Secrets of the Partner Series – Channel Partners – Part 3 – Recipe for a Successful Channel
[ In this final blog of the Channel Partner Series, Wayne Greene and I detail our kitchen-tested recipe for a successful channel. Make sure you refresh yourself first with our first two blogs, Part 1 and Part 2. ]
Recipe for a Successful Channel
- A product ready for channel sales. Only products that have evolved way beyond version 1.0 or even 2.0 have the chops to be sold by anyone but your most loyal long-term sales guys.
- Demos. If your channel cannot demonstrate it to their customers, they cannot sell it. Provide scripted, repeatable demos, either live or recorded.
- Absolute clarity about what type of partner program you are implementing. Distributors, VARs, SIs, consultants, ISVs, etc, etc. Scope: regional, national, or multinational? Scale: number of Sales, Pre-sales reps? Marketing strength?
- A mature customer acquisition process with proven success getting customers to buy your product. If your sales process is a snowflake, that snowflake will melt on the way to the channel partner. Customer centricity is absolutely core to this.
- Well-defined service implementation capabilities and artifacts. If you can’t deploy it or maintain the implementation over time, no one else will be able to.
- Select partners who have a trajectory toward success. Product knowledge can be taught, being in the right place—with access to your target end customers—with the right bench strength cannot.
- Partners who have strategic initiatives that align with your objectives are extremely important. Nothing keeps the program going like motivational alignment.
- Build, test, and keep current all your sales enablement assets and systems, updated with each release. Your partners have no time to develop this themselves, let alone synthesize the message you want. Make it easy to get to JIT and mobile.
- Processes. If your channel partner does not know whom to go to in your organization to answer one-off questions, doesn’t know how to get help during a Proof Of Concept, or needs help with ROI or value proposition tweaking, they will get tired and move on to other ways to meet their number.
- Incentives. Make sure both your partners and direct sales force are signed up and feel motivated. Double pay if necessary. Triple pay if you are in a complex enterprise sales force with specialists and generalists.
- Analytics. It is imperative that both your company and the partner have access to an appropriate set of metrics and analytics about the product, services, and support metrics.
- Hire, train, and incent a single person to own the success of the channel program. The individual should have done this before for multiple companies and be independent, motivated, and a domain expert in the area you want to sell into.
- Understand the larger forces at play and make sure your channel initiative fits in and plays nicely with everything else going on in the company.
- With the partners, build in realistic goals and KPIs that are measurable so that success can be clear (and whom to blame— oh I mean work to resolve) when the numbers are lacking.
- Understand what your competitors are doing in their channel programs. Did they take a different tack? Do they even have one? For example, if all your competitors don’t have an active channel program, there may be something particular in your space that may not be amenable to a traditional channel partner program.
- Keep aligning responsibilities and expectations. Take the time to work with your partners to ensure there are no gaps. When they do arise, close them as fast as you can.
- Communicate the program clearly to partners. It should be simple to understand, without being simplistic. It should be in a written document with clear lines of engagement. The program needs to spell out discounts, graduated levels or tracks, rebate process and registration of deals.
- Major Launch: make sure your Partner reps are as trained as your Direct reps are. It may not be at the same time, or simultaneously, but ensure they’re equally well equipped.
- Periodic training refresh: include your Partners in the training for a product refresh, a major new initiative, or significant changes to messaging. Each time you train your Partner, making it easier to do business with you, and you’re re-recruiting them.
- Regular review: follow-up formally (QBR) and informally with your Partners on outstanding issues, tweaks to the program, or new insights learned about selling. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.
- Congratulations: ensure awards and recognition, both internally for program members and externally for Best Partner of the Year.
When your business leader says that your product line needs a channel strategy so that you can increase sales, make sure you (and your business leader) are well informed on the state of the art in setting up and successfully executing a channel program. In a variation of a recent LinkedIn share:
- When a poor channel program meets a hot product in the market, the market may win
- When a poor channel program meets a questionable product in the market, the market will win
- When a good channel program meets a questionable product in the market, the channel program may win
- When a good channel program meets a hot product in the market, you get promoted