Today’s digital marketplace is a vast and wild place. It can get a little lonely out there. So to combat this feeling (but, really, to maximize resources for greater ROI), companies sometimes turn to a partner for help with the heavy lifting. These partners shoulder some of the burden of sales, creating separate selling “channels” that expand a product’s reach. As such, these partnership systems are known as “channel partner programs,” and can involve:
- One company allowing another to sell its product in conjunction with other services;
- One organization joining forces with another to sell their respective products side by side (for increased exposure); or
- A company outsourcing some of their sales to another similar organization in order to leverage extra manpower and expertise
And here’s the best part: There can be many advantages to channel partner programs, no matter the type of partnership in play. (All channel partnerships welcome!)
But don’t get too ahead of yourself.
The potential benefits to channel partner programs can be incredibly exciting, but a strong partnership takes a ton of effort––not to mention a lot of research and a seemingly endless amount of planning––if it’s going to have any hope of succeeding.
Want to learn more about harnessing the power of channel partner programs to boost your business, but confused about how to begin? We’ve got you.
The following are our picks for the top five ways to get your channel partner strategy off the ground in 2020…and to keep it going well into the next decade. Note that this list caters mostly to businesses in search of partners that will sell for them (rather than with them), but the advice should still be applicable when dealing with any kind of channel partnership.
1. Practice self-awareness.
If you’re a new company, you may have the urge to start looking for partners the minute your business goes live. Resist this urge. Instead, hit pause, take a step back, and get a sense of how your business is faring at this exact moment.
Consider this: A business that’s best suited to a channel partner program is a business that’s already dealing with a full deck (read: already well established). Don’t entrust your product to a third-party representative unless your current business model can stand on its own two feet all by itself and, perhaps more importantly, can prove its own viability.
Consider too, that, once you embark on a channel partnership, you’ll be required to train your partner in the best techniques for presenting your product to consumers. Plus, you’ll also be obliged to bring your entire team on board by encouraging your colleagues to roll out the welcome mat and adopt some partner-friendly best practices. Think of how difficult the process of supporting and sustaining a partnership would be if your own internal business was suffering from structural inconsistencies. You’d come across as unprepared at best, and incompetent at worst. Effectively, you’d be setting up the partnership to fail before it even began.
Rather than running before you walk, conduct an honest appraisal of the current state of your company. Got some details that need smoothing out? Break out the iron and then begin your preliminary research on potential partners. Still haven’t found your niche in the market? Take a cold, hard your marketing and sales strategies. Is there room for improvement? Cool.
Make those improvements and be sure they deliver results before investigating a channel partner program. Remind yourself that you’re playing the long game here––and short-term satisfaction isn’t worth any long-term risk.
2. Do your homework.
Got your business infrastructure in order? Awesome. Are sales humming along without cause for alarm? Even awesomer.
Now the real channel partner work begins.
Channel partner programs are just like any other major business venture in that they require an immense amount of research if you’re going to get them right. But don’t worry––we can help you jumpstart the process.
Begin by conjuring up an image of your ideal channel partner. Ask yourself:
- “What kind of company (or product/service) would work best alongside my business?”
- “What sort of organization can benefit from my company’s strengths?”
- “What kind of partner can help my company with its current challenges?”
Got a perfect partner mapped out? Great. Next step is to get out into the real world and evaluate real-life partners to see if they’d be a good fit.
Customer success expert Lincoln Murphy advises that top-of-list candidates should include companies “ready, willing, and able” to join your ranks. (He also suggests an ideal partner should reflect your organization’s value system and company culture.)
Using this blueprint as your guide, make sure to evaluate each candidate and determine their overarching goals, market value, potential weaknesses, etc. Practice a bit of hypothetical role play and imagine how a partnership with you and your candidate might feel. Will the current market landscape make space for your collaboration? Are both companies able to create and sustain a business alliance? Will one of you end up doing more than half the work…and will both parties be okay with this arrangement? Try and answer these questions for yourself with some internet sleuthing, in-depth market research, and even a few one-on-one interviews with candidate representatives.
When you find a possible partner who meets all of your necessary requirements, you can get the ball rolling on a formal channel partnership.
3. Don’t be afraid to divide and conquer.
Here’s a (not-so-secret) secret about partnerships: It’s possible to have more than just one.
Hear us out.
