We’re currently in the midst of one of the worst health and economic crisis this country and world has ever seen. That’s the bad news. Organizations are doing their best to navigate this new landscape of layoffs, remote working, canceled events, slowing sales and demand slumps. Some are further along than others, but all can agree that this has been an unprecedented test on how even the most well-prepared companies can cope with a catastrophe.
Now for some good news: This is temporary. Although no one is sure how long the slump will last, one thing is certain – it will not last forever. While the impacts of the pandemic response and the new normal it will undoubtedly create are significant, the world will turn once again, and businesses will have to get back to whatever “new normal” means for them. Organizations of all sizes must begin planning now for jump-starting their revenue engines when we emerge from this crisis.
While government and business leaders around the globe debate when and how the economy will turn back on, waiting until for the proverbial green light will be too late and your organization will immediately be at a competitive disadvantage. Being well-prepared and truly understanding how to get your people, your operations and your sales back and running at full bore will be essential for survival.
As organizations emerge from the pandemic crisis and fire up their sales engines, it’s clear that the channel must adapt – shifting and aligning priorities (SUPPORT), implementing new, more impactful channel strategies (ENABLE) and leveraging the right solutions (ENGAGE).
SUPPORT: Channel Partner Support and Re-Alignment Is Critical to Success
Partner relationships have always been important to the success of any channel program. Now more than ever, sales and marketing leaders should be looking to bolster those strategic partnerships in meaningful ways to solidify their channel. This needs to begin with straightforward conversations about new priorities and expectations, as well as shifts in budgets and the resulting goals. Success can only be achieved if brands, partners and vendors are aligned in a post-coronavirus world.
In addition to strategic alignment, now is the time to invest in partner success programs – providing them with resources, knowledge and tools to achieve those established objectives. Companies like Lenovo and Xerox recently made changes to their partner programs by offering revenue and rebate target flexibility, as well as increased training, marketing and engineering support – all in an effort to ensure greater partner viability and to strengthen partner loyalty.
Finally, redefine your value proposition and adapt your sales strategy to the current B2B landscape. Invite your partners to virtual strategy sessions where you jointly share your perspective and identify options for how to optimize performance in this new environment.
ENABLE: Sales and Marketing Enablement Must Look, Feel and Perform Differently
According to a recent survey conducted by The 2112 Group, channel marketing budgets are holding fast. Nearly six in 10 vendors are either maintaining their existing budgets or increasing marketing spending despite the COVID-19 disruptions. This means that budgets may be there, but traditional tactics previously used in a pre-pandemic world are either no longer available or no longer work. Therefore, it’s time to put those budgets to work in new ways to move your enablement efforts forward. But before you do anything, ask your partners what they really need from you in terms of offers and support. Then consider the following:
Invest in automation: Now is the time to accelerate digital transformation efforts with the time and existing budgets that are available from non-existent events. Channel leaders have the unprecedented opportunity to invest in and improve channel automation systems, including sales incentive platforms, partner portals, digital training programs and through-channel marketing (TCMA). The fact is, digitizing and automating key processes cut costs, while also increasing valuable program, partner and consumer insights. That’s a win-win.
Amp up digital marketing efforts: From social media engagement and content syndication, to support for virtual events, the right mix of multi-touch digital marketing programs enable partners to attract buyers and build digital relationships with them.
Deliver regular cadence: Regularly delivering information and valuable content to channel partners is paramount. The days of blasting out evergreen messages only when brands want something are over. Effective communication now requires tactics that focus on attracting and maintaining mindshare and engagement. This may include creative story-telling, original content, digital training videos, and more.
ENGAGE: Leverage the Right Engagement Tools to Drive Sales
When it comes to channel engagement, the right mix of sales incentive tools is still the most effective and impactful.
MDF – In the 2112 Group report, 51% of channel professionals rated MDF as the most effective means of influencing partner behavior and performance. That perception isn’t changing amid COVID-19 disruptions. What is changing is the shift from events and certification, to using those funds to initiate long-term behavioral modification campaigns around sales and marketing enablement, as well as short-term digital marketing and training support.
SPIFFS – Since many volume incentive rebates (VIR) at the moment are dormant, spiffs can lead the charge as an effective motivator. As the channel tries to “hit the ground running” post-pandemic, spiffs are an effective way to incent the right behavior that drives not just immediate sales, but sustainable sales growth. We have to think past the initial uptick and measure true effectiveness.
VIR – While many traditional VIR will have immediate challenges coming out of Covid-19, VIR can play a major role in keeping mind share and driving behavior modification. Many will take this opportunity to reset the traditional value of VIR (purchasing) and intermix value-based rebates that align Vendor and Reseller objectives beyond bottom-line entitlement and price adjustment.
Consumer Rebates – Use rebates to drive sales, capture market share and keep the pulse of the customer. What are customers willing to do and what aren’t they? What made them willing to buy during the virus or coming out of it? Are your retailers innovating, and can other retailers learn from them? Monitoring purchase behavior is critical during this time period, but not just that they purchased, but why and how.
Sales Allowances – Use sales allowances to protect retailers who face price erosion. Keep close track of the price points where consumers are engaging, as it will likely be different from a pre-COVID world.
Automated Incentive Platform – With the massive shift to digital programs and initiative, it’s more important now than ever to have visibility into all of it – using a single pain of glass. Leveraging a sales incentive platform can help channel leaders manage multiple programs at once, have visibility into what’s working and what’s not and provide actionable insights that will improve business decisions.
This is unprecedented times for all brands, in all verticals, in every region across the globe. Channel leaders are being forced to do more with less, while also being tasked to restart a sales engine that are either sitting in neutral or stalled out altogether. These are difficult times, as the global salesforce grapples with new structures, processes and the uncertainty of what tomorrow holds. However, smart leaders that understand the boundless opportunities that await, if proper planning is done now, will reap the benefits tenfold when it’s all said and done. Darwinism is in full effect and brands need to decide not to just survive, but to be the most fit.
Steven Kellam is senior vice president of alliances and marketing at 360insights, which provides software as a service (SaaS) that enables manufacturers and distributors to create, measure and manage all of their incentives programs.
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