Happy New Year – 2020

Hey, what about 2013?

2013 is already in the bag. You’ve already set sales goals. The budget is already in the hands of the CFO. You’ve already made whatever changes you’re going to make for your channel programs, discounts, rebates, etc. If you require business plans from channel partners they should be done by now or in the next few weeks.

Like I said, 2013 is in the bag. So, instead of worrying about 2013 you should be worrying about 2020. Why 2020? Because change happens incrementally, imperceptibly. Before you know it your product line is dated; your service level has slipped; you’ve got new, entrenched competitors; there are new buyers you don’t call on; three partners got big and powerful and now account for 50% of your sales; and entirely new channels are now active in your market. When did this happen? Why didn’t we do something about it when we could have? 2014 or 2015 are still to near. You need to consider how the world will look in 2020 and work your way backwards.

Our founder, Frank Lynn, called this process “look forward, look back.” In order for the world to look like X in 2020, where would it need to be in 2019? 2018? 2017? Get it? You need to consider 2020 in order to determine your channel strategy for, well, 2013.

Of course, imagining 2020 is not easy. As Yogi Berra allegedly said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Tough, but not impossible. My favorite approach is scenario planning.

Scenario planning is like writing a novel. Your company is the protagonist. Your competitors are the antagonists. Partners are “round characters,” e.g., someone who encounters conflict and is changed by it. Customers can be either flat or dynamic characters depending on the segment. You fill out the novel with stock characters – typically influencers and other minor characters in your business ecosystem. To make it all work you need to write the plot.

Since predicting the future is “tough,” we like to consider three or four scenarios. Standard scenario plots include “winners and losers, ” a “lone ranger,” “back to the future,” “challenge and response” among others[1]. However, you and your team should tap the right-hand side of your brains and generate scenarios unique to the conditions of your own company, partners and markets. Be contrarian. Don’t blindly assume current trends will continue, but ask what would have to happen to change them.

Some of the variables you might want to consider are:
• What new buyers might enter the market?
• How will the buying process change?
• Given the above, how might channel partners adapt? Could they? Or, will entirely new channels emerge instead?
• What new technologies and competitors might be around by 2020? For a clue, look at your own product road map and then go visit some guys in the lab
• What macro factors – the economy, demographics, environmental issues, cultural changes, etc. – could impact your industry?
• How might shifting global factors impact your business?

If you’d like to discuss the channel scenario-planning process or would like help with a scenario project please feel free to contact me.

[1]These plots are described in Peter Schwartz’s excellent book, The Art of the Long View. Doubleday, 1991.

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