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Channel Matters Blog > June 2015 > The Midyear Channel Checkup Continues — Demand Creation

The Midyear Channel Checkup Continues — Demand Creation

by Rich Blakeman
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As we approached midyear, we started a series of posts on areas of channel strategy that could still be adjusted in time to create a positive impact on end-of-year business. These posts covered a variety of topics such as partner selection, channel business acumen and refocusing resources to where they can have the greatest impact. We could not possibly move on from this series without taking a look at demand creation, a topic that is omnipresent in practically every strategy discussion we have.

I was in Asia last week, traveling with my colleague Joe Galvin, Chief Research Officer at the Miller Heiman Research Institute. Joe's work is largely with direct sales organizations, so creating opportunities is a big deal. Sure, they talk about other topics, but ultimately all discussions are about opportunities, or more specifically, the customer.

I started thinking about how the channel business has so many moving parts, e.g., partner selection, partner compensation, partner enablement, that it's easy to lose site of the fact that our business is all about the customer, too. At the end of the day, everything we do (or at least everything we should do) is about the customer. Our parent company, Miller Heiman Group, calls this concept customer core.

The midyear demand creation checkup
As you're thinking about putting customers at the core of your channel business, you can't help but think about demand creation, so let's talk about your midyear demand creation checkup. There are three relatively simple steps that can lead to immensely valuable insights.

Step 1: Find the source
The first step is to examine every opportunity you've won and every opportunity you've lost in the first half of the year. If your sales cycles are long, it probably makes sense to go back even further so you can evaluate a larger sample. Now, where did those opportunities come from?

There are two elements to this for the channel organization. First, did the channel uncover the opportunity, or did it originate in-house? Second, what marketing or sales tactic (or lack thereof) generated the opportunity? This could be everything from a formal campaign to a website-generated lead to a blue bird referral. You may find you even have opportunities that have no source identified. (A problem in and of itself, but one we don't have the space to tackle in this post.) If you market by segments such as specific verticals or other niches, you may find it helpful to include that element in your analysis as well.

Step 2: Compare to plan
How does what actually happened compare to what you planned to happen? The first place many sales leaders look is inward at their own marketing department. Did marketing generate what they said they would? That's important, but it's hardly the whole picture. You also need to look outward to channel partners to see what they generated. Unlike other posts where we've looked at individual partner performance, we're looking at the channel as a whole here.

This evaluation is also about more than quantity. Too often, organizations look only at whether they generated enough opportunities and not at the detail. This leads to the thinking that if we (or the partners) just try harder we'll be fine. As always, the key to success is to work smarter, not harder.

Step 3: Ask the right questions
You'll notice I haven't suggested what you may or may not find in your analysis. That's because I really don't know. When we do this analysis with channel organizations, the results are all over the board. However, there are standard questions that can help business leaders uncover key insights. Here are a few to think about:

Are you capitalizing on your strengths and your partner's strengths? You may have gone into the year assuming you can generate enough opportunities internally only to find that your partners are actually better at generating the ones that close. Or, of course, you might find the opposite is the case. What does that tell you about the adjustments you need to make to your strategy?

Where am I wasting my resources? We all start initiatives that just don't pan out. For example, maybe you added a new vertical or a new geography only to find that you can't generate enough opportunities to warrant the investment. Does it make sense to scale back on some of these initiatives so you can focus your limited resources for greater impact?

What new tactics have been tried? Maybe there's a tactic that a partner wanted to try, but that left you a bit skeptical. If it didn't work, set aside your ego and ask why. Are there adjustments that could be made? If it did work, is it worth investing in?

Where are the untapped opportunities? Conversely, a good portion of your business may be coming from where you least expected. Are these successes an anomaly or something you can capitalize on?

Are you creating your opportunities or are they creating you?
As I've said many times, we can't control what customers do anymore than we can control what partners do. When it comes to demand creation, the midyear checkup isn't so much about adjusting tactics to meet your plan as it is about adjusting your plan to capitalize on what's working and de-emphasizing or adjusting what's not. That requires more than just managing the numbers. It requires conscious leadership and an objective evaluation of the facts.
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