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Finding the right channel partner mix
The simplest way to approach this would be to use the 80:20 rule — where 80% of your sales or revenue comes from 20% of the partners or people. Focusing your resources, support and incentives on vendors that will generate the majority of your sales will be crucial to your success in the channel.
Too often, marketing starts off with its channel strategy in a different direction to the business, says Andy Grant. You must be aligned with the leadership team. You need to understand what they want, what the business is driving, and then build that into your marketing strategy to deliver that through your partners.
How to identify the right channel partners for your programme
There will be a number of criteria for choosing a partner, but as mentioned, the reference point should be the objective for your partner programme. That might be growing scale, extending reach or even growing brand awareness.
David Burnand, Box, says: “It comes down to what do you want to achieve versus what are you prepared to give. What you want to achieve could be any number of things. At Box, we use it to extend our reach in territories, and with some of our tech partnerships, it’s as much about awareness as it is sales.”
You should be aware that with any partner selection will come an element of compromise. For instance, if you want to work with a partner to extend your reach into new markets, that might mean accepting it may not be possible to provide the perfect B2B brand experience you do through direct sales at home. Many tech businesses provide a tiered accreditation programme for their partners. This allows partners to be recognized for their expertise and often gives them access to greater levels of marketing support. At Mitel for example, it provides joint marketing funds to its platinum and gold partners. There is an agreement from the partner they will commit to maintain their certification, and both parties will go to market together.
The other key factor in onboarding the right partners is will you have the internal resources necessary to serve them? It’s pointless to decide to work with multiple partners of various sizes if you don’t have the capability to provide the training, support and resources required to serve them in market. This also applies to doing your due diligence on your partners. Do they have the capability to achieve your objectives? How much common ground is there between you?
Ginny Follen from Veridium says: “You need a lot of resources to support partners. The more you have, the more people you need to do channel enablement — to go out there and do ‘lunch and learns’, to manage the deal registration desk, and to train the partners to provide those services.”
Managing your channel programme internally
Getting a channel marketing programme off the ground internally can be tough. Not least because of the inherent tension when you have an external partner trying to drive sales at the same time as your internal direct sales team. As with any marketing project, the buy-in of senior leadership is essential before you start. This is particularly important here, as interaction between your own c-suite and the channel partner’s can go a long way to securing that all important primacy in the partner’s line-up. A c-suite that works together will also make it easier to determine whether the partner is the right fit to achieve your objectives.
The advice from our contributors is to make sure you sell the channel marketing programme internally — especially with sales — to try to avoid disputes later on. Tom at Sherpa suggests making the demarcation between the direct team and the channel clear upfront. In most tech businesses, direct sales go after the big ticket items, with channel responsible for the long tail. It doesn’t have to be size either; sometimes, the responsibility could be divided by vertical, but the key is to avoid any potential duplication.
How can you position yourself as number one among channel partners?
The verdict from the experts was pretty unanimous — channel partners value the bottom line above all. To begin with, you may even need to hand leads over to your partners — yes, you may need to give them leads to get leads back! You may think your product is the bees knees, but your partner may have anywhere from 20 to 220 vendors who think the same. Channel partners need to make money. Offering to work on existing lead opportunities together and sharing the success will engender trust for the future and improve your standing.
Ginny from Veridium says: “The more you scratch their back, the more they’ll scratch yours. You absolutely cannot just hand it over to channel partners. It’s linking up between businesses for mutual reward. If you sit back and wait for the channel leads to come in, they never will.”
Above all, your channel marketing strategy needs to be simple enough to explain and easy for everyone in the field to understand; that establishes what you want partners to do for you as a vendor. They’re an extension not only of your workforce, but your brand, awareness, capability to create opportunities and ability to serve customers.