Performance Baselines Can’t Wait

Channel chiefs need to create known starting points when measuring the performance of their programs and partners over time.

By Larry Walsh

“Follow the data!” It’s a favorite battle cry of conference panels, conference rooms, and board meetings.

The conventional wisdom is that data is the source of all good. It’s essential for any report, business plan, or PowerPoint presentation.

Data will uncover new business opportunities. Data will justify new business ventures. Data will optimize operational processes. Data will show weaknesses in market coverage. Data will shine a light on the right path forward.

Better decision-making through data is the foundation of every talk about business analytics and Big Data.

The thing about data-based decision-making, though, is that the data requires context and relativity. Without a delta to compare how partner perceptions, performance, composition, and satisfaction change over time, data presents a mere snapshot of what’s happening at the time of its collection.

Baselines in baseball serve this very purpose. The ball must remain inside the baseline to remain in fair play. Runners follow the baseline on their way around the diamond. The 90-foot-long white lines between the bases provide a known quantity for comparing what’s good (fair play) and bad (out of bounds). Without those lines, players and umpires would have too much room for interpretation and bad calls would result.

Improving intelligence and mitigating the potential for making bad calls is why business and channel leaders need baselines whenever they’re using data to evaluate marketing, sales, and operational issues.

In the channel, some of the most common assessments that need baselines are partner perceptions, partner satisfaction, competitive overlaps, performance potential, partner needs assessments, and partner market development. It’s not enough to collect numbers to see what partners think of a vendor or program today; channel leaders need to establish a starting baseline and repeat the data-collection exercise to measure change over time.

Some good times to create baselines:

  • At the start of each fiscal year
  • Before launching new or updated channel programs
  • After making leadership and executive changes
  • When merging channels pre- and post-acquisition
  • When launching a new channel marketing campaign

Too often, though, vendors and channel chiefs will opt to delay or defer creating a baseline. It’s hard to say why, but here at 2112, we’ve heard several reasons, including that a channel program is too new and baseline research would create an unflattering picture. Another channel chief once said that new initiatives were untested and a baseline could create an unrealistic expectation within his company.

Neither of those is a viable reason to avoid baselines. Having a baseline and follow up research would validate changes, warrant new investments for expansion, and provide intelligence on what particular portions of a program made a difference. Conversely, if the follow-up research found no or negative change, the channel chief has the insights to circle back and try something different.

By definition, a baseline is a starting point, a foundation for empirical measurement of channel program performance. Regardless of how they execute channel research and assessments, channel chiefs need to make the creation of baselines a part of every partner program initiative.

Larry Walsh, The 2112 GroupLarry Walsh is the CEO of The 2112 Group, a business strategy and research firm servicing the IT channel community. He’s also the publisher of Channelnomics, the leading source of channel news and trend analysis. Follow Larry on Twitter at @lmwalsh2112 and subscribe to his podcast, Pod2112, on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and other leading podcast sources. You can always e-mail Larry directly at