Change isn’t easy. We are creatures of habit, accustomed to working with tools, processes and people that are familiar to us. Learning to use new software, operate within new program rules or collaborate with new resources takes time, patience and commitment. Still, there are a few fundamentals that should be used to guide change, particularly where channel partners and channel partner programs are concerned.
Here are the most important fundamentals to keep top of mind when managing channel partner program transitions:
Pilot, then Expand
There’s no need to tackle every region or every channel partner tier at once.
- Begin your pilot with a subset of your channel partner population. This limits the impact of the change to a manageable level and allows for development of internal subject matter expertise for leverage during the broad program roll-out.
- Pilot at least one quarter before expanding to ensure enough time to onboard (access and registration), submit (and disposition) projects and claims, calculate rebates, manage rewards catalogue deliveries, process payments and expirations, etc.
Plan the Work, Work the Plan
Invest in the planning process; this investment will pay off in satisfaction and efficiency.
- Involve a Project Manager in the implementation team. In my experience, the Project- Manager-to-Project Manager collaboration is key to staying on target.
- Define your KPIs. What are your expectations for partner engagement? Program KPIs and SLAs? Determine the measurable, and then execute the measurement plan and monitor the results.
- Team members must commit to thorough and timely task completion. Avoiding delayed decisions, deliverables or providing partial answers will help to ensure timely delivery and program quality.
- Clearly define the escalation path for each element of the program (audit escalations, registration/credential approval, etc.) and implement before you need it.
Engage Finance Early
Early engagement will mitigate the risk of obstacles during the payment and accrual reconciliation processes.
- Authorize one global resource to assist the program team in navigating country-specific tax requirements during program planning. This resource should field inquiries regarding tax treatments and provide tax change guidance to the program team throughout the piloting process.
- Establish (and adhere to) a Partner Payment Funding SLA to facilitate MDF reimbursements or rebate payments. One of the leading causes for payment delays is lack of adherence to a timely funding SLA.
- Actively engage Finance in process definition and ongoing management. Common areas to address include: Paying channel partners through a third party (via a fund request and payment file versus a partner invoice), account reconciliation process, payment aging and expiration, FX Reserve management process, accrual relief process and timing.
Leave the Past Behind
Avoid the temptation to recreate the old in the new.
- Close out projects, claims and payments in the EOL system. Yes, this means that channel partners and admins will access two different platforms for a period of time. The expense to migrate the data tends to outweigh the benefit. Instead, communicate the need for channel partners and administrators to pull reports from the old system prior to EOL date.
- Yes, it’s different. Human nature does not necessarily embrace change. Use the new environment for several quarters before contemplating an investment in a software modification. Use this as an opportunity to evaluate underlying business processes which may benefit from refinement.
Data Integrity is King (and Queen)
Garbage in; garbage out
- Accurate channel partner data is a must-have. ENOUGH SAID.
- Identify the data subject matter expert early and engage with them often.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Train, Train, Train
- Get a jump-start on the transition process. Communicate with admins at least three to four months ahead of scheduled launch and establish regular checkpoints.
- The “why-to” is just as important as the “how to.” Buy-in from the field, finance, etc. as to the benefits of migration is the key to success. Capturing the hearts as well as the minds of the internal staff can help represent the change positively to channel partners and colleagues.
- Actively engage admins in channel partner communications and training.
- Time admin post-launch training to the program lifecycle. Employ regional office hours for admins during key points in the program lifecycle in which action will be required from them.
Activate a Program Launch Tiger Team
Monitor early warning signs; quickly implement course correction where appropriate.
- The primary role of this team is to monitor results through the program launch cycle and identify and course correct trouble spots.
- Establish a global implementation team in which a global program owner leads a small group of regional and global team members.
- Be sure progress is measurable with indicators to monitor channel partner registration versus the eligible population, fund load stats, fund budgets versus allocated values, project approval workflow status, pending expirations, claim approval workflow status, payment status, helpdesk tickets, etc. Be observant and watch for obstacles in the workflow process and act to resolve.
Engage an Executive Sponsor
Your colleagues and channel partners need to know that support for program change comes from the top.
- The executive sponsor has a vested interest in the success of the project and thus is an active proponent for the change.
- The executive sponsor advocates for the tiger team and its plans, helps to defuse pushback and take the long view of the transition, recognizing that it takes time for change to be adopted.
Although not easy, change is inevitable. However, keeping these fundamentals top of mind will help reduce the amount of resistance from channel partners and admins and instead, inspire them to embrace the change.