Channel conflict? Channel harmony!
So, you've successfully built some great channel partnerships. You may also have a successful direct sales channel. But perhaps there are rumblings of discontent regarding conflict between your various routes to market? How do you keep everyone happy, motivated and your business growing?
Add into the mix potential new partners, ambitious direct sales people and you have a recipe for almighty conflict! Or do you?
Anyone who has witnessed a five-year-old's football match, will have seen the natural tendency for everyone to chase after and crowd round the ball. I'm not saying that sales people behave like five-year-olds but there is a natural tendency for professional sellers to pursue the most obvious and lucrative deals. It's human nature.
Now think about a professional football team; every player has their own role and contributes to the success of the team. The players are deliberately and strategically placed around the pitch; changing their position to take best advantage of the evolving game. In the same way, professional sales organisations deliberately and strategically position their routes to market to take full advantage of their strengths and market opportunities.
Professional football teams are selected for the combination of strengths that each player contributes. No two players would be selected to occupy the exact same position on the field. In the same way, routes to market should be constructed such that no two routes occupy the same role. In reality, this is relatively easy since no two channel partners are the same and no two salespeople are identical.
The challenge for management is to orchestrate the optimum positioning for each contributor in order to maximise results. Fortunately, there are methodologies for doing exactly that:
Step one: identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
We know that no two channel partners are the same but in what way are they different? What are their key differentiators? Engaging and collaborating with your key contributors will help all concerned to develop, elaborate and articulate their unique proposition.
Step two: assemble blueprint / "heat map".
Which party is best suited to which role, market and offering? From your position of strategic oversight, it's up to you to assemble the map and, assuming step one above has been done effectively, the pieces fall into place easily. If not, it's time to review and further develop your contributors key differentiators.
Step three: communicate, educate and motivate.
Everyone needs to know where they're playing on the pitch, what their role is and which direction they're playing in. They also need to know the same for the other players on their team. At this stage, we educate our contributors on the benefits of developing within their unique role; no-one is going to tread on their toes so they can explore how best to fulfil the role.
Step four: plan activities with your contributors.
Now we have a plan that's been communicated, it's time to get to work and plan some activities with your contributors. What activities would result in a win-win and win-win-win for all concerned? How can contributors demonstrate the value of their key differentiators? What resources could be invested to make more of their role?
Step five: assess results.
How is each contributor performing in relation to their role? Can the contributors deliver, and continue to deliver, the results expected by the company? Where have contributors developed and enhanced their role? Where have they expanded beyond their role? What activities should be planned as a result? Does the blueprint need to be updated?
Some companies like to "police" compliance with the blueprint; however, it is more productive to observe and learn from experience. What happened and why? What was the motivation for a contributor to behave the way they did? Do they have strengths we (or they) were unaware of? Does the incumbent have weaknesses we were unaware of? What communication, education and motivation would help? What activities should we plan as a result?
The importance of feedback from every stage of the process cannot be overstated. Can the plan meet, and continue to meet, the company goals? Have we maintained a good understanding of the contribution the parties are making and could make? How well motivated are the contributors to achieve our mutual objectives? To what extent are contributors investing and growing their capabilities? How can we invest and contribute?
Channel harmony or channel conflict?
Channel conflict benefits no-one in the longer term and wastes valuable resources. Working to understand your routes to market and getting them working together successfully is the key to building a winning team.
Ash Madden is Founder and Director of Madden Associates Limited, the Specialist Channel Sales & Partnering Consultancy