Here’s a strange trend: when realizing business value from your channel marketing data gets to be a bit too much about collecting the perfect set of tools. To put it differently, do you ever feel like the conversation around big data and data collection in channel marketing is getting a bit convoluted?
Think of it like this: a guy loves to play music and realizes that to perform his best, he needs to own a super well-built guitar, and so acquires his first truly exquisitely crafted electric guitar. He notices that the engineering of the neck makes the new guitar more playable than his old instrument and he can enjoy significant gains in personal satisfaction with his playing by merely using a better tool for the job. The high-end pickups, purpose-designed for the type of music he plays seem to enhance his performance too; the music just sounds better. Better-sounding music is what he set out to solve initially, but now he becomes distracted with collecting high-end guitars. More time spent researching on the Internet, and more time going to music stores, swap meets and auctions in the quest for the perfect instrument. Less time spent actually playing music, which was the original goal. The pursuit of performance gains has convoluted the original intent, effectively pushing the “return on investment” further and further out, as our would-be rock star instead pursues the perfect set of better mouse traps.
Forrester’s recent report, Forrester Tech Tide: Channel Software Q1 proposes that that’s where some channel marketers are at with their tech stacks and their strategy around channel intelligence collection. People are interested in getting lots of data, but the challenge is what are they going to do with it?
If you work in channel marketing, think of the amount of data generated as your products move through your distributor network, subsequent retailer networks and to their eventual new homes. In fact, think of the amount of data generated just from a retail store receipt alone; location, date and time of the sale, name of the sales associate and retail partner, name of the consumer…it’s all relevant and when properly leveraged, it should all provide insights that help you do a better job of accomplishing your business objectives.
The report, authored by analyst Jay McBain, suggests three ways of looking at and realizing business value from your channel marketing data:
Channel intelligence comes from everywhere
As with the above illustration, understand first that data comes from everywhere in your sales channel. The task is somewhat a matter of deciding which data matters most, but even more importantly, compiling your sales channel intelligence in one spot. Data comes from many sources, not just digital, but to be actionable, it all needs to be digitized and compiled. A great thing about layering data collection into incentives such as spiff programs is that you can create an automated workflow where you can collect data you might typically need to pay for. For example, adding simple survey questions or making relevant data points mandatory as part of a spiff claim process can dramatically increase the business value your company receives from your channel marketing initiatives.
Measuring and managing the complexity of channels is critically important.
Given the above premise, some of you may already be cringing a bit at this point thinking about either your lack of data or, perhaps worse, the sheer volume and randomness of the data that you are currently sitting on. Here are a few quick thoughts on how you might better get organized and start working your way up your data stack:
1. What do you have? What data do you currently collect in the course of running your existing promotional programs? What are the most critical data points; ones that can help drive internal decision-making for your team or organization? What are you missing that would make a meaningful difference to the way you plan?
2. Digitize If you’re surrounded (metaphorically or otherwise) by an ocean of banker’s boxes full of paper incentive claim forms, now would be a great time to think about moving to an all-digital process. Here’s why: clean, relevant, structured data is a competitive advantage because the channel analytics fuelled by the data allow you to make better decisions and to do so with greater certainty.
3. What are you going to do about it? Getting back to the above parable featuring our would-be rock star: assuming you have the tools you need to gather channel intelligence and you now have a workable dataset from past programs, how are you going to use that data to realize more value and advantage from your channel marketing initiatives?
Channel Data Management Business Value Rationale
The applications of leveraging channel incentive data to enhance ROI on your programs are nearly limitless right now, but many companies, even those with clean, all-digitized data are still using that data as a lagging indicator for decision-making. While this is a commendable improvement over typical pre-digital practices, a superior broad-reaching goal for all channel marketing professionals would be to get to harnessing your analytics for predictive modelling; to leverage channel incentive management tools that have predictive/prescriptive capabilities based on your incentive program data. The predictive approach is what will enable us all to improve the way we optimize our programs for ROI continually.
I will leave you with a few challenges; questions you can ponder to answers that are well worth finding:
• As a channel marketing professional, how can you use data to be more agile and responsive; e.g. respond to a natural disaster, climate variability or other hard to predict factors?
• To be more profitable, you either need to sell more or reduce your costs – how do you do both, or know which one is the best to focus on?
• What are you doing right now that helps your channel partners to self-correct? For example, say a tire dealer is entering an incentive claim and notices that she is within ten tires of getting to her next level of incentive, so she breaks her behavior pattern and orders accordingly in order to receive the incentive. Being able to push this data to your channels saves human effort and time that might typically be spent by your team parsing your own channel reporting and then making outreach efforts to your channel.
• How are you supporting new types of channel partners? This isn’t just about leveraging data for the manufacturer; consider the power of providing everyone in the channel access to see the data that they need. Finance needs to know about compliance; sales needs to know how to better incent the channel, operations sees a spike in sales quickly and knows that they will need to respond operationally from an operations support perspective (e.g. ratchet up logistics support, phone support etc.)