If a bunch of different candidates look great on paper and you’re finding it hard to choose a single partner, it’s perfectly acceptable to build an “ecosystem” by partnering with all of them. Picture it: Instead of just one partner going to bat for your product, you’d have a whole lineup of batters dedicated to dispersing your product and spreading the good word about your company (go, team!).
Still, an advanced network of channel partners takes lots of planning and compartmentalizing.
If you’re interested in this kind of expanded ecosystem, it might be best to implement a tiered partnership structure, in which you’d onboard a selection of partners while simultaneously making sure each partner is only assigned responsibilities appropriate to their size, experience, and inherent value. In a tiered system, large “headliner” partners might demand the bulk of your time and effort, while smaller businesses may only call for mini collaborations such as guest posts or link exchanges.
The takeaway here is to learn how to scale your activities for maximum “divide-and-conquer” capability. Feel free to spread your partnerships across a far-reaching network of businesses, just remember to distribute your energies accordingly (i.e., don’t kill yourself over a partner that can only offer minimal returns).
4. Establish a play-by-play.
Once you’ve landed a partner (or partners!) that suits your needs, your next move is to create a definitive game plan. Sound a little overwhelming? Lucky for you, we’ve compiled a list of some of the things you’ll need to get started…
Open lines of communication: Your channel partnership will only be as good as your ability both to convey your ideas and listen to your partner’s feedback. To help keep the lines of communication open, you may want to designate a “partner program manager” who can facilitate talks between you and your partners and help address any minor frustrations. SaaS platforms such as file-sharing sites, Skype, sales enablement solutions, and internal messenger software, can likewise help ensure all parties feel heard and appreciated.
A comprehensive “to do” list: This holds true for both sides of a partnership. Before you let your partner take the reins on selling activities, be sure to set up a meeting and make some definitive decisions regarding things like target demographics, allocation of resources, delegation of tasks, and how you plan to tackle any problems, technical updates, etc.
Proven techniques for training: Onboarding a new partner means you’ll effectively be onboarding an adjunct sales team. Don’t leave these new colleagues out in the cold. Instead, be sure to provide them with all the training, tips, and content they’ll require in order to champion your product. A few of these new “team members” may be unfamiliar with the average sales funnel or the archetypal buyer’s journey. That’s okay. Play the part of teacher for a while and offer up as much information as possible on how to make sales materials more impactful and how to optimize your brand messaging for maximum ROI.
An eye for what’s trending: “Who needs knowledge?” said no one ever. Keeping your partnership afloat will depend on whether or not you keep up with industry events. Stay up to date on buyer trends, market news, and competitor hits and misses. It’s never a bad idea to be just a bit more informed than your partner, particularly if they should hit you up with questions and/or concerns about sales tactics in today’s market space.
Eyes getting tired? Hang in there, we’re almost finished…
5. Don’t expect too much, too soon.
Remember when we said channel partner programs were about playing the long game? We weren’t kidding.
We’ve saved the most important point for last (we’re smart like that), so here goes:
Sit tight. The concrete benefits of a channel partnership will take time to come into effect.
And this applies not only to the amount of time it will take to bring your partnership online and get things fully operational but also to the amount of time that will pass before you start reaping any rewards.
If you’re thinking this seems a bit unfair, we don’t blame you. But remember that implementing a channel partner program actually means a few extra steps in the buyer’s journey. A partnership offers you enhanced visibility and extended reach, but this kind of expanded development means your products or services will take longer to get to your customers, which, in turn, means that feedback will take a while to gather and analyze…and upticks in revenue make take a little longer to appear.
Don’t let the timeline get you down, however. Use the time instead to strengthen and cultivate your partnership while you wait. Have your partner program manager serve as go-between for you and your partner, and create a schedule for regular check-ins. Secure as much face-time with your partner as you can so that you and your product stay fresh in their mind.
Salesforce notes that partnerships are designed to “drive growth”––and, as you know, growth requires lots of nurturing as well as some good, old-fashioned grunt work. So grab some coffee, get comfortable, and let your partners know you’re here and you’re all about long-term commitment. We’re pretty sure we’ve heard somewhere that patience is a virtue, and we’re guessing all this effort and determination won’t go unnoticed by your partner or your customers. In the race for real, lasting, and impactful gains, we say it’s better to be the tortoise and not the hare.