Building a Partner Program:
Channel Partner Go-To-Market (GTM) Guide
This is Part Two of our series on building a successful, engaged partner program. Find Part One here.
You’ve built the foundation for a strong partner program – you have executive buy-in, you’ve created your standard operating procedures and you’re starting to bring in partners. What’s the next phase?
To really leverage the investments you’ve made in launching your channel sales program, the natural next step is to develop a go-to-market (GTM) strategy. This is the best way to fully experience the advantages of successful partnerships with increased revenue, expanded reach and boosted credibility.
Whether you’re working with partners for the first time with a newly-launched program or looking to improve your channel strategy to better align with overall company goals, there are many parts to this next big step. We break it down from figuring out partner types and tiers, to creating the right content and assets, to setting up a competitive commission structure.
Identify your ideal partner
Building success with channel programs starts with having the right partners. And that means identifying ideal partners.
Start by listing out the must-haves and the nice-to-haves. Essentially, these are the characteristics an organization must have to fit your baseline criteria to be considered as a partner and those that would be an added benefit. That could be anything from the size or maturity of the organization, the geographic or vertical markets they sell to, or the extra value they can add.
One way to start thinking about what makes an ideal partner for your organization is by taking stock of what currently works. Even if you’re just now launching a formalized partner program, consider the unofficial partners you may have collaborated with previously. What kinds of partners in this ecosystem have been successful?
For example, you may have seen great returns from partners who actively co-market with you. Those that waited on you for leads, rather than generating their own, may not have been as good a fit.
The ideal partner profile often consists of some basic specific requirements like:
Where they do business
Who their customers are
Their product line – whether it competes with or complements yours
Their business goals
Their reputation and credibility
Their specialization – or what they’re bringing to the table
A key part of identifying the right partners is considering what verticals and geographies they work in. Ideally, your partners will help you fill in any market gaps you may face.
Working with partners in countries where you don’t have your own sales presence, for example, is hugely beneficial in helping you go-to-market. Their deeper understanding of the language and culture is crucial for breaking down communication barriers with prospects. Furthermore, a partner that built up trust with that region’s customers will lend credibility to your organization.
Likewise, partnering with an organization well-versed in industries that are new to you is invaluable. Not only can you leverage the connections and relationships that your partner has, but you’ll gain key insights into the nuances of the industry – unique requirements to be successful, for instance, or even new ideas for in-demand feature additions.
Once you have your list of must-haves and nice-to-haves, it’s important to also think of red flags or criteria that means an organization would not be a good fit for your channel sales program. These are often the opposite traits of your ideal partner profile – they sell to the wrong markets, their financials aren’t in order, or your overarching business goals aren’t aligned.
Of course, sometimes the best partners on paper aren’t the best fit in practice. An organization may have strong ties to a market you hope to break into, but if they aren’t upholding your company’s brand name and values – that relationship won’t work.
They may have a stellar reputation, but if they don’t have their own client relationships or way to secure their own leads – that may not work with what you are looking for from a partnership.
Recruiting and onboarding partners
Identifying ideal partners and how they can help you fill market gaps is part of the equation but, at the end of the day, a partnership is a two-way relationship. It’s equally important to consider how you might be an ideal partner to them and what makes your program compelling.
The value you provide is an important part of your recruitment messaging. What makes you stand out from other vendors? What’s your commission structure or compensation packages? What other perks or opportunities do you offer?
Successful partner recruitment isn’t just about the incentives you offer, although that often is part of the attraction. It’s also about how you can support and enable your partners in their growth – through robust back-end infrastructure, sales enablement, demand generation, business development, or other features.
Make sure you understand your partners’ individual goals and motivations and – crucially – how partnering with your organization helps them achieve objectives.
Recruitment is just one step in a multi-step engagement process, and it’s not the ultimate measure of success. Enablement and retention after that initial entry point are equally important. And a big part of that is supporting your partners and setting them up to progress, starting from the onboarding phase.
Understand why they’re coming to you, provide accessible and easy-to-digest training, and start rewarding them from the get-go for being a part of your community.
Content management tips
Creating the right content is one thing, but organizing it all into an easily accessible form for partners is another question.
The first step to managing your content effectively is to have a single location to store and share the material with partners.
One of the benefits of using a PRM system to house your content over other types of content management software is the flexibility it provides. Not only can you share assets, but you can also collaborate on co-marketing campaigns with partners and make it easy for them to co-brand materials themselves.
It’s equally important to make sure that your content is tailored to your partners’ needs. Even similar partner types, in similar tiers, aren’t monolithic. Two mid-tier value-added resellers, for example, might be selling to different verticals or struggling to close deals for various reasons, or simply need additional support at different stages of the buyer’s journey.
Part of creating tailored content is making sure that your partners can easily access it. A content library tool in your PRM should let you automate who can access what to make sure the right content is reaching the right audiences.
And, as with any marketing or sales strategy, knowing what’s working and what needs tweaking is key to success. With PRM software you can track engagement with your content to see what’s resonating and what’s not. Measuring your channel content’s effectiveness – by looking at metrics like content clicks, the number of co-branded materials created or engagement – is just as important as creating the right content pieces.
Commission structures and incentives
In broad strokes, incentives can depend on the partner type and tier, the effort and investment they are putting into the sale, and the method of revenue generation.
A partner that is helping close deals is different from one that is acting as a referral. Resellers, for example, typically receive a commission of a set percentage for opening doors and making introductions. A technology partner with a deep integration that took more upfront investment from both parties, on the other hand, will likely have larger expectations about compensation for their efforts.
Of course, there may be times when your sales pipeline is slowing down and ramping up incentives quickly can reverse that. In those cases, you may decide to offer more competitive compensation for a set period of time as additional motivation.
Common types of incentives and commissions are:
Partner revenue sharing
A basic commission structure where a partner receives a share of the revenue they generate – usually a set percentage. The more deals they close and revenue they bring in, the more they earn.
Percentage of annual recurring revenue
A common compensation structure for solution partners or agencies where they receive a set percentage of annual recurring revenue as a fee.
This is not a commission structure, per se, but it is an effective motivator for specific types of partners like those adding value or services. The way it works is if you sell $1,000 worth of deals, for example, the partner would receive $2,000 worth of services revenue associated with that sale.
A SPIFF program is a time-sensitive incentive reward designed to inspire partners to boost their performance for a set period of time, usually during off-seasons or slower times. Rewards can include gift cards, bonuses, or other one-off incentives that typically go to the sales rep, rather than the partner organization as a whole.
Market development funds (MDFs)
These are resources that you give your channel partners to support their marketing and sales efforts. MDFs are typically monetary funds and can be used to run initiatives like webinars, events, or campaigns.
One-time monetary awards, typically given to top sales reps annually or quarterly.
Of course, there are constraints in terms of what you can offer a partner just based on the margins set by the business. But in many cases, there are ways to offer more tailored incentives that motivate individual sales reps or partner organizations that aren’t just more money.