Channel Marketing: Don’t Give Your Partners the (Full) Playbook

simple-game-planA couple of year’s ago I wrote a super bowl-edition blog entitled “Give Your Partners Your Playbook.” Since that time, I’ve changed my stance on this topic. Sure, you can call me a flip-flopper, but the fact is that advances in technology have changed the landscape of channel engagement.

Consider this: depending on their formations, personnel, and different variations of each play, the average NFL offense can have upwards of 500 plays in their playbook. Now, this isn’t an insurmountable number, and players can certainly master each of these plays, but it takes lots of mental preparedness and studying in order to become an effective offensive player.

If it’s difficult for an employee that gets paid millions of dollars to learn a playbook, think about your partner’s salespeople who have multiple playbooks to consider.   Your playbook today is most likely your partner portal.  Yep, just about every case study, sales tool, and resources one would ever need is in your partner portal.    It’s good that your partner salespeople and sales engineers have access to the playbook, but don’t expect them to know it or even be able to navigate it.

Don’t give them the playbook, give them the “game plan.” By only giving them the overarching game plan, the likelihood of them actually absorbing the “plays” and strategy increase ten-fold.

Over the last 5 years, the industry channel organizations has been spending time, money, and resources on answering the question, “How can we be more efficient with our communication and become easier to work with?” As an industry, we’ve been successful with implementing Partner Portals, Learning Management Systems, Partner Relationship Management Systems, etc. These have been positive, even necessary steps for industry growth. But now, with the foundation of all these past investments in place, we need to transition from simply giving our partner sales and sales engineers “access” to these resources, to actually leveraging these systems and enabling these people so that they become more comfortable, compliant, and successful in growing their businesses while selling our products.

spotlightThis can be achieved by shining a spotlight on the five important channel behaviors that can transform into eventual sales. This spotlight is your channel engagement platform. A channel engagement portal blankets over all your channel resources and makes it easy for your partner’s people to identify the top 5 key plays (behaviors) that lead to sales.  Those plays might include: certification trainings, viewing a new product launch video, downloading a new case study, reading a recent favorable Gartner report, setting a meeting with the regional business development manager, a new account introduction, or whatever else we know continues to move the sticks for fresh set of down.

“But Travis, can these things/behaviors be tracked and measured?”  Absolutely!  And we if they are “good” and should be measured, then they also need to be rewarded with incentives.

So don’t overload your Partners with 500 different plays to choose from—give them your five best that can be run utilized successfully again and again and again.

As always, send me a note if you’d like to discuss or talk through some of these ideas together. And feel free to join in on this conversation at Move the Channel Group, your exclusive destination for Channel insights and innovation.

Move the Channel,


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profileAbout the AuthorTravis Smith is the CEO & Founder of Move the Channel, a worldwide network and community of channel marketing & sales Chiefs and channel thought leaders. He also is a leader at HMI Performance Incentives, a channel engagement, and incentive company focused on Technology Channel Incentive Strategies. Travis helps some of the most respected companies in the world design, implement, and manage their domestic and global channel incentive programs.

Move the Channel Blog: Do your partners’ people deserve Championship rings?

cavaliers-championship-rings_16s9qt158vwl41mtw2vn9haop6Last night my 8-year-old son participated in the Cleveland Cavaliers Academy clinic.  At the end of the clinic, the kids got to ask the Cavs’ players and coaches questions.  The best question?  “Where’s LeBron?”!

My Son at Cavs Jr AccadamyOct 2016 Cavs Jr AccademyFun was had by all and great job by my long time family friend, Seth Roberts, and the team pulling off a great event.

Being around the team brought me back to June, when my Cleveland Cavaliers overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat the best regular season team in NBA history, ultimately winning their first World Championship in dramatic fashion. To all those who witnessed these games, it was obvious that the coaches and players’ lifetime of hard work, dedication, determination all contributed to their victory in the 2016 NBA Finals. If ever there was a team that deserved to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy and receive championship rings, it was this team. But what was less visible to those watching were the incredible efforts of the people behind the scenes.

