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As Americans pushed westward toward California in the 1870s, the product channels to support that expansion were rather chaotic and tenuous. Back then, channel partners were as likely to be operating out of a tent or wagon as they were a store or office. Good channel communication was a telegraph from your partner that you shouldn’t send the train shipment through Council Bluffs, Iowa, because Jessie James was liable to blow it up.

Today’s high-tech vendors have it much easier, with superbly efficient channel partners selling their wares. But channel feedback affects a vendor’s business just as dramatically as it did in the Old West.

The key is asking the right questions, listening to the answers and making adjustments. Unfortunately, over half of all high-tech vendors report they are concerned over lack of alignment with channel partners, according to the Sales Executive Council’s 2005 study.

While today’s vendors may be faring better than the telegraph, there is a lack of communication across the channel, as well as a failure to collect and analyze the right data, a lack of business alignment, and a tendency for vendors to focus on just the top-performing partners. And let’s not forget that a lot of vendor attempts at incentives just don’t seem like a pan of gold nuggets to the channel partner sales reps.

We can fix these common missteps and create a shared destiny with partners by better engaging and aligning them around common business goals. We can sell enough lumber in Dodge City to reach the goals we—as well as our channel partners—set.