Archives for April 2013

What the Tough Mudder Taught Me about Channel Partnerships


On Saturday my team (Team AB) completed the Tough Mudder event in Mansfield, OH.  The Tough Mudder is probably the toughest event on the planet.   Don’t ask me to compare it to running a Marathon because it’s just different.   Marathons are individual competitions and a Tough Mudder is all about camaraderie.  Tough Mudder events are hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. With the most innovative courses, 700,000 inspiring participants worldwide to date, and more than $5 million raised for the Wounded Warrior Project, Tough Mudder is the premier adventure challenge series in the world.   At the end of the course you are handed a beer and crowned with an orange sweatband.

Final SurgeWhy would anyone willingly subject themselves to something like this?  Well, personally I’m generally up for a challenge that pushes me to my limits.  The fact that this event has raised over $5 million for such a wonderful cause like the Wounded Warrior Project helps, too.  But the main inspiration was my good friend and fraternity brother Adam Black (AB) who continues to battle cancer.  Hence the team I ran with was called Team AB.

On the course I realized how important each of my teammates was to the collective unit.  Each person brought different qualities that enabled us to not just finish the challenge but destroy the course altogether.   Some might have been tempted to push ahead and finish before the group, but instead we all ran across the finish line with locked arms.

Our goal was clear: Team AB would complete the course together.

The channel could benefit a lot from this type of attitude.  If each partner, all the way through the channel, showed that level of commitment to the collective unit/solution, it would be an unstoppable force in the market.  I imagine the most successful channel partnerships have experienced some Tough Mudder-level adversity at one point or another.  Maybe sticking with each other through tough economic times or a strategic redirection is the Tough Mudder of channel adversity.

As a Tough Mudder, I pledged to:

  • Understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge
  • Put my teamwork and camaraderie before my course time
  • Not whine – kids whine
  • Help my fellow Mudders complete the course
  • Overcome all fears

Can a channel program learn something from the Tough Mudder Pledge?  What would be your Channel Program Pledge?

post mudder

Channel Conduit of the Week: Incentives, Recognition for Tomorrow

Channel Conduit of the Week

  • Small gestures that make big impacts on channel behavior
  • Commonsense reminders that make the difference b/t you and your competition
  • Elements that should be considered in a Channel Incentive Programs

Channel Conduit 6

You think channel incentives and recognition are centered in the past. But it’s really all about the future. 

It’s all about having your channel partner build equity in your company and your channel programs. The other week I stayed on the opposite end of town from my meetings just so I could stay at a Marriott. The kicker is I paid $20 more per night than it would cost me to stay across the street in a newer Hilton. Why in the world would I do that? In a word: “Equity.” I have 260,000 Marriott points and my sights are set on a Disney Vacation for my entire family.

Your channel partners do the same thing. The more equity they have in your company and program, the more likely they are to behave positively toward you in the future.

Although we are rewarding for last week’s sale, we really see our return when our partners stretch for their goal-like a Disney Vacation-at the end of the quarter. We reward for a certification completed today, but the yield actually comes later on, when our partners decide to better represent our company and products during the next opportunity.

Incentives, recognition, and future equity. It’s not about what our partners have done; it’s about what they will do. 

Boston Love

Boston Love

My current hometown of Columbus, OH is showing its support with this billboard above my favorite Vietnamese joint.  I thought that was pretty awesome!

As most of you know, Boston is the Home of my company HMI Performance Incentives and many of my friends and family.  Also Boston represents our second largest demographic in Move the Channel Group with almost 200 members from bean-town.   You all continue to be in all of our heart & minds.

My Very Best,

Vendors throw money at the channel, but they don’t know what sticks (ROI)

Last week a Move the Channel member started a discussion in the LNKD Group.  “I am looking for some best practices on measuring the ROI on MDF generated leads. Currently it’s quite a manual job checking it from one system to another. Any suggestions/recommendations?”

Return on InvestmentI’m sure that by asking the leading channel minds at Move the Channel, this member will be offered many good ideas and best practices on how to better track the dollars that are being provided to the channel partners.  Quite honestly, in this economic climate I’m surprised this isn’t a more popular topic amongst our group. 

