Channel Enablement & Incentives:  A Glimpse 5 Years into the Future

Future of Channel EnablementI want to show you the future of Channel Enablement and Incentives, but before I do, let’s take a look at its history and evolution with an example. In the early 2000s, when I was working for Hyland Software, we hosted quarterly Partner Sales Trainings that entailed two and a half days of classes and learning. VARs would come in from all over the country to attend these training sessions, to learn about Enterprise Content Management solutions and how to position them with their customers. At these events, they learned about the 32 different modules and the end-user outcomes of each feature. They even learned to configure a simple workflow process (which was a session I was proud to have taught!)

Obviously, all of this knowledge in itself had value; but perhaps even more important for attendees was the fact that the event provided them with the opportunity to experience our very unique “Hylander” culture which was a very disruptive outlook on the industry. After all, this was what attracted VARs to Hyland in the first place, and why they chose Hyland to be their core vendor to build their solutions around.

Throughout these sessions the VARs got to meet Hyland’s executive leadership, including AJ Hyland (legendary CEO), Bill Priemer (then VP Sales & Marketing, now CEO), Chris Hyland (CFO), Mark Davis (the closer), and, if you were lucky, at some point Miquel Zubizarreta (CTO & Co-Founder) would come walking in in all of his sweatpants glory. Finally, if the Founder Packy Hyland Jr. was off traveling the world at that time, not to worry—you’d most certainly meet his Dad, Packy Sr. What an awesome man and one who did a lot for me and my family. These leaders were Hyland Software, and the trainees who attended the events were able to learn from them in the classroom and then break bread with them in the evening. One of the nights during the event Packy Jr. would have the entire class and the rest of the Hyland company over to his house for a big backyard cookout. The trainees got to know not just the visionaries and sales and marketing teams but also got to become familiar with the people in development and the customer support team.  Make no mistake about it, these backyard cookouts were a celebration party!

Now, think about how “Enabled” those VAR sales people must have felt when they left Cleveland, Ohio after that week. They weren’t just trained to sell and be competent about particular solutions, they were also exposed to an exciting company environment and inspired and motivated to be a part of an industry Hyland movement. In fact, people were so excited about becoming part of Hyland Software’s channel partner program that they’d pay (unheard of today) for their team to travel to Cleveland to participate in the event. Talk about creating buzz and generating loyalty!

The point is that Hyland Software didn’t take the shortcut to channel enablement; these quarterly events were proof-positive of their long-term outlook, demonstrating their desire and confidence in slowly bringing people into the Hyland fold. Of course, the rest is history: OnBase (Hyland’s flagship product) has become the biggest independent ECM solution in the world, and I would say this is due in no small part to their very successful channel enablement approach.

So, if the long-term approach has proven to be so successful, why would anyone want to take the shortcut? Well, for one thing, times have changed: in a society that often seeks instant gratification, companies have become less patient and VAR principals and salespeople have a hard time seeing value in spending 3 days out of the office (much less paying for it). The assumption is that training and enablement should be free and simply part of the partner program. To compound matters, vendors then look at this lack of commitment and become unwilling to invest in these types of onsite events.

Enter Learning Management Systems (LMS), where vendors can design, deploy, and measure product sales training and technical training modules. In other words, enablement has become nothing more than a box that needs to be checked. The crazy thing is that vendors are often spending more time and money coordinating their LMS system than it would cost them to organize an in-person training session (and, of course, a backyard party).

But the good news is, as a result of this current channel enablement environment, we are starting to see some cool innovative approaches and a moving away from the traditional LMS structure. In fact, while I was recently chatting with a client and friend of mine, Todd—who happens to be a leading innovator in how to reach and engage partners’ salespeople and sales engineers in the tech channel.  LMS certifications and accreditations are still part of his channel training initiative, but where he sees the most results when he deploys a series of concise, multimodal elements that includes videos, quizzes, and other easy-to-digest content for a fraction of the cost.  In the end, most of Todd’s incentive budget is directed towards producing enablement behaviors, user-friendly steps to the sale that are designed specifically to familiarize salespeople and sales engineers with the products their selling—Todd’s products.

The other great thing about this approach is it is absolutely a strategy for ongoing training and enablement.  Not even the old Hyland on-premise training accounted for the ongoing education that is so crucial in the fast-moving high-tech space.   The ease of deployment makes it easy to educate on new features or product launches.

And lastly, what about the engagement?

Now I know what you’re thinking—OK Travis, sure this is a step in the right direction. But we’re still long ways off from the good ole days of Packy Hyland Jr.’s backyard cookouts.  True, but we are making progress there too.  Can we ever simulate the backyard rapport?  Not quite, but Todd is also incentivizing and providing a vehicle for channel salespeople and engineers to reach out and talk to key thought leaders in his company and industry.  Yes, talk!   Like over the phone or over a cup a coffee.  These are people that can influence and better enable our partner’s salespeople if they got exposure to them.  So in the reward platform, you can earn points for simply reaching out and “tap” or “set an appointment with “Jill.” Jill is your region’s business development manager for the Healthcare vertical you serve in. And Jill is armed with points that she’ll pay out just for being engaged. You’re meeting more of our people, and you are learning more about our solution but more importantly our culture. That’s money well invested in our book.

A mobile platform enables Partner’s salespeople to listen to a pre-sales podcast on the way to a prospect sales meeting or watch a short video in the parking lot or on the train prior to the meeting. The great thing is that the vendor can be alerted to when these pre-sales preparation sessions are taking place and follow up to see how to help. bbq_party

But Travis these sound like things you are doing today or currently implementing—what does Enablement & Incentives look like in 5 years? It looks exactly like it did in the early 2000s! Except we don’t invite just anyone who will pay for enablement. We’ll only invite those that have earned enough “engagement credit” through our quick quizzes, watching our product launch videos, engaging with and meeting our people virtually, etc. What’s more it most likely won’t take place in Cleveland in the Founder’s backyard, but on a beach at a resort in the Caribbean (after all, they will have earned it!) Yes, in time people will finally come back around to how powerful a group destination setting can be, not just to learn about a product and how to sell it, but also to understand the culture and passion that is continually moving the industry. Welcome to the future of enablement.

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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