For those without a clear strategy, recruiting and retaining channel partners may seem like a gamble. After all, you don’t want to put in all the work to find partners, onboard them, and then lose them in three months.
For those with doubts, we’re here to say that recruiting and retaining the right partners is entirely possible. To help illustrate, here are best practices for finding the right channel partners—and supporting them so they stay.
Build Out Personas
We get it: jumping headfirst into the channel sales waters is tempting. However, doing your homework is important before you begin. Filling out partner profile worksheets and defining personas up front may seem tedious—but it’s a crucial first step in building out your channel.
To help, ask yourself the following:
-In what area or areas of business do you want your product to be sold?
-Is there a specific market you hope to break into—and can a particular kind of partner help you do it?
-Is geographical location an important factor for your product?
-Are there products or services you could sell as a package with your product?
Ultimately, this is the time to envision what a perfect partner looks like. It’s important to record this information because you’ll be using this as a cornerstone for your program.
Know Where to Connect
Once you establish a list of ideal partner traits and qualities, it’s time to start searching. For new channel sales teams, it’s tempting to open the floodgates and accept any prospect who signs up through a web form. Although this hectic process may work for some teams, smart leaders know where and how to find the best partners.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but partners who come recommended from colleagues will be a better bet than complete strangers. With more than 500 million members (as of June 2017), LinkedIn has solidified itself as the premier business social network. It’s also evolved into a research tool for prospecting. And savvy channel partners utilize the platform to supercharge their channels.
As a rule of thumb, value quality over quantity. And if you’ve spent the last few years building out your profile, we can almost guarantee that your own connections—and your connections’ connections—are a good start. The LinkedIn Group Search feature can help you further pinpoint partners. By selecting groups that are relevant to your industry product, you can handpick prospects who fit your parameters.
Define Your Framework
Recruiting partners is only the first step in building a long-lasting relationship. Retention is key. It’s up to you to provide your partners with a clearly defined channel framework in which to operate. Most of your partners are selling for other vendors—that’s why it’s critical to gain their respect and trust.
Channel collaboration is rooted in effective connections. Because most of your partners will be located miles away, it’s up to you to build these connections through tools and technology. Providing your channel partners with adequate support, communications training, and sales tools to embrace this framework can make or break your partner relationships.
Building on the last point, maintaining and measuring relationships should be the bread and butter of your partner sales support efforts. Accurate, frequent measurement builds trust and transparency, which increases flexibility and accountability. It also helps you to respond swiftly, especially when partners are underperforming.
It’s important to implement a defined channel management process to inspect and evaluate deliverables. This helps ensure that partners receive regular feedback on performance and quality. An empowered partner who trusts your organization is self-motivated and driven to deliver results.
Provide Ongoing Support
Brand marketing efforts should be a combined effort between you and your partners. However, many organizations often fail to align their channel partners with end-user sales models. This leaves channel partners in the dark, which results in loosely defined, ambiguous engagement models.
Encourage your partners to position their own brands while also offering marketing strategy and customized content. Empowering your partners with marketing messaging helps them align with your brand. It also enables them to present your product with a strong, consistent voice.
From measuring and monitoring relationships to providing ongoing support, sales enablement helps ensure that both your organization and your channel sales reps are getting the most from your mutual partnership.