Before the regular season, the Cavs organization came up with a slogan for the team and the city that stood behind it: “All in.” Now, I’d bet that most of us sports fans have participated in a neighborhood Texas Hold-Em game amongst friends, so we all know that moment. You know,  the moment that’s made the game so popular, the point where you decide that your best chance to win is, well, right now. Wait too long, and you might lose your momentum—and your advantage. So instead, being confident in your hand, you look at the opponent across the table from you and you say, “I’m all in.” At that point, whether you win or lose the game, you still feel fulfilled because you trusted yourself and went “all in” on your own terms.

But credit the Cavs owner, Dan Gilbert @cavsdan and his talented marketing staff, for not just a witty season slogan, he embraced it and made it the theme of his organization.  I suspect this isn’t a new thing for his many many companies.

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 22: Majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers Dan Gilbert waves to the fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

CLEVELAND, OH – JUNE 22: Majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers Dan Gilbert waves to the fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Dan Gilbert, the Cavs owner, recognized that in order to increase the odds and be the best team in the world, you needed more than a great team and great coaches. You needed to have your entire organization, and the entire business ecosystem that surrounds it, to go “all in” with you. That meant setting the bar high and demanding the most out of everyone involved. In a business setting, hitting that high goal might mean a bonus—if you’re lucky enough to be a valued employee who happens to have variable compensation role.

But what about the non-variable compensation employees?  You know, the ones who, without their behind-the-scenes efforts, nothing would work.  Or worse, what about your partners in your ecosystem, those who aren’t direct employees but are an important part of delivering and distributing your services every day?   The partner or vendor employees include janitors, hot dog vendors, ushers, and even policemen!

To his credit, Dan Gilbert didn’t think the non-variable commissioned employees, nor his partner’s employees (like the hot dog and beer guys) there to “work” for the Cavs. In his heart, he believed they were critical to the success of the entire organization.

The genius—and the magic—of this mindset is that the entire ecosystem of people involved in the business believed it too.  If they hadn’t before, they did now. During this one magical season, they all decided to go “all in” with the Cavs.

Next week, Dan is rewarding over 1000 full-time & part-time employees as well as many the Cavs’ business partners’ employees and contributors, with their very own championship rings.  Some of those people include the ushers, janitors, hot dog vendors, and even policemen involved with the team

Of course, I think LeBron James @KingJames is a true modern-day hero for what he does off the court  I also continue to hear stories like this one about Dan Gilbert and I am impressed with his judgment. I know that Dan and LeBron have had a somewhat rocky relationship over the years, but I can’t help but think winning championships might just be the baseline for what these two can accomplish together. . . .

The point here is that, in my opinion, no one has ever succeeded on his or her own, and if only we could see and appreciate all of the minor contributions that are made to our collective pursuits, the sky’s the limit for what we can achieve. And as much as anywhere, this holds true within the channel.

  • Do you look at each person in your distribution channels and ecosystem as critical to your success? Or are they partners just “doing their job”?
  • More importantly, do they feel like they are valued and have the impression that you view them as “critical?” If not, you probably aren’t maximizing your odds of winning the ‘ship.
  • Sure, you probably won’t go around distributing thousands of championship rings—but have you thought about an engagement program that rewards them for their time and energy commitment that they’ve made to your organization? Have they gone “all in” with your business by completing training modules, studying your products, learning to position them, engaging with your business development people, etc.?  If so, maybe it’s time you rewarded them; because after all, if it can turn a basketball player into a King, imagine what it could do for your business. . . .

As always, send me a note if you’d like to discuss or talk through some of these ideas together. And feel free to join in on this conversation at Move the Channel Group, your exclusive destination for Channel insights and innovation.

Move the Channel,


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profileAbout the AuthorTravis Smith is the CEO & Founder of Move the Channel, a worldwide network and community of channel marketing & sales Chiefs and channel thought leaders. He also is a leader at HMI Performance Incentives, a channel engagement, and incentive company focused on Technology Channel Incentive Strategies. Travis helps some of the most respected companies in the world design, implement, and manage their domestic and global channel incentive programs.

5 Principles for a Channel-Committed Company (Living the Five)

father-and-son-fishing-at-sunset-aaron-bakerWhen I was a young boy my Dad taught my brothers and me that with the 5 “C’s” we could accomplish anything we set our minds to. These 5 “C’s” were courage, conviction, concentration, consistency, and moral conscious (but of course, when he saw a teaching moment he’d often work in other “C’s” from time to time too!)

