Do you Have the Right Channel for your Future?
The Buyer’s journey has changed in the past few years. Has your channel strategy kept up? Have your partners? How are you transforming your channel to address how buyers buy? How is your channel changing to keep up?
Here are some facts about the new world:
- 90% of technology spending will be outside of IT by the end of this decade -Gartner 2014
- 74% of business buyers conduct more than half of their research online before making a purchase – Forrester 2015
- Customers connect with each other and get unedited versions of others’ experience – Gartner 2015 reported in Harvard Business Review
Buyers are demanding more from the channel. VARs have become technology experts, gaining credentials through certifications and specializations from multiple vendors. However, it is no longer enough to be just a technology expert.
Selling SaaS solutions require VARs to go beyond the technical buyer. Depending on the SaaS solution they support, they often need to sell to a different customer other than the IT shop. Often, the buyer is in a functional department such as Sales, Marketing, or HR. The VAR’s role becomes that of a trusted advisor in guiding clients to understand what computing models best fit their needs and which application will deliver more business impact. There is also the need to help customers understand the impact of new technologies such as the Internet of Things on their business; how social and mobile computing may keep them more in touch with their customers and employees; or how big data analytics may help them spot trends and opportunities in their businesses and to quickly meet those unmet and heretofore unrecognized needs.
A crucial part of your go-to-market plan and strategy is how to distribute your products and services in today’s environment. Often, leveraging channels whom already have in-roads to your target audiences is the more effective approach. But, customers also may have preferred ways to purchase which you must discover through product, customer research or persona development. Do your channels have the skills to talk to line of business customers or discuss new technologies or ways of distributing applications? It may be time to review your channel and determine if you need to select new channels to match your product directions in the world of big data, analytics, Internet of Things and SaaS.
The front-end of channel selection is very important—which channels to recruit, which partners to build relationships with, and building the terms and policies to manage the channel. Let’s review a few key steps to take to assure you select the correct channels for your product, company and customers.
1. Understand which channels are the best for your market. How do customers prefer to purchase? Make sure you understand your customer and how they purchase. Make sure you understand the purchase process and who will be involved. Make sure you find a channel strategy that matches your target audience and their purchase preference.
2. Next, identify the key channel companies or influencers in your market. Are there key VARs, online distributors, solution providers or retail which could bring your product to your market? Are there value-added retailers or other partners that have penetrated your market segment that you could work with to bring your products to market?
3. Have you reviewed recently what your competition is doing with their distribution strategy? Are there steps they are taking that you should take or key gaps they are not taking that could be an advantage to you. Who do they work with to bring their products to the customers? Identify successes and failures they have had to learn from their experiences. Identify opportunities and channels that you may not have thought of or that have worked well for them or they have ignored. You may decide on a direct play and build your own sales force or identify new channels or partnerships that you may have overlooked. Make sure you understand the costs and time involved.
4. Once you have identified the right channels and partners for you, develop a list of criteria that the channels should have. Do they have knowledge of your solution area? Are they already with a competitor? Do they understand SaaS or big data or Internet of Things or other trends impacting your solution? Do they have ability to sell your products, the technical knowledge, a business fit, and geographical coverage?
5. Now identify a list of target channels and partners you believe will be the best for your company. At the time of recruitment, you must have your value proposition ready for them. What is in it for them, what is your competitive differentiation, why should they take on selling your solutions and products, will it get them into a growing market area, will they be able to leverage current customers and relationships?
6. Approach your channel targets with a clear idea of what kind of terms, policies and pricing structure you are willing to offer. Make sure you have your value proposition in terms of market and growth and revenue and income opportunities. Target channels and partners that are the best-fit, have mutual needs of you as much as you have of them, and work well with you.
Once you’ve recruited channels and partners, now on to the real work….. identify account plans for each channel. Determine resource requirements to support the channel and the ROI of allocating resources. Build a channel program that supports, trains, communicate and provides product and marketing information and tools.
Phoenix CG and Highland Team can help you select the right channels and partners.
Deborah Henken is Principal of Highland Team, a go-to-market consulting firm, which creates revenue-enhancing strategies and programs to launch and grow businesses. Highland Team specializes in strategic marketing, channel strategy development and go-to-market planning and implementation with clear ROI results. Deborah has spent over twenty years in high tech marketing including Head of Marketing at Learning@Cisco, VP of Marketing at Blue Pumpkin Software, Director of Channels and Alliances at BEA Systems and Informix, and Channel and Direct Marketing Manager at Hewlett Packard.