Earning Respect from Your Customer Channels

You have to love the irony. Manufacturing companies spend months and thousands of dollars to select a channel management application that will cure many of the ills that years of neglect have created.

These manufacturers — fighting with inconsistency of policies, lack of channel focus and leadership, and being beat on deals by competitors who study and work their channels — are hoping to buy their way out of channel management hell.

Lead management, escalation, pricing, order capture, integration with distributor’s and reseller’s ordering systems, the ability to handle warranty stock balancing — these are just a few of the applications that manufacturers spend millions of dollars on, and many still don’t know if they are getting an ROI or not, or even if channel partners are using them at all.

Most ironic of all is the effort to mask these failures internally with self-promotion and spending on events, when, in fact, channel partners are confused, angry over having deals taken direct and dissatisfied with the product roadmap.

Not a ‘One and Done’ Proposition

In short, channel management strategies get spun into what they are not, and millions of dollars get wasted in the process. Mediocrity breeds mediocrity, and no amount of internal spin doctoring of programs that don’t really deliver will ever amount to anything of value.

The bottom line is that channel strategies are never a “one and done” proposition. Instead, it takes a steady, strong current of commitment and execution to make a difference at all. Don’t be delusional and think that just because your company now has the applications up and running and internally launched that anything will change. It won’t.

Consider these points to stamp out the worst practices in channel management in your company:

  • Channel management strategies only become relevant when they generate dollars. If you’re the champion of the channel management programs in your company, start thinking of this as the chance to measure your contribution. If you’re not, start tracking it anyway and see just how fast, and if, ROI happens. Refuse to believe all the accolades from channel partners until they put their money where their mouth is and start using the system, generating revenue.
  • Quit buying compliments from your channels. For some manufacturers, the worse their day-to-day execution, the more grandiose the events. Showering the resellers attending these events with all kinds of gifts and giveaways, and even free golf and tennis, manufacturers try to buy compliments instead of earn them. It’s time to get real. Don’t ply your resellers to just get their compliments; really serve them so the compliments really matter most.
  • When you don’t show up, the channel thinks you don’t care. After launching your applications, the worst thing you can do is sit in your office all day. What’s needed is an evangelist, not an administrator. Sure, there are updates to manage, pricing rule changes, even configurations to be input — but delegate that if you are the director or vice president responsible, and get on the road, now. Get out and talk to resellers and distributors and see what’s needed in future releases — get them using the system. More channel management strategies die at the feet of their champions in their own offices than by a competitor’s reaction.
  • Quoting systems must deliver. Too often quoting workflows are pushed to the back of the development timeline when, in fact, that’s what the channel partners need the most. Don’t stop at being able to create MS-Word and Adobe Acrobat files, really go after quotes that make a commitment you can deliver on. Don’t be satisfied with quotes that are nearly accurate; push to make the quotes accurate every time — a tough but good goal to go after. If you do that, your company’s credibility with resellers will skyrocket.

    Earn Respect

    It’s not the destination of your reseller conference, not the giveaways or the feel-good presentations from product marketing, sales, product management, or even the special guest speakers — it’s the execution and the ability of your company to make and keep commitments to the channel that really matters.

    Don’t bribe your way into a channel strategy; earn your way into your reseller’s respect. Without that, you can do all the events, all the Web seminars, all the conferences — and your competitors will still win the channel with better day-to-day execution and a healthy reserve of fulfilled expectations and commitments, all based on a channel management strategy that serves rather than just sits there.

    It’s time to get out and serve the channel, not with bribes, but with solid performance using the applications you invested in.

    Louis Columbus, aCRM Buyer columnist, is a former senior analyst with AMR Research and isfounder of LWCResearch, a firm specializing in CRM, sell-side e-commerce, salesand product configuration and guided selling.

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