Channel Predictions Are Fleeting; Fundamentals Are Enduring

Vendors and channel pros may look to pundits for the wisdom to change, but they should never ignore the basic components of partner programs and relationships.

By Larry Walsh

The beginning of a new year is typically when industry analysts, pundits, marketers, and wannabe influencers come out with their annual predictions, positioning their lists of insights and random data points as aids in strategic thinking and operational decision-making.

Predictions are mostly infotainment, providing easy access to information that most people already know or are peripherally aware of. Considering that most concepts take years to manifest into trends, and that trends then take years to reach critical mass, making predictions that something will happen in the next 12 months is somewhat pedantic.

After two years of ebbing and flowing pandemic restrictions, economic disruptions and challenges, and political upheaval and turmoil, people in and around the channel are looking for a change. The conversations that Channelnomics has with channel chiefs are often about the desire for something new to spur higher revenue generation and create competitive differentiation. In this sense, the countless predictions that will flood inboxes over the next few weeks will undoubtedly provide some measure of hope and assurance – even if it’s fleeting.

So, what will you read and hear about in the coming weeks? Much of it will be the same you’ve been hearing over the past few years.

  • Marketplaces will continue to increase in importance.
  • Channel data collaboration and analytics are imperative.
  • Distribution will decrease in relevancy and value.
  • Channel program tiers are dead (again).
  • Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS) will supplant transactional sales.
  • Traditional channel incentives are ineffective.
  • Pineapple on pizza will finally gain mainstream acceptance.
  • Managed services are the most effective channel route to market.
  • Getting back on the road (when safe) is imperative to effective selling.
  • Customer experience is the new gold.
  • Artificial intelligence tools will transform the way sellers sell and buyers buy.
  • Vendors and partners will transact in cryptocurrency.
  • Channel automation will decrease costs and improve productivity.

All of those are true, at least to a certain extent (except pineapple on pizza). How do we know? They address trends that have been unfolding for years and will take several more to reach fruition.

New ideas, strategies, and methodologies don’t just appear out of thin air. They’re not conjured up in mere minutes for a social media post that goes viral. And they’re not the product of some prevalent groupthink. By the time a “trend” materializes in some canned PowerPoint presentation, magazine list, or tweet, it’s already been circulating for some time.

As Geoffrey Moore famously described in his book “Crossing the Chasm,” adopting new products (ideas are products too) takes time. In many cases, the early adopters are derided and criticized. It’s not until these ideas reach a critical mass (not necessarily a majority) that they’re considered mainstream.

Behind all these trends are two things: the fundamentals and contextualization. As much as vendors and channel professionals seek new means for achieving better and more cost-effective results in working with partners, they’re still beholden to the same elements underlying channel programs and relationships since the Venetians did commerce with traders along the Silk Road.

Channel program elements that do and will continue to make a difference in partner performance include:

  • Simplified program structures
  • Frictionless policies and processes (e.g., ease of doing business)
  • Clear and consistent lines of communications
  • Well-defined value and economic propositions (e.g., profitability)
  • Meaningful training and enablement resources
  • Accessible technical support
  • Committed joint business planning and collaboration
  • Coordinated sales and marketing
  • Demonstrable value to the end customer

None of this is to say that we should ignore predictions and trends. Some are interesting. Some are coming of age. Some are worth tracking, thinking about, and incorporating into plans. But channel professionals can’t ignore the fundamentals; those will always serve as the foundation on which legacy and emerging trends stand.

Larry Walsh is the CEO, chief analyst, and founder of Channelnomics. He’s an expert in the development and execution of channel programs, disruptive sales models, and growth strategies for companies worldwide. Follow him on Twitter at @lmwalsh_CN.

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