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What’s in store for the channel in 2020?

What’s in store for the channel in 2020?

Forrester Research’s principal channel partnerships and alliances analyst Jay McBain takes an extensive look at the forces set to impact the channel in 2020

Jay McBain (Forrester Research)

Jay McBain (Forrester Research)

Credit: Christine Wong


For McBain, herein lies the embodiment of previous predictions of ‘millions of channels’ entering the market.

“When looking through this trifurcated lens, more than 80 per cent of these (potential) partners will show up before or after the sale, and channel leaders need to break the transactional channel mold,” McBain said in his blog post. 

In this context, McBain suggests that the creation of an ‘influencer’ channel -- that is, a channel comprised of players such as referral agents, affinity partners, affiliates and alliances, among others, all of which work to guide end users’ decisions regarding which vendor solutions they want to go with -- will be “critical” to success in 2020. 

It should be noted that vendors are well on their way to adapting to this new reality, with McBain observing that Forrester is seeing several moves towards channel software designed to support both transacting- and non-transacting-type partners.  

Regardless of the rise of the ‘retention’ channel, however, McBain suggests that the traditional transactional model continues to play a role in the broader channel mix. Indeed, partners that are well-versed in the traditional transactional model will have the opportunity to expand or extend what they do via things like automation, incentives, co-selling and co-marketing. 

Operating in a new channel ecosystem

Along with, and in part due to, the extra dimensions introduced by McBain’s co-called ‘influencer’ channel, the average channel program is expected to grow its partner numbers by roughly 10 times in the next five years, according to the analyst, with around 80 per cent of those new additions comprised of non-transacting partners. 

This step change in partner types and numbers is likely to lead to increasing complexity when it comes to vendors’ efforts to find, recruit and manage their new partners, each of which will have unique value propositions and business practices, over the coming years.

McBain estimates that, of the firms set to become part of this new legion of partners, organisations occupying the small- and-medium-sized business (SMB) space are likely to comprise more than 90 per cent of the total. 

The analyst goes on to point out that the SMB space is “significantly” influenced by its own communities. This factor could see channel account managers turn into community managers. 

“Communities offer a smaller group of like-minded people (perhaps even competitors) who share similar experiences and challenges, have the ability to collaborate, and help improve decision making,” McBain said. 

With this in mind, McBain suspects that vendors will need to begin creating “mini” channel chiefs or community managers for the discrete segments of the new channel ecosystem that is set to arise as a result of these new entrants.

With a larger, broader and more segmented channel ecosystem, the consideration of partner experience may ultimately catch up to the ever-important concern of customer experience, according to McBain. 

Indeed, Forrester predicts that marketing decision makers may begin ranking the improvement of partner experience at the same level with improving customer experience this year.

“Brands are wising up to the notion that customer obsession also means partner obsession and are looking for channel organisations to deliver,” he said.


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