It’s all about 4-4-2 – why a traditional model CAN BE best

By Justine Cross, Regional Director, Watchful Software

In the business world, and especially in the constantly evolving field of technology, the emphasis is always there to move forwards, to innovate and experiment with new ideas and new ways of doing things.
Sometimes however, the traditional way of doing things can be the best approach. The footballing world of all places has provided a great recent example of this, with the unexpected resurgence of the 4-4-2 formation. A classic strategy that sees a team of four defenders, four midfielders, and two forwards, this set up was ubiquitous in the ‘90s and early 2000s, but gradually faded as teams experimented with other tactics.
However, this year has seen the tactic hailed as a key component in some of the most recent triumphs. Leicester City F.C. made use of 4-4-2 in their unexpected rise to the top of the Premier League, while many of the standout stars of the Euros also relied on the strategy; including crowd favourites Iceland and champions Portugal.

Changing the channel
Footballers are far from the only ones to benefit from a more traditional approach to things of course – after more than 20 years in the channel, I’ve come to believe that tradition is best here too. The channel has changed significantly over the years, with vendors attempting to diversify their mix with new strategies and services. Consultancy and as-a-service offerings have prompted the reassessment strategies that worked for more traditional software and hardware products, and we’ve also seen an increase in mixing channel with direct selling.
Speaking at last year’s Channel Visionaries event, Tiffani Bova, then vice president at Gartner, suggested that the traditional channel was already outdated and becoming obsolete and no longer fits with what new born-in-the-cloud companies were looking for.
While it is true that different methods are required for new markets, the added complexity can often be more trouble than its worth. Coordinating multiple layers can often result in slowing the entire process down, creating a sense of confusion of purpose that is not at all productive when it comes to trying to expand or break into a new market. Clashing strategies also frequently leads to a breakout of office politics, distracting all involved from getting on with selling.
One of the biggest mistakes any vendor can make when trying to spice up their channel is to try and bring direct sales into the mix. This is not a new approach, but it’s one I’ve seen much more frequently in recent years, and it rarely ends well – especially for the reseller.
Segmenting the success and rewards between direct and channel outreach is almost impossible. The usual outcome is that resellers invest heavily in doing the ground work and creating relationships, before the direct sales team swoop in to take the leads and the commission. 
This will quickly generate a lot of friction and distrust between the vendor and their channel partners, making it very difficult to sustain the relationship. If a successful, long-term channel partnership is comparable to a marriage, adding direct sales team would equate to a mistress. It may sound great  on paper, but inevitably it gets found out and everything falls apart.

The power of good teamwork
At Watchful Software we’ve always stuck with the traditional approach, with a pure channel strategy that revolves around a small number of dedicated, well supported distributors and resellers.
Of course, just like in football, a strategy is not worth much on its own. Unexpected success stories like Iceland and Leicester City didn’t occur simply because the teams happened to use a 4-4-2 set up. Rather, the solid, traditional strategy was complimented by factors including strong leadership and solid teamwork from the players.
In the same way, sticking with a traditional channel strategy is nothing special without a quality offering and team to go with it. The vendor employees must be educated and understand the model, and services such as lead generation, training and support must be optimised to support the partner community.
The product or service itself must be both high quality and correctly placed for the target audience, for example. An experienced, dedicated reseller that knows its market can be instrumental in achieving this. One common stumbling block for many vendors that comes with a complicated channel is to make the buying process too convoluted. I’ve come across some cases where it can take hours just to place an order, for example. Distributors ending up wasting time and become frustrated with the unnecessary complexity.
Perhaps the best asset for any channel however is a strong sense of solidity and co-operation. Rather than attempting to create a complex network of different layers and services, we endeavour to limit our channel to a small number of dedicated resellers. With fewer resellers in the market, each one is free to work to their full potential without any toes being stepped on, and achieve revenues for their business that justifies the time invested in a new vendor.
With clear boundaries and strong direction, it’s much easier to create a trusted environment that inspires loyalty and teamwork. With a solid team behind it, the tried and tested traditional strategy can and will absolutely deliver results.

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