When AI Comes to Channel
Today, insights from customer data are being used to drive almost all key business decisions, from refining processes to optimizing marketing campaigns. Channel sales are no exception. To do so effectively, companies must have an intuitive eco-system in place to capture and analyze relevant data about their business. Forrester reports that 74 percent of firms say they want to be “data-driven,” but only 29 percent are actually successful at connecting analytics to action. Actionable insights are the missing link for companies that want to drive business outcomes from their data.
This is where artificial intelligence (AI) steps in. AI utilizes recent advancements in cognitive computing and cloud infrastructure to fuel on-demand, always-evolving, learning algorithms. Analytics applications can harvest channel data without requiring channel partners to fill in volumes of additional forms beyond the required norm to be credited for a transaction. By consistently collecting and analyzing indirect sales data and by leveraging these insights to channel sales and marketing at the point of decision-making, it is possible to gain a deeper understanding of underlying partner buying behaviors and patterns–key to successful channel development.
Data as a Differentiator
Channel analytics are not for the faint of heart. The amount of data available and broad range of analyses to be conducted can be overwhelming at first glance. The data that is available is often spread across multiple, disparate information systems, especially in large organizations with distributed regional partner programs.
The key to tapping into the potential of all of this data isn’t only about adopting more technology or new processes; it’s also about cultivating a new set of skills and capabilities within channel operations. With that in mind, Juniper Networks set up a Marketing Analytics and Decisions Scientists team that has done extensive work with partners to identify their customers’ TAM (total available market) and propensity to buy, even providing contacts who have already been digitally nurtured. The goal, ultimately, is to roll out highly focused channel programs for partners globally.
Recent advancements in business intelligence and real-time actionable data have now made it possible to mine information from previously siloed IT systems to generate deep insights regarding channel partner activity. Sophisticated channel managers are leveraging new tools and techniques to not only increase visibility of past channel performance, but also to predict which investments will have the greatest impact on partner behavior impact and success.
Here are three tried and tested ways to understand how AI can help you build a successful and data-driven channel strategy:
- Improve customer experience: From in-depth audience demographics, to buying behaviors, to product engagement, channel partners need more visibility into their customers’ needs, propensity to buy and financial capabilities. They need to design their strategies around customer data and vendors or solutions they sell. Real-time insights for AI can show your partners the value of certain markets, best-selling products and regions, as well as economical and seasonal trends, which can help them sell well and, ultimately, help you win big.
- Increase lead efficacy: As vendors consume an extensive amount of industry research and market analysis, providing useful, accessible and easily digestible summaries of this data can provide channel partners with a competitive edge that can allow them to better invest their marketing dollars. Leveraging machine learning capabilities enables vendors to develop laser-focused business models and help customize new services to support the changing needs of customers. Additionally, actionable data insights and feedback from customers allow you to test and modify offerings in real time. These insights help streamline lead-generation efforts toward enhancing the conversion rates of your leads that are inclined to be interested in that product for enhanced profitable results.
- Empower sellers with insights: Data from AI provides the ability to segment, sub-segment and provide customized solutions to customer challenges. This allows for tailored campaigns to be built to land at the right time, which starts in advance of predictive cycles, eventually driving meaningful engagements with customers. Business analytic tools can help channel managers look deeper at bookings and margins. By factoring in market trends and public sources of data such as seasonal changes, competitor pricing and category popularity changes, managers can pinpoint the most profitable markets for their product or services and develop competitive partner pricing programs that maximize profit margins and enable informed decision making throughout the process.
Gone are the days of putting out fires and spending valuable time reacting to the needs and problems of your partners in the absence of data. Instead, focus should be on leveraging AI to grow your business by actively promoting the needs of your channel partners using actionable data insights to support your priorities. As channel operations teams develop greater analytical capabilities, they will deliver added value to their organizations. Advanced channel operations teams are less concerned with reporting past performance and are spending more time identifying growth opportunities and predicting what investments will drive channel performance. These teams focus on improving profitable revenue growth in the channel and on delivering insights to executives, their channel sales and marketing counterparts, and, perhaps most importantly, channel partners.
Helda Lopes is Vice President, Global Partner Programs and Marketing, Juniper Networks.