partner can’t deviate from the plan without letting Motorola know; we won’t pay. But the partner can change the plan if it works with the CAM and has our approval. The annual plan should be dynamic and changed if needed.
CMI: How has the introduction of a partner business planning component improved your company’s channel partner program?
Turner: It lets us align our objectives with those of our partners, for example, identifying a specific vertical market. With the planner, we can make sure we have partners going after the same objectives.
We can also measure return on marketing investment. For every activity, we require partners to provide a forecast of inquiries, leads and revenue. Afterward, we ask for the actual numbers. This helps us learn which activities are working and which partners and countries do better with which activity, and we can tune the objectives and activities of our partners.
Partner business planning has also improved our partners’ programs. They have objectives that are structured and well-understood. At the same time, it continues a theme of objectivity and fairness that runs throughout Motorola’s partner program — from which plans we support, to who is a partner or not and at what level.
CMI: How else have partner business plans provided more insight to Motorola?
Turner: Once we understand our partners’ objectives, it helps us learn where to focus — for example, how to align resources properly.
It also provides the information we need to know what programs to create to help our partners. We provide prepackaged programs to close gaps in partners’ marketing plans to help them succeed, such as search engine optimization, writing case studies and sales manager training at partners’ sites so they can better manage their own salespeople.
CMI: How have your partners responded to your program?
Turner: So far, feedback has been positive. Some other companies take what I’d call a “friends and family” approach, where partners with the right relationships get the money.
With Motorola, larger partners may get more MDFs because of the amount they pay themselves. Smaller partners may not get the same dollar amount, but usually they get the same 50-50 split as everyone else.
Our partners like the structure, discipline and consistency of the approach. They see it as a meritocracy: The best plans and best objectives get money.