The 5 C’s remind me of 5 principles that are key for manufacturers to accomplish what they’ve set their mind to.   Many sales organizations struggle with going “all in” with a Channel go-to-market strategy. Instead, they often like to keep their options open and see if the direct model is going to be this quarter’s big winner. Unfortunately, that approach can only last so long—it rarely ever succeeds as a long-term solution. The fact is, if you are ever hoping to expect more from your channel partners, then they need to know that their partner is going to be “all in” with them.

Now, I don’t claim to be my Dad, but I’d like to take a page out of his playbook and offer my own set of principles for channel partner success. So, if you can try and LIVE these 5 principles, you and your partner will both know that one another is “all in” when it comes to your partnership. These 5 principles came to me in church when I learned about the book “Living the Five” by Jim and Jennifer Cowart.

  1. You can’t reach your company’s full potential Alone
  2. Growing partners challenge and change your organization (for the better). How can we help our partner grow?
  3. Successful growing partners embrace sharing in a channel community (Create a healthy ecosystem)
  4. Winning manufacturers serve their partners first, then there is potential for win-win
  5. Being a Channel-Committed Company is more than just a business decision—it’s a lifestyle or company culture

As always, send me a note if you’d like to discuss or talk through some of these ideas together. And feel free to join in on this conversation at Move the Channel Group, your exclusive destination for Channel insights and innovation.

Move the Channel,


email me

profileAbout the AuthorTravis Smith is the CEO & Founder of Move the Channel, a worldwide network and community of channel marketing & sales Chiefs and channel thought leaders. He also is a leader at HMI Performance Incentives, a channel engagement and incentive company, focused on Technology Channel Incentive Strategies. Travis helps some of the most respected companies in the world design, implement, and manage their domestic and global channel incentive programs.

Have we out-kicked the coverage when it comes to Channel and Alliance Partnerships? 

puntIn American football, this analogy references the idea of the punter having such a good kick, that he out-kicked his special team’s coverage.  The tremendous kick has the cover team out of position at no fault of their own.  As a result, the kick returner is able to capitalize and runs the kick back for a game swinging touchdown!  It is hard to find a more disappointing and pivotal play in sports than a punt return for touchdown against your team!

In channel marketing & sales, we are starting to out kick the coverage. There is no doubt, channel marketing automation tools and channel sales tools are more advanced and effective than ever.  However, is that a bad thing?   Should we tell the punter to not kick it so far?

Of course not!  Bombs away!   But, we do need to rethink our coverage team and plan.  Your channel and alliance managers need to adjust to the terrific “kick” and provide even deeper coverage.  The booming kick isn’t a reason to scratch the play…  its reason to sprint harder, faster, further.  Just like the booming technology is reason to increase your relationship efforts and understanding with your channel partners.  Too many think the marketing automation and sales tools are reason to let up.  Wrong!  In fact, more than ever we need to “up” our coverage.  
Channel Account Managers (players) shouldn’t take the play off and Channel Chiefs (Head Coaches) need to remember how vital good players are to winning.  A good kicker is a huge asset but don’t stop coaching and properly incentivizing your cover team.

Take note and make some half-time adjustments that put your channel reps back in position to execute.

As always, please send me a note with your thoughts and your experience.

Move the Channel,


Email Travis

March Madness: Your Channel needs more Coaches, Not Discounts

March Madness is always my favorite time of the sporting year.  On my flight to Austin yesterday I read a great article in the New York Times that provided a nice reminder about how the “Games Are Big, but Life is Bigger”. 


Why is basketball so special and important to me? Even though it has been 20 years since I graduated from high school, I still feel a great deal of loyalty, appreciation, and pride for High School Basketball Coach, Coach Gray. Many of the lessons he imparted to us as juniors and seniors have stayed with me to this day, and it seems a bit strange now to think that in the course of my life, one of the most important and inspiring teachers I ever had was a coach. Somehow, through his leadership, he was always able to get the most out of us, his players.

