Where to start growing a channel business?
My blog post "Where to start growing a business?" described the application of a traditional Ansoff Matrix to the tricky question of where to look for growth opportunities. When your strategy includes channel partners, there is an extra dimension to consider. In addition to existing & new markets and existing & new products, there are opportunities for existing & new channel partners.
The mission is to explore opportunities with existing channel partners while considering what additional strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats might be available from working with new channel partners.
Considering existing channel partners first, topics to explore include the following:
How can we work more efficiently and effectively with our existing channel partners?
What additional resources, capabilities, incentives, education etc. would help our existing channel partners to deliver growth?
What would enhance our win-win and win-win-win position?
What can we learn from existing channel partners to enhance our strategy, our planning, our objectives and our execution?
How could we work with and develop our channel partners such that new partners were not necessary?
What market intelligence can we gather (for example regarding markets, products and competitors)?
What would enable our channel partners to deliver greater value?
What would enhance the value that customers derive from our channel partners?
Existing channel partners will usually be the best source of information on these topics. It is easier to obtain information from people who are already familiar with your markets, your offerings and your company.
The quest for growth inevitably leads to consideration of new channel partners. Obtaining useful feedback and making progress is always more challenging when approaching companies and people that are less familiar. So where to start?
As with expansion into new markets and new products, you will achieve the best results with the least uncertainty and greatest probability of success when approaching channel partners that are similar to your existing channel partners.
For example, identifying which potential channel partners are:
Complementary to your existing channel partners; for example partners provide a contributory part of an overall solution into the market.
Alternative (but not competitors) to your existing partners.
Adjacent; neighbours to your existing channel partners (physically or logically).
Competitors of your channel partners: compete directly with each other.
Coincidental: associated in some other way (for example, part of the same group).
Care is always necessary when looking to expand the number and scope of your channel partners, especially when approaching partners that compete directly with your existing channel.
Questions to consider would include:
What strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats does each new channel partner offer compared to our existing partners?
How could new channel partners complement existing partners to deliver greater value in each of the Ansoff segments (diagram above)?
How can we expand our overall opportunity by working with new channel partners?
Which of the Ansoff segments above could be better addressed by new channel partners?
What additional resources are required to onboard, enable, incentivise, promote, educate and service new channel partners?
What is required to enable new channel partners to deliver value to the chosen markets?
What would enhance the value that customers could derive from new channel partners?
Inevitably, the question of channel conflict will arise. How do new channel partners coexist successfully with existing channel partners, with each other and with your direct sales (if any)? It's an important question and one which is addressed in my blog post "Channel conflict? Channel harmony!"
Expanding your channel partnerships enables you to address new markets, deliver new products and grow your business. Knowing what questions to ask, where to start and how to manage that expansion is the key to your success.
Ash Madden is Founder and Director of Madden Associates Limited, the Specialist Channel Sales & Partnering Consultancy