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Channel Conflict: 5 Causes to Look Out For 

To prevent channel conflict, we have to be aware of what causes it. Discover the five most common causes of channel conflict and how to prevent them.
A Full Guide to the 5 Causes of Channel Conflict
Published on
September 8, 2021

While channel partnerships have many benefits, they can sometimes come with a few challenges, one of which is channel conflict. Channel conflict occurs between different players within a company's distribution channels, where conflicts arise, swords are drawn and sparks fly. But what exactly fuels these clashes? What are the factors that ignite such tensions?

In this article, we delve deep into the heart of the matter, peeling back the curtain to uncover the underlying causes of channel conflict in the indirect sales ecosystem.

What Is Channel Conflict?

Channel conflict occurs when there is a clash or disagreement between different entities within a company's distribution channels. It's like a heated showdown where various players, such as manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, or even online platforms, find themselves at odds with one another. This conflict arises due to competing interests, conflicting goals, or disagreements regarding the allocation of resources and responsibilities.

When this happens, it can hinder the smooth flow of products or services, create tension, and ultimately affect the overall efficiency and profitability of the distribution channels.

The Types of Channel Conflict

Vertical conflict, horizontal conflict, and multichannel conflict are three common types of channel conflicts. We discuss each of them briefly below.

Vertical Channel Conflict

Vertical channel conflict occurs between different tiers or levels within the distribution channel. This conflict typically involves clashes between manufacturers and retailers, highlighting a fundamental tension between those responsible for creating products and those charged with selling them to consumers.

Imagine it as a tug-of-war between the creators and the sellers, where interests, objectives, and strategies may not always align harmoniously. Vertical conflicts can revolve around issues like pricing, product availability, quality standards, and distribution terms.

Horizontal Channel Conflict

In stark contrast to vertical conflict, horizontal conflict unfolds among entities that occupy the same level within the distribution channel. Picture it as a battle among equals – competing retailers or wholesalers vying for the same slice of the market. This form of conflict is rooted in the fierce rivalry between entities with similar roles, which can lead to intensified competition, undercutting, or disruptive tactics. Horizontal channel conflict may center on issues like pricing wars, exclusive agreements with suppliers, or strategies to gain a competitive edge.

Multi-Channel Conflict

Multichannel conflict is a complex web of disagreements or competition that emerges when a company employs multiple sales channels simultaneously. It arises when these various channels, whether they involve direct sales, indirect sales, e-commerce, or brick-and-mortar retail, come into conflict with each other. This type of conflict is particularly prevalent in today's omnichannel landscape, where businesses seek to reach customers through numerous touchpoints.

The clashes within multichannel conflict can encompass a wide array of concerns, including pricing inconsistencies, conflicting promotional strategies, territorial disputes, or challenges related to customer allocation. Additionally, it can manifest in the form of customers receiving contradictory experiences or information from different channels, which can erode trust and brand loyalty.

What are the Causes and Effects of Channel Conflict?

It's important for business owners to understand the major causes of channel conflict so they can improve their operations. Channel conflict can hurt sales, damage partner relationships, and make customers unhappy.

By recognizing and dealing with these causes, businesses can take steps to reduce conflicts and make their distribution networks work better. In the next section, we'll examine the 5 main causes of channel conflict and explain what factors contribute to this problem.

1. Incompatible Goals with Your Partners

The moment you no longer share the same goals with your partners, there is bound to be a channel conflict. Imagine if each dog in a dog sled team pulled in different directions—they likely wouldn't go anywhere at all. The same is true of partner programs.

This problem often occurs because the strategy one partner may engage in may be different from that of another partner. While incompatible goals are one of the most common causes of conflict amongst organizational partners, it is also one of the easiest to resolve.

When partners in an organization do not have the same goals, they orient their work in different directions.

For example, a reseller partner may want to increase the product's price to bring more revenue. But on the other hand, you, as a business owner, may want to focus more on an affordable and fair price with repetitive purchases. While both goals benefit the software, the mode of execution clashes.

2. Lack of Communication Between Partners

Lack of effective communication between partners is one of the main causes of conflict. When there is no proper communication, partners try to achieve their own goals the best way they can with the little information they have.

Because partners don't know about the plans of other partners due to a lack of effective communication, it sometimes causes conflict. Poor communication between partners will only deter them from achieving a set goal.

For partners to collaborate towards moving an organization forward, they need to keep all communication channels open.

With improper intercommunication, partners cannot foster a good working relationship. This also brings down their morale, affecting their effectiveness and productivity.

If, in an organization, there is a change in a marketing strategy with no proper distribution of the information, it will cause disparity and obstruct the process. For a marketing strategy to be effective, everyone in charge of one aspect or the other needs to be fully involved.

3. Unclear Policies & Contracts

Unclear or ill-defined policies and contracts in an organization cause partners to have conflict. Irrespective of the field of the partner—be it operations, supervision, management, or administration—clear and defined roles and responsibilities need to be in place.

Unclear policies and contracts cause structural conflict and illicit practices between partners. And when partners are not on the same page, it jeopardizes the progress of other partners. This will affect the organizational progress, as well as business outcomes.