Leadership is a skill that is required in business as much as it is in sports. Take channel marketing and sales leaders, for example. Much of your efforts are spent designing, implementing, and marketing the perfect partner program. Discounts structures, rebate tiers, MDFs, CO-OPs, partner benefits, etc., are all foundations for any Channel Partner Program. In fact, Move the Channel has published its own Channel Marketing Guide and RIMES Chart to serve as a sort of “playbook” for all of these critical features.

But even if you have the best playbook in the business, it’s difficult to get the best results without an effective “coach” to implement the plays and motivate the “players.” These coaches are the people in your channel organization who interface directly and consistently with your channel partners. They are the people selling in the field whose compensation is linked to the partners they support. In many organizations, their main role is to “manage” their accounts; but if they’ve never managed (or coached) before, they might have a hard time doing this efficiently, with deals only getting done when they are heavily involved.

The people that interface with your channel partner need to have a coach’s mentality. All too often in business we have a first practice, hand out the playbook, and check back in the next quarter to review how many rebounds, assists, and points the partner and partner’s salespeople scored for our team. These partner “coaches” need to recognize the partner’s strengths and weaknesses in order to identify how that partner might best contribute to the “team.”  This takes time, energy, organization, and leadership—basically a coach’s approach. In the short term, this can lead to increased mind share, market share, and sales. In the long-term, you will have a partner who is loyal and appreciative, and who takes pride in working with your championship-caliber organization. Just don’t expect them to call you “coach.”

Enjoy the rest of March Madness and make it a great week!

Move the Channel,

Lady Gaga, Channel Marketing, and the Importance of Analytics

ladygaga_halloweenRecently, I was reading the blog of one of my favorite influencers, Bernard Marr. In his post, “What Lady Gaga Can Teach You About Analytics,” I learned some really interesting—and surprising—things about Lady Gaga and how she leverages analytics to benefit her brand.

For years Lady Gaga has been a leader and trendsetter in the social media arena. Back in 2008, she was one of the first entertainers to take advantage of the vast potential of platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Today, she has an astounding 42 million followers on Twitter and over 66 million “Likes” on Facebook; however, along the way Gaga has realized that despite her incredible following, she doesn’t own these databases and can’t fully leverage their power in the distinctively creative ways that she is famous for.

So what did she do? She decided to simply point direct her followers to her own personal website, This is where the real magic of analytics is manifested. On this site that she controls, she’s able to capture her fans’ information and use the resulting data in innovative ways, such as tailoring her concert set lists to the preferences of fans in particular regions. She also has boosted her merchandise sales by 30% by using fan artwork that’s been uploaded to her site on t-shirts and other clothing. Once again, Gaga is leading the way in harnessing the impressive power of analytics, big data, and social media.

“But it’s not just the music industry that can use big data to its advantage,” says Marr. “Any company—or indeed anyone—can, and should use data to make better decisions. And companies who don’t do that will be left behind.”

Mr. Marr, I couldn’t agree more!

 So, what can the channel marketing community learn from Lady Gaga?

1.) Social Media is NOT the source of knowing your Channel Partners and Market Ambassadors. It’s simply a way to build awareness of and drive traffic to your own space/website.

2.) What’s the BEST way to create your OWN website and space that will engage and appeal to your channel partner’s and partner’s sales people? Without question a channel incentive program packs the biggest draw of this audience.

3.) Capturing Partner and Partner Sales People Insight: Once you have designed a convincing Channel Rewards Program, your channel will start to surrender more information than you could hope for. This is more than just finding out who is selling your products—it’s who they are selling to, what complimenting vendors are part of their solution, what % of their sales are yours, what incentives motivate them, and what kind of dream awards are on their “wish list.”

4.) With this new channel insight, the opportunities to improve partner communication, marketing, training—and, well, “partnering”—are endless. In fact, this information may open up a whole new world that you never even knew existed.

Most of us are aware that well designed Channel Incentive Programs can always yield terrific gains when it comes to grabbing channel mind and market share. These results speak for themselves. But it’s also true that the #1 reason that leading companies implement and invest in channel incentive programs is for partner, partner sales people, and end-user information and insight. Why?  Because when you know your partners and partners’ sales people, you know how to talk with them, how to sell with them.  

