Joshua Feinberg has over two decades of experience developing channel sales enablement resources. As a former columnist for Microsoft’s Small Business Server, Windows Server and Direct Access channel partner programs, Joshua authored the Microsoft Press book “Building Profitable Solutions with Microsoft Small Business Server.”
Channel Strategy Checklist: 5 Tips For a Partner Enablement Reboot
If you head up a channel partner program or oversee your company’s strategic alliances, you’re in a great position to add leverage to your company’s growth plans. However, many in your situation often find that the overwhelming majority of their channel revenue -- in many cases 80% or more -- comes from a tiny number of their channel partners.
So, what can you do to get all, or at least most, of your channel partners to learn from what your top channel partners are doing right?
In this article, we’ll start by reviewing the context of today’s typical channel partner. And then you’ll learn about five areas that you can begin working on today, that can have a transformative impact on your company’s channel partner engagement.
Taking Stock of Today’s Channel Partner
Today’s channel partner ecosystem still bears some resemblance to the value-added resellers (VARs), integrators, and consultants of the 1980s and 1990s. Back then, these companies established their core business models around reselling hardware and software, designing and installing networks, and customizing and building client/server software. (For some context, think about Mark Cuban building a wildly successful Lotus Notes-focused VAR in Dallas in the 1980s.)
How can you tell that there are still traces of this in the channel DNA? Many of the entrepreneurs that started these legacy businesses were 20-somethings and 30-somethings back then -- and are now approaching retirement, looking for their exit.
In the meantime, over the past ten years, a few very interesting, interrelated dynamics have popped up:
- Digital transformation, globalization, automation, and hyper-competition have disrupted many of these IT companies’ clients and some of the IT companies themselves.
- The consumerization of IT has shifted big IT budgets away from IT and into the hands of line of business managers, such as marketing and sales directors.
- Many born-in-the-cloud IT service providers have become way more adept at marketing and sales than traditional channel partners.
How to Jumpstart Your Channel Partner Reboot with More Effective Channel Education and Enablement
So, what should your team concentrate on if you want most of your partners to emulate and walk in the same steps of your best-performing partners?
1. Invest in thorough buyer persona research. A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of a customer that’s based on actual research and a small amount of educated speculation. One of the best ways for your company to build a better product or service is by having superior insight into your current customer, preferably through in-person or video conference interviews. Along these lines, buyer persona research is incredibly vital to figuring out what the pain points are, what drives buyers to take action, and how they prefer to engage with partners and vendors. Using this data can influence your product roadmap, marketing, sales, services, and support strategy. Unfortunately, many companies severely underinvest in this area and miss out on extremely valuable insights that their employees, prospects, customers, and partners would gladly share if asked.
2. Learn how your product or service fits in with each partner's broader solutions model. There may be some edge cases where your channel partners are selling your product or service on a standalone basis. But it’s far more likely that your product or service is just one piece of their puzzle. To develop more product relevancy and offer more effective channel education and enablement, you must learn where your company fits into their world. Again, there’s no substitute for visiting with and interviewing your partners about these questions. And you’ll be shocked at how productive it can be to read your partners’ case studies and accompany your partners on some of their client and prospect visits.
3. Run a competitive analysis on how your channel resources stack up against channel resources your partners receive from other popular channel programs. It’s vital to learn which other partner programs your best partners belong to. Once you figure out who’s on their Top 10 list, figure out what channel benefits each vendor provides and compare that to your channel benefits. Look for each program’s strengths and weaknesses -- and where your program could thrive.
4. Audit your internal sales enablement resources. If you have an internal sales team, chances are you have some templates, scripts, processes, and related assets. Take some time to audit your marketing and sales development resources. Then look for opportunities to repurpose some of these sales enablement resources to address your channel partners’ biggest goals, plans, and challenges around how they partner with your company and grow their companies.
5. Build a training and certification program that includes live, on-demand, and customizable marketing and sales resources. In the early days of growing your sales team, you likely did a lot of one-on-one knowledge transfer. Over time, however, the strategy proves to be unscalable. So, you develop some onboarding and training resources to help your new sales reps get set up for success with your company. Your channel partners need the same kind of support. And it’s wildly inefficient for this training to be done one-on-one. The good news, however, is that live (online and offline) training can be easily recorded. And those recordings provide an excellent jumpstart for new channel partners and a refresher for your existing partners. Then with a little more elbow-grease, you can add in some customizable checklists and collateral assets that accompany the training as bonus resources. And consider wrapping this all together in a knowledge-checking exam and hands-on project that demonstrates basic competency. If channel partners are representing your brand in the marketplace, it’s in your best interest to give their sales and technical employees the support that they need to thrive.
The Bottom Line on Effective Channel Education and Enablement
If you’re like most channel leaders, you likely have a core group of rockstar partners that generate the overwhelming majority of your channel revenue. And then there’s a much larger group of channel partners with untapped potential.
And this is where we will provide an additional tip, these strategies are time-consuming, high-risk yet high-reward and require expertise. To realize the full potential of your partner program, it might be the right time to evaluate a channel enablement partner. More on this, here.