This guest post was written by the folks at PartnerAmp, a provider of solutions for channel partner training and management.
As we enter a new decade, many organizations are re-evaluating their sales channels. For some, a channel partner program may be a great business model to increase sales. If you’re considering or working on developing a channel partner program, understanding how to do so smoothly will be essential for long-term success.
Channel partners are any individuals, businesses, or 3rd party organizations involved with selling your product but who aren’t directly employed by your company. This includes distributors, resellers, wholesalers, installers, licensed service providers, and even franchisees.
The channel partner/vendor relationship can be a complicated one. These partners aren’t employed by your company, per se, but they’re team members advancing your company’s goals nonetheless. Channel partners represent your product and sell it to potential end-users. These partners may even be providing follow-up maintenance and long-term support after the sale is made. These partnerships are especially common in manufacturing, B2B, and tech spaces.
It’s crucial that this relationship is healthy for strong customer success.
This includes providing comprehensive training and support as well as continuous feedback. The goal is to deepen the partner/vendor relationship and boost partner retention for the long haul.
If this is your first time constructing a partner channel, don’t fret! Managing partners is fairly similar to internal HR best practices. Some of the same challenges of teamwork faced by your employees are also felt by your channel partners.
The best way to combat future challenges is to be more intentional when building your partner channel network. We’re going to explore the following steps to help guide the creation of your channel partner strategy:
- Outline the parameters of your channel partner program.
- Define common goals across the partnership.
- Recruit partners with intention.
- Provide all materials needed for success.
- Acknowledge success where due.
- Maintain regular communication with partners.
Let’s dive in!
1. Outline the parameters of your channel partner program.
Before you begin recruiting partners for your channel, make certain that you fully understand the channel partner relationship and what managing one entails. For an in-depth look, visit PartnerAmp’s comprehensive guide to channel partner training. Here are some highlights to outlining your strategy:
- The types of partners your company requires will depend on your product. For example, if your product is a line of heavy home appliances, you’ll want to have dedicated installers and service providers in your channel. If you’re a software company, however, you’re less likely to require manual labor-based service providers.
- Each partner in your channel requires training specific to their role in distribution. This training process is not an insignificant strategic investment, so keep this in mind when outlining your strategy going forward.
Define the parameters of your channel partner relationship, including which types of partners you need to recruit and how you will train them. As you continue through this guide, you’ll lay the foundation for each of those parameters. The goal is to have a comprehensive package to present to potential partners, something that will help you recruit now and lower staff (or partner) turnover later.
2. Define common goals across the partnership.
While they’re not employees of your company, your channel partners probably have similar goals for your partnership as you do. For one, you both want the partnership to succeed and generate value!
Define common goals that both your company and your partners share, including revenue, ROI, and customer success goals. Instead of the conversation focusing on how partners can bring in money for your company, consider: How will you both make money and satisfy more customers or clients?
There are a few common ways to structure your partner channel in a way that provides value for both parties:
- Revenue Share: Partners receive a commission that is a percentage of the sale.
- Tiered Model: Incentivize partners when they provide a lead (some financial amount) and provide a larger commission when the lead becomes a sale.
- Dual Incentives: Reward partners and those that have referred leads to them, helping partners establish relationships with contacts in the field.
Defining goals that both parties share helps partners feel respected and included in the process, and integral members of the team whose own goals and engagement are critical for success.
3. Recruit partners with intention.
As if you were recruiting employees, think of what your company stands for and how you want to be represented when recruiting for your partner channel. Even though channel partners grow your company’s reach, this is still a practice of quality over quantity.
Partners are representing your product to end-users every day, and it’s up to them to maintain your company’s identity, branding, and values in every interaction. You won’t be able to monitor each interaction (channel partners aren’t going to be in your office, working under your watchful eye), so it’s important to consider culture fit when evaluating potential partners.
In addition, building your partner channel requires an active recruiting strategy. These aren’t candidates seeking a stable day-job directly with your organization, and they’re unlikely to discover your program if you don’t identify them and actively promote it to them.
From your first outreach, convey your company’s values and present a clearly defined criteria for success. Ensure partners know exactly what they’re getting involved with before signing on with your company to prevent any issues down the road.
4. Provide all materials needed for success.
Once you’ve recruited partners that align with your company’s values, it’s time to prepare them to represent your product.
Equip partners with everything they need to do their job successfully. This includes comprehensive training, consistent marketing materials across the channel, and post-training support. The easiest way to provide this introduction, and follow-up support, is by using a channel partner Learning Management System (LMS).
A channel partner LMS allows you to:
- Create courses and track partners’ progress.
- Give your partners access to track their employees’ training using sub-portals.
- Host documents and a marketing collateral library to ensure consistent branding.
- Gamify the training experience to keep partners engaged.
- Clearly convey expectations for partners from the start.
Providing training to your channel partners conveys your company’s investment in partners’ success. Furthermore, by stating expectations now, you prevent issues later on in your partnership.
5. Acknowledge success where due.
As your partner channel grows, clearly convey that partners are a valuable part of your company’s sales from the beginning to the end of the sales process. Do this by acknowledging success where recognition is due.
Keep partners in-the-loop about successful sales stories, conveying their role in the process. Also, quickly communicate how they’ll be compensated in return— don’t be casual when it comes to a partner’s earned payment.
Acknowledging partners in this way helps combat pervasive “outsider” attitudes, something that can decrease a partner’s loyalty to your company. Ensuring they feel acknowledged as a crucial part of the team combats this type of disengagement and keeps you a top priority when your partners are juggling other companies competing for their time.
As your channel grows, consider congratulating successful partners in a more public manner.
For example, hosting a partner appreciation event can go a long way in acknowledging partners, such as holding a conference gathering for your most successful partners from around the country and congratulating them on their good work with food, fun events, and other incentives.
6. Maintain regular communication with partners.
You probably use performance management software to maintain open channels of communication with your employees. Well, channel partners desire this feedback too!
Talking to channel partners, and doing so often, keeps channel partners privy to the latest news about your product and keeps expectations and agreed-to standards front-of-mind. There are a few easy ways to communicate with partners regularly:
- Create a regular email newsletter to send out updates and product announcements.
- Create a Slack or Facebook group for immediate updates.
- Use your LMS to post announcements and host discussion forums.
- Invite them for regular in-person meetings at your office, if possible.
In addition, just as you congratulate partners for their successes, keep in touch with partners that are struggling to hit the mark. Don’t allow a lack of success to be a surprise— instead, hold an ongoing conversation with those partners about how to continue improving.
The goal is to continue cultivating relationships with your channel partners beyond their initial training. Learn more strategies for building relationships and ultimately motivating sales from channel partners through this PartnerAmp guide.
Implementing a channel partner strategy in your company’s sales is a powerful way to increase your reach. These partners provide another avenue to get your product in end-users’ hands.
While partners aren’t employed by your company, it’s vital to maintain a healthy relationship across the board. With high partner retention as your goal, you’ll improve customer success in the long run. The six tips above will get you off to a great start.