So far, we have only scratched the surface regarding the powerful potential of data collection during the early parts of channel incentive programs. But think about the sales and training data that can be tracked and harnessed after years 1,2,3, and beyond! What will that data yield as far as insight into how to improve your business and your channel? How valuable will that information be as you make key decisions about the direction of your company? At HMI-MMI, we’ve developed R-Cube, a software-as-a-system (SaaS) that is a lethal combination of technology, process, and research expertise. In a way, companies that invest in this level of data management can become just a bit like Lady Gaga: always on the cutting edge of channel analytics.

Are you using Channel Incentive Programs to capture elusive data?  Are you analyzing that data to make better decisions going forward…. to Move the Channel?

As always, please reach out with questions or comment!

Move the Channel,


Global Channel Incentive Programs: Plan Global, Execute Local.


USA images

There are a handful of channel incentive companies that think they have the resources in place to run a global incentive program, but only a few who have actually executed these types of programs successfully. The reality is global incentive programs are hard.  God knows I have a ton of scar tissue from years of trying to iron out the many wrinkles that my programs have had to adjust to.

This past week I was in meetings with some of the brightest, most experienced and accomplished global channel incentive thought leaders in the country. These people are the brains behind 4 of the 6 leading global incentive programs in operation today. While I definitely learned a lot from these meetings, there was one concept in particular that stood out: “Plan global, execute local.” I love this motto. Not many years ago, the main factors for global programs—as opposed to regional independent programs—were that manufacturers wanted “the 3 C’s”: consistency in quality, controls (single pane of glass reports & audits), and continuity in best practices. So, back then we would roll out a centralized program that scaled across the globe with local delivery and customer service. This was a success!

soccer ball

In the short term, we achieved the 3 C’s. However, over time we realized that our solution was not flawless. For example, the various regions and countries didn’t want to be told how to engage and motivate their local partners. “The Americans don’t know my partners,” they would say—and they were right. We don’t always know what participants in one country want versus another. So how do we still share the technology investment and best practices without force-feeding a one-size-fits-all strategy into APAC solutions? One thing you can do provide them with local program management resources that can allow them to design and communicate their own programs that are unique to their regions, their partners, and their business objectives.  HMI-MMI is built for this type of support and program management.

True, this model comes with an increased cost; but the incremental mindshare and market share gains make this “plan global, execute local” strategy a no-brainer!

Is your global channel incentive program giving localized flexibility to multinational sales teams? Are you considering extending your program across the globe?

As always, reach out to me with idea, questions, and comments.

Move the Channel,


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10 Channel Marketing Program lessons from Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir AlexToday I bring to you a story from a different hemisphere.  A story about arguably one the most impactful figures in all of sport.  You have heard me speak with passion about American Football, Baseball, Basketball, and the people in those sports that have changed the game.  Today I share Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson’s secrets of persuasion and turn them into Channel Marketing lessons.

I found the story at one of my favorite blogs spots .  Brian Ahearn is a friend and master of persuasion and one of only 20 Cialdini Method Certified Trainers® (CMCT®) in the world.   He recently shared a post from Sean Patrick a fellow Cialdini Method Certified Trainer.

Each number (1-10) references and matches a passage from the story below.   Here are the lessons I took away from this wonderful piece on SAF:

  1. Move the Channel:  Do your channel partners put themselves before winning titles?  Culture. 
  2. Move the Channel:  To find the best partners, we need grassroots “talent scouts” too.  Recruiting.
  3. Move the Channel:  Have you developed an academy and channel training strategy the produces the most successful teams?  Training.
  4. Move the Channel:  Does your organization have you finger on the pulse of every area of the Channel Ecosystem?  Pulse.
  5. Move the Channel:  Are you holding your channel partner accountable and “coaching them up”?  Goals and QBR Process.
  6. Move the Channel:  Have you fired a channel partner recently and focused on ones showing great potential?  Should you?
  7. Move the Channel:  Do you demonstrate respect, fairness, and empathy toward you partners?
  8. Move the Channel:  Do you invest to retain and coach your partners that have potential to be great?   Coaching. 
  9. Move the Channel:  Do your channel partners feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves?  Inspired.
  10. Move the Channel:  Do you have a channel rewards and incentive program that helps your channel partners hear “well-done”.  Channel Incentive Programs.


