The second installment in the Channel 101 series provides answers to get you moving
How do you work with partners?
It sounds like a simple question but it isn’t. Successful partnering today demands exacting answers. This is especially true of partner enablement, management and prioritization.
Here are some questions and answers that will help you get up to speed and rack up wins quickly to help build momentum.
Partner Enablement Basics
What kind of onboarding do you provide partners? Does your organization, for example, insist on training for everything right away?
If you’re new to partnering, prep for this question early in your “partner program-building journey.” Here’s why.
Traditionally, vendors, especially tech vendors, demanded that channel partners complete exhaustive training before representing their products and/or services to customers. But this “bootcamp” training is falling out of favor as vendors embrace new thinking that is based on recent research and more evolved tech solutions.
Studies show that learners absorb more when they have an opportunity to apply early learnings and then get feedback on their initial efforts. Hands-on or active learning, thus, is becoming more common in business, including tech channels.
To get started with new partners, think in terms of basic tech training, solutions selling and customer experiences. You need to show new partners how to evaluate whether their existing customers are good fits for your products or services, for example. Partners will also need to know the basics of how to position your innovations, qualify leads, present and demos products, provide competitive bids and, finally, close new business.
Afterwards, it is time for partners to put these lessons to the test by engaging with customers in real-world settings. This is the time for you to monitor, support and assess early results. If engagements go smoothly, then partners are likely ready for additional “layers” of training and support that exposes them to more sophisticated sales techniques, marketing concepts and technological concepts. If not, you will need to reassess where your programs, training or products are coming up short.
Remember: the fault could lie with you, your partners or both. If multiple partners are stumbling for the same reason, for example, the problem likely lies within your own four walls. Don’t ignore informative results, in other words — even if the truth hurts.
Partner Management Basics
Once I get partners selling on my behalf, how can I manage them?
Once you get partners moving, it’s then time to guide them where you want them to go. Managing their journey with your company requires some foresight — not to mention automation (more on that below). For example, you will need to map out the following for your partners:
- Coverage models (think geographies, vertical markets, segments and more)
- Goals and metrics
- Commitments and obligations
- Activity targets
For larger or more sophisticated partners, you will want to develop partner business plans that are developed jointly and managed regularly. In addition to basic enablement, vendors and service providers must take pains to not overlook the tactical things that help make engagements successful. This includes developing marketing materials including:
- Product guides
- email content
- Blog articles
- Case studies, white papers
- Downloads, tools and calculators
- Social media plans, events and more
Then, there are sales materials that cover everything from slide decks to sales pitches, call scripts, objection handling tips and even references.
One thing that has become increasingly important in software markets is modern contracts. These must be thoroughly conceived and road-tested to ensure fairness, repeatability and scalability.
Before unleashing these items on your entire partner ecosystem, road test them with a select few organizations. Think of this period as your “pre-mortem” during which you can identify roadblocks. If you treat this step seriously, you will eliminate a number of issues that could frustrate partners in the future. This includes helping partners understand your technology’s shortcomings or competitive weaknesses.
In most instances, you should address your shortcomings with select partners so they are prepared to best represent you in the market. Companies struggle with this decision, but experience has shown that partners appreciate candor. When treated professionally, partners respond in kind and work collaboratively with a vendor to overcome issues.
How should I prioritize partners?
Most companies invest in partners based on hope and intuition. But there are better ways to assess potential. This includes the level of enthusiasm a partner demonstrates as measured by the number of people they send to your training, the level of activity they have with your brand and the number of accounts they introduce to your organization. Other factors to consider include their skill level, competitive position in the market and ability to complement what your organization does to promote itself. This is especially true when it comes to generating leads on your behalf.
When assessing a partner, consider: Do your marketing activities mesh with their own? Do they conflict or, worse, compete? Finally, consider your partners’ soft skills and even their ethics. Do they offer award-winning service? Do employees like working there? And do customers rate their services highly?
These things and more must be considered.
You should also take note of the competitive products partners represent in the market and whether individual partners have the wherewithal and commitment required to represent more than one brand in each category.
Finally, you should identify bottlenecks that individual partners might have when it comes to building a practice around your technology. Some partners, after all, excel at sales but are weak at implementation. Most have just the opposite problem. By taking the time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of as many partners as possible, you can better assess which ones you will be successful with.
Even in the best of circumstances, however, expect problems to arise. Partners may present your products or services poorly. They may seem too busy with other vendors. And they may fumble with leads provided to them by your team.
These and other problems could be symptomatic of a broader problem: you are simply not a priority to some partners. That you will have to address when developing your partner value proposition, which we will cover in an upcoming Channel 101 article.
Consider the above steps for now. And don’t forget to start thinking about automation (we said we’d come back to it). The products and services you provide to partners are only a portion of what they expect from you. They also expect work class experiences when it comes to onboarding, marketing support, training and more. World class experiences demand world-class automation. For more insight, sign up for an Impartner demo today.
Coming next in Part Three: Partnering Strategy and Partner-Type Selection.
*The Channel 101 series was produced with insight and information provided by Tenego Academy. Tenego Academy is a Cork, Ireland-based company that provides support to companies wanting to grow their organizations with third-party “channel partners” be they dealers, agents, referral partners, distributors, consultants and more.
Tenego Academy’s 12-part “Build Your Partner Program Like a Global Leader” education program helps companies looking to create, grow and/or optimize a partner program regardless of their size or market focus. No matter where your company is in its channel partner program journey, you will benefit from Tenego Academy’s 12-part program, which covers everything from channel strategy to partner recruitment to automation and more.
T.C. Doyle is the Channel Growth Evangelist at Impartner, the leader in channel management and Partner Relationship Management (PRM) technology. A journalist, book author and analyst, Doyle has worked in media for three decades. As channel evangelist, Doyle produces podcasts, case studies, e-books and more for Impartner. Doyle can be reached at [email protected].