Several excellent and very timely reports have recently been published about the impact of COVID-19 on the IT channel. For our team at Channel Impact, a report by the 2112 Group was a must-read. It covered everything from channel program disruptions, to the economic outlook, to channel revenue forecasts, and how vendors plan to help partners get through it all.
Keeping a pulse on the market is also a big part of what we do at Channel Impact, and that’s why we recently engaged in some informal surveys of our own. This past month, as we went about our daily work, we took time to talk with partners to find out how they’re coping and what they need from vendors to survive all the upheaval.
Here are five takeaways from our conversations that can guide you as you pivot your channel program for the new normal:
1. Financial support
Although financing didn’t come up in the 2112 Group survey, we found that partners are asking their vendors for relaxed payment terms. For example, instead of 30 days or 60 days, they want to push out their payments a few months further. And they’re wanting those same terms for their customers as well. Some of the larger partners that we talked to are offering financing support to their own customers, while others are looking to vendors for financing, not only for themselves, but also for their customers. If you’ve been following the channel trades, companies like Cisco and Dell have been quick to respond with deferred payment terms, special financing and more.
2. Level up the training
Partners want to level up their skills to get ready – not only for the changes hitting their businesses now, but for the changes that will emerge in the future. And they want something different: they want vendors to tailor their training programs to address the specific issues that COVID-19 has created in verticals such as healthcare and education. Security, Data Center, video, collaboration and other technologies are also now being applied in new, more scalable ways because of the pandemic. Training that addresses how to sell technology solutions for these opportunities is now urgently needed. And with engineers and other teams having more availability on their hands, now is the time to get your training programs in motion.
3. Competitive mind shift
Partners want loyalty and support from their vendors, and in many cases that is playing out in rebates. The big thing for vendors is to build mind share by aligning more closely with key partners — before competitors can develop an edge with them. The opportunity exists to ratchet up the relationship. For example, typically a partner needs to reach a certain revenue growth target to demonstrate quarter-over-quarter or year-over-year increases in order to get a rebate or other incentive. Right now, many partners aren’t going to be able to meet those requirements unless targets are adjusted. A couple of partners we spoke with also mentioned getting an additional percentage on rebates for a limited time. This goes back to cash flow. By giving partners a little more money in their pockets now, vendors can earn their trust and loyalty for the long haul.
4. Adapt sales and marketing
Partners are eager to get their hands on new offers, new content or new sales approaches that will make their businesses more relevant in the current market and bring higher levels of customer or prospect engagement. They want vendors to push out new use cases, customer business models and content marketing systems, or even free software modules – something that will give them a new reason to call on their clients. A few examples include content that addresses WFH security best practices or free software modules that can allow partners to get their foot in the door with an essential business.
5. MDF, digital marketing focus, and other moves
With events and in-person meetings on hold, digital engagement has become more critical than ever. Partners are asking their vendors to take that into consideration as MDF programs are shifted for the changing market. Along these lines, they want to see a larger percentage of MDF go toward digital marketing activities – perhaps working with the same overall budget but having funds applied in different ways. With sales taking a hit this quarter, partners are appreciating vendor flexibility.
We are all experiencing this pandemic differently. Each one of your partners has different needs for their business and their customers. Addressing all of them effectively is challenging, especially when you yourself may be impacted by reductions in headcount and budget. Channel Impact is here to help. If you need support adjusting incentive programs, we can deliver the analytics to guide you in revising target amounts. Program management for virtual events, such as webinars, is also in big demand and our team stands ready with expertise and services to fill any gaps you might have.
We can also quickly supply you with relevant field and partner enablement content you may need, from playbooks, to videos, selling guides, and campaigns that will position you to focus on the opportunity that exists now. Last but not least, let us help you meet your channel program staffing needs. We are career channel specialists at Channel Impact and we’d like nothing more than to partner with you at this critical time.
It’s a whole new world and we have no choice but to adapt. If you’re wondering how you’re going to tackle all the channel projects and programs on your plate, please reach out to me.
Special thanks to Sallie Martin for providing her insights for this blog. Sallie, you’re awesome!