Here’s the story from Sean Patrick, Sales Coach:

In May 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson or SAF as he’s otherwise known as, stepped down as manager of Manchester United.  He had just won his 13th Premiership title, the most successful and highly decorated manager in English football.  This ended his 26th season in charge of one of the biggest sporting franchises in the world.

During his time at Old Trafford he won 38 titles including two UEFA champions league trophies. 1.) Ferguson took control of the club at a time when player status was more important than winning titles, over the course of four seasons and under severe pressure to deliver, he transformed the club from the inside out.  2.) He employed countless talent scouts to find the best youth players at grassroots level and 3.) developed an academy that produced one of the most successful teams in English football history.  4.) Every season a major development was installed inside the club that cemented United’s ability to find and retain the best playing staff.  Ferguson was well known for having his finger on the pulse in every area of the club.  Only Matt Busby, a legendary former United manager had any such influence across the entire club.

So how did he do it?  Ferguson was well known for his ability to psychologically influence the players around him and rival managers.  Ferguson believed that the key to success was to make sure that every player put in 100% during training.  He never allowed a bad training session as this proved a player would find mediocrity acceptable, he knew bad habits form quickly.  5.) He ensured that every player who under-performed at half time became aware of their poor performances thus the legendary motivational skills reared itself in the dressing room.

Former rival manager Jose Mourinho claimed Ferguson was the master of the ‘second game’, sing the media to motivate his team and to begin, as he put it, ‘to play the next game before it starts’.

The club and everyone around him knew he was the authority figure.  If a player tried to take over the dressing room or put in a poor performance he was either swiftly removed from the club or was given a severe face-to-face screaming which had become known as the hairdryer treatment.  His authority was without question embedded into the organization. 6.) Over the course of his 26 season reign he made difficult choices and this came in the form of releasing established world class players such as Roy Keane, Jaap Stam and David Beckham to make room for untested younger players such as Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo who became medal winners at United.

There was another side to 7.) Ferguson, he was liked and respected.  He was treated respectfully by senior management and back-room support staff and reciprocated respect by demonstrating fairness and his ability to empathize.  These skills were tested during the season of 1995-96 when maverick player Eric Cantona attacked an opposition supporter Kung-Fu style and consequently given a heavy suspension lasting several months.  8.) Over the course of this period, Ferguson mentally coached Cantona, firstly to retain his services and secondly to mentally motivate and prepare the player for his return.  Subsequently, Cantona blossomed to become a model player and became club captain helping United secure more silverware.

This method of psychologically preparing and motivating players culminated in United’s first UEFA Champions league title in 1999.  They faced a tough fixture against Germany’s Bayern Munich.  At half-time United were trailing, he reminded his players that if they lost the match they would not as much be allowed to touch the trophy, just amble past at a safe distance wearing their losers medal.  9.)  One of the players later recalled that Ferguson’s inspirational speech turned fearful men into world-beaters.  During that same season, United became the first side from a major league to win the treble of Champions league, English Premier league and League cup in a single season.


Ferguson understood the importance being consistent. One of his key skills in improving the preparedness of his players was his use of storytelling and being to talk to each player individually.  He liked to change the themes of his team talks with regularity.  “I once heard a coach start with ‘this must be the 1000th team talk I’ve had with you’ and saw a player quickly respond with ‘and I’ve slept through half of them!’  If a player was to sit out a game, he gave a personal and very frank conversation that conveyed empathy and instilled confidence in the player.

10.) Ferguson emphasized on the use of instilling confidence on the training pitch.  “There is no room for criticism on the training field’.  ‘There is nothing better than hearing ‘well-done.”

Channel Conduit: Culture eats strategy for Breakfast

Culture BreakfastOver the last couple of weeks we have spent time discussing and debating the importance of developing a strategy and sharing the playbook with your channel partners. In this same vein, it’s also imperative for your organization to focus its sights internally in order to evaluate the special dynamics of its culture. Is your company culture a differentiator for you in the market? If so, it could be one of your biggest assets when it comes to creating a loyal partner network and Champions of your brand.

