Put Channel Data to Work in the Age of Digital Transformation

Data-driven insights can help channel programs find new markets.

September 12, 2019

7 Min Read
Hadoop stumbles


Janet Schijns


Steven Kellam

By Janet Schijns, CEO,  JS Group, and Steven Kellam, Vice President, Alliances, 360insights

As digital transformation sweeps through virtually every industry, businesses are facing a new competitive landscape. From autos to consumer products, the shift toward digital is driving companies to re-examine their investment, personnel and operational strategies — particularly when it comes to reaching customers.Channel-Partners-Insights-logo-300x109.png

Channel marketing has never been more complex, with shopping now taking countless paths to purchase and organizations juggling multiple partners. For businesses, data is their most precious resource in determining how to reach customers at the right place and time. According to a Google study, organizations using data-driven sales strategies have 2.6 times more annual growth than other businesses. But to unleash the full power of their data, businesses first need to understand how to turn it into actionable insights.

Deriving data-driven insights is a topic we’ll be exploring in more depth at Relevance 2019, which brings together channel experts from around the globe. The conference will feature guidance on how today’s professionals can successfully master the ever-changing channel marketing landscape. Here, we share a closer look at why brands need a more rigorous approach to channel data — and how to get there.

Evolving from Analysis to Insight

Data is foundational to the success of any modern channel marketing program, demonstrating proven benefits among those who leverage it intelligently. According to Forrester, better access to channel data increases sales by 15%, on average.

But access is only one part of the equation. While the typical business has an avalanche of data at its disposal, what it often lacks are the resources to put it to work. Key challenges include:

  • Data disconnects. The average partner program has 90 components, Forrester reports, and program data is often disjointed as a result. The same report reveals that 90% of channel data is scattered across different programs, which are often managed internally on homegrown systems. Without a centralized command center, businesses can’t get a clear picture of program performance.

  • Poor analytical capabilities. Businesses without the right expertise or tools are often bogged down by their data, leading them to develop strategies based on gut instinct rather than data-driven analysis. Unsurprisingly, this leads to low ROI for channel marketing programs.

  • Lack of differentiation. Have a sneaking suspicion your program looks the same as your competitors? You’re probably right: 92% of U.S. businesses offer 95% of the same channel benefits as the other players in their space. Data can help you see the real needs in your channel community and find creative ways to meet them, ensuring your products are the ones they highlight on the sales floor.

  • Poor vendor performance. More than two-thirds (67%) of vendors believe their channel partners are fully proficient at prospecting for new business, but just 17% of channel partners say the same about themselves. For anyone who’s ever invested millions in a program that fell flat, this data gap is hits home. Data-driven insights can help businesses separate star performers from stragglers and adjust allocations with pinpoint accuracy.

To illustrate the value that data-driven insights can provide, consider…

…the differences between two large vendor programs. As one vendor saw its business migrate from its core products to strategic digital services, it decided to charge lower-level partners for software and certifications to lower channel costs. The vendor based its strategy on basic data, like partner tiers and revenue, without considering the unintended consequences of the shift. The move was a flop, forcing the vendor to switch back and eroding both channel confidence and sales volume.

In contrast, a data-centric vendor made analysis the centerpiece of its strategy when updating its channel program to address changing buyer behavior. Using historical data such as revenue, certifications and costs, as well as leading indicators such as website value, Google rank, sales skills and partner brand positions, the vendor compiled a list of attractive benefits and removed 30% of its program requirements. The result? Revenue increased by 36% over 12 months, MDF usage improved by 26% and overall costs to serve the channel dropped by 18%.

3 Steps to a Better Data Strategy

Driving those kinds of results in your own organization requires a robust strategy for collecting data, extracting insights and activating them across the channel. Here’s where to start:

  • Have the right data. Data is the lifeblood of your program. Identify the metrics that matter, from sales volume by partner to incentive distribution for a particular product model, and work with internal and external stakeholders to track them. Establishing a clear view and continuously updating it is key for spotting trends and adjusting as needed throughout the year. For example, 41% of channel leaders have unused market development funds (MDF) each year, since much of the spending happens early in the year. Tracking spending data consistently can help organizations leverage more of their MDF dollars to increase sales.

  •  Analyze data for insights. This is where the right tools are critical. By gathering data in a centralized platform and applying advanced forecasting models, brands can gain the insights they need to optimize channel performance. Limit “rear view” data analysis, since last year’s data is increasingly irrelevant in a fast-changing business environment, and look instead to leading indicators that can help you optimize channel mix, rank partners and award MDF dollars. Based on your specific incentive programs and goals, predictive analytics models integrate internal and external data to provide the most accurate results and enhance ROI.

  • Make smarter decisions based on insights. For channel programs, success depends on turning insight into actions with real-world benefits. Those benefits can include boosting revenue through partner-facing improvements, as well as finding ways to streamline operations and corporate costs. For example, by using insights to reliably estimate rebate spending or sales performance for a specific product, you can plan budgets with greater accuracy and allocate MDF or co-op dollars where they’ll make the greatest difference.

To build data-driven capabilities within your organization, identify a senior-level data champion who reports directly to your channel chief. This role is instrumental for leading the shift, as well as moving team…

…members from core channel roles to more data-focused ones. Establish concrete goals and timelines for your initiatives and gain buy-in from your sales team to adjust requirements, benefits and spending based on your findings.

Putting data to work for your channel program also demands the appropriate technology investments. True insight is made possible by centralizing data from across your network. With the right inputs and tools to analyze them, a business can produce monthly, weekly or even daily forecasts, allowing them to double down on profitable programs and refine those that are falling behind.

Digital is not only here to stay, it’s in the driver’s seat. As brands adapt to a new digital landscape, investing now in strong data capabilities can help your channel program enhance ROI and seize powerful new market opportunities.

Janet Schijns is CEO of JS Group and a former Fortune 500 C-suite executive. She was named Channel Partners’ Channel Influencer of the Year in March 2019. She most recently was EVP and CMSO at Office Depot, where she led a major transformation to drive traction in IT services, generating recurring revenue from higher-margin solutions. Prior to that, she was with Verizon Business and ran the channel organization for Motorola Enterprise and Government. She is an industry expert who regularly appears on the main stage at a variety of events. Follow her on LinkedIn or @channelsmart on Twitter.

Steven Kellam is senior vice president of marketing and global alliances at 360Insights. He brings decades of experience, is a leader in channel incentives and marketing and has an end-to-end understanding of what it takes for brands to succeed selling through complex sales channels. Follow him on LinkedIn or @360insights on Twitter.  

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