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Channel Data Is A Competitive Differentiator

Brands that provide an enhanced partner experience grow faster than their peers, are more profitable, and drive higher customer satisfaction and retention downstream. Smart channel professionals are looking at data across the partner journey as a way to differentiate themselves from the competition and accelerate faster in the market.

Our research found that the effective use of real-time channel data improves a vendor’s speed-to-market, provides actionable insights for making in-flight adjustments, develops a new level of location intelligence to better understand their customers, opens up data accessibility to reduce payment errors, and helps quantify the return on invested capital (ROIC) in the channel.

Partners are putting pressure on brands to deliver a better experience with focus on joint go-to-market planning, strategy, and program design. They are looking for their specializations to be recognized through enhanced segmentation and looking for more advanced enablement tools to assist with co-selling and co-marketing. With the changing economics of how products are reaching the market and buyer preferences, partners are also looking for innovative incentives to keep them engaged with the vendor.

“Channel data has historically been very siloed, with dozens of different systems reporting in a disconnected fashion.”

The organization is also siloed, with our research revealing that only 43% of channel marketers report into the marketing or sales department. It is critical that channel pros have a 360-degree view of partner data to make better decisions and streamline programs. Without this single source of truth, brands are missing cross-sell and upsell opportunities, spraying their marketing tactics, depleting resources on manual tasks, setting too wide of a berth on recruitment, and overpaying on partner programs.

The 360-degree view of channel data should include account data, profile data, skills and certification data, incentive data, sales enablement data, and through-channel marketing data, as well as other quantitative and qualitative data.

Many brands already have channel data functionality in their current tools that they are not utilizing. Many channel software platforms offer flexible APIs and integrate well with other back-end systems to create a single source of truth. Several channel software vendors now offer a horizontal approach to channel management that includes channel data management, financial management, inventory, configure-price-quote, through-channel marketing, partner relationship management, opportunity management, incentives, onboarding, and enablement.

The benefits of moving to a modern platform include advanced and integrated functionality, step-function improvements in agility and flexibility, and often a consolidated operating model. There are dozens of sources of channel data that can be consolidated from internal, external, and paid sources, although the availability cycles, sequencing, and data quality levels can provide challenges.

Managing a channel is much more complex (and expensive) if it isn’t data-driven. Channel account managers spend a large percentage of their time chasing data for partners and burning selling cycles on preparation for partner quarterly business reviews (QBRs). Channel pros are struggling with managing lead passing and opportunity progression. In fact, 73% of marketers consider managing partners a major challenge.

Having a data-driven channel organization also has another benefit. Having more robust, decision-grade data will allow AI and workflow automation systems to operate more effectively. In the next few years, we will see brands differentiate themselves by having machine-learning systems and bots be able to predict and prescribe actions in real time.

We know that channel pros have a difficult time extracting themselves from their “day jobs.” With the average partner program having 90 components, combined with putting out fires on an hour-by-hour basis, an all-encompassing channel data strategy may fall to the bottom of the pile.

“We recommend starting small, aiming for singles and not home runs.”

Channel organizations must get into a cycle of automate, innovate, repeat, using a better partner experience as the true north. The systemic use of data to understand, test, and optimize will drive the efficiency gains that the organization needs to break out as a competitive differentiator.

For a deeper dive, check out our recent Forrester research report, “Winning In The Channel Requires Data-Driven Program Innovation.”


Jay McBain is principal analyst for channels, partnerships and alliances at Forrester Research. Read more Forrester blogs here.

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