I’ve previously talked about how some of our customers decided what was the best channel partner strategy for their business. But once they signed on the dotted line many found that was when the real challenges began. While each had different issues, the overriding theme was how important it was to make sure their channel partners were supported from the get-go. But this wasn’t just about giving them product manuals or case studies. It was about enablement, process, and tools.
There were four things that emerged from these discussions that seemed to particularly help organizations ramp up their channel partners quicker and make them more effective and efficient.
Communication was a key issue that was raised by most. Making sure that channel partners (and their sales reps) know who they can speak to for specific issues was critical to their partner’s success. While those who had an exclusive channel partner strategy had a channel partner manager, those with targeted or global channel partners also had numerous people within their organization that spoke to their channel partners regularly. This could include sales engineers, partner marketing communications, and sales training managers.
While the channel partner manager received leads, product marketing might help with product training, and the sales engineer provides tactical support in how to deal with specific objections. In order to avoid confusion, and also make sure issues could be dealt with quickly, most companies found it important to have a primary point of contact, usually the channel partner manager. This role is responsible for ensuring the success of their partners, so they would pull in different departments to help support a partner if necessary.
2. Provide well-defined objectives
Providing your channel partner with objectives that suit your business model is critical. For example, one of our customers created different levels of objectives for their channel partners that matched their internal strategy and then used certification levels to help their partners understand their role within the broader business.
For example, a Level 1 certification provided enough context and information to enable a seller to perform lead generation, while someone with Level 2 certification was qualified to also do customer demos, and a Level 3 certified seller was accountable for opportunity management. All the partners could see a defined progression and knew that they had to succeed at one level before progressing further.
Another customer took a different approach to help their channel partners understand how they fit into their broader business objectives. They sell tea through franchisees and found that their channel partners were more effective at selling after they had communicated their brand positioning. This is because their franchisees then understood what made their product unique, and they could then articulate this to customers, thereby validating their premium price positioning. This also provided context that they could then use to underpin their own objectives, defining for their reps what they needed to sell and how they needed to do it.
3. Give them well-oiled processes
While the customers I spoke to knew that their channel partners needed processes to enable them to sell, many underestimated just how much detail they really required. For example, one high-growth tech company found their channel partner kept asking questions about what collateral they should use when talking to customers and how they could provide specific feedback.
This experience made them realize how important it was to have well-defined processes for their channel partners. For example, their partners needed to understand not only each stage of their sales process but also what kind of questions they should be asking prospects in each stage. One customer used the
(Challenges, Authority, Money, and Prioritization) to help their channel partners qualify a prospect. They then used the
Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, Champion) to help them get through the discovery process. By sharing the process and their questioning frameworks, they found their channel partners were more effective.
As part of sharing the process, many also found it helpful to share the specific collaterals that they used at different stages of the sales process. For some, this was quite a detailed process as they broke down the information so that their channel partners understood which collaterals helped counter a specific competitor objection for example.
Finally, all had implemented a simple and quick feedback loop. This allowed channel partners to share information from prospects that could then inform the company’s sales collaterals and decisions.
4. Provide the right software to support the success
While having a well-defined process is certainly important, it’s also critical that partner reps are supported with the right tools. The people I spoke to had several different areas where they found technology really helped their partners manage deals and also made it simpler for them to manage their partners. These included:
Partner relationship management: These tools are used to register deals, make market development fund requests, conduct joint business planning and determine loyalty/reward programs, and report on the pipeline and indirect sales;
Partner onboarding, certification, and ongoing learning: This helps provide training, certify sellers and automate their accreditation programs. Many of our customers use MindTickle to help them do this; and
Sharing sales collaterals: Providing channel partner reps with access to relevant collaterals like sales decks, demo information, competitive battle cards and success stories. This kind of functionality tends to be included in most partner relationship management tools and can be facilitated using MindTickle.
With these four elements in place, the next stage for many was to put together a robust onboarding and certification program for their channel partners. I’ll take you through how they achieve this next.