Initiating and fostering strong channel partner relationships are an effective way to meet the “last mile” challenge of reaching new customers. Impartner, a provider of channel management technologies, offers separate nine-point guides for starting a channel partnership and growing one. The last two recommendations are the same for both scenarios.
Develop your channel proposition
Why would another company want to partner with you? If you don’t have a thorough and convincing answer, you’re not ready to recruit channel partners. Your answer should include the economics of a partnership, the skills required to sell to your target audience, and the level of support you will provide. Prospective partners want to get a sense of how much effort will be necessary to be an effective partner, how long it will take to generate profits, and whether there’s enough it for them to invest the effort.
Hone your value proposition
Calculate the share of wallet per partner that you enjoy and determine if you could be getting more. Determine your maximum total addressable market and map those opportunities back to individual partner types. Enumerate opportunities and help partners envision how to pursue them.
Identify appropriate partner personas for your company
What roles do you need your partners to perform?
Impartner suggests at a minimum, you will want your partners to be able to fulfill these roles:
- Lead generation and qualification
- Close deals
- Handle delivery and logistics
- Installation and integration
- After-sales support
Creating a detailed partner persona reduces the likelihood of conflicts that develop when a company recruits channel partners indiscriminately.
Expand your trading zone
One proven way to overcome the challenges of geographic expansion is to enlist the help of distributors. Distributors can help you identify, qualify and engage partners in new geographies.
Build your program structure
Building a foundation for your partner program is challenging because not all partners have the same needs. In fact, not all partners participate in sales. Some may stop at generating leads, while others provide value through customer support or further development of intellectual property. To help distribute rewards and benefits more efficiently, many companies tier their programs.
Explore new business models
Partners can help identify new vertical markets and customer segments you can sell to. Be aware that many market adjacencies have business models that are different than what you are used to. You may need to develop new strategies to address different preferences in buying.
Onboard and enable partners
Partners want a simple and preferably automated enrollment process. Support materials and easily accessible assistance are table stakes. Just as the onboarding process for your internal sales and support personnel is critical to their success and their retention, the initial experience you provide for channel partners has a great impact on the long-term success. Studies show that partners will leave an otherwise profitable relationship if a vendor is difficult to work with.
Optimize your partner experience
To honestly assess what type of partner experience your company provides, you need to closely examine onboarding, training, marketing support and other aspects for which your partners rely on you. Understand that you don’t hold all the cards. Partners have leverage.
Communicate broadly and efficiently
Partners are more likely to properly present your market positioning if you provide them with the tools and materials they need. You may be tempted to use the same spec sheets and sales materials that you provide end customers, but creating materials designed specifically for partners can help them overcome rejection and represent you more appropriately.
Revise and modernize your channel incentives
Incentives devised for one era are not likely optimized for another. Forward-thinking companies are devising ways to reward influence while creating incentives that recognize other forms of value delivery, such as superior end customer satisfaction, technical adroitness, target account penetration and more.
Apply best practices
Constant oversight and continuous refinement are musts. Be aware of best practices in sales enablement, marketing, technology integration and other aspects of going to market. Be open to feedback from partners and ready to implement changes and invest in new tools.
Tap partners to expand communications
Partners can help companies expand their marketing influence in new geographies or vertical markets. The more assistance you provide, the more likely partners are to share messaging that is brand compliant. Many partners need guidance in executing marketing campaigns so they provide the right message to the right prospect at the right time.
Foster a partner culture
Launch partnerships with a spirit of cooperation. You cannot expect to thrive in the channel if your company is punitive or uncollaborative. Remember, channel partners often represent more than one brand in product categories. Commit to creating win-win scenarios.
Help partners acquire new skills
Partners want help understanding new business trends, emerging technologies relevant to your industry and anything related to ongoing regulatory compliance. Provide help with new skills development either through actual knowledge transfer or funding to help with the cost of ongoing skills development.
Invest in a world-class tech stack
Automation has never been more important to becoming more nimble, flexible and scalable than your competitors. Each of the previous suggestions above relies on increased automation and state-of-the- art technology. Many companies’ go-to-market strategy has a three-pronged foundation that fosters growth: a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, a marketing automation platform (MAP) and a partner relationship management (PRM) platform. The goal is to be able to monitor, measure and manage every aspect of your organization with real-time data and actionable insights.
Apple conceived this two-word battle cry decades ago, but it is more pertinent than ever. Listen to new voices that present new ideas. Lean into the partner portion of your channel partnerships.