Working with channel partners isn’t dissimilar to selling to prospective customers. For example, you must work through a lifecycle from first meeting a partner through signing a contract to work together. Throughout the channel partner lifecycle, it’s essential to have resources available to educate and nurture your partners to the next stage.
This eBook will dig into each stage of the lifecycle to explore management strategies and processes for each stage, including how you can use automation to improve your systems.
It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to sign partners. However, it’s vital to evaluate and qualify your partners before signing them. While you may feel the more the merrier (which is generally true when it comes to ecosystems), it’s important to optimize your team’s time and resources to produce greater success during later stages of the channel partner lifecycle.
It’s essential to develop an ideal partner profile (IPP). This is similar to B2B buyer personas, except instead of being your target buyer, these are your target partners. By defining your IPP, you’ll be able to refine the partners you reach out to, increasing your likelihood of success. This is a great first step for qualifying your partners. Your IPP should include your target partner’s:
- Industry and market segment
- Organization size and maturity
- Pain points or gaps you can solve
- Unique value that supports your pain points or product gaps
Determining your IPP will be more difficult to do when you’re first building out an ecosystem of channel partners. However, once you’ve onboarded partners and know who you work with best, it will be easier to begin screening for certain qualities and refining your partner recruitment plan.
You can use your PRM to house promotional documents and contracts and solicit signatures on official onboarding documents. This will make it easier to reference later and automate the sending and receiving of contracts.
The onboarding stage is one of the most critical phases of your channel partner lifecycle. Depending on the complexity of your technology, the channel partner onboarding process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. During this time, it’s important to get all relevant stakeholders involved. The more you’re speaking directly with the individuals you’ll be partnering with, the better off you’ll be in the long run.
Onboarding isn’t all about product demonstrations and “meet the team” webinars (although they’re both important!). A big part of this stage of the lifecycle is training your partners on using your PRM.
Your PRM should house all the relevant resources your partner could ever need, making it easy for them to get a refresher or access tools when the need arises. Spend time in the PRM with your partner, showing them where different resources are and how to use different tools available to them.
Your PRM can also help guide your partners through the onboarding process, eliminating manual work for your team. For example, you can enable access to more advanced learnings with a guided pop-up after they pass the quiz associated with the first multi-step training process.
While strategic automation is an invaluable asset to every channel account manager, it shouldn’t be an excuse to eliminate human connection, entirely. At this early stage of the channel partner life cycle, building relationships with newer recruits should be a top priority. When possible, hold regular meetings with the partner in which managers can collect feedback, address any sources of confusion, and brainstorm potential collaborations.
Enabling partners goes hand-in-hand with onboarding. This stage is where you’re empowering your partners to help you achieve your goals with knowledge and resources. Having a full library of resources is great, but it’s important to add to your partner’s toolkit over time. It can be helpful to talk to your partners and understand their pain points in order to explore additional resources you can share. Additionally, be sure to create segmented training based on partner type, tier, and geography to ensure they’re only receiving training that is relevant to them.
Similarly, consider opportunities to connect your partners with one another. Partners who have worked with you for a while will share great insights with partners who are newer to your ecosystem.
You should have a pre-determined set of resources or training your partners need to go through to be considered “activated.” At this stage, your partners should be familiar with your technology, unique value proposition, and target audience, as well as comfortable navigating your PRM.
Measuring Partner Activity
After your partners are onboarded and activated, you need to track engagement and the results of your partnership. When measuring your partner activity, you’ll likely want to assess different metrics depending on where they are in the channel lifecycle.
For partners recently onboarded, consider tracking:
- Resources viewed
- Training completed
- Time spent in your PRM
Once partners are activated, you should track:
- Meetings set
- Deals influenced
- Total revenue generated
Your PRM can be incredibly helpful for tracking this activity and creating ready-made reports for your team and to share with partners. When monitoring data broadly, it’s a good idea to segment your partners by type and lifecycle to get the most impactful insights.
For additional insights, read The Best Metrics to Measure Partner Performance and Engagement.
