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The best, most successful channel partnerships are built on a strong foundation that consist of establishing a business plan, educating, and training on the product or service, and ensuring a clear vision and mutual understanding of goals—from day one.
What Is Channel Sales?
Unlike direct sales, in which a company sells a product or service directly to the end user, channel sales relies on a third party to take a product or service to market. For example, Apple has always relied on a direct-sales model where you have to shop in their store or on their website to purchase a laptop or iPhone. Then there are companies, such as Pepsi, that use channel sales to sell their products to consumers through third parties—grocery stores, gas stations, vending machines, and so on.
The direct sales approach might seem like it makes more sense than channel sales—with no middleman the revenue stays in house, right? However, the truth is that direct sales has its own costs that can be avoided through channel sales. How? Channel sales allows companies to basically outsource the costs involved with having a sweeping sales operation while collecting a large proportion of sales. There are three main ways that channel sales can operate:
- You and the partner sell together (e.g., an event planner partners with a caterer)
- You sell through the partner (e.g., a store or website curates items to be sold in its store)
- The partner sells for you (e.g., a supermarket that sells a “store brand” that is actually a name brand)
At one time, channel sales involved shipping a product or delivering a service to a third party and hoping they have the ability to deliver sales. Nowadays, channel sales is a robust process of crafting and nurturing a meaningful relationship with a third-party seller so that they have the tools, resources, and knowledge necessary to successfully take a product or service to market.
With this in mind, here are some tips for what it takes to ensure successful channel partner onboarding and enablement.
Start the Partnership Strong
From day one, a channel partner must feel confident that an organization is prepared to build a mutually beneficial relationship—and it all starts with onboarding. Ensuring partners have everything they need to get started from the get-go—training, access to the partner portal and all resources, a plan for the first 30-90 days—is critical to establishing a strong partnership.
It’s also important to iterate, and reiterate, how valuable the partnership is, including the exact benefits that will come out of the partnership for all stakeholders. One of the best ways to really drive the value of the partnership home is by treating channel partners like an extension of the in-house team. Making sure the partner has a clear understanding of the value proposition for the end user, as well as the resources to deliver on that proposition, will ensure success, growth, and revenue.
Build a Business Plan
During the onboarding process, it’s crucial to deliver a business plan to channel partners that outlines expectations and priorities that are clearly tied to goals and benchmarks. Having a solid business plan establishes a groundwork of trust—as well as accountability. The business plan should answer the following questions:
- Why establish a partnership?
- What is the mission of the partnership?
- What helps the channel partner sell?
- What hinders them from selling?
- What are the goals/benchmarks of a successful partnership?
- How will these goals/benchmarks be measured/reached?
- At the end of the day, what does success actually look like?
With a business plan in place, both parties will be able to clearly understand the relationship and all expectations from day one.
Create a Marketing Plan
A strong partnership is built on an agreed-upon marketing strategy. This is accomplished through the sharing and dissemination of thoughtfully crafted and curated internal and end-user-facing marketing content. On top of the content itself, which often includes sales materials, whitepapers, fact sheets, and so on, a marketing plan must also detail the strategy for releasing this content to the partner and/or the end user.
It’s important to understand who will be carrying out the marketing plan, what materials will be involved, and the platforms to which they’ll be distributed. It’s also worth taking a look at how inbound marketing strategies such as landing pages or email marketing can help channel partners succeed with marketing themselves and the product or service. Getting all stakeholders on board with the marketing plan is crucial to establishing a committed partnership built on the drive toward mutual success.
Training, Educating, and Enabling
Perhaps the most important component of enabling a channel partner to succeed is providing the education and training necessary to seamlessly deliver a product or service to market. It’s important to clearly define what resources and materials are needed for the channel partner to reach the benchmarks and goals established in the business plan. This involves asking a few critical questions:
- What skills or processes are needed in order to market and sell?
- What collateral is needed in order to market and sell the product or service?
- What training is needed on the product or service to ensure success?
According to a study by CSO Insights, the research division of the Miller Heiman Group, training was reported to be crucial to channel partners feeling confident and selling successfully.
“When we looked at the channel revenue performance growth for companies that excel at this aspect of channel management, they noticeably outperform those companies that are average or poor in this area. So the payback for the training is clearly there,” CSO Insights reported.
Measure Success and Repeat
Once you’ve established a successful, repeatable plan for channel partner onboarding and enablement, it’s time to focus on recruitment and retention. Here are a few ways to measure success:
- Number of channel partners
- Meeting recruitment quotas
- Partner retention vs. attrition rates
- Calculating ROI
It’s important to note that having more channel partners is not necessarily a good thing. For most organizations, it’s quality—not quantity—that counts with partnerships.
Overall, the most successful and long-lasting partnerships are those that start out strong and include plenty of planning, training, education, and a clear understanding of goals and responsibilities from day one. If you’re ready to learn more about what successful channel partner onboarding and enablement looks like, download our How to Create a Partner Program That Drives Customer Success Guide today.