This has been a challenge for a long time, but now more than ever vendors want the ability to link marketing activity & investment to their product sales.  Because the distributors have a hard time proving the link between monies they spend on marketing, and actual product sales, the Return On Investment is based, more often than not, on educated guess work.   

There is incredible pressure on non-channel marketing to provide an ROI for every penny spent.  We should probably expect the same weighty expectations for the channel pros this year more than ever, if we don’t already. 

So do I have a solution for this inevitable ROI problem?  No, not exactly.  But I can think of a couple of ideas.

1.)   CRM Capabilities: I know that many CRM systems are doing a much better job of tracking channel campaigns and events and linking them to and incorporating them into the sales cycle. is the one I have had experience with.  The key there has been to eliminate the divide between these two business development departments.  It’s why we are seeing more SVP of Channel Sales & Marketing. 

2.)   Implement “Trackable” Initiatives: If you don’t have a refined system in place, one way to improve measurement methods of your channel marketing investment is to include initiatives in your strategy that can be easily tracked.  Introducing and funding Distributor Performance Incentive programs that target the Reseller/Dealer customer can be an easy way to track ROI.  Only “reward” (fund) when key performance indicators (KPIs) are achieved. These KPIs might include incremental sales goals, product sales, training achievements, deal registrations, etc.  All the things that you know turn into revenue and a transaction. 

I know this doesn’t solve all the challenges with tracking marketing monies through the channel (especially end-user campaigns), but it’s a good place to start.  If you can show clear, positive ROI on your Channel Rewards Program, you might find yourself with greater leeway when it comes to your more creative–less “trackable”–initiatives. 

Channel Conduit of the Week: Trading Places

Channel Conduit of the Week

  • Small gestures that make big impacts on channel behavior
  • Commonsense reminders that make the difference b/t you and your competition
  • Elements that should be considered in a Channel Incentive Programs

Channel Conduit 5

If empathy is the key to good partnerships and sales, then try trading places.  As channel marketing & sales pros, it’s important that we are always trying to put ourselves in our channel partner’s shoes.  This helps us get out of the vendor vacuum and design channel programs that help our partners become more successful. 

Let’s take that concept and flip it on its head for a moment: Why not have your partner stand in your shoes for a lunch or dinner meeting?  Too often we ask, “What else can we be doing to help you grow your business?” Don’t get me wrong, we should be asking this question–and often!  But we might be amazed if we also asked:

 “If you were me…”

  •        …Which opportunities in the market would you attack?
  •          …What would you use your channel program to be a differentiator and get the mindshare of the channel? 
  •          …What gap in the market would you be well positioned to bridge? 

Not only will they be honored you asked, but more importantly, you will also learn unexpected valuable lessons. 


Channel Conduit of the Week: Serve Up Your Channel Partner

Channel Conduit of the Week

  • Small gestures that make big impacts on channel behavior
  • Commonsense reminders that make the difference b/t you and your competition
  • Elements that should be considered in a Channel Incentive Programs

Channel Conduit 4

Your partner served up their flagship client and introduced your team and solutions.   Maybe you should serve them up too?

If it was the partner’s sales person that went the extra mile to get you in the door, maybe you should serve them up a year’s worth of the “desert of the month” or, my favorite, the salsa of the month.  There are solutions that make this gesture very turnkey.  Send me a note and I will point you in the right direction.

If it was the partner principal’s decision to finally bring us in, let’s serve up her whole team with a Monster Grill.  And then show up with your apron, spatula, and enough fillets to feed the team over lunch.   Maybe the grill doesn’t have a home at the office but the company could give it away to a deserving team member or even make a contest out of it.

While you’re serving up steaks, don’t forget to close the deal that’s been presented on a platter.

Distributor Prospective: Out of Control SPIFFS!

Distributor Prospective:  Out of Control SPIFFS!

