Channel Data Management (CDM) – a sophisticated discipline for collecting and analyzing data from indirect sales channels and using it to make informed decisions about inventory, supply chain, and marketing – has an essential and innovative role to play in enabling a higher level of end-customer visibility in the emerging Customer Experience (CX) movement.
The problem many manufacturers have traditionally faced with extended sales channels is limited visibility across those channels down to the customer level. CDM has emerged as an effective and efficient way to gain visibility into a network of VARs (value-added resellers), distributors, installers, system integrators and end customers – a need that has grown as manufacturers come to rely on a rapidly growing network of born-in-the-cloud resellers.
There is a hidden opportunity for manufacturers incorporating CDM into their strategies, and it goes beyond the supply chain – providing deeper insights into how they may take full advantage of Customer Experience tactics to delight customers and improve sales.
The Many Levels of CDM
CDM enables manufacturers to have a lot more context about each channel partner beyond what shows up in traditional spreadsheets and reports.
“You can gather richer, more actionable intelligence with CDM,” said Chandran Sankaran, CEO of Zyme, a leader in Channel Data Management solutions. “As opposed to a less than complete relationship with partners distributed globally, you gain much deeper visibility into what is actually happening in markets around the world when it is all connected together by CDM.”
CDM helps facilitate a broader vision by collecting multiple tiers of sales and channel data. The first tier is the distributors and key accounts, which report data directly to the manufacturers. Second-tier visibility is the gaining of insight into the sales by solution providers, VARs, retailers, and resellers to their ultimate customers.
“As technology has advanced and manufacturers have gained greater access to data, trying to figure out who the end customers are – who is buying the product – has gone from being a nice-to-have, to a must-have,” Sankaran added.
Knowing where those end customers are located and what they are doing will be identified by the high volume of connected smart devices and the trend towards the Internet of Things, which gives manufacturers even more visibility to the users of their products.
“In the mobile industry, you now know where each device is being activated,” Sankaran said. “The smart device movement and the Internet of Things will light up where the end customer is, and will provide that visibility to the manufacturer. The key challenge is to marry the information about where the device is located, to information about how the device got to that customer. That’s an important missing piece that Channel Data Management delivers.”
Visibility Leads to a Better Customer Experience
Manufacturers have the ability to gather customer information from the channel and then use that information to create customer-friendly policies, products that are more in tune with customer demands, and enhance the Customer Experience in new ways. But, the CX imperative is not limited to manufacturers – channel partners are also enabled with more insight and information, and the partners themselves can use those insights – along with best practice information gathered at the corporate level – to enhance the Customer Experience.
Much of the discussion of channel-related issues pertains to how better to control inventory and the mechanics of the supply chain, how to bring more accuracy to incentive payments, and how to reduce waste and loss. These are important benefits of CDM, but there is an indirect benefit – all that visibility now gives the manufacturer a new look into the end customer.
This enhanced customer visibility comes from two places: data gathered from distributors and their customers, and information gathered directly from devices. This information can be used to promote a better Customer Experience in several ways.
“The traditional big data definition refers to the vast quantities of unstructured information that is available, or is being generated on the Internet and social media platforms,” said Sankaran. “Increasingly, this intelligence is going to be generated by the billions of smart devices that form part of the Internet of Things, and generate a different type of data than traditionally seen in corporate environments. We now have unique opportunities to do some very interesting things with this rich, new, data.”
When an enterprise employs CDM, they create two-way visibility. Not only are they receiving information about the extended channel all the way up from the customer level, but the information can then flow back down the channel, and give channel partners vital information about what works and what doesn’t. It allows the enterprise to create a set of best practices based on actual results, and provide those best practices back down to all channel partners.
“There is a lot more guidance that vendors are able gather about what their best-in-class partners are doing,” Sankaran said. “The manufacturer is able to give partners better sales and marketing guidance because they have the unique vantage point of being able to see what every reseller is doing – who is doing well and who is not – and when this information is compiled and shared downstream. This raises the average performance of all partners.”
Data-Driven Customer Experience
Customer Experience goes far beyond the point of sale. In reality, a Customer Experience strategy starts at the point of sale and extends throughout the entire sales channel back to headquarters, then back down the chain again.
Those structured data points that exist throughout the supply chain represent only one intersection of intelligence flowing in from Channel Data Management.
“The second intersection of data is where you marry that structured information with the market sentiment about your product, as expressed, for example, on website reviews and social media platforms, which is highly unstructured,” Sankaran added.
This unstructured data offers insight into what customers think about a company and its products, plus what they think about their resellers and retailers, according to Sankaran. As companies research new resellers and partners, this gives them an opportunity to look beyond traditional sign-up information and credit risk data to examine Customer Experience sentiment as well.
Channel Data Management gives manufacturers more context about each partner, enabling them make better decisions on how to manage channel sales operations, guide their partners, and optimize the performance of their worldwide channels.
image credit: zyme.com
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Dan Blacharski is senior contributing analyst at Compass Intelligence, a market acceleration research and consulting firm; and the founder and senior PR counsel at Ugly Dog Media, a thought leadership and public relations consultancy.