How to Build an Engaged Channel Partner Program From Scratch
Like most big decisions in life, there’s rarely one single perfect moment to get started with building a channel partner program.
An organization could continue on without a formalized partner program for years, working with different resellers and referral partners on a one-to-one or ad-hoc basis. That’s what many, in fact, do.
But there are a lot of challenges with a piecemeal approach to channel sales.
It can be extremely time-consuming to manage so many moving parts manually and it’s nearly impossible to scale efficiently without the right systems in place. Spreadsheets are great for some tasks, but not as well suited for wide-scale relationship management.
Whether you’re starting to develop a partner program framework from scratch or re-imagining your current channel partner strategy, there are a lot of steps to building an engaged partner program.
We break it down from getting buy-in and choosing the right tools, to recruiting and onboarding partners, to growing your channel and measuring success.
Choosing the Right Moment to Build a Partner Program
Working with partners to increase market presence and promote your product or services comes with a lot of far-reaching benefits. These strategic partnerships, also sometimes known as indirect sales, allow you to leverage their connections to improve reach and drive revenue far more quickly than simply expanding your internal sales teams.
Getting executive and internal buy-in
Knowing it’s time for improvement and then obtaining the buy-in needed to start are two very different things.
The first step to getting a successful partner program off the ground is obtaining executive and company-wide support for the program as a whole. Build a business case or deck to present to stakeholders that tells a story of how the new and improved partner program benefits the company as a whole, as well as each individual department.
Each stakeholder – CEO, CRO and department heads, for example – will have different objectives, so focus on selling the benefits specific to each audience. Having internal champions for the overall program is key.
Your pitch deck should include:
Company Goals and Vision
Demonstrate how the new partner program will fit into the big picture of company goals and vision. That might include increasing qualified leads, improving customer retention, driving revenue and elevating your brand.
Channel Partner Responsibilities
Outline the areas that the channel partner team will be responsible for and examples of how this supports other departments’ responsibilities. Include recommendations about how the team will collaborate across departments to ensure partner success spreads throughout the organization.
Sales, marketing, finance, legal, IT, operations, customer success and product all have reasons to benefit from a more effective and efficient partner program. Sales, for instance, can leverage partners to bring in more highly qualified deals that close faster. Customer success can provide more value with partnership collateral and see increased retention.
Look outside of your company for examples of success stories to share. Organizations that improve their partner programs, for example:
Can increase partner engagement by
Drive up deal registrations by
Choosing the right tools and technology
The right partner tech stack improves every one of these partner stages with software and tools to automate, optimize and scale sustainably.
With channel sales, there comes a tipping point when having a partner-facing portal and relationship management system becomes necessary. When you do invest in a PRM, it’s important that you choose the right tool to meet your needs.
Think about the following areas where support might be beneficial
Automated processes can help with every touchpoint from onboarding to ongoing training. It removes repetitive, manual tasks from your to-do list so you have more time to focus on strategy.
Communication and Content Creation
The need for information is often time-sensitive and centralizing communication streamlines the process for all parties. A partner management tool facilitates everything from selling ability to deal registration to joint marketing campaigns.
Insights and Metrics
Tracking partner deal flow and leading indicators of success, like engagement, is key to understanding your channel performance and where there are opportunities to optimize.
A partner-facing portal that’s intuitive to use and provides all the resources needed makes it easy for your partners to work with you, creating an overall better experience by investing in their success.
Recruiting the right partners
From there, it’s a matter of recruiting these ideal potential partners. Have a clear pitch of the value of partnering with your organization – this could include the commission structure or compensation, co-marketing opportunities, your brand reputation, ease of working together and exceptional partner portal experience.
A strong partnership is not just transactional. It’s a mutual relationship that benefits both parties; something that’s crucial to keep in mind as you build these relationships and partnerships.
It’s common to want to partner and integrate with as many other organizations as possible early in the program launch. While it’s important to gain momentum in the early stages, it ultimately pays off to have a thoughtful approach to how you evaluate and recruit the right type of partner.
Consider three key questions as you recruit partners and bring them into the fold:
Setting the stage during the signing process will ultimately lead to great success later in the channel lifecycle as your team can focus their time and resources on the partners who offer the best return on investment.
Onboarding and offering ongoing support for partners
Once you’ve attracted the right partners, a seamless onboarding process can help retain them while also setting your organization apart from other vendors.
Onboarding goes far beyond signing necessary paperwork: it’s an opportunity to build a foundation of engagement and set partners up for long term success. Start with a warm welcome – like with a channel partner welcome kit – and a kickoff call to continue building rapport and personal connection.
At this point, it’s crucial to not lose momentum. Direct partners through a thoughtful training program, including demos and case studies, and consider rewarding the milestones they hit along the way. It’s important to track new partner engagement to spot any problems ahead of time to course-correct.
You’ll also need a central place to store your resources and marketing materials so partners can easily access them during their own outreach.
Those resources could include:
Training materials to help educate partners on your product.
Best practices or guides to help partners with sales and marketing techniques.
Playbooks that go over any key questions partners may have about your organization or products.
Customer use cases, references and testimonials.
Arm your partners with everything they need to help meet your common goals and make it as easy as possible for them to participate in your program.
Leveling up your partner engagement strategy
Partner engagement is one of the best leading indicators of partner-generated revenue coming down the pipe.
Knowing which partners are fulfilling their onboarding and training requirements, engaging with the community, posting on social media and consuming content will all give a sense of how a partner is engaging. Likewise, realizing early on that partners are disengaged can prevent a host of issues before they take root.
An effective engagement strategy is key for retaining your best partners and nurturing a two-way relationship that’s mutually beneficial. There are countless ways to engage your partners but, at its very essence, it comes down to creating a good partner experience.
Some of the most successful strategies include:
Ensuring partners have the resources and support they need at all stages of their journey with you.
Celebrate accomplishments, big or small, with the partner community and internal team.
Get creative with incentives, content and gamification.
Creating opportunities to win together through collaboration or co-marketing.
Staying top of mind with regular updates and fresh content.
Individualizing the relationship and managing each stage of the channel partner lifecycle.
Automating and monitoring engagement with a PRM tool that offers features like Partner Journey Automation.
Keeping partners engaged is an ongoing process that takes thoughtful consideration and effort. But it’s one that is well worth the effort and pays dividends for years to come.