A partner can sometimes go dark after a few months despite your best efforts. Even still, there are times when you’re in regular contact with your partner, but there aren’t any new deals coming through. This may signal it’s time to re-engage your partner. There are a few different strategies you can implement to do so.
Collaborate on a Co-marketing Campaign
Consider working together on a new campaign. This could be a joint email blast, webinar, eBook download, or another campaign that allows you to work together, combine the power of your resources, and connect with each other’s audiences.
Re-connect on Goals
Over time, you may have lost sight of each other’s goals. Take time to sit down with your partner and revisit each of your goals. Remember, this conversation should be about how you can help them achieve their goals. Ideally, if it’s a good-fit partnership, achieving their goals will lend well to achieving yours too.
Utilize Your PRM
Allbound’s PRM has a feature called Partner Journey Automation, which can be set to alert a Channel Account Manager when a partner hasn’t logged into the system in a set amount of time, registered a deal, or completed training. This tool can also send emails to the partner themselves, making re-engaging partners significantly less manual.
SPIFF Campaigns to Spur Sales
Even loyal partners later in the lifecycle may need an extra incentive every now and then. Reignite excitement while achieving sales goals by activating a SPIFF program in which partners can participate in short-lived sales competitions.
Divesting from a Partnership
Ideally, you sort bad-fit partners out before you get in too deep with them. However, there are some situations where a partnership doesn’t end up working out, even if they initially met all of your requirements and your team did everything right during the relationship.
If you find yourself connecting with your partner for bi-weekly check-ins and discussing the same opportunities that haven’t gone anywhere for months, it may be time to divest from a partnership.
This doesn’t mean you’re closing the door on the relationship. Still, if your team has done all they can to re-engage partners and support them with relevant resources, it’s not beneficial to continue spending time on a partnership that isn’t yielding any results.
Create a plan for your account manager to scale down engagement with that partner, without going completely dark. This is where automation and your PRM can be especially helpful. For example, instead of continuing to engage bi-weekly for check-ins, you can instead set up a cadence of emails to share resources and check in with your partner every few months.
It can take up to a year to realize a partner is a bad fit. However, don’t think of this time as wasted — every partnership you engage in is a new opportunity to learn more about your ecosystem and potential customers.
Strategically Manage Each Stage of the Channel Partner Lifecycle
Qualification and training are incredibly important when you’re in the first stages of the channel partner lifecycle. Start by establishing your IPP and then seek out partners based on how well they match. From there, use your PRM to begin training and onboarding.
Once your partners are activated and onboarded, be sure to measure their engagement and success metrics. If partners become unresponsive or stop driving results, consider implementing a re-engagement campaign to reignite the relationship. If a lack of engagement continues over time, you may need to divest from a bad-fit partnership so you can more effectively use your resources elsewhere.
Allbound makes it easy to manage channel partners at each stage. With automation capabilities, a content library, and more engagement tools. Get started with a free demo to see just how much Allbound can support your channel.
Additional Reading to Assist With Partner Lifecycle Management
• Channel Partner Management Process Strategy – While it’s important to strategically approach partners based on their current position within the lifecycle, there are also universal truths that apply to all program participants. Gain ideas that may strengthen your own management processes.
• Why Your Partner Sales Program Needs a PRM Tool – As we touched upon above, your PRM is the skeleton on which you’ll build and implement all aspects of your growing program, including your partner lifecycle management strategies. Make sure you choose a best-in-class tool by following this guide.
• Channel Partner Experience (PX): How to Measure and Improve – Once you have an official partner lifecycle strategy in place, the next step is to gauge the results. Keep your finger on the pulse of your partners’ experiences with your chosen technology, materials, and more with the help of this guide.
• The Ultimate Guide to Partner Relationship Management – We call this guide the ultimate solution for a reason! We cover all elements of guiding partners to success, no matter where they may be within your lifecycle. New to managing partners? This is where you click.
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- How to select the right partners for your program - November 8, 2023