Fall. As a working mother, this is my favorite time of year. It marks the beginning of the school year and the end of the dog days of summer. Frankly, it’s exhausting having to manage all the summer scheduling of camps and activities to keep boredom at bay. However, what I find most stressful is arranging the family summer vacation. It starts with trying to get everyone’s agreement on the destination: Say we decide on San Francisco; then, we have to figure out how we’re going to get there — car, train, or plane. Finally, there are the dreaded decisions on what we are going to do once we get there … while staying within budget and having a back-up plan if the weather is bad.

The only way I have survived this over the years is by starting the planning process months in advance and getting buy-in from the family along the way. The same is true for channel sales planning.

Just as you shouldn’t leave your family vacations to chance, nor should you leave the management and growth of the channel to chance. Here are the five things you should do in Q4 to ensure that you and your organization are ready to successfully begin building your 2022 channel sales plan:

1. Define Your Macro Goals And Objectives

Before you begin the planning process, you need to define your destination — the revenue targets for the year. While these numbers typically come down from the chief revenue officer or finance, they should align with the company’s target growth rate and how the company plan calls for that number to be achieved, such as through growth in net-new customers, specific target industries, and revenue mix targets (in terms of products, regions, etc.). The goals should also be realistic, and they should be based on the maturity of your partner ecosystem, the resources available to your channel sales team, and the roll-up of the individual partner business plans.

2. Understand Your Target Customers

Just as the pandemic has changed travel, it has also changed who is buying and how and where they want to buy. This makes it more important than ever to have a solid understanding of your company’s ideal customer profile, including their needs, expectations, and preferences. Everything starts there: After all, how can you determine the right partners to prioritize and the capabilities you need to help them build and deliver without that knowledge?

3. Collect Data On The Market And Industry

Any preplanning should include an analysis of the external factors — those you can’t control — that could impact the results. In the case of our summer vacations, that includes things such as weather, road conditions, and changes in government travel policies (Remember the summer of 2020?). In the case of channel sales planning, you need to gain a clear understanding of market and industry conditions such as demand trending and the projected economic climate. Also, identify other major players in the industry and your position relative to them. This gives you an idea of what to do differently. It also provides insight on the weaknesses of your competitors for you to exploit. Start by asking a few simple questions: Why do our partners do business with us, and why do others choose to do business with our competitors instead?

4. Evaluate Your Current Situation

Preplanning should also include an analysis of the internal factors — those you can control — that will impact the success of the journey. This should include objectively assessing your current partners in terms of not just past performance, but also their growth potential. Start by reviewing and updating your ideal partner profiles based on the information collected on the company’s target customers as well as their goals and objectives, as outlined in the first and second steps. Use that information to establish a standardized list of criteria upon which to evaluate each partner type across dimensions including revenue performance, revenue proficiency, value to the supplier, strategic fit, growth orientation, and commitment to supplier.

It is just as important at this stage in the preplanning process to collect quantitative data on the channel business in its entirety, such as which programs are working and worth the money invested and which channel account managers are working and worth the investment. Also, take time to collect qualitative feedback: Ask everyone on your team, as well as representatives from supporting departments and especially your partners, for the top two or three things that went well in 2021 and what two or three aspects need to be addressed.

5. Pinpoint Barriers To Success

Identifying the best means to get to your destination should begin by listing any barriers you may face in reaching it and determining how best to address them. A few areas to evaluate include:

  • Partner ecosystem. Determine where you have gaps in partner coverage that need to be filled via recruitment, partner-to-partner collaboration, or new programs.
  • Partner business proposition. Just as it is important to have a value proposition for end customers, it is important to have a clear and defendable business proposition that defines the profitability a partner can derive from your offering.
  • Partner enablement. To ensure strong engagement and performance, assess the breadth, depth, quality, and accessibility of formal training as well as the resources and tools available to help them do their job more effectively.

You know your destination — now, how will you address any obstacles in getting there, and how will you leverage opportunities to make the trip a success? As with your summer vacation plan, make sure you define who is doing what (owners); by when (deadlines); your budget; and how your stakeholders will measure success (key performance indicators).

With the right preplanning and planning, there is the opportunity for our 2022 journey to be a huge success. Enjoy the trip!