When times are tough and resources are thin, leveraging channel relationships is often a force multiplier. But engaging with a partner in a joint business development initiative can be a minefield of shattered expectations for both vendor and partner.
According to Ian MacMillan, Wharton Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Co-leader of Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs, companies do not necessarily plan in order to avoid failure, but to avoid “failing expensively.” A flexible approach that includes risk assessment is critical to keeping plans and partnerships dynamic — and to avoiding the failure of joint marketing tactics. The inevitable loss of confidence in the partnership can mean reluctance to engage in future efforts.
How many times have we matched co-op dollars to partner contributions only to be embarrassed that the costs weren’t appropriate to the results? Most commonly, it can be attributed to one failure — the failure to develop an adequate business plan. This is a plan that assures a common purpose, plots clear directions, and is supported by sufficient resources and mutual commitments to plan achievement.
The business-partner planning cycle can be as simple as notes on a cocktail napkin, or as complex as a detailed project plan interacting with a CRM system. Regardless, the devil is always in the details and those details are often different from our first impression.
1. Visualize: Describe what you are doing and why it should work for both the partner and the vendor. How does it fit your individual strategic and tactical initiatives? How does it align with your vision and customer points of view?
A clear image of planned results is needed. This is true, whether it is a simple lead generation campaign or a comprehensive business plan. How can you succeed if you can’t define the precise mission?
2. Synthesize: Set your mutual expectations from the plan. What are the measurable objectives and what information systems can be used for the measurements? How are the increments — from starting point to goal — evaluated?
This is all about the numbers. A plan for an integrated e-mail marketing and outbound calling campaign, for instance, should define the size of the original list and the anticipated number of responses. Since there is often uncertainty about the definition of a qualified lead, this is a good place to define it.
3. Organize: Define the resources that will be assigned to accomplish the objectives. Are the resources available? What skills and processes will be required? Who is responsible for which activities and their costs? What are the risks associated with the plan? Are there contingencies defined that allow for the changes that will occur?
Inevitably, some of the planned resources become unavailable or perhaps the cost is more than anticipated. Instead of scrambling for Plan B, spend time determining if similar results could be accomplished with different resources. A chain of command is essential in this phase.
4. Educate: Supply the information necessary for successful completion of the plan. What sales collateral, playbooks, technical training, sales training and/or operational training are required? When and how will they be disseminated? How is commitment gained from those who will carry out the plan?
The leading reason why projects fail is that not everyone involved has access to all the information necessary to complete their assignments. Just taking the time to distribute information can go a long way toward reinforcing an initiative.
5. Execute: Document the individual tasks to move forward to the goal.
How do you interact with each other and your customers? What and when are the periodic feedback loops required to remain on track, and to make midcourse corrections?
Managers often describe this strategy as ‘blocking and tackling’. If you have successfully accomplished the other four phases in the planning process, this phase becomes much simpler.
There can be successful partnerships without the level of planning outlined here. However, it is usually either: the result of a long and close working relationship between vendor and partner that has smoothed all the sharp edges from the process; or it is purely accidental and often non-repeatable success lacking any real innovation.
CTX Associate Mike Ruff has had a dozen years of partner-channel sales experience with hardware, software and systems-integrator firms. He has recruited, grown and managed partner sales channels for IBM, 3Com and Informix. For examples of the types of marketing & sales planning support services that CTX Associates can deliver, visit: http://ctxresources.com/index.php/channel-project-services