When suppliers engage collaboratively in joint business planning with their distributors, resellers or other channel partners, those partners are far more likely to deliver higher, more profitable revenue growth.
Changes in how buyers buy, along with factors such as digital transformation, migration to the cloud and market volatility, paint a complicated landscape that suppliers and channel partners must navigate to achieve their objectives. Against this backdrop, the value of collaborative joint business planning is imperative; yet, SiriusDecisions research indicates that few suppliers consistently conduct joint business planning well — and far too many don’t do it at all.
To better understand the reasons why so many suppliers struggle with joint business planning and establish a more effective way of planning between suppliers and their partners, we interviewed hundreds of B2B and B2C channel partners, supplier executives, channel account managers (CAMs) and industry associations on their experiences with joint business planning. Through a two-part series of blog posts, I’ll reveal the top six areas in which our study showed joint business planning breaking down most often and the best-practice solutions for avoiding these pitfalls. This first post covers the top three pitfalls.
One: No Value Proposition for the Partner
The ultimate goal of joint business planning is supplier and channel partner alignment on a mutually beneficial set of goals and objectives and how to achieve them (i.e. where we’re going and how to get there). Yet, the biggest complaints partners have about joint business planning is that it’s largely an annual obligatory, “check the box” activity. Suppliers enter into planning with little or no understanding of their partners’ business and consider only their needs and priorities — not those of their partners. Our research uncovered that partners are just as interested as suppliers are in truly collaborative and productive joint business planning. But if there’s nothing in it for partners, why would they make it priority?
SiriusAction: Joint business planning must be just as beneficial to the channel partner as it is to you, the supplier. This can be accomplished in the following ways:
- Collaboration. Develop the plan with your partners instead of forwarding them a form to fill out or sending them a form that their CAM has already completed and asking them to sign it. The collaborative process is just as important as the resulting written plan.
- Transparency. Kick off the process with both parties developing a keen understanding of the other’s overall business model, growth strategy and priorities to reveal opportunities for the partnership to deliver mutual respect.
- Motivation. Tie the plan seamlessly to partners’ market development funds allocation (i.e. “no plan, no money”).
Two: Not Having the Right People Engaged, Committed and Accountable
We observed that current planning with partners falls into two distinct categories, each consisting of a series of one-to-one interactions between the supplier’s CAM and a representative from the partner organization. One type of plan is little more than a document that outlines “what we’re going to sell and how much of it we’ll sell.” The other focuses on the marketing deliverables and activities within the plan period, which is just a definition of how the supplier-provided marketing dollars will be spent. The result is two disjointed documents that have little impact on improving performance.
SiriusAction: The objective of joint business planning is transformative performance improvement. To achieve this objective, joint business planning must be a far more holistic, cross-functional and multilevel process than most current approaches. This requires having the right people — from the supplier and partner — engaged from the outset to implementation and held accountable for results. The must-have joint business planning roles include:
- Executive-level champion. Joint business planning is more successful when a senior leader on both sides supports and encourages planning efforts. These leaders don’t need to be involved in the planning details. Their role is to demonstrate organizational commitment, ensure the right resources are assigned and actively participating, break down any barriers to success, and review and approve the final plan.
- Joint business planning leader. Each organization must have an assigned primary point of contact who is responsible for leading the process and driving results, and empowered to make decisions. This role is typically filled by the CAM on the supplier side and the vendor/brand champion or a high-level sales or category leader on the partner side.
- Action team. The executive stewards and joint business planning leaders are responsible for assembling the core joint business planning team, whose members have the required bandwidth, temperament and competencies to build and execute joint business planning. Though the specific participants vary by organization, partnership model (e.g. distributor vs. reseller) and desired planning outcome, they typically include sales, marketing, product specialists and operations.
- Ad hoc members. These are subject matter experts who will be engaged as needed and will most likely contribute to the planning effort when their area of expertise is required (e.g. IT, legal, finance).
Three: Lack of Internal Buy-In and Enablement
Let’s be honest. Working collaboratively with partners (working together, not against each other) requires a different way of thinking and acting for most channel organizations and CAMs. Additionally, facilitating planning sessions is a specific skill set that doesn’t lend itself to an ad hoc approach. Sending CAMs a planning template and a deadline is not going to get the job done. Our research shows that a key reason why CAMs push back on joint business planning is lack of confidence in their ability to run these types of sessions effectively, as well as concern about the time and effort required to conduct them well.
SiriusAction: To properly prepare CAMs to lead the creation and execution of joint business plans, teach them what to do, how to do it, and why this task is so important to building more successful partners and hitting their quota. Suppliers should embrace a proven, standardized, straightforward process (such as the six-step SiriusDecisions Joint Business Planning Framework and its supporting templates) backed by the right data and insights; solidly crafted and easy-to-use (preferably automated) tools; and preimplementation and ongoing training supported by coaching.
Stay tuned for part two of this series, in which I’ll discuss the other three pitfalls of joint business planning with channel partners. Until then, contact us if you’re interested in learning more about how SiriusDecisions has helped other channel sales organizations make joint business planning a revenue driver, as well as a differentiator and reputation builder for their business.
Core Strategy Report: A New Approach to Joint Business Planning (client access)