Here are Dr Matthews’ 10 steps to help you develop a winning channel marketing strategy that will set you up for big, fast growth.
Step 1: Choose a great idea
Not all ideas are equal. Some have more growth potential than others, and the ones that succeed are products or services that (a) a lot of customers will value, (b) can be developed and delivered better, faster or cheaper than competitors, (c) can make customers — and their customers — successful, and (d) can scale quickly.
Step 2: Identify a competitive advantage
Your great idea needs to be assessed against all the other great — and not so great — ideas being presented to the market. Identify and map ideas that are similar, then determine if yours is better, faster or cheaper, or what else is needed to create a competitive advantage. An advantage can disappear quickly when other competitors mimic features and benefits, so figure out how to create a defensible position, e.g. patents, know-how, personal relationships, ease of doing business, revenue sharing.
Step 3: Decide on the customers before choosing the channels
A business trying to scale up cannot afford to launch into several channels. Rather than developing a multi-channel strategy, choose one channel, then do everything required to make the companies in that channel successful:
- Investigate one or two possible channels.
- Identify the key players, understand their history and interaction with each other.
- Identify alignments or breakdowns in the various nodes of the channel value chain.
- Get in front of customers, ask questions and listen to what they say.
- Choose the channel that will provide the most potential value for everyone.
Step 4: Dominate the channel
Once you’ve chosen a channel, your goal needs to be domination. Map out how the whole channel works, then develop a strategy to lead and dominate it. Understand that the greater the distance to the end customer, the more complex your channel strategy needs to be. Multiple levels of customers in the channel require an understanding of the unique needs of each set of customers in the channel value chain. Aligning interests and creating interdependencies can be more complicated, but it will provide more leverage and more protection in the long run.
Step 5: Leave your ego at the door
A channel marketing strategy isn’t about you, your company or the brand. It’s all about customers and the channel, what they need and want, and what will provide value and enable more success for them — and eventually for you. Talk to customers at every node in the channel value chain, on a continual basis, to discover their changing needs. Encourage your team to test new ideas, develop innovations, respond immediately to complaints, and provide unparalleled customer service.
Step 6: Structure your company around the needs of the channel and its customers
You’ll need to organise your company around the channel and do everything required to support it. Make partnerships a company value. Select employees who are customer-focused and understand how to help channel partners succeed. Develop the internal support systems required to make the channel and your channel strategy successful. Track new developments in your channel and its ecosystem, have a clear vision of where you want the company to be in 12, 36, even 60 months, create a plan to dominate the channel, and develop your team’s capability to execute faster.
Step 7: Know your channel partner’s customers better than they do
You need to be able to imagine you are standing in the shoes of each customer, looking upstream and downstream, and seeing their world through their eyes. Empathise, become a trusted resource and help them figure out how to create a competitive advantage with their customers.
Step 8: Change the value proposition for each customer in the channel
Know what each customer needs and wants, then deliver value that exceeds expectations. Change the way value is perceived and experienced. Continue to add value to products and services through incremental innovations, and make sure they work before releasing so you don’t violate your customer’s trust. Change the way customers at each node of the channel value chain are typically “sold to”, receive customer service, pay for products or services, receive payment, get help with designing new products, fix problems, innovate and succeed.
Step 9: Become a Master of Influence
No one person can control the channel, the customers or how they behave, but you can influence them by:
- Developing trust, building rapport and sharing the rewards.
- Tracking trends and competitive influences on the channel and broader ecosystem and giving customers a “head ups” about these trends.
- Providing customers with quick and easy solutions and great service.
Step 10: Be willing to change the industry
If you really want big, fast growth, you must be willing to change the status quo. And if you are successful executing the prior nine steps, you will change how your industry works, behaves, functions and performs. Adopt a systems perspective when you think through your channel marketing strategy, because, if successful, you will change the interrelationship of every company in the value chain and deliver more value to more companies and more customers.
Dr Jana Matthews is the ANZ chair in Business Growth, professor and director of the Australian Centre for Business Growth at the University of South Australia’s Business School.