Channel Partners don’t always have time for overly creative marketing. So, when I learned what SYNNEX Corporation does to infuse creativity into their Partners’ marketing and how it helps drive demand and stay top-of-mind, I was all ears. It’s an interesting one-two-punch I hadn’t fully considered until a recent ‘catch-up’ call with Mary Ellen Grom, VP of US Marketing at SYNNEX.
The Lost Art of Creativity
Most Partners are entrepreneurs, which means they’re inherently passionate, productive and creative. But which of those three traits is most important for longevity in business? It’s arguable of course, but many studies conclude creativity is the most important trait for driving success and without it; businesses aren’t unique enough to standout in today’s noisy digital world.
Creativity is on Your Partners’ Back Burner
Since we know Partners are inherently passionate, productive and, most importantly creative, we can assume it’s not intentional when creativity falls by the wayside. On a daily basis, business issues come up, client needs drive tasks, to-do lists are a millionmiles long and understandably activities that keep gears turning and doors open are top priority.
What is Creativity and How Do We Tap It?
There’s some debate on the origin of creativity. Many think it’s something you’re born with and you either ‘have it’ or don’t. According to Tina Seelig, Executive Director of Stanford’s Technology Ventures Program, that’s false. Creativity is a renewable resource and like a muscle, the more you use it, the easier it is to create and innovate. But because of its elusive nature, creativity can be hard to tap on command and the more you want it, the more elusive it becomes until it eventually it’s completely blocked. Bringing Creativity into the Limelight
All Channel Vendors focus on helping Partners become better marketers. But, as Mary Ellen Grom pointed out, in our recent call, it’s one thing to teach marketing, it’s another thing to help Partners tap their own creativity across their entire business. And, creativity is infectious so no matter how digital we become, people still buy from people and when we’re reaching across email platforms into an in-box or sailing down a Twitter feed, it’s the creative ideas that get noticed.
Mary Ellen put is best, “Creativity is intelligence having fun,” and she views it as playing an important role in driving margin for Partners. “You have to be different to excel in business. Creativity is a differentiator.”
How to Unblock Creativity
Involving Partners in collaborative workshops, introducing them to ‘out of the box’ conversation starters and giving them take-a-ways changes their relationship with creativity, the way they approach business and how they market. It also changes how Partners view their relationship with SYNNEX and how they feel about loyalty.
Mary Ellen explained it this way, “Most of our Partners are not marketers, they’re sales people or engineers and they’ve built their business from the ground up.”
She then went on to add, “It’s easy to bring creativity into marketing because as marketers, that’s what we do – but – at the end of the day, Partners need to do the same thing on other parts of their businesses. Generating more ideas increases successful innovation and the more ideas you have on the table, the more something will stand out and stick.”
Leveraging Creativity at Work
At Channel Maven Consulting we host quarterly Innovation Days full of rich brainstorming and collaboration to stoke our creativity. At SYNNEX they provide video games in the break room and some departments supply fidget toys used to spark creativity during brainstorming meetings amongst other things.
Mary Ellen believes everybody is creative to some degree and we all express it in different ways. And, helping employees find new ways to tap their creativity breeds new results and outcomes. Through workshops they actively pass those same principles on to their Partners to help them invigorate their own teams.
But the benefits are even farther reaching than that. Mary Ellen says, “Creativity enhances positivity, optimism and collaborative energy within a company.” She explained, “If you see a challenge as an opportunity, you can bring people together to solve problems and hopefully come out with the best solution.” The mindset is that putting multiple heads together is better than two or one for generating creative ideas.
How SYNNEX Sparks Creativity with Channel Partners
At a recent workshop, Mary Ellen facilitated creativity boosting exercises like 30 circles to a group of approximately 45 Partners. As she explained, “It’s a simple exercise where you draw 30 circles on a piece of paper and give participants 90 seconds to turn as many of the circles as they can into different objects. The whole idea is not about drawing. It’s about quantity over quality and it’s interesting to see where they go with it. Some people go down a path of food, pizzas and donuts. Others gravitate to shapes, money, coins, clocks, a spyglass, and you name it.”
In the end, the whole group sees how 45 people, in a minute-and-a-half, can generate 200 different ideas. She then gives them all a copy of the circle sheet to take back and do the same simple activity with their teams.
Feedback from SYNNEX Partners
The reaction from Partners is overwhelmingly positive and spurs more discussions. They find it refreshing to come in and think about how to positively impact their business instead of about processing POs, getting invoices out the door and responding to RFPs. It’s a shot in the arm for Partners who’ve temporarily forgotten how important creativity is to their growth.
A Few More Creative Ideas
The circle exercise is a wonderful conversation starter. We also find that actionable ideas make a long-term difference by impacting day-to-day business and spurring creativity in the office.
Here are a few more ideas from Mary Ellen:
Chair-free meetings (quick meetings): Partners at the recent workshop typically have between 5 – 30 employees. When their team walks into a meeting and the chairs are gone, it gets their minds off whatever they were thinking when they walked in and suddenly meetings go quick and people focus more on the task at hand.
Brainstorming meetings for products, markets, approaches etc.: When Mary Ellen asked how many Partners host at least one brainstorming activity a quarter only 2 people of 45 raised their hand. So basically, Partners are primarily working in their business, not on Quarterly might be too many, so start with 2/yr and schedule it, go out and buy hats, and toys like silly putty and whistles. It may seem trivial but studies show putting a fidget item in your hand actually boosts creativity and thinking speed.
Tap all the Senses: Studies show that citrus boots creativity so try filling bowls with freshly sliced oranges, lemons and limes to put on the table – it fills the room up as an instant air freshener and stimulates the senses.
It’s Not Rocket Science
Mary Ellen stated that SYNNEX isn’t doing anything special; they’re simply thinking forward for their Partners and putting themselves in their shoes to understand pain points and help deliver strategies rooted in creativity.
She explains it like this, “I could go help them write a master marketing plan but at the end of the day, that might too far fetched. Partners really just need some quick ideas to think about their business in a different way and a roadmap to put it in to practical use.”
Where To Start
It’s important to help Partners not only become better marketers but also help them understand they have ready sources of creativity available via their team. Help them learn how to tap in-house resources for creative assistance.
Boosting a Partner’s creativity can be as simple as creating a webinar series, lunch and learn, workshop or email series. And, it’s probably one of the most significant ways a Vendor can contribute to the growth of their Partners and win mindshare.