Julie Volpiani is a marketing professional with experience in the satellite communications industry. She’s worked with leading operators who rely on distribution channels to provide communications across growing verticals. She’s an expert in partner enablement and digital marketing programs.
How to build an ecosystem of top performing channel partners
When it comes to channel, we often hear buzzwords such as; channel partner enablement, partner strategy, partner portal, co-sponsorships and incentives. But too often, there’s not enough emphasis on two human factors: loyalty and motivation. Before we can build an ecosystem of top performing channel partners, we must start by evaluating what exactly triggers prospective partners in making the choice between you and your competitors. So, how exactly do we drive these two factors in a highly competitive environment?
SET THE TONE
Give your partners a reason to trust you by selecting a clear channel distribution strategy for your organization. Whether your selection is a combination of tier-one and/or tier-two partners, it’s evident your organization does not choose to compete with its channel. Choosing an indirect channel distribution model, implies your partners have the expertise and gravitas to take you to market. A direct approach is ruled out as impractical as it limits their entry to market and ultimately shoves them on the defense. Your partners need reassurance they are your number one customer. Establishing trust from the beginning will determine how they choose to work with you in the future.
CHANGE COMES FROM WITHIN
Before we can ask others what they can do for us, ask what you can do for them by analyzing your own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) across your own organization. Remember, your partners are in business to offer a landscape of solutions to their customers. What makes your offering stand out? Although the worth of your company is evaluated quarterly, your leadership is assessed daily. Each time a partner interacts with a part of your business - billing, customer support, sales meetings or marketing calls - a judgment call is being made on your organization. If all parts of your business are running in synchrony, then you already have an upper hand against your competitors. If you are uncertain, hire an external advisor to assess what partners are saying about you. What parts of your business are inhibiting existing and new relationships? Find out where the pain points are and address them accordingly.
ONE STOP SHOP
For partners, there isn’t anything more cumbersome than having to rely on multiple platforms. Marketing and sale assets, social media, market development funds, digital campaigns should all live in one platform. Depending on the size of your partner ecosystem, plan to invest in systems that offer these capabilities. Having a one-stop-shop integrated partner portal will be your best asset. One-stop-shop partner portals will allow you to track success and control the majority of the brand and messaging. There are multi-level portals that reward sales teams for sales training, including; incentives and tracking tools all under one platform. However, if you are relying on a strong few, then invest in a system that offers more than just a content depository option.
Channel Partner Software Providers:
- Zift Solutions
- Salesforce Sales Cloud Partner Management
Hire a partner marketing manager who is also an account manager, or a channel enablement partner advisor who has the responsibility for working closely with channel managers while designing a comprehensive partner program that is deeply aligned with partner revenue targets. Marketing and sale programs should be recommended based on your partner’s quarterly performance, for example; shaping programs that target their prospects during an RFP. Or if a partner has reached a benchmark on certain products and/or services, then what are the other areas you can elevate them? This requires understanding their market barriers and ultimately what drives their performance. Is it incentives or rebates? Building a partner-scoring mechanic system will help identify their market barriers, such as; market access, customer engagement, and business development and growth. The rebate percentage could be aligned with partner attributes to ensure appropriate levels of focus on key behaviors, for example; lack of pipeline visibility will reduce incentive value. Also, rewarding partners for marketing activity and engagement, not just for total revenue. As CMOs become more accountable for driving growth, marketing metrics are changing to reflect this shift. Targeted marketing campaigns, partner rebates, and incentives are encapsulated as part of your partner program offering, ultimately holding each company responsible for measuring success.
HOLD EVERYONE ACCOUNTABLE
To avoid feeling like your partners are solely looking out for their own best interest, make sure you refer to rule #1 of this article at every stage of planning. Loyalty and activation are the keys to performance. Just as much as partners are collaborating with you, assume that they may be equally invested in your competitors’ business. A critical component to gaining market share and achieving optimum sales results is winning partner mindshare and loyalty. More specifically, when partners receive a higher level of sales enablement assistance and support from a solution provider, they reward the vendor by prioritizing their solutions over other brands. A Market Development Fund Program can be a successful asset but partners need to be held accountable and meet certain criteria through an eligibility process in order to access MDF. For example, build criteria based on their commitment to promote your services, their market credibility, message promoting, sector focus or ability to help you gain market share. Establish a formal request process, once it meets your criteria, request proof of ROI and then commit to a payout. It’s a win-win.
LOYALTY DRIVES MOTIVATION
Who doesn’t love an event where you can learn, network and share ideas? Find ways to bring your partners together under one roof. And talk, openly! Nothing is more gratifying than a leadership team that is self-aware. Having open conversations will break any tensions you’ve had with partners and slowly build loyalty not just for your company, but for the people who stand behind it. Ask hard questions about performance and acknowledge the areas where you are already making strides to improve and grow. Use these opportunities for positive collaboration and sharing the future outlook on your company. Be visionary. Provide competitive roadmaps, this is your chance to reset, thank them and set the tone for the year or quarter ahead.
- Article: Four Tips for Choosing the Right Indirect Channel Distribution Strategy
- Article: 4 Steps for Finding the Right Channel Partners For Your Company
- Article: 5 Essential Pillars in Creating a Channel Partner Program