Is the channel still lagging when it comes to automation?

It has never been more important for IT vendors to leverage the power of data to run successful channel programmes. They need data and automated processes to manage the complexity of the modern partner ecosystem, which comprises a growing list of different partner types and new sales models, such as managed services and SaaS.

Conversely, a partner can typically work with up to 20 vendors and it can be a struggle to manage all those different programmes and processes. For a vendor to successfully win partner mindshare, they need to provide tailor their channel programme to their partners’ individual needs. Providing a frictionless experience is vital – and relies on the power of data.

In his latest blog, Forrester’s Jay McBain notes that the growth of the ‘partner ecosystem’ is reliant on getting the right data to understand new engagement models and drive better partner experience.

Indeed, we see price, brand, and ease of doing business consistently topping the list of requirements that partners seek in a vendor.

Yet McBain says channel organisations are lagging when it comes to automation.

“Channel professionals want to talk about expanding their partner programmes and building broad ecosystems, but the truth is that many of their basic programme and channel management processes are still painfully manual and error-prone,” he says.

Despite automation being a huge growth opportunity, Forrester estimates that more than 80 percent of companies (in all industries) run their indirect sales in a silo. It is completely separate from sales, marketing, and other lines of business. In many cases, the channel organisation has its own sales, marketing, finance, and operations groups inside, collaborating little with other divisions, notes Jay.

“These organisations suffer from constrained access to internal and external data, manual processes such as quarterly business reviews, ad hoc channel account manager interactions, and programs that run on spreadsheets. There are very few end-to-end workflows to support the partners’ journey.”

He says that channel leaders generally know the linear partner journey from recruitment to onboarding, enablement, incentivising, co-selling, and co-marketing. Because of the typical partner programme’s manual overhead, however, few can identify points of friction along the way and don’t have effective feedback mechanisms for improvement.

“Multiply that by different partner types and changing business models entering into the fray, these blind spots are having a material impact on growth.”

There is also a lack of end-to-end transparency in partner interactions. Channel managers’ knowledge about their partners tends to be very limited. They usually track transactional information and occasionally some business intelligence, but a partner’s interactions from owner/principals, sales, marketing, and technicians across numerous touchpoints remain elusive.

There is also the problem of poor partner experience (PX). Juggling the demands of multiple vendors is too often a laborious, manual process.

The ability theory to partner for differentiation by leveraging channel data is vitally important, says Jay.

He maintains: “The growth of ecosystems is reliant on getting the right data to understand new engagement models and drive better partner experience. Investing in new digital tools to take advantage of expansive channel data and support the partner journey is becoming table stakes in the race toward channel automation.”

What do you think? Is there still work to be done to reduce the complexity of partner programmes? Or are firms slowly starting to recognise the benefits of automation?

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