We don’t have a crystal ball and we can’t read tea leaves. Managing a business, especially on a global scale, will always involve uncertainty and risk. But we can still make some reasonable predictions if we have a look at natural, social, political, regulatory, economic and technological factors. For the channel, these predictions become even more powerful when also based on access to over 2.4 million channel partners—the world’s largest connected distribution channel network. When these various factors are considered together, seven predictions for channel management technology stand out.
- Cloud Platforms for End-to-End Channel Management will emerge
Political and economic uncertainty has put a damper on big investments. Instead, many companies adopt smaller-scale investments, often driven at the line of business level, researched online and decided as a consumer would. Line of business customers don’t have their entire company resources at their disposal. Hence, they are looking for a complete solution rather than having to assemble bits and pieces of one. Vendors in the channel technology stack have recognized the emerging demand and started to educate brands about the benefits of an end-to-end, cloud-based channel management platform. Because executives must contain investments and find new ways to overcome resource limitations (especially at the line of business level), it will become essential to purchase a cloud platform that does not need investments in infrastructure and integration, and that can—out of the box—support all current and expected future requirements.
- Partner-facing applications will offer a consumer-like user experience
The last few years have seen brands recognize the emergence of channel ecosystems. These go beyond transactional distributors and resellers and include a wide variety of participants that provide advice, skills, services and, in one way or another, influence sales. It is not feasible for brands to interact with and support this exponentially increased number of partners through traditional methods. Instead, that support must happen online and in a self-serve manner. The increasing popularity of e-commerce platforms has taught individual users to expect a simple, intuitive and often personalized user experience when interacting with a brand. Partners may be organizations, but partner users are still individuals who will bring their consumer expectations into the corporate world. Brands failing to offer an enjoyable user experience for the partner users can expect to lose their partner’s loyalty.
- Leading brands will start to develop ecosystem marketplaces
In the same way that brands with an indirect distribution channel are looking for channel management platforms, their customers want complete solutions too. Brand owners are seeking mechanisms to help their customers get this. A complete solution may involve multiple parts and skills, and ecosystem marketplaces similar to Amazon or Alibaba can provide a single place where B2B customers will be able to find all the solution ingredients. Leading brands will start developing such ecosystem marketplaces.
- Channel applications will become avid consumers of data
Buying decisions may happen at the line of business level but they still need to be justified and will be scrutinized on an ongoing basis to ensure investments continue to deliver value. Proof of value can only be truly provided when there is data to back it up. Justification for future investments requires data as well. Brands will expect that their channel applications don’t just generate data, but that every process, interaction or decision run through an application is driven—and justified—by data.
- Artificial Intelligence will increasingly become a de facto requirement
As more data becomes available (due in large part to proliferating IoT-enabled devices), and with the line of business having less financial resources and human capital, artificial intelligence can supplement existing resources to make recommendations for future actions or directly command execution. As companies that use AI effectively uncover opportunities and grow margins, market share and returns on investment at a higher pace than those organizations who don’t, brand owners will naturally gravitate towards technology with a high degree of intelligence built in. This will reinforce the cycle and further contribute to expanding AI footprint to drive process automation and decision optimization.
- Expanding channel ecosystems will drive investments in partner marketing enablement technology
The move to ecosystem-based distribution, where most of the partner entities involved are not transacting but influencing the sale, demands that all partners can communicate the value of a brand at scale, accurately and effectively. Failure to enable partners to do this will open doors to competitors who do, leading to revenue and market share loss. With the partner ecosystems expanding rapidly we will see brand owners increasing their investments in technology that enables compelling and accurate communication of brand messages in an automated and self-serve fashion. Solutions for Channel Marketing Automation and Partner Relationship Management will experience accelerated growth.
- Channel technology will start to provide automated partner screening
The political, economic and social landscape present increased trade restrictions, privacy regulations and green or ethical demands on business. Organizations going to market via indirect channels must continuously monitor their partners to avoid running afoul of such requirements and risking severe fines, government penalties and sometimes irreversible loss of goodwill. With compliance requirements constantly evolving and large partner ecosystems, brands will need ways to automatically check that their partners do not expose them to compliance violations. There will be increased pressure to validate identities and screen partners, individuals, products and locations against trading restrictions in every channel interaction.
Each of these predictions may happen at its own pace. By understanding and preparing for these possibilities, brand owners stand in good shape to drive the performance of their channel in the new decade.