Channel Management - care and feeding

Ed Marsh | Nov 22, 2011


I remember when one teenage son brought home an interactive doll from high school one day.  The premise was that by demonstrating to kids how much work real infants were (these dolls would wail at unpredictable times and intervals and the parent du jour would have to discern the cause - feeding, fatigue, dyspepsia and try to deal with it) they would exercise caution in those activities which could produce one of their very own.  


My son's reaction was frustration - he had other more important things to do.......


So often though I see folks who treat their Sales Channel as a static entity - contracted and now magically working without care and feeding.  They stuff it in the closet and ignore the crying/feedback.  This is destined to fail.


Living & breathing

A sales channel is no different from an employee, spouse, child - any relationship.  It is a biological being, an entity unto itself, and requires pruning, care and feeding, love, etc. (depending on what analogy your favor.)  Contracting is merely a formal step (important but irrelevant) in the creation of a vibrant and effective channel partner.


These companies/individuals have very compelling personal requirements, objectives and perspectives.  Part of a good channel selection model is understanding those and finding good philosophical fits in addition to product matches.  certainly they are money motivated, but they have many ways to make money.  Obviously there are cultural issues overlayed on the business issues, and you must communicate well enough together to understand how those affect the business relationship and what they mean for mutual success.


Mind Share & Involvement

Your most important task is to consistently compete for "mind-share."  What portion of management's time is spent thinking about your product?  How consistently is this management emphasis conveyed to employees, particularly sales people?  This is the most important aspect of channel development and management.


But mind share can wax and wane for many reasons.  Your most important tool is consistent interaction.  This is more than exchange of monthly activity reports.  You need to get on a plane and visit with them.  Sit with them and chat, eat, drink coffee, tea, or the common local beverage of choice.  Visit their customers together.  Be a local extension of their efforts, and they will be of yours.


Often mind share suffers when reps feel uncertain of your product.  Consistent training is critical.  They needn't be expert (in fact, depending on culture, they may be more effective if they are not) but they must be comfortable enough to introduce customers and create projects.  And training is an ongoing process - not just when new models are released, but as new applications are uncovered, new sales approaches discovered and new employees begin.


And importantly channel partners need to be part of a larger effort.  They need to know that others are working hard, experiencing success and frustration, and persevering as they are.  They need direct contact with their peers, and consistent sharing of information coordinated by you.  Conferences, annual meetings or regional get togethers are all options.  Sure they can be stiff if created according to some foreign formula.  But just as you know how to create a special party for a big event for someone close to you, you should understand as intuitively how to create a worthwhile event for your channel partners.  That is the nature of a succesful relationship.


If you interact with your partners periodically by email when they find projects or you want updates you are establishing the same pattern as they have with almost all other suppliers.  Break those habits.  Work more closely with them.  You will find the difference in results is astounding.


For information on how Consilium helps companies develop effective channel strategies and relationships, contact us.