All channel engagement strategies should begin by selecting the type of organizations needed to achieve your business objectives. Sadly this is often not the case. Logically before recruiting, on-boarding, training, motivating and managing new sales or marketing personnel, you would start by writing a job description defining the location, role, responsibilities, required skills and competencies associated with the job. Incredibly many companies embarking on an indirect channel strategy for the first time ignore this step and companies with mature strategies rarely if ever review their channel selection. The former often examine the channel landscape and try to reverse-match what they see with their needs. The CEO of a Silicon Valley cloud security software start-up typified this behavior recently when he told me “we went after the VAR channel that sell Symantec and McAfee but we’ve found it very tough to get traction.” Of course they have. Symantec VAR’s have no motivation to sell a start-up’s cloud service when they already sell the market-leader’s conventional licensed software!

The latter stubbornly stick to an established channel even though over time, they’re target markets and / or products may change significantly.

Go to Market Strategy

The first step in developing your indirect channel strategy is to ensure that you have a clear understanding of your existing go-to-market strategy. This seems obvious. But ask yourself:

  • What are our target markets – geographic, product, horizontal and vertical?
  • Who are our target customers – who benefits from our products and services, what size and type are they?
  • What kind of indirect channel addresses these customers offering the kind of product and services they want to buy?
  • What products and services do we have that will address the needs of the customers and which will appeal to the channels that service them?
  • What are our value propositions to both customer and channel indirect channels?

Answering these simple questions will lead you to the right indirect channel channels and help define your indirect channel selection and recruitment strategy by establishing selection criteria.

The Importance of Good Data

All too often, companies choose their indirect channels based upon small amounts of data that can be easily accessed, or make attempts to gather more detailed information with a manual approach.

The result is that important clues about why certain companies are unlikely to make good indirect channels are missed and more importantly, companies fail to discover the companies that could become some of their most successful indirect channels. Remember the words of the cloud services executive from earlier in this whitepaper?
Many companies mistakenly assume they know who the ideal indirect channels are based upon local knowledge and ‘gut feel’. Whilst this approach may work on a local scale it cannot succeed as a basis for a regional or global strategy. To get a complete picture of your potential indirect channel landscape, you must consider detailed research, data pooling and if necessary data acquisition. Before you start, decide what kind of information you will need to know about each indirect channel in order to:

  • Assess their suitability for partnership (your selection criteria)
  • Benchmark them against their competition
  • Communicate with them when the time is right

Pull together as much data as possible from internal sources on as many existing and potential indirect channels as possible. Leave no stone unturned. Draw from your marketing databases, contact lists, ERP, SCM, LMS, MA and CRM systems and create a single central repository in which to store your indirect channel data.

When you have exhausted all existing internal sources, consider utilizing low-cost resources to conduct web-based desk research, find out who is selling for your direct competitors, contact your distributors for sell-through and contact data or as a last resort, approach a data specialist with a very tight brief. Ask the provider to map the data you already have against the total data they have available ensuring that you are supplementing your existing data rather than replacing it with exactly the same companies – at your own expense. Most importantly, ensure that you acquire current contact information on key personnel – understand who you can’t sell to, market to or recruit through, choosing only the contacts right for you.

Don’t be surprised if the indirect channels you subsequently select are very different from those you expected or the channels you have now. Most companies outgrow their indirect channel network as their go-to-market strategy evolves but as I highlighted earlier, surprisingly few take proactive steps to do anything about this. Remember, indirect channels don’t always evolve at the same pace or in the same direction as the companies whose products they sell.

Few companies have the patience or nerve to invest in indirect channel development or reselection. History offers many examples of companies who have found a very real and urgent need to find alternative channels to market. Note that when Apple launched the iPod, the company’s global franchise network of Apple Center’s had little to offer the company in taking it to market.  And cannily, Apple chose to complement established retailers with its own chain of retail outlets.

Above all, start with defining what you need to know to achieve your goal of indirect channel selection, create a single data repository with a consistent data structure that meets your current and your future needs. The resultant indirect channel database should be accessible as a business tool by all those in your company who will need to interact with your indirect channel network. It is important also that you develop a strategy and a methodology for maintaining the data’s currency such that it continues to be fit for purpose. As we shall see later, CRM systems seem like the obvious choice but beware! Think about what you intend to do with the database once you have built it and then decide whether a CRM system will be flexible enough to support the complexity of an indirect route to market while enabling self-profiling and the range of programs you will no doubt wish to automate. Sales automation alone addresses few if any of the key lifecycle components alone.