IF View - Issue NV-5

IF Only organizations knew how to find the most capable and dedicated marketing channel partners…

Marketing Channel Strategy Consultants
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Tips for finding the best channel partners

Introduction

Marketing channel performance is governed by two key variables: having the best channel partners and the channel system employed. While channel system design focuses on the trade-off among channel cost, control and coverage, channel partner effectiveness relies upon the capability, dedication and performance of each channel partner.

Although channel partner selection is critical to channel performance, it is commonly treated as an afterthought. As a result, channel partner selection is commonly under-resourced, under supported and delegated to front line area managers or a specialist channel development group.

All channel organisations should aim to secure an unfair share of the available talent pool, thus forcing competition to settle for second best channel partners. Having the best channel partners ensures that long-term performance is maximized within the constraints of a particular channel system. Both short-term performance improvement and long-term competitive advantage is achievable through selecting and keeping an industry's best channel partners.


Tip One - Maximise the channel partner prospect pool

Channel partners should be recruited from the widest possible candidate pool. Too many organisations recycle an industry's channel partners or share multi-brand channel partners due to an over-reliance on industry experience. To widen the net, develop a channel partner profile which distinguishes among channel partner must have, should have and nice to have skills and experience requirements.


Tip Two - Appoint a multi-discipline selection team

Channel partner criteria should cover partner capability, partner motivation and partner fit.

  1. Partners must be able to deliver the company's current and future customer value proposition.
  2. Partners must have long-term motivation to deliver the company's customer value proposition. Financial rewards are short term motivators, but exploration and development of business valuation and succession planning issues will provide long-term insight.
  3. Partners must be willing to become part of a network working to maximise overall business performance for all stakeholders.
The assessment team should include local and overall network management and specialist assistance as required. Area Managers offer valuable local insight and should establish a foundation for a long-term relationship during the recruitment process. Strategic sales, marketing and/or business development managers drive the company's marketing channel strategy and need to assess partners' alignment with the company's strategic and tactical goals. Executive management drives the corporate culture with which the partner must be comfortable. Functional specialists offer depth of knowledge in critical success areas such as human resources, engineering, logistics and marketing.


Tip Three - Employ a comprehensive set of evaluation criteria

It's easy to appoint a clearly superior candidate, but as channel partnerships and locations become more desirable (and thus more strategically important) a number of excellent candidates may be available. With a choice of channel partners, a comprehensive selection criteria that is summarised into meaningful groups and tailored to the location is the key. Channel partners are a company's front line and often a major criterion in judging the company. Assessment criteria should include areas such as: business instincts (street smarts), operational discipline, management skills, financial decision making, leadership, understanding of and focus on customer satisfaction issues, a long term commitment to the channel partner's and the company's business, fit with corporate culture, fit with the level of channel management control and an individual assessment of the channel partner's key business manager.


Tip Four - Customize evaluation criteria to a specific location

Markets vary according to the competitive landscape. Even within the same network, individual evaluation criteria should be weighted according to a location's business needs. For example, many companies employ specialist staff teams or channel partners to establish green-field sites. Similarly, a business mix may vary across geographic regions and should be reflected in channel partner assessment criteria.


Tip Five - Candidate performance prediction

Channel partner assessment aims to predict candidates' likely performance. By employing a range of assessment forums, communication mediums and assessment criteria a partner's future performance becomes more predictable and developmental needs are highlighted. Past performance is the best predictor of future performance. The insight gained from in depth interviewing is especially valuable when assessing new-to-industry and new-to-role candidates.


Tip Six - Adopt a selection by rejection philosophy

Positive skills and experiences are easy to find, but a robust recruitment program should aim to uncover positive and negative traits. By adopting a selection by rejection approach throughout the recruitment process, candidates with serious capability, motivation or fit flaws can be red flagged and progressively eliminated.


Tip Seven - Adopt a professional management approach

The recruitment process gives prospective channel partners a first taste of the future relationship and should be used to make a strong first impression. It is imperative that the professionalism shown during recruitment reflects the professionalism to be experienced during the ongoing relationship. Often a series of recruitment projects are taking place simultaneously. Each of these must be professionally managed. First establish a time-scale expectation - monitor and adhere to it. Second, momentum should be consistent throughout the process. Adopt processes, systems and tools to ensure the task is well managed so that the relationship starts positively.


Summary

Although channel partner recruitment isn't rocket science, it requires a professional and robust process managed with discipline and shared ownership. Poor recruitment results can last a very long time and ultimately lead to expensive legal and commercial costs. and, worst of all, can tie up scarce resources and de-motivate an entire distribution channel. Simply, channel partner recruitment must be treated with the respect that is due as an integral marketing key success factor.




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THE RE-EMERGENCE OF DIRECT DISTRIBUTION

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