Innovation and your partner programme - benchmarking is not the answer

06 November 2015 Ian Hutchieson Global Director, Channel Strategy

Benchmarking. We all do it. But when there is less and less differentiation among technologies and partner programmes, how do you make your brand and loyalty strategies stand out from the crowd? If you focus on benchmarking against your competitors and then “upping” your programme delivery to match (or ever-so-slightly exceed your competition) are you really standing out from the crowd?

Here’s an uncomfortable reality for the tech industry: all too often channel marketers focus on best practices and benchmarking their competitors. While this provides insight into the industry marketplace it also leads to competitive convergence as competitors increasingly emulate each other.

“The more benchmarking that companies do, the more competitive convergence you have—that is, the more indistinguishable companies are from one another.” Michael E. Porter [from the reprinted article What Is Strategy? November 1996, Harvard Business Review]

Focusing on benchmarking as a way to remain competitive is a bit like always looking in the rear view mirror while driving down the highway. Sure, you can see what is going on behind you. And you can even look forward a bit to see what some of your competitors are doing. But what you should really be thinking about is what’s around that bend ahead? What can I do that is different than my competitors?

Innovation is hard work. For agencies, it means we can’t just take out the cookie cutters and roll out programmes we’ve done for one client and offer them to another client. And for vendors, it means you need to really think about your product, your roadmap, and your partners – and what it is that would create a true competitive advantage. You can’t benchmark to find that insight – benchmarking only tells you what your competitors are already doing. To innovate requires that you think ahead and outside the existing “box” of programme tools and offerings.

The B2C world offers some interesting insights into the kinds of innovation that can be done in loyalty programmes. If you’d like to look beyond the recycled thoughts yielded by most benchmarking exercises, check out some B2C approaches to loyalty in our latest e-book and how they might inspire something new for your channel loyalty programme.


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