Aligning MDF to Channel Strategy
It can be easy sometimes for a vendor – especially one with thousands of global partners and all the corresponding moving parts – to lose sight of the big picture when it comes to their organization’s overall channel goals or strategy. So, how can those vendors keep in sight the bigger picture when they’re ‘in the weeds’ of day-to-day partner management? In particular, how can they best align their MDF program to their channel strategy?
This was one of the subjects debated during our recent webinar, “Guiding Principles for a Successful MDF Program”. Channel Mechanics CEO Kenneth Fox chatted with experts Ryan Griffis, Global Channel Programs Manager at Extreme Networks, Michele Lee, Channel Programs and Distribution Management, APAC with Juniper Networks and James Reynolds, Channel Development Manager with Purechannels about how to stay on top of MDF activities on a worldwide scale.
Watch the full webinar on-demand: “Guiding Principles for a Successful MDF Program”
The first step, said Griffis, is to consider all types of partner programs, but undoubtedly MDF programs, as constantly evolving.
“They should be constantly evolving, living things,” he said. “To turn around the direction of something as big as a $3 million MDF program is like a cruise ship; you can’t quickly turn direction and change to somewhere else. But perhaps you can deploy some speedboats to meet certain changes in strategy or new approaches that are being funded by the executive team,” he said.
This mindset of constant evolution and improvement enables vendors to respond quickly to any changes in corporate strategy, he said.
Keeping Communication Channels Open
Additionally, it is useful to keep internal lines of communication open.
“Your executive team has a very clear vision of their strategy,” said Griffis. “Down in the weeds running your MDF program, there’s a lot of potential there for disconnect, depending on how big the organization is and how many layers away you are from the team running your program.” Speaking from experience, he added “One of the things we find useful is to have regular bi-weekly check-ins with our CMO, and have the channel distribution and marketing teams on the call. It’s just to check where we’re at with MDF in terms of approvals and progress through the quarter. But it gives us an opportunity to talk about some of those strategic elements of where the spend is going. And to ask whether we see that spend being effective.”
Additionally, it’s imperative to not forget about your partners. Lee highlighted the importance of developing and documenting a go-to-market plan together with partners. A plan that defines goals, while aligning them to your growth strategy.
“So often we fall into a trap of always rushing, and planning for the next quarter. We lose sight of the initial intent and objectives. So having a plan that you regularly review against the outcomes will help keep you, as well as your partners, on track with the overall strategy.”
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A Clear Understanding of Partners’ Go-to-Market Strategy
However, not all regions are equal. Therefore, not all partners are equal, as different markets will have different drivers. At the same time, there are now more partner types than ever in new emerging markets that are influenced in new ways. This in turn will require separate kinds of activities. So any large vendor today, will invariably have to cope with a significant level of variation when aligning their MDF to channel strategy.
Lee said dealing with this boils down to having a clear understanding of the partner types in the ecosystem; the joint go-to-market strategies; the partners’ presence in their market and the value that they bring.
“The fundamental pieces of the program should be designed with activities that can address the needs of different partner types. They should be reviewed annually to include any new effective marketing activities, tools and media,” she said. “If there’s something that’s working for partners, celebrate the success and share with other partner types well.”
Agreeing mutual market development objectives and outcomes will also help when it comes to determining how best to support the partner. And of course, selecting the right activities to influence desired behaviors.
Further, Lee reiterated how crucial it is to utilize a robust platform to execute, track and report on MDF activities. Only a platform will enable operationalization of your MDF program to the level of granularity needed to deal with these kinds of variations.