There are a variety of responsibilities that go into channel partner management. These tasks include PRM set-up, one-on-one communication with priority program participants, onboarding, MDF approvals, and data analysis. While this may seem like a lot, you can systemize management tasks with the right foresight (and tools) to minimize menial labor, giving you the foundation to mature your program in purpose-driven directions. On the other hand, pushing off formalizing your channel partner management approach will cause cracks in your program that will only worsen with time. Results to expect include greater partner attrition, brand inconsistencies, and lackluster bottom lines.
In this article, we dig into each key step in the channel management process, why it’s so crucial, and how to set your team up for future success.
When managing your channel, a Partner Relationship Management tool (PRM) truly is essential. Similar to a CRM for salespeople,an in-depth process we cover in Automate, Scale, Integrate – PRM System Criteria. There are specific capabilities that will prove invaluable when managing partners at scale, including in-portal co-branding, partner prospect pages, playbooks, and more. However, a PRM’s long-term potential relies on more than its current features. When receiving a demo, ask questions like:
- Can I brand the partner portal experience to best represent my company?
- What KPIs does the portal collect and report?
- Can I serve different experiences to partner segments?
- What security measures does your company take to protect my data?
- How much downtime does the partner portal experience?
- If I have questions or problems, what would be the process of submitting a request?
- How regularly do you update the software and release new features?
- What are the tools with which you integrate? Do you handle custom integrations?
- Do you have case studies I can view?
Technology never stagnates (nor does the expectations of the market or the threats it faces). The answers to the above questions can help you understand whether your PRM vendor will actively continue to improve and protect the channel portal experience, in turn improving your partner management potential.
Next comes setting up your PRM in a way that makes it easy for your team and partners to use maximizes the value of the tool. Important foundational elements include:
- Tagging your library’s content by industry, partner type, tier, and other key differentiators. Preferably, your PRM will adjust the in-portal experience to only serve the materials (and features) that directly relate to the viewer, helping to limit confusion.
- Email notifications for your team about pipeline performance and similar metrics. Think of such emails as guardrails; if certain KPIs fall within a threshold you determine, you’ll receive notification emails so you can take immediate action.
- CRM integrations. We mentioned the value of integrating your PRM with the other channel partner management software, but arguably none is more important than your CRM. Having the two feed real-time data to one another helps prevent duplicate deal registrations (and resulting conflicts) between Direct and Channel teams.
- Internal team training. Your operations team will be the ones responsible for maintaining the software, and your CAMs will be guiding partners through the portal. Give everyone time to familiarize themselves with its functions and organization, as well as to provide feedback.
Once your team is comfortable working within your PRM, you can roll it out to your existing partners. Provide a live demonstration of the tool, as well as recorded videos and documents they can reference after the fact. Again, look for areas where you see friction to improve. Your PRM should make everyone’s lives easier — not more challenging.
Partner Onboarding & Training
Before you start onboarding, you should begin tactical communication with your recruited partners. It’s essential to manage recruited or new partners’ expectations through clear, thorough communication. Doing so minimizes the need to field questions (and frustrations) later.
As you bring on new partners, it’s essential to provide comprehensive onboarding and training so they’re well-equipped for success. Having an outlined process makes these efforts much easier to complete consistently. You may opt to adjust your approach as you learn more and onboard additional partners. Consider also how different types of partners (SIs vs. agencies vs. affiliates) may require different onboarding and training.
Onboarding should include an overview of your platform or services, an introduction to their main point of contact, and training on your PRM. Here, it’s essential that you’re speaking to the right stakeholders. But, again, this may vary depending on the types of partners.
Managing Partner Communication With Strategy-Driven Tactics
One-on-one interactions with priority channel participants
While your PRM will serve as a resource library and a go-between for partners, you still need to maintain one-on-one communication with your high-priority partners who present the most significant opportunity.
Develop a process your CAMs can follow to regularly reach out and connect with those partners. In addition to email check-ins, you may consider implementing bi-weekly or monthly status calls in which your team can discuss recent updates, wins, and obstacles. In order to ensure that your CAMs properly represent your channel program and adequately manage their partner connections, consider creating:
- Partner scorecards – This tool not only gives clarity to channel partners but also provides an unofficial guide for CAMs about which KPIs to highlight within their conversation.
- Clear directives on how to handle complaints and conflicts – Even the most veteran pro can become flustered from time to time, especially when confronting complex problems or heated emotions. At no point should your channel partner management team feel like they’re the blind leading the blind. Instead, give junior members decisive next steps on how to escalate problems to the right people, as well as how to manage expectations.
