In today’s customer-centric economy, nuance reigns supreme. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, because there are no one-size-fits-all problems. Each business you encounter struggles with a unique set of challenges. Many are on the same spectrum, but the nuance and context of each customer scenario require that you flex your marketing, sales, and customer success approaches to meet those slightly varied needs.
Channel partners are no different. Each partner organization is its own business, with unique circumstances and dynamic personalities. While you work to build a partner program that caters to the masses, the reality is much different, and you need to be prepared to create a partner experience that flexes not only to the partner organization, but to the individuals who represent those businesses.
Success with your ecosystem of partners and their reps starts with the Golden Rule. Treat your channel partners as you would expect them to treat you—respectfully and as equals in a shared channel partnership.
Partners may approach their customers differently from how you might prefer them to. While this is fine, and can be beneficial, it’s something you need to become comfortable with. You may expect them to easily close a deal on a potential client, only to have it slip through their fingers because of the way they approached the situation. On the other hand, you could see a near-impossible deal go through because your expectations on the situation were not tempered by the reality that is your channel partner sales team. They operate differently, and that’s okay.
What that means is that you’ll also need to treat them differently. Guide, encourage, and provide direction, but never force a particular way of doing things. That approach can put up unnecessary barriers to success. In a partnership, you should encourage and praise them when good things happen, but it’s also OK to be outspoken when dealing with shortcomings.
Foster an environment where it is OK for your channel partners to be open and honest with you as well. There needs to be a balance between your own expectations and work ideology, on one side, and the approaches that your channel sales partners have confidence in for their own work, on the other side.
Partnerships don’t thrive on hard and fast rules. Even the best-planned processes and approaches become inhibited by rapidly changing market conditions and regional or even global considerations. It’s important to realize everyone has his or her own approach to a situation. You might find that two sales teams from different companies, or different regions within the same company, have two vastly different ways of seeking out customers.
Channel partnerships require a delicate balance. You need to delicately balance alignment to your own processes while also letting partners and their independent sales personalities and approaches drive toward success. Through technology that grants real-time visibility into your partner pipeline and partner sales-rep activity, you can still be equipped to provide coaching or guidance or even to step in and help at a moment’s notice.
How do you strike that delicate balance of leading and following? Here are three tactics you can implement to put both you and your channel partners on the same page while giving room for individual points of view and approaches.
The first area to focus on is making sure there is strong leadership both on your sales staff and within the channel partners. The easiest way to lose buy-in is to have critical roles lose focus. You can’t always influence who is in these roles, but you can influence how these individuals view the partnership.
Start your collaboration at the top, with those who have the most influence, and things will snowball the further the education trickles into the group.
Do you recall the old proverb about giving a person fish versus teaching that person how to fish? Sounds easy, but remember that your channel sales partners are all fishing in different lakes, and your own content and marketing programs are constantly asking them to change out their lures.
You don’t want your partners to suffer from learning fatigue. So, keep them focused and make your learning content engaging and digestible. Don’t ask them to memorize when and how to use different types of sales tools and marketing material. Make it all easily accessible in the moment they need it, and structure access in a way that guides them to know what to use in the different scenarios they face each day.
The more that you can engage your channel partners’ sales representatives, the more they’ll feel buy-in with each channel partnership as a whole. Partners, like customers, have choices. They can decide what opportunities to pursue and how they prioritize finding the ones that your products help solve.
If you aren’t proactive in communicating with partners in a way that incites their curiosity to engage and learn more, they’ll go down a path that veers away from your company.
Being flexible with channel partners doesn’t mean there is a lack of structure or strategy. It means you give them latitude on how they handle prospects and customers. It also means you provide them access to clear, consistent, and effective resources which they can call on at a moment’s notice to drive the results you both want to achieve.