With an increase in cases, hospitalizations and, unfortunately, deaths fueled by the Delta variant, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt lives and businesses alike. For channel marketers, the pandemic has resulted in several challenges, including potential business interruptions or closures, workforce shortages, as well as the continuing disruption of supply chains, among others.
As brands continue to navigate these challenges, channel marketers are striving to support their partners by anticipating and introducing program optimizations that address evolving market conditions and enhance marketing strategies to drive desired outcomes.
Unfortunately, the moving targets created by the ongoing pandemic will continue for the foreseeable future. That said, here are three things channel marketers should consider doing now to stay focused as well as three strategies to future proof their programs and support partners going forward.
- Stay the Course
With the global pandemic challenging the best channel marketing programs, it’s crucial to have a plan that’s built on a foundation of proven best practices and provides resiliency when things go awry. In short, stay focused and continue to deliver partner programs. In a survey of more than 100 channel professionals in Q4 2020, channel executives rated Co-op/MDF as the most effective means of influencing partner behavior and performance, and 63 percent of those channel marketers elected to maintain or increase available funds to their partners during these uncertain times. In addition, 84 percent of channel marketers remain committed to other incentive programs as well, at least for the time being (Source: The 2112 Group). When investing in the channel, it’s important to focus efforts on creating a solid foundation for future growth. Focus on desired outcomes that help achieve business goals for the brand and channel partners alike.
- Build in Flexibility
Uncertainty often requires decisions to be made with incomplete information. It's essential to have strategies in the toolkit that bring structure to chaos and clarity to uncertainty. Companies today face ever-changing and evolving market conditions, especially during the pandemic, and channel platforms must remain flexible enough to adapt to the specific needs of partners. To that end, ensuring channel technology providers offer a platform that is flexible, scalable and secure is critical. In addition, having a partner that is flexible and has a nimble software and application development mindset will help provide for the rapid implementation of new features and solutions.
- Plan for More Uncertainty
Every business leader must realize that uncertainty and volatility isn’t going anywhere soon and, unfortunately, there isn’t a crystal ball to help. Disruption comes from many directions; a pandemic, new technologies, and shifting workforces, but despite all the uncertainty, a powerful objective is to anticipate and be ready for the unknown as much as possible because something is always coming. The COVID-19 pandemic has, and will, continue to be an acceleration catalyst for channel marketers, partners, and overall channel strategy. It is time to enhance the partner experience by driving digital transformation programs and modernizing legacy applications with more automation, personalization and customization to better meet the needs of partners and the larger channel ecosystem.
Future proofing is a hot topic these days. The literal definition is anticipating the future and developing methods of minimizing the effects of shocks and stresses of future events. Future proofing is a process, not a project. It is an ongoing and iterative process. Here are some ways to keep an eye on the future despite the current tumultuous times brought on by the pandemic.
Focus on ROI
Service level agreements, key performance indicators and outcomes need to be measured to keep channel programs on track. In addition, effective business processes can greatly reduce uncertainty and benefit the bottom line. Automating routine high-volume tasks such as co-op/MDF program claim processing, reducing cycle times, and streamlining the payment process frees up staff to apply their talents to more strategic work. Of course, don’t forget channel partners. Make sure their programs are resulting in positive ROI as well. Funding programs can be transactional, or they can be powerful strategic levers that benefit channel partners and help drive desired outcomes.
New Ways of Engaging Customers Requires a New Toolkit
To not only survive, but thrive now and in the future, brands should consider expanding their toolkit to help the field sales reps who are working with channel partners. For example, sales enabling mobile apps allow reps to have all the information they need at their fingertips when they are in the field with channel partners or working remotely. New applications powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence, and combined with user sentiment data, analyze user behavior data to determine patterns and trends and make predictions and recommendations on which programs, or program elements, provide the most value from a channel partner perspective.
Think More Deeply About Segmentation
All channel partners are not created equal. Their goals, markets, products and marketing mix – the list goes on and on – are all different. When thinking about how to best allocate resources, segment channel partners to determine the greatest revenue potential, with the understanding that it may come from aligning them with a field salesperson, an inside seller, new assets or advocating for digital marketing and turnkey solutions. These decisions impact how dollars are distributed, with the ideal allocation optimizing revenue, minimizing cost, and enhancing customer experience. As an initial step, analyze data and find similar meaningful characteristics and challenges among your channel partners to create logical segments. For example, look for commonalities such as aligning small businesses in small markets or multiple location businesses with more than 10 stores, or by analyzing past marketing profiles. Segmentation allows channel marketers to focus on specific challenges of a subset of partners and create offers, assets or programs that are more effective in driving desired outcomes.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, in business, as in life, there are no guarantees. That uncertainty doesn’t have to be a source of frustration. By embracing the tools that make robust data management and analytics possible – automation, personalization and customization – brands and their channel partners can find the silver lining of opportunity hiding in the chaos.
About Channel Fusion
For nearly 20 years, Channel Fusion has provided brands and their channel partners with a wide variety of solutions and industry expertise. We continue to invest in the overall ecosystem of our channel marketing offering to ensure our clients provide their partners with an optimal customer experience. Our core technologies and configurable platforms are supported by a team of customer-centric “Fusers.” Let us know if you’d like to learn more about how we deliver desired outcomes for brands and their channel partners.