Unclear policies and contracts can impair the progression of organizational strategies, limit mutual collaboration between partners, and render partners deviated from results.

Additionally, unclear policies and contracts in an organization can cause duplication of effort by partners. Business owners are advised to pay strict attention to defining the policies and contracts of their partners to save time and resources.

By doing this, each partner will have a clear vision of where, how, and why their services are needed in the organization.

4. Marketing and Strategy Differences

As a savvy business owner, you should know that marketing and strategy differences in an organization are common. Strategic or marketing misalignment between partners often arises due to poor communication, which could negatively affect sales.

Imagine one partner pitching a product as an exclusive up-market product while another partner is trying to pitch it as an all-purpose mainstream solution. This could cause a lot of tension and conflict.

If marketing and strategy conflicts are not managed properly and promptly, partners will end up wasting precious time in their cubes or offices, rehashing the conflict and placing blame rather than focusing on core goals like increasing sales.

Moreover, conflicting members are less focused on the project at hand, hence reducing productivity. Overall, strategic or marketing misalignment causes the organization to lose customers, access to essential resources, money, and so on.

5. Resistance and Fear of Change

Leadership is important in any organization. However, there may be a conflict between the leader and partners. Conflict between the leader and partners often arises when the leader wants to make some changes, but the intermediaries are unwelcoming to these changes.

Resistance to leadership and change raises friction in the organization. The bottom line is that change is good, as it is often a sign of growth and improvement.

As a good leader, it is important to sell any change you want to affect to your partners first so that they can effectively sell it. But when leaders are merely trying to impose changes on partners, it can lead to resistance, which in turn will lead to a soured relationship.

How to Overcome Channel Conflict?

First, you must accept that conflict is natural and can happen in a working environment. In fact, positive conflict can be great for creativity and building strong partner relationships. However, regardless of what the conflict is about, as a business owner, you should understand that your response can decrease or escalate it.

Conflict often arises when there is no clear policy on how a certain situation should be handled.

Another tactic that has helped several businesses overcome conflicts is by organizing regular meetings with partners to discuss marketing goals and modes of execution that help everyone remain aligned.

As a business owner, you should acknowledge that each team may have its marketing and strategic ideas. Nevertheless, it is your role as a business owner to decide which idea will best help the business grow.

How to Prevent Channel Conflict?

To prevent channel conflict and build a productive distribution network, you can implement these strategies:

Maintain Open and Transparent Communication

Keep communication channels open with your channel partners. Regularly engage in discussions, meetings, and feedback sessions to ensure everyone is well-informed and aligned. This enables you to address concerns, clarify expectations, and prevent misunderstandings that can lead to conflicts.

Foster Collaboration in Planning

Involve your channel partners in the planning process to create a shared vision and goals. Collaborate on strategies, marketing campaigns, and product launches to ensure everyone works together towards common objectives. Encourage active participation and provide opportunities for input and feedback.

Establish Consistent Channel Policies

Develop clear and consistent policies that govern channel relationships. These policies should outline guidelines for pricing, promotions, territories, and conflict resolution. By establishing a fair and transparent framework, you can minimize confusion and provide a solid foundation for mutually beneficial collaborations.

Regularly Assess Performance

Regularly evaluate the performance of your channel partners to identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. Provide constructive feedback, guidance, and support to help them optimize their operations. Recognize and reward exceptional performance to motivate and reinforce positive behaviors.

Mediate Conflicts

Despite preventive measures, conflicts may arise. In such cases, act as a mediator to facilitate discussions and find resolutions that satisfy all parties involved. Encourage compromise, foster understanding, and prioritize maintaining the long-term partnership over individual victories.

Use a PRM Software

Using a PRM actively prevents channel conflict. A PRM system centralizes information, ensuring that all partners have access to consistent and up-to-date data.

It facilitates transparent deal registration and efficient lead management, minimizing conflicts that may arise from overlapping opportunities. Collaboration and communication tools within the PRM system enable effective interaction and alignment of strategies.

The PRM system tracks partner performance and offers incentives, promoting fairness and motivation. Leveraging a PRM system strengthens partnerships, streamlines operations, and creates a cooperative distribution network that minimizes conflicts and maximizes success.

By implementing these strategies, you can foster effective communication, collaboration, and trust within your distribution network. Taking proactive steps will help you minimize conflicts, enhance your business relationships, and ultimately achieve success in your sales efforts.


In the end, channel conflict is like navigating a treacherous sea, but forging powerful partnerships can be your ship that sails through the storm. By cultivating a culture of trust, collaboration, and open communication, you build a sturdy vessel that can weather any conflict.

Partnerships become the wind in your sails, propelling you toward shared success. Clear policies act as the compass, guiding everyone toward a common direction.

Regular performance assessments become the lighthouse, illuminating areas for improvement and guiding partners to reach their full potential. And when the waves of conflict rise, you become the captain, steering the ship with skillful mediation and focusing on preserving long-lasting alliances.

Just as a crew relies on each other's strengths, leveraging PRM software becomes the navigational technology that charts your course, ensuring smooth coordination and efficient operations.

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