Awaken the force in your channel

12 August 2015
The latest instalment in the Star Wars movie saga – The Force Awakens – hits theatres this December. But as a long-time Star Wars fan, I just couldn’t wait. . . (cue Star Wars theme music)

A long time ago, in a (Silicon) valley far, far away … I worked in the tech industry as a channel manager. Our product was “born in the cloud,” and after an imperial acquisition, we became a hybrid vendor, selling both cloud solutions and boxed products. OK, we weren’t part of an evil empire (thank goodness!). In fact, we didn’t even have to resort to Jedi mind tricks because our channel marketing teams pushed out great campaigns and content. However, many of our channel partners were reluctant to expand their portfolios, and since Force-ing them (I couldn’t help it) wasn’t a viable approach, we were left struggling to chart a new path.

Today I work on a different planet with a different perspective. All those issues I faced as a channel manager that almost seemed unique to our situation? Well, I’m routinely involved in those kinds of discussions today and realize these are situations faced today by many companies: how do you gain the loyalty…the “heartshare”…and the advocacy of your channel partners? Well, young padawan, I know how you feel. Been there. Done that.

Here are five lessons I’ve learned from working both sides of the galaxy, er, channel:

Convincing partners to sell new products or solutions is hard work! What I’ve learned since being a channel manager is the importance of personalizing the messages to make the process of persuasion (and education and whatever else you need to tell partners!) a lot more meaningful and relevant for their specific situation and needs. Take all that data you collect – sales data, partner profiles, engagement data – and put it to work for you!

You need a rewards mix that goes beyond financial incentives. My partners loved financial incentives when I was a channel manager. And hey, why wouldn’t they? But for the vendor, financial incentives don’t provide lasting behaviour change in partners. In fact – just like those kids who got a dollar for doing their chores one week and then want to know if they can get two dollars the next week, partners are quickly looking to see if they can get bigger incentives for the same amount of work. It’s an unending cycle and it doesn’t drive long-term loyalty. Instead, you want to mix those extrinsic (financial) rewards with intrinsic rewards. This is where gamification comes in – whether it’s creating leaderboards or setting up regional sales contests or a race to see who the first 25 people are in an area to complete a certification – it’s ok to make work fun! Intrinsic (self-motivating) rewards also include recognition. If you want to build long-term loyalty relationships with your partners, you have to promote intrinsic motivation.

Maximize your loyalty currency investment. I’ve talked with clients and prospects who currently have a points programme and are using it for….revenue rewards. And maybe MDF. And they worried that the ROI for the points programme isn’t all that great. And they’re also worried about increasing uptake on some other programmes they run, like training, or increasing newsletter open rates, etc. Even as a channel manager myself, I could see areas where we weren’t leveraging our points programme to really drive all of our partner engagement levels. Your points platform should give you the ability to offer points for a whole host of activities and behaviours. Don’t just set up your programme and then leave it – continually tweak the programme – offer more points or less points for certain activities when you need to emphasize (or de-emphasize) them. Don’t buy a Ferrari and then drive it back and forth to the grocery store to go shopping!

The channel is constantly changing – flexibility is key! We all hear about how the channel is changing, but don’t kid yourself that it was stable for awhile, and then suddenly just changed! No, change is ALWAYS happening! Loyalty currencies (like points) are great for ensuring that flexibility is actually built into your channel programme. Need to encourage partners to sell a new product or service? No problem, offer bonus points for selling that. Want to encourage partners to post a case study? Or take some marketing training? Or attend a webinar? Again, no problem, a loyalty currency allows you to keep partners motivated no matter what behaviour changes you need to encourage in your channel.

Have a strategy, not just a bag of tactical tricks. One of the Jedi master maxims I live by these days is that loyalty is a strategy, and incentives are a tactic. As a channel manager, I think I sometimes believed that if only I had enough incentives to give my partners, I would be able to get them to do anything. I probably could have, but that wouldn’t be loyalty, that would net me some Boba Fett type mercenary partners willing to hit goals in exchange for money. Building true loyalty in your channel with partners means you need a cohesive strategy across all the business units that interact with your partners. No kidding, it’s not easy to do. That’s a big part of why I look at loyalty as a journey – sometimes you just start where you are and determine the NEXT STEP that you can take to build on existing loyalty. You don’t have to create a galactic empire in one day – just take it a planet at a time.
What tactics have you used to bring allegiance to your partner programme?

A loyalty strategy may just be the ticket to helping you awaken The Force within YOUR channel. For more info, you can download our white paper here,  "Do or do not, there is no try."