You know someone is not enjoying their job as much as they could be when they look forward to the weekend with great anticipation but dread every Monday. Do your distributors look forward to their interactions with you with anticipation, or with dread?
Welcome back to our blog series on Channel Lifecycle Management. In our last post, we explored the power of measuring distributor capabilities, not just commercial outcomes. In this post, we will explore our second principle of distributor performance management:
- Schedule collaboration, not just accountability: Commit to a transparent calendar of interactions with your partners across the year that includes various forms of partner support and interaction, not just quarterly performance reviews
A calendar is at first glance a pretty dry subject. For example, a standard channel management calendar might be comprised of informal check-ins on a monthly or as needed basis, formal quarterly check-ins, once-a-year product and sales trainings for your reps, an annual partners’ conference, and an annual performance review and alignment on the next year’s targets.
Such a calendar is functional, but can easily become a series of “check-the-box” exercises. At its best, a good Channel Management Calendar should represent a dynamic set of opportunities to inspire your partner, build loyalty, hear honest concerns, align on market opportunities, refine strategy and tactics and most importantly, encourage capability development. Looking at the calendar should be exciting to the channel manager and the distribution partner alike. As long as both sides are operating with good will and good effort in the relationship, it should create positive anticipation.
So what makes a great Channel Management Calendar? Each year, a great calendar should contain the following:
- Targeted capability-development. All too often training is generic, repeated every year, or simply refreshed for a new product launch. That is sometimes necessary, but the most engaging training is targeted toward helping the distributor’s team build the specific capabilities that have been selected as key areas of improvement for that year. This should also accompanied by role-playing and coaching, not just a classroom or online exercise.
- At least one site visit in each direction: Unless you and your distributors visit each other, walk each other’s halls and meet each other’s general employees, the bond you develop won’t be nearly as strong as it could be otherwise.
- A joint marketing strategy session that is NOT a performance evaluation: Some partnership check-ins , like quarterly reviews, are necessarily mini-evaluations of performance. It is vital to open up a space for creative discussion that doesn’t have that tone, a discussion that is not about,“How well are you doing?” but instead “What could we accomplish in this market, and how?”
- Two-way Information-sharing expectations: All too often channel managers request incremental pieces of information throughout the year and distributors stall in their response, frustrating both sides. Instead, the most effective channel managers set up the calendar year to have a few defined points of information exchange, with clear agreement upfront on what each will share with the other. Ideally, this would not be an extra reporting exercise that adds administrative burden but would instead be a free flowing conversation around pre-arranged topics. And to generate energy, the information flow must be in both directions.
Of course, different levels of distributor relationships will warrant different levels of calendar investment. You would not necessarily make the same calendar for a transactional, small distributor relationship as for a growing and potentially strategic one.
Ultimately, an inspiring Channel Management Calendar may sound like a lot more work than a check-the-box one, and it is. But outsourcing your sales to a distributor can never mean outsourcing responsibility for managing a sales channel to success. If a sales manager must be creative, organized, and compelling to motivate his or her team, a channel manager must be just as much or more so to motivate an entirely different firm full of people that comprise a critical part of the value chain.
Companies and executives who create an inspiring Channel Management Calendar, one that builds positive anticipation, will get more mindshare and energy from their partners than their share of that partner’s sales might warrant—and that is the magic sauce we are looking for.
If you would like to learn more about the library of scorecard metrics FSG is developing, or the ways in which we support our client teams with scorecard-building workshops and engagements, please don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.