Future Channel Strategies Start with Newton’s Laws

If channel professionals want to prepare for future market conditions, they must start leaving their past behind.

By Larry Walsh

Psychic The Amazing Criswell opened the cult classic “Plan 9 from Outer Space” with a prophetic line that’s as applicable today as it was during the film’s release more than six decades ago. “We are all interested in the future – for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.”

In the channel, we’re interested in the future too. For the past three years, channel chiefs sought a crystal ball like the one Criswell peered into for glances into future market conditions, customer expectations, and go-to-market models. They’ve been looking for the keys to how they can structure their strategies, operations, and careers.

The tech industry has many ideas about what the next five to 10 years will mean for channel programs and operations. The prevailing presumption is that the service model will dominate routes to market, independent software vendors (ISVs) will take on increasing importance as customers need their applications to complement and enhance cloud computing services, and marketplaces will rise as a means of automating sales and distribution.

What does all of this mean for channel professionals and programs? That’s the underlying question.

Every technology vendor will have a different take on what the future means to them and their channel strategy. Regardless of the path forward, channel professionals – from chiefs to account managers – need to remember not the faux predictions of Criswell but the science of Sir Isaac Newton.

Specifically, the channel’s future rests in the proper application of Newton’s Third Law of Motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Another way of interpreting that for the channel: If you’re going to change for the future, you need to leave the past behind.

Vendors are beginning to wake up to a couple of facts. First, not all channel partners are going to make the transition to future technologies and models. Second, they can themselves shed many of the assumptions that drove their channel strategy and operations for years.

The truth is that much of what the future requires is a decalcification of channel programs that have grown laden with increasingly unnecessary frameworks, bureaucracies, and policies. Calcified channel programs driven by entropy are the reason why many indirect go-to-market strategies underperform or struggle to achieve objectives. Moreover, channel thinking based on the past is the reason for much of the entropy that mires many vendors’ partner programs.

Vendors often will seek new solutions to what they perceive as future challenges and opportunities. Yes, the future will bring change that requires channel professionals to rethink their go-to-market strategies, but they can put themselves in a much better position simply by cleaning up the litter and debris that gets in the way of sound partnerships and indirect sales.

As 2112’s research has shown, ease of doing business confers stunning performance advantages. Vendors deemed “easy” to do business with because of their uncluttered programs have three times the share of partner wallet than vendors deemed difficult.

Any forecast beyond 24 months is unreliable, but we know the future technology market will be vastly different from today, though not wholly indistinguishable. Before taking on channel rebuilding programs, look to see what is and isn’t working today, identify the program elements unlikely to change, and simplify as much as possible. Most of all, don’t believe for a minute that you must preserve all that’s been built when creating programs for the future.

Good housekeeping is the first step to any channel improvement project.


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 [email protected].