Channel Partner Marketing

22 Best Practices Guaranteed to Improve Your MDF Programs

Editor’s note: In mid-June, we brought together some of our technology clients — Cisco, Sage, Citrix, and Red Hat — to discuss challenges and opportunities associated with market development fund (MDF) programs. We had lively debates and discussions, heard outside perspectives from Forrester and CDW, and shared program best practices. This is the fourth and final article in a series that captures our learnings and workshop highlights.

During our day-and-a-half MDF technology client workshop, best practices bubbled up in many conversations. But writing them down to discuss and debate was incredibly illuminating.

For two hours, we focused on these MDF topics:

  • Global consolidation and implementation
  • Proof of performance
  • Program change management
  • Continuous program improvement
  • Metrics and reporting

We shared real-life examples and offered suggestions to drive change. Below are the most noteworthy best practices from each topic.

Global Consolidation and Implementation
MDF programs of global scale undergo change as the partner mix ebbs and flows. Communication was the top-ranked best practice — which sounds obvious, but it requires work to resolve conflicts, lessen the blame game, and ensure all partners know that the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or brand is the ultimate decision-maker and governs program guidelines and requirements.

Third parties that support MDF and the channel overall, on behalf of a client, are essentially the client or should be thought of as such by partners. Remember that everyone wants global consistency — until they don’t. In the end, you will need to give a little to succeed overall.

More best practices from this topic include the following:

  • Learn to communicate clearly and frequently.
  • Gain leadership buy-in and regional support. Cascade mandates from the top down.
  • Distinguish policy from preference.

Proof of Performance (POP)
This could have been a day-and-a-half session on its own. However, the group had a clear and unanimous path to success: Find balance with finance. How do you go up against finance and win? Everyone agreed that presenting case studies is one avenue to take.

Also, they encouraged each other to really identify and articulate the risk in eliminating an aspect of POP; ask finance if they are willing to provide alternatives. Other suggestions included taking finance stakeholders to a partner to hear firsthand challenges and opportunities with POP requirements or considering spot audit inclusion in a program.

More best practices from this topic include the following:

  • Limit exceptions. Only modify program if exceptions are becoming the norm.
  • Don’t ask for it if you really don’t need it.
  • Less is more. Keep it simple.

Program Change Management
The partner panel that kicked off the second day of our MDF workshop was one of the most enlightening discussions we had. The casual setting and dialogue enabled our clients to see their programs through a different lens, resulting in insights that can’t be gleaned from a partner survey or other partner visit.

That discussion was drawn on time and again as the group curated best practices for program change management. The biggest takeaway: Program notifications need to be streamlined. Segmenting communications is also a must, as is taking the time to determine who needs information and updates and when.

More best practices from this topic include the following:

  • Inform stakeholders about changes long before they go into effect.
  • Communicate changes to vendors across multiple touchpoints. One email is not enough.
  • Segment audiences to ensure they receive notifications and updates relevant to them.

Continuous Program Improvement
Modern MDF programs can’t be managed with a “set it and forget it” mindset. All of our clients in attendance said pilot programs are key to success. When a pilot program is successful, you can use that blueprint to update processes, activities, or guidelines, and people are more likely to trust in it from the get-go.

More best practices from this topic include the following:

  • Survey super users on program engagement and end-user expected experience. Continuously listen to feedback.
  • Use pilot programs. Don’t go too fast but take a risk and try something new.
  • Think beyond today.

Metrics and Reporting
Unsurprisingly, data is a hot topic. It came up in every discussion during our workshop (and we devoted a blog post to it). But when we revisited data during our best practices session, the conversation was more psychology than math. Bottom line: The group agreed it’s best to ask only for what you need.

Self-reported metrics from partners will always be part of the equation, so only ask them for what you’ll use in program reporting to your internal stakeholders and teams. From a partner perspective, really look at those who are eligible versus those participating; you might uncover a few surprises. Also, it’s key to consider the type of partners, the longevity of your program, and the scale.

More best practices from this topic include the following:

  • Create a self-serve dashboard template customizable by role or user. Consistency is more important than real-time access in the long run.
  • Only ask for metrics used in reporting, i.e., those you truly care about.
  • Create easy and intuitive reporting.

Parting Wisdom
One of the last questions posed to the group was, “What advice would you give your younger self about managing MDF programs?” In other words, with the benefit of hindsight, here are seven things not to do:

  • Don’t overreact. Probe and dig further.
  • There’s no such thing as a dummy-proof system. Partners have to be informed and participate for there to be mutual benefits.
  • Don’t jump when a region says jump. Consider global ramifications and impact across the board before making any program changes.
  • Learn to say no and ask if it’s a policy or preference — i.e., a “must-have” or “nice to have” — especially when dealing with internal stakeholders such as legal and finance.
  • Don’t exclude stakeholders and don’t make assumptions. Gather requirements from everyone.
  • Don’t forget that your partners and internal stakeholders are people.
  • Don’t change up a program midstream, no matter how alluring the short-term benefits.

Read other articles in our MDF workshop series:

By Courtney Jane Acuff

Courtney is responsible for the go-to-market strategy and execution to support the Ansira brand across owned and paid activities including analyst relations, sponsorships, paid media, owned events, organic channels, and public relations. She's also the former Channel Partner Marketing Solution lead and has a passion for all brands with distributed sales networks.