Just as many companies fail to include their partners in their channel strategies, so do they also neglect to share their organization’s principles & values with their channel.   Invite your channel partners’ executive management to a usually internal team building event or a remote brainstorming sessions.  Make sure to spend time not just on X’s & O’s but philosophy and various viewpoints.  ROE (Return on Experience) is often achieved when you host your top performing channel partners to a group incentive trip to a desirable destination.

While your competition can adjust their strategy, pricing, and partner programs to look like yours, what they cannot so easily emulate is the unique culture of your organization. If your company has a winning culture, it is critical for you promote it, export it, and include your channel partners in the process. All else being equal, the right company culture can often make the difference between a reseller of product and a true champion of your brand.  

Please shoot me a note with ideas and questions.  I always enjoy the channel community’s feedback and thoughts!

Move the Channel,

4 things your distribution channel partners will expect in 2014

2014 Channel ExpectationsI am fresh back from a terrific family vacation in Southern California. I have a huge wonderful family in Pasadena and many friends from our years living in Dana Point. In addition to my many client visits throughout the year, I try to bring the family once a year to hang with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the many cousins. This trip was filled with non-stop activities like the Rose Bowl, the Rose Parade, Disneyland, LEGOLAND, the BCS National Championship Game, and even surf lessons for my 6-year-old.  Oh my! It’s definitely been a blast, but let’s just say I’m ready to get back to my “normal” schedule again. Now, down to business!

Let’s talk about what your Channel will expect from you in 2014.

1.)    Simplicity — Your Channel Partners don’t want a partner program that looks like a Smith or Griswold family vacation (reference above or National Lampoon’s Vacation). They want a program that clearly states what is expected from them and what resources will be available to help them deliver solution to the market.  Design an engagement and reward portal that gives them easy access to the handful of the most important components and tools available.

Here is great guide to make sure you aren’t over complicating things:

Enter your name and email address to download Move the Channel Guide and RIMES Chart

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2.)    Clear Expectations — Yes, they Channel Partners need to know what your expectations are so they can build those expectations into their company goals for 2014. By integrating benefits like soft benefits into your channel incentive program you can deliver a personal touch that leads to deeper, stronger relationships with your partners.

3.)    More Efficient Communication — Notice I did not say “MORE” communication. This year you should try to be more deliberate and concise with your message and how you deliver it. The channel has more “noise” than ever before, and how you communicate with your partners will help determine your success this year.

4.)    Be A Part Of Something Great — Your channel partners don’t want to be chess piece in your overall company strategy—they want to feel as important as the first chair in a world-class symphony. Share with them in a meeting what the goals will be for the entire channel ecosystem, and why their role is so critical to the channel’s overall success. There is a reason why Martin Luther King said “I have a Dream”, and not “I have a Plan”.   This is where most organizations tend to fall short. The companies that are able to do this well tend to have the best and most loyal channels.
It sure is great to be back. As always, send me an email or give me a ring with some of your ideas and questions. I couldn’t be more excited about moving the channel in 2014!

Hope you are enjoying Martin Luther King Day!

Move the Channel,

“Several Shades of Grey” – The Potential Dark Side of Channel Incentive Programs Part I

shades of greyAt this year’s Incentive Leadership Forum in Punta Cana, HMI/MMI included a prominent academic team of researchers from leading universities in the fields of channel performance and loyalty engineering. Almost all of the world-class companies that participated in the Forum agreed that research is the lifeblood of a successful reward and recognition program and the key to revealing the changing landscape and behaviors of the channel.

One of the best sessions of the event was called “Several Shades of Grey: The Potential Dark Side of Programs.” We learned a lesson in behavior when Dr. Ko de Ruyter of Maastricht University asked the audience who had read the popular book “50 Shades of Grey”. Let’s just say this small audience’s response didn’t quite align with the global statistics of this wildly popular book. But the session did provide some buzz to the Forum, and Dr. Ko de Ruyter certainly had everyone’s attention.

The witty play on the popular book’s title was appropriate as the workshop focused on how to avoid the “darkest” aspects of loyalty program behavior.   Earlier this year, Gartner shined a light on these negative traits in a report that they published. However, unlike Gartner’s report, which focused on the criminal challenges of programs, the forum focused on strategic challenges that could actually be controlled by program architects.