- Guidelines and strategies for specific partner segments – Your Direct Sales team wouldn’t handle all prospects the same, and neither should your partners. Don’t equip CAMs managing SMBs in Canada with the same talking points you would give to a CAM managing an enterprise company in South Africa.
- Talking points that cater conversations to where partners fall within the lifecycle – Echoing the above point, an onboarding partner will have different needs than someone who has been with the program for years (and may have dwindling enthusiasm). In turn, the CAM’s approach toward channel partner management should reflect the recipients’ experience levels.
One-on-one communication is vital for showing your partner how invested you are in the relationship. What’s more, they can offer new viewpoints about ways to improve your materials or management processes for improved channel performance.
Partner Communications Management At-Scale
You shouldn’t rely solely on one-on-one interactions to manage partners. Luckily, you have the following at your disposal to convey and collect important information across the channel:
- Behavior-prompted notifications within the portal – Through the power of automation, your portal can take partners by the hand and guide them through their development, whether that be what quizzes to complete, which playbooks to use, or emailed reminders to revisit incomplete tasks. In turn, you free up your partner management team to spend more time on maturing the channel program.
- Partner satisfaction surveys – Show your partners you care by asking for anonymous feedback on what you can improve (and then taking action). Questions could probe into the effectiveness of the sales enablement materials, the level of value recipients receive from meetings with account managers, and their happiness with your chosen technology. Such insights can illuminate your blind spots and help guide future channel partner management strategies.
Market Development Funds
Approving MDF requests is another channel management responsibility that your PRM should simplify. It should be easy for partners to make requests within your partner portal and provide all necessary information for approval.
You should have a set of questions partners need to answer when requesting funds. These can include:
- Who is the target audience of this campaign?
- What efforts will this campaign entail? (Which platforms, media formats, etc.)
- What is the anticipated ROI of this campaign?
- Will you be requesting MDF from any other partners to support this effort?
From there, you’ll need to determine the “right” answers. This may be on a case-by-case basis, but you’ll want to compare their responses to your overall goals. Do they align? Will this investment help you achieve more results than other efforts of similar expense?
Depending on your overall budget, you may have quarterly or yearly limits for MDF. Communicate the timeline for this with your partners so they understand when it’s best to submit their requests. Frequently, it can help to have requests ahead of time from all your partners so that you can review and prioritize them before the new budget opens.
Analyzing Partner Data
Which partners are influencing the most pipeline? Which types of partners drive the most revenue? Which partners require the least investment from your team to succeed? These are all questions that you should process when analyzing partner data to improve your channel management strategy.
Just as you would review the efficacy of your sales and marketing efforts, you need to do the same for your partner and channel efforts. Use the data you’ve gathered to improve the partner experience, such as refreshing low-engagement materials or providing incentives at junctures in which partners commonly stop engaging.
Similar to reviewing the results with your team, you should discuss your data review with your partners, providing transparency about how they’re performing against set benchmarks. Then, take the time on a monthly or quarterly cadence to review your partner data, analyze your findings, and make a plan for communicating them and adjusting your ongoing efforts accordingly.
Strategies to Optimize Your Channel Partner Management Process
There’s a lot that goes into channel partner management. This process starts before onboarding with setting clear expectations and ensuring your team is prepared to support your partners with the proper technology at their disposal.
Partner onboarding, training, and one-on-one communication are all essential to forging strong relationships. Regularly, you’ll want to analyze your partner data and report back to your channel partners accordingly.
Further grow your channel partner management game plan with the following resources:
- Perfect Your Partner Management & Sales Framework – It’s near-impossible to manage your channel without the support of other teams, thoughtful brand templates, and sales enablement tools. Use this guide as a checklist to ensure you have a comprehensive program framework in place.
- How to Effectively Measure Partnership Success – 20 Metrics to Keep in Mind – After reading this article, you may immediately toss aside your device and put a thoughtful channel partner management strategy into action. But, once done, how will you know if it’s working as you hoped? Use this article to help you collect measurable insights into how your tactics are improving partners’ performance.
- What is Partner Operations and Why It Matters – If your CAMs are the face of your channel management team, Partner Operations is the brain. Take your program to the next level with the installation of dedicated operations personnel who can help make sweeping reforms, fine-tune processes, and uncover new opportunities for added efficiencies.
- 9 Steps to Creating a SPIFF Program to Incentivize Channel Partners - January 20, 2023
- 7 Steps to Successfully Onboard Partners - December 7, 2022
- 16 Partner Program KPIs to Measure Channel Performance - September 18, 2022