I recently received e-mail from Frank Hansen, a longtime industry player who has worked at two distributors and spent time on the channel management team at Bay/Nortel, where a recent downsizing eliminated his group. Frank is looking for another position and had time to pass along his thoughts on a 12-step program that I believe provides the basis for building a successful channel strategy. It isn't all-inclusive, but it lays the groundwork for a great foundation.
If you are in the channel, use these steps to assess a vendor's commitment to you. For those in the vendor community, these are excellent points to think about as you build or adjust your channel plans. Here's Frank's edited list.
02-Listen to your resellers: Listen to your top partners. Your distributors and even resellers who have stopped selling your product will tell you what is working,and what isn't.
03-Build training programs that work: Don't make training so expensive or long or inaccessible that partners can't integrate it into their business plans or evaluate whether or not it's worth the investment.
04-Adopt coop and MDF programs that work, and nurture the relationship: Coop/MDF can be powerful incentive tools. Make them available to distributors and partners, but make their availability contingent upon your partner's success and ability to plan for success.
05-Don't sabotage your channel program: Upper-level executives and planners must consider both direct-sales and channel goals and make sure that programs, plans and marketing don't favor one over the other. Rather, position them with common goals. Make sure everyone in the company is working in the same direction, with the same rules.
06-Employ channel reps who work the channel: Ensure you have adequate coverage and that this team has the resources and the tools to do their job. Also make sure they understand and really believe in the channel direction of your company.
07-Hire sales managers who foster teamwork: Make sure midlevel managers have responsibility for increasing both direct and channel sales.
09-Ensure that rules of engagement set guidelines for direct sales: Quality resellers understand that direct sales are a part of life. But they need to know what the rules are and want you to adhere to them. Communicate with your partners in an open manner.
10-Support your channel goals publicly: Once you have a program in place, advertise it. Tell partners why they should work with your company, and tell end users why they should work with your partners. Build an environment where resellers and customers come to you for solutions.
11-Build a strong relationship with distributors: Distributors can be your best friends. Choose them carefully to make sure they identify with your product line and that their resellers are the ones you want. Then work with them, train them and incent them with coop/MDF/rebates to drive sales.
12-Communicate honestly: Good communication is the key to building solutions and resolving problems. Trust is invaluable because it is so rare and hard to earn. Strive for it.
Make something happen. I can be reached at (516) 562-7812 or via e-mail at email@example.com.