CRN NETWORK – Checklist For Channel Partner Engagement
CRN Network, Nov 27, 2014: Vendors need to consider a checklist addressing the following six aspects critical to build an emotional connect, while planning a channel partner engagement program
The channel environment presents significant peculiarities primarily because of the sheer variety of personalities representing different social strata. It becomes more pronounced when partners include both modern and conventional trade. This cornucopia of people brings into sharp focus the singular importance of building lasting relationships. Without doubt, emotional connections supersede pure business interests. Hence, while planning a channel partner engagement program one needs to consider using a checklist that primarily addresses the following six aspects critical to building an emotional connect:
Channel partners are constantly seeking to improve their circumstances. Consider a rural distributor who wants to hone his management skills, grow his business and ensure that his son isn’t doing what he does. For this, he needs leadership training. While such partners are good at the commercial angle, they lack the skill-set to scale their management potential up a couple of notches and leadership training can bridge the gap. This often holds them back from growing beyond a point and professionalizing.
If there are new ways for inventory management, give them access to new such software or help them in particular areas of interest whether it is accounting or other management techniques. By imparting technical skills you are enabling your distributors to grow. Seeing value from your contribution will take the relationship from a pure give and take to one where there is a new level of gratitude.
The use of CRM
Channel partners know who their main buyers are but they really do not know how to keep them constantly engaged. Therefore it is critical to train in the art of engaging with customers on a regular basis so that the emotional connect is passed on. Customer relationship management can be made very simple if it can be overall technology driven, enabling partners to go back and find out which customer has bought what kind of product, where has he bought it and how much was the quantity purchased and so on. Therefore in order of priority, leadership training is the most important, followed by technical excellence on various systems and finally training in the art of engaging the customer.
While it is a known fact that the more information you give people the more they know about how the systems work, companies do not do a great job in keeping their distributors informed. They are unaware of the stock available in the go-down, delivery timelines etc. Ideally the distributor should be completely involved and should have visibility on stock, production schedules, replenishment timelines etc. However these things remain a mystery because companies are reluctant to divulge information since distributors tend to work with multiple companies that would include competitors as well. However it is not a valid argument, keeping distributors in the dark is discouraging and even annoying for them. After all they only want to sell your products.
Invariably companies do not have sufficient mechanisms to garner feedback. The only feedback they get comes from two specific touch points – the sales guy who gets information from the distributor and the regional distributor’s conference, both of which are not ideal channels for soliciting feedback. It is a time for furthering relationships and not merely discussing grievances. Build a separate advisory board consisting of some partners, front line sales and management. This should be the platform to sort out issues so that conferences and sales calls become focused on the relevant items.
Reward and recognition
While incredibly important, most companies are not great at designing and managing effective programs. There is a lack of understanding as to whether the partners will even appreciate the program and limited thought that goes into deciding the type of reward, be it a mobile phone, a bike or even a car. Eventually the programs become so clichéd that there is a lack of a clear differentiator.
A reward and recognition program is very important and companies should be very sensitive to what they reward partners with, sensitive to the kind of products they choose and ensure the program is designed keeping in mind the feedback sourced from the advisory channel. More than the reward itself is the aspect of recognition. Recognition can be expressed in many ways. Increasingly companies are deploying an online process to recognize efforts; a website where people are featured, not just for their impact on the business but also for the activities they undertake to impact the community positively. However, I still feel that the printed magazine is far more appreciated and can be shared with family and friends more easily.
In order to deploy an effective channel partner engagement program it’s important to consider the above issues while establishing an emotional connect at its core.