As many of you may know, I spent 7 wonderful years at a North American Distributor where I oversaw the business, sales force, and partner relationships in the Mountain and Pacific Time zones.  In the IT space (and many others) SPIFFS are part of the sales channel culture. I considered these vendor spiffs to be a great sales tool, and successfully leveraged them to motivate my sales team and grab the attention of the VAR dealer channel.  It was a win-win-win all the way down the channel.  The Vendor obviously got the mindshare of the distributor sales, which led to increased engagement with the VAR dealers.  As the distributor in channel I was pleased with the success of the SPIFFS, (although our CEO never cared for them), because I was ultimately able to leverage vendor monies and incentives to achieve the goals of our sales team.  All was in balance.Wild West

Yes, that worked for a medium sized distributor that was laser focused in Document Management and Enterprise Content Management (ECM).  We had a minimal number of vendors to manage and that was by design. What works for small- and medium-sized distributors, however, does not always translate into success for Larger Distributors.
Today I work with businesses that distribute hundreds or even thousands of vendor brands. With SPIFFS coming from every direction, how on Earth, as the distributor, am I supposed keep my sales team focused on MY company’s goals?  And how do I benefit or build goodwill with the SPIFFS that target my personal VAR partners?
One option is to adopt the Wild West attitude of SPIFF management and allocate an army of marketing managers each with their own vendor focused on communication and goals. More often than not, this is how the system is managed.

Option number two is to build a SMART brand Reward Zone that you, the distributor, own and can invite the vendors to participate in and fund.

But don’t worry vendors!   You can have your own promotion and rule structure under the distributor Reward Zone umbrella. Ahhhh…..Can you feel the channel universe falling back into balance?

Distributors Only beyond this point:

Here’s the best part.  You now have a Distributor-branded Incentive Platform where YOU control the messaging to your sales team and channel partners.  Vendors will be excited to help fund the program and make sure they are getting the mindshare of YOUR channel!

I would love to see your thoughts and comments below, or contact me directly here:

Channel Conduit of the Week: Drop By For Big Events

Channel Conduit of the Week

  • Small gestures that make big impacts on channel behavior
  • Commonsense reminders that make the difference b/t you and your competition
  • Elements that should be considered in a Channel Incentive Programs

Channel Conduit 3

Drop By For Big Events

“Big Events?  I make sure to stop by eveCelebration 2ry year to my annual Partner-Palooza conference, especially when we hold it in Vegas”

No, I’m not talking about your mega annual partner meetings and conference.  In fact I’m not talking about events held by you at all.   I’m talking about the events that are BIG to your channel partner.  These are events that are critical to your channel partners business and in turn important to you.  Most likely, your most successful channel partners are executing marketing strategies that include events that bring many of their end users together to foster new relationships and longer customer retention.  Some events that you might consider dropping in on include:

  • End-User Conferences
  • Customer Appreciation Events
  • End User Advisory Round Tables
  • President’s Club Incentive Travel
  • Company Board Meetings (Or even better sit on the board)
  • The Summer Picnic Event
  • 10 Year Anniversary Celebration
  • The Founder’s Retirement Party

Sure not all of these events are appropriate, but one or some of them should be.  This type of gesture is so rare that it will go a long way in building trust and loyalty at the partner’s executive and sales levels.  The on problem with this type of rare gesture is your partner might not even know you would be interested in receiving an invite to one of these events.

How to get invited to the BIG Event

One way to make it known is to include this as a soft benefit in your channel incentive program.  One of rewards for hitting a certain partner tier might be “Dinner with our CEO”.  This is what we call a “Soft Benefit”.  By integrating soft benefits into your Channel Incentive Program you differentiate from your competition and deliver a personal touch that leads to deep relationships with your partners.  Not all soft benefits are published but act as a qualifier for gestures like the “Drop by for the Big Event” incentive.  You only have so many high profile people at your company and only so many days in the year.  So you want to have system in place that selects the partners that deserve these valued soft benefits.  By making it part of your channel incentive program you identify the right partners.   This gives your channel marketing manager or regional channel managers the opportunity to review your partner’s BIG event calendar and start to schedule with the appropriate person at your organization.  The channel manager then can say, “If appropriate, our Channel Chief or VP of Global Channel Marketing mentioned she would be honored to come and help celebrate your company’s 10 Year Anniversary Party!”

Do you have a success when you wisely did a “drop in for a Big event”?  Are you implementing “Soft Benefits” into your channel incentive programs?

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