Building a strategy for your partner channel isn’t just a numbers game. More isn’t always better, and bigger isn’t always the answer; however, better is better! When choosing channel partners, quality beats quantity. Great partners become a part of your brand, but, unfortunately, so do poor ones who approach their end-customers with anything less than a value-based offering. What is it exactly that makes a great partner and how do you find and recruit them for your channel program?
Getting products to market takes time, and the road can be lengthy, with many turns along the way. The journey begins with an idea, followed by research and then a plan. The plan is prototyped, tested, redesigned, improved and eventually approved for production. Then comes manufacturing, marketing, distribution and finally sales, as well as ongoing customer service and maintenance. Unfortunately, however, this scaled sales effort covering the addressable market isn’t always a cost-effective option, so you turn to the IT channel.
What Is the IT Partner Channel?
The IT channel exists because manufacturers and software providers realized they could only hire, motivate and manage enough sales and service people to reach a fraction of the potential market. However, by partnering with highly qualified sales and service organizations and developing a strategy to manage these channels, they could reach a much broader market while also investing in core business areas and capabilities.
If you were to hire a salesperson, you’d ensure they possessed the interpersonal, synthetic and professional skills to carefully listen to customers, develop excellent recommendations on value-based solutions and intelligently persuade those customers to invest in your product or service. You would also provide the best professional service and support personnel to ensure the customer experience is seamless and of the highest degree of satisfaction possible.
When developing your channel management strategy, a similar kind of vetting and support process is ideal. With all partnerships comes the ever-present concern regarding quality in the sales process. Channel partners serve as de facto members of your sales organization — therefore, you want the best, most professional salespeople representing your company. However, because they are partners and not employees, your ability to wholly manage how they represent your product or service is greatly reduced.
Not all channel partners are created equal. If a product fails to perform as promised — through misrepresentation, improper installation or inaccurate instructions — the customer will blame the company that makes the product. It’s imperative that you know who’s representing your company — your brand, reputation and image — and the value they bring to the sales process.
It’s About Value, Volume and Velocity
It’s dangerous to think that “the more feet you have on the street,” the better. Yes, your goal is to maximize sales volume and velocity — you owe that to your stakeholders and future — but not at the expense of value.
Your customers invest in value — the value attained by using your products and services. They seek a return on that investment, which is ultimately reflected in their bottom line. Generally, helping to increase customers’ bottom lines has a favorable impact on its own. In other words, staying focused on providing added value should result in the highest possible volume and velocity of sales, which, in turn, leads to better recruitment of channel partners.
The best channel partners teach and motivate their salespeople to stay focused on value. A great channel salesperson learns as much as possible about their customers' businesses before offering any recommendations. They develop high-value solutions to address the challenges identified in their due diligence. Offering more than a simple “quotation," they submit a comprehensive proposal, spanning design to deployment to training and support, ensuring the user can extract the most value for their company.
5 Steps to Finding Great Channel Partners
Although it's obvious that the IT channel represents the best way to reach your potential market, it’s crucial to find the right channel partners to maintain your brand and reputation. How do you find them?
- Identify your end-user: Figuring out who your end-user is will help you determine what kind of partners you need, and with whom they will interact and when.
- Define your ideal partner: If you could build a partner, what would that partner look like? What services, solutions or complementary offerings would they provide? What would be their geographical reach? What vertical industry would they address?
- Determine your requirements: Depending on how much support you’re planning to provide (e.g., training, funding and so on), what are your expectations of the partner? Do they need a minimum sales force? Do they need their own marketing engine?
- Spread the word: If you have a pool of partners, reach out to them about your new channel program. If you don’t have that pool, consider advertising a partner application. CRN, for example, has more than 150,000 partner companies in its database. Just make sure to outline what kind of partner you’re looking for, so you aren’t bombarded with applicants that don’t fit the bill.
- Identify aligned partners: Once you start receiving partner requests, you’ll need to vet them. The best channel partners are those whose core competencies align well with your products, who possess a value-centered mindset and who will partner enthusiastically with you at every level, from marketing and product improvement to customer interface and periodic product refresh. If they don’t fit well, move on.
But Building a Strategic Partner Channel Doesn’t End There
Why can’t I just enroll a bunch of partners and then reap the benefits?
Unfortunately, finding partners is only half the battle. Just like flowers, partner relationships must be nurtured, continually supported and groomed. Fail to care for them, and they’ll wilt and die.
Effective channel management is complicated and time-consuming, but necessary to ensure quality and efficiency. Within Shyft Global Services, our customer lifecycle management team works with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to acquire, onboard and enable more than 70,000 channel partners. By working together, Shyft has been able to help OEMs maximize the channel.
Want to learn more about optimizing your own channel management? Download our eBook, Top Four IT Channel Partner Problems, to learn how top OEMs turn their biggest channel challenges into opportunities.
About the Author
Antonio Masis is the vice president of Global Customer Management Services for Shyft Global Services. He has more than 10 years of experience as a business development leader, with a focus on directing operations, sales strategies and managing outsource agreements.