This post is part three of a six-part series. Want to start at the beginning? Here you go.
It is human nature when taking on a new endeavor to focus on the goal or the task at hand and not on the future after completing said goal. I have already talked to you about how to ready yourself for a partner and how to engage the right partner, but what happens after the “engagement”? In his book "Modern Romance," Aziz Ansari explains how to clearly communicate realistic relationship terms and maintenance tips to ensure that all partner relationships (whether professional or personal) are lasting.
The biggest risk that you can take is confronting the unknown. Every time that someone logs onto Tinder or another dating app, they are opening themselves up to the unknown. Now, this unknown aspect of dating may provide a thrill of unpredictability, but in business unpredictability is a liability. Luckily, unlike romantic partnerships, drafting and presenting a contract with clearly defined terms before starting a business partnership is socially acceptable.
Hiliary Robertson, Partner Operations Manager at Optimizely, shared how she sets clear, defined goals for her partners to ensure a partnership that is “optimal” for both parties at this year’s CO:LLABORATE conference. In previous blogs, we discussed what you can do to prepare and engage partners, but never touched upon what partners are supposed to do for you. Everyone knows that in theory partnerships are give and take, but how do you combat the age-old fight of resentment when you feel that you are contributing more than said partner? Fortunately, in partner relationships it’s an easy fix. Hiliary highlights a well-planned partner strategy that focuses on mutually beneficial goals, clear expectations and Key Performance Indicators, as well as ample support and partner incentives.
Partners, like any other sales reps, need KPIs to track results, stay on track, and continue to drive results. KPIs may be different for every partner, but they should each be clearly defined and laid out from the get-go. This is beneficial for your entire partner program as well, because if no clearly defined KPIs exist, there will be no tangible data set to base your partnerships on and to determine if a partner is a performing asset or not to your sales team. However, this is the reason that there is emphasis on your partner program and your recruitment method. If that is all in order, then the likelihood of all your partners performing poorly because of lack of training and resources go significantly down, and it’s easy to identify a poor fit in a partner relationship.
As Jake Dunlap, CEO of Skaled, aptly pointed out at CO:LLABORATE 2016, not all partners are created equal and your partner program should reflect this. Partners should be tiered or segmented, whether it be based on performance, capabilities, or even potential. This will allow you to correctly allot resources to partners, set realistic and accurate expectations, and motivate partners to perform to raise their status.
Hiliary Robertson highlighted how Optimizely maintains their partner relationships after the initial engagement; by providing support and incentives. Support will be the foundation of your partner relationship. Partners have historically been siloed away from the direct sales team and tend to experience a lack of resources. Ample training, as well as relevant marketing and sales material should be made available to your partner regardless of the stage the relationship has progressed. It should also be a habit to check in with partners regularly so you can continuously monitor their progress and provide support if needed. Partners that are performing or exceeding goals need to be rewarded with incentives, similar to your direct sales incentive program. Incentives can range anywhere from a monetary reward to nominations for recognition or even an invite to an exclusive event. As Naylor Gray of Bulldog Solutions proclaimed at CO:LLABORATE, “Partners are people too,” which is why partners, just like sales reps, respond to incentives, and these can be used to reward performing partners and maintain the relationship to consistently meet or exceed goals.
Channel partner relationships and personal partner relationships are very similar in their needs and wants, but luckily in channel partner relationships the complexity and unpredictability of a romantic relationship can be left at the door. Take advantage of your SLA with channel partners and clearly define terms and expectations for both parties so that your relationship is mutually beneficial and lasting.