What Is The Role Of The Channel?

We have had this debate before – many times over. One of the most misunderstood or poorly understood aspects of marketing is the role of the channel. This leads to marketing managers and businesses expecting their channels to do their job for them. This leads to marketing managers assigning ‘targets’ and goals to their channel partners and expecting them to develop the market for their products to fulfil these goals.

Then you have the classical management tactic of loading targets, padding numbers so that at the end of the day, if a certain number of your partners or subordinates fails to reach the goal, you are still insulated.

This unreal expectation from channels arises from the mistaken notion that demand generation activity is fundamentally the role of the channel. Channels, as we all know are designed to carry the product and fulfil existing demand. Channels everywhere are primarily demand fulfilment structures with very little capability in demand generation. Loading this responsibility on the channel only leads to inadequate marketing inputs, poor product policy management and general abdication of responsibility for results by the marketing team that is essentially responsible for market development.

If the channel is retail, it is futile to expect the store to engage in massive outbound marketing. In general, a retail store is not built for this activity and if they were to do that, it would have to be at the cost of customer service at the store. For distributors, fulfilling retailer needs, shipping product on time, servicing them and establishing reach is what they are good at. Developing consumer demand cannot be part of their responsibility. No matter what shape or form the channel takes, marketing managers have to realign their offering to ‘fit’ the channel and quit trying to get channel partners to do bulk of the demand generation. In channel-based sales, marketing has three tasks.

Getting actual consumers/ customers to state a preference for their offering

  1. Designing a channel or selecting one that is suitable for their purpose.
  2. Designing the offering to suit channels so that they carry their products and fulfil demand.

Successful channel programs are designed to ‘fit’ the limited capabilities of the partners and to exploit their capabilities in an optimal manner.

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