Jan (Ya-wn) Pelser of Maastricht University shared some studies relating to the topic, “What Motivates Your Audience? Gratitude vs. Indebtedness.” The question is when you reward your channel does your incentive program show gratitude and appreciation?  Or does it make the participant after receiving an award feel like they owe you something?  One amazing point I took from this session was that even though gratitude would seem to obviously be a more motivating influence, nonetheless a significant number of program designs actually lean toward indebtedness.  Jan shared some of his fascinating case studies that showed that, while both strategies can be initially effective, gratitude ultimately yields much higher rewards when it comes to long-term loyalty. On the darker side, indebtedness, in many cases, provides an inferior preliminary lift, and can also even have negative effects in the long term. While you might sway a partner’s business today, with an approach based on indebtedness you are risking pushing your partner away in the future.

Finally, although the session focused on how to show more gratitude in your program’s rule design and strategy, another opportunity to express gratitude could be found in the awards themselves. Studies have shown that participants are much more likely to feel indebted when they receive cash rewards. On the other hand, when they redeem for a “trip of a lifetime” or “concert tickets to see their favorite band,” they felt much appreciated and on the gratitude-end of the continuum. Over the course of the studies, participants were much more engaged and enthusiastic when they had gratitude toward the reward. You may have heard me reference this phenomenon before, as something I like to call ROE (Return on Experience).

Many people think that long-term loyalty is hard to measure—and usually they’re right. But the incredibly smart people who develop loyalty laboratories have proven that, in fact, there are concrete ways to achieve measureable results. This has been something of a revelation for me.

In part II of “Several Shades” I’ll share how Dr. Debbie Keeling from Loughborouch University tackled “Complacency in Relationships – Can You Beat it?”

Contact me if you would like to hear more about these studies, or would like to be introduced to these amazing resources and wonderful people.
Move the Channel,

Exclusive Channel Incentive Leadership Forum’s most Valuable Element

Channel Incentive Leadership Conference

As most of you know, I was recently invited to speak at HMI’s Incentive Leadership Forum. The annual event is a way for HMI to host their most strategic clients in an ideal location, with its goal being to bring together forward-thinking executives and industry thought leaders to discuss the latest trends and concepts in the world of performance improvement. This year, The Forum took place at the spectacular Paradisus Palma Real Resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It offered a perfect blend of academic theory, real-world research, and presentations on innovative best practices. Some of the presentation topics included:

  • “The Future of Channel Reward Programs”
  • “New Advances in Sales and Loyalty Program Design”
  • “The New Frontier of Data and Business Analytics”
  • “Social Media & Community Dialogue”
  • “Group Travel Incentives”
  • “Several Shades of Grey” of Programs

There was almost zero vendor positioning at The Forum, with HMI simply acting as a facilitator for these industry-relevant discussions. One of the great things about The Forum was that its attendees were all in positions to actually put into practice many of the themes and ideas that were talked about over the 2-day event. In fact, this small, exclusive group included some of the world’s most respected organizations, and represented some of the largest channel incentive programs being run today. Many of these attendees expressed interest in the various ways that they could take their programs to the next level, all while moving the entire channel incentive industry forward.

The Leadership Forum also brought together members of academia and research leaders from around the world, and who were eager to share their insights on the exciting evolution of global incentives. Topics that were discussed in terms of the global arena included “Global Reward Strategies and Execution,” “International Engagement Issues,” and more.

The Forum wisely reserved one of the last sessions for a discussion entitled “All About You.” During this session, attendees were encouraged to talk openly about their specific goals and challenges for the upcoming year. Each channel leader received tremendous feedback and suggestions from their peers, who were representing a wide range of unique industries. The all-in brainstorming session hit just the right note, serving as the perfect coda to an event where, for a few short days, sharing and learning took on a primary role.

It turns out that no matter what your industry is, or who you call your channel partners, almost all performance improvement principles are universal when it comes to Moving the Channel.  Without doubt, the most valued component of the forum was not on the agenda at all.  It was the rare peer-to peer-sharing of channel marketing leaders from other world-class companies.

Please stay tuned as I continue to share “lessons from the leaders”.

Move the Channel,

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