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Lewis Carroll once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Given the current state of constant change in B2B channel programs, this rings true for many channel leaders. While some programs claim they are making continuous progress, ask any partner and you’ll quickly find you need to separate the hype from the reality. Yet 2020 holds a bright future filled with merging channel programs, new product launches and changing business models. To help navigate through 2020, let’s first take a look at which key issues have shaped modern channel programs over the past year and what actions channel leaders can take to maximize opportunities and mitigate risks.

 

Emerging Channel Ecosystems Drive Innovation 

Early last year, I attended a Channel Focus conference where a Microsoft executive stated her company is OK with partnering with competitors, so long as it drives value for the customer.  Savvy Suppliers know each partner program is creating its own ecosystem, comprised of both partners and vendors that come together to help them drive effectiveness and productivity.  They enable partners to apply their MDF against marketing activities, or offer them traditional agency services, or in some cases, they provide sales and marketing tools that can increase their effectiveness.

 

Where to Start? 

Your partner portal should be the door into all the benefits you’re providing to partners, such as incentives, learning, third-party services and more. Behind the portal, leading suppliers are consolidating what activities partners can engage in and making it easier to navigate. But there’s more. Don’t stop at the portal; instead, build communities for your partners and “electronic marketplaces” where they can access third-party services and collaborate with each other. 

 

Divergent Partner Types 

Because partners come in all shapes and sizes — distributors, MSPs, resellers, referral partners, etc. — taking a one-size-fits-all approach now means certain death (or, at best, a slow one) for Suppliers who opt to take this route. As channel programs evolve to meet the needs of new partner types, many are looking at ways to segment and categorize partners in order to deliver program benefits in proportion with their needs. However, it’s not easy to tell if your program is equipped to handle the needs of smaller reseller transactions or specific requirements for MSP partners. Leading channel programs are assessing their capabilities across their entire program, not just in the marketing or sales silos.  

 

Where to Start?

Assess your channel program’s current state to see if your program is ready to add new partners. Avoid keeping partner profile data trapped in a PRM or point solution; otherwise, it will be hard to leverage valuable data on partners for marketing purposes. As your organization determines which partners it will select to work with, make sure both processes and automation are in place to segment partners into manageable sets, each aligned with specific requirements and benefits. 

 

Time-to-Value is Precious

Time-to-Value is becoming critical as an ever-increasing number of Suppliers are looking to accelerate the onboarding process to drive more revenue faster with partners. Yet channel sales and partner marketing continue to be misaligned in many companies, leading to inconsistent partner experience and a lack of measurable results. Technology itself can also be a hurdle in gaining end-to-end visibility. Like most channel programs, you’ll need to look in different places (such as spreadsheets or disparate databases) to get a full picture of what is happening across your program. This inability to accurately predict channel performance leads many channel leaders to the question: “What is the ROI of my channel?”

 

How Can I Measure More Effectively?

Defining and streamlining time-to-value starts with planning but rarely ends there. Companies trying to estimate how well their program is performing have found themselves at a loss when describing the success of their channel efforts. We have found that many times from a reporting standpoint, there’s a lack of rigor and maturity in terms of the metrics companies use to evaluate their channel. They look at the wrong data! Worse yet, the models and frameworks available to them from industry analysts or consultants often fall short when you’re talking real data that sits in many different places. In order to avoid this lack of visibility, Suppliers are beginning to leverage BI tools against their channel data. They are also aligning their sales and marketing teams, so they can drive efficiencies when engaging with partners, such as onboarding or applying incentives.  

 

Two Backing Factors: Partner Enablement and Automation

Over the past year, Suppliers have continued their drumbeat on partner enablement, reaffirming their commitment to invest. That’s fine, but there’s no sense in throwing money away by offering incentives to get partners trained. Isn’t that something they should be doing anyway? Instead, think about applying “achievements,” which can act as milestones partners reach to receive additional benefits, e.g. a partner takes a training course on social selling, which activates a social campaign for them.

At the risk of standing on the soapbox before this narrative concludes, this past year we have seen many companies think automation first and process second; it should be the other way around! This is evidenced by the number of companies that jumped into failed automation projects because they hadn’t thought through their routes to market, or had a marketing campaign that fell short of results because they omitted marketing it to partners.  

 

Looking towards 2020, B2B channel programs stand to benefit from new innovations and new partner types that will help them expand their market presence. But like 2019, the results will need to be at the forefront. Chasing down that value will require companies to look across their entire program and examine cause and effect in order to prove they are really getting a return on their channel investment!