Channel Events: An affinity exercise or an opportunity to train?

Most large to mid size companies that market and sell their products through channel/ dealers would maintain a dealer/ channel meet calendar. It could vary in frequency depending on size of their business contribution and number of channel partners attending as well. Having channel events can have strategic objectives that impact business.
Some of the objectives could be as follows
– It helps the company to get to know their dealers more personally and foster closer relationships.
– It gives them a chance to pamper their partners and make them feel special.
– It’s a platform to give them strategic direction and vision for your business as well as their business.
– It’s a great opportunity to get feedback from key channel representatives on what’s working and what’s not from a product and marketing stand point of view.
– Last but not the least an opportunity to train them on your products or services that they intend to carry.
Though these objectives may seem pretty clear, if you have been long enough in channel sales or channel marketing then you will be aware that achieving a good balance of all these objectives at the channel event is sometimes difficult to pull off. The important question to ask is what proportion of it should be a fun & bonding exercise and how much of it should be preparing them to sell and strategize for the future collectively. The sales managers will always say that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy but the top management and finance department may think otherwise, either case there are no straight answers to this. Let’s see some of the variables that are important to look at while making that decision.
What is the Industry?
This is an important question as various industries have varying levels of complexity to their products and services. Needless to say the more technical and complicated the more focus on training sessions. Training sessions should be benefit based and not feature based and should have role play and interaction as well. Sometimes getting external trainers can help getting a more unbiased perspective and bring genuine learning to the partners. Training could also include business management topics like cash flow management, retaining talent, marketing innovation etc.
Timing within Product life cycle
Channel meets can be a perfect time to introduce new products and rev up the partners behind a new initiative or strategic goal. It can be a great opportunity to get them ready with all the ammunition they need to go and ramp sales or reach new markets or make new customers.
Company regulations
Some multi-national companies may have financial regulations that prohibit more than a certain proportion of spends to be made on fun/ recreational activities within the event. The other considerations could also be that in an economically depressed environment, extravagance may be construed by customers and outsiders as being insensitive and making a bad use of money.
Who is attending?
Another consideration point would be who from your dealer organization you are inviting for the event. Is it the business owner or top management or the managerial/ sales staff? If you are inviting business owners then having more strategic discussions and fun activities may make sense. You may have various categories of your partners as well that would determine what benefits they are entitled to at the event.
In Summary here are some quick indicators to look at for level of proportion of affinity and training.
More Proportion of Affinity: Biz owners/ senior management, products less complex/ technical, high contribution to biz, highest tier partners, better economic environment.
More Proportion of Training: Mid manager/ Sales, Products and service more complex, mid tier partners, larger number of attendees with more representation from one partner.