1. Research the Competition
The last thing you want is to be blind to the competition. If you don’t know what other businesses offer their partners and clients, you can’t expect to develop a more attractive product or value proposition.
It’s no different with channel sales. Partners have their own wants and needs, and if your organization isn’t able to meet them, then they’re going to turn to a competitor. It really is that simple. To provide the best value for your target partners, you first need to know who your competitors are, how and where they operate, and what they can offer sales partners that you cannot—at least not currently.
(You’ll get there.)
The good news is that finding the competition isn’t difficult. Third-party review sites like G2Crowd and Owler are great resources for finding the vendors that are competing for the channel partners with whom you want to work. Both offer access to vast tech marketplaces, company profiles, and corporate networks, and can be used to research everything you need to know about the competition. Avail yourself of them!
Before diving too deep into any particular competitor, you should review their site to determine if they have a channel partner program. If they don’t then you’re wasting your time, aren’t you? They might also have a login portal for channel partners, but this will most likely not be visible from their website since some vendors don’t want to pay for all their partners to have access. Even if you can’t find any information about sales partners on their website, try searching “[Company Name] Partner Portal” before giving up. A third-party site may reveal information about the company’s sales strategy that the website does not disclose.
Once you’ve identified a competitor with a viable partner program, compare it to your own: Is it larger? Smaller? More sophisticated? More efficient?
Look for a list of partners on the website or on the partner page. This should give you a good idea of the size of the program. Another option is to pull from your own professional network: Do you know anyone who is currently a partner with a competing vendor? If so, do they still use spreadsheets to track their data and sales relationships, or has your competitor provided access to a Partner Relationship Management (PRM) platform? The sophistication of partner tools will indicate the vendor’s overall commitment to growth and partner satisfaction.
As Yoda Would Say: A Large Channel Does Not a Successful Program Make
Keep this in mind, a huge partner program doesn’t necessarily mean a successful one. After all, the larger the network, the more a company tends to lose to commissions, seller structures, and other overhead costs. It’s the efficiency of the program that holds the most weight.
We’re all familiar with the Pareto Principle 80/20 rule, which implies that in the distribution of resources, roughly 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. This can be loosely applied to the world of channel sales and marketing as well, as it reminds vendors of the importance of efficiency. Not all partners are the same, and those doing most of the legwork deserve more of your time and attention.
Typically, vendors separate their partners into two groups: “managed,” which represents the 20 percent of partners generating most of your sales; and “unmanaged,” which are the partners producing fewer sales and having less of an impact on your revenue lines.
In researching your competitors, it’s going to be tough finding out the precise distribution of managed and unmanaged partners. By drafting a list of their partners, even if incomplete, and then comparing it to your own roster, you can get an idea of how the given program’s efficiency. Use this as a benchmark of what standards you must meet in order to recruit potential partners and build your channel sales program.
For scaling up to meet the competition, a modern partner portal is going to be the most effective tool at your disposal. It saves time and helps keep all of your partners on the same page—both literally and figuratively. With good PRM software, there’s no need to manually manage or onboard each and every one of your partners. The process can be automated. You’ll also have your processes and sales strategies streamlined under a single roof, thereby ensuring that you get the most out of every partner relationship.
2. Make Sure Your Partner Program Is Up To Par
You’ve identified some competitors and looked closely at their partner program. Hopefully, you’ve learned enough to get an idea of how your own program is different, and what you need to do to scale up and compete for those prized sales partners.
One of the best ways to attract partners is to have a straightforward, seamless user experience. Even from outside your organization, prospective partners are going to see a partner-facing portal as a convenience—a time-saving tool that gives them peace of mind while presenting your organization as qualified and professional. If you’re a scrappy startup, (don’t worry, we’ve all been there), a PRM can also make your partner program look larger and more robust than it may in fact be. Don’t be afraid to present yourself as more developed or farther along than you actually are. That’s what marketing is all about: presenting an image that appeals to your target market, thereby buying time to grow into the business powerhouse you’ve imagined. It also gives you the space needed to attract partners and compete with vendors many times your size.
But a partner portal isn’t just about how you present yourself to prospective channel partners. It’s also a tool for enabling those partners to make sales and strengthen your bottom line. It’s a way to automate the partner lifecycle, from onboarding to training to selling. A PRM establishes a platform from which all new partners can learn and get trained up in whatever products or services you’re selling. They also unify your sales strategy, teaching partners how to effectively sell your product and how to speak to the end-customers’ needs.
Selling is all about identifying a problem and offering a solution. Your partner portal should provide partners with the tools they need to do both. But you have to choose the right system. A good PRM will be able to do the following:
- Create personalized experiences for partners
- Enable co-branding or brand partnerships
- Track and monitor market development funds (MDF)
- Train partners with learning tracks and certifications
- Group partners according to sales performance and capabilities
- Draft and share sales reports
- Integrate current marketing automation into a single platform
Remember: As much as 80 percent of your partners’ experience is in your organization’s systems and tools. If the user experience derived from those systems is not positive, then it won’t matter how great your product is: no one will want to work with an outdated, obsolete, or frustrating platform. A good partner portal will solve this.
3. Locate The Right Partners
By now you have a good idea of who your competitors are and how you can go about creating a valuable and worthwhile partner experience. But how do you go about finding and recruiting the right channel partners?
Again, this goes back to putting yourself in the shoes of an ideal partner: Who are they? Where are they? What are they looking for in a vendor? What sales model do they employ? What markets do they have access to? How much autonomy should they be given? Will they incorporate your product into a larger package and sell that? Or does your product need to stand on its own?
These can be difficult questions to answer. To help, develop what’s called a partner persona—a fictional version of your ideal sales partner. When building one, consider the following criteria:
- Expertise: How much knowledge of your product or ecosystem is necessary to make lots of sales? How long will it take to train your ideal sales partner?
Is it necessary for them to currently operate in an ecosystem that demands a firm grasp of your product and the solution you’re providing?
- Market: Are you trying to break into a new market; compete within an established one; or create something entirely different? Similarly, you need to think about your markets in a practical sense: What structural or bureaucratic obstacles might exist between your product and your end-customer?
- Sales process: What is the structure and environment of your ideal partner? Do they utilize inside or outside sales reps? Do they have a platform that can accommodate both models?
- Location: Does it matter to you if your ideal partner is nearby? Will potential partners face geographical limitations or advantages?
- Commitment: How much time and effort does the ideal partner need to commit in order to be successful?
Developing a partner persona will not only help you recognize the right candidates, but it will also lay the groundwork for a promotional strategy to engage interested parties. Every successful business has a content marketing strategy, so targeting the right readership within your blogs, white papers, eBooks, and social media is critical. How you curate and promote that content determines how effectively you can reach clients, customers, and sales partners.
Knowing who to connect with is not the same as knowing where and how to connect: time and place are everything. LinkedIn is a valuable resource, But only if you use it properly. Don’t spam your contacts with mindless form letters and elevator pitches. Tailor your message to each partner or client. For most social media engagements, it’s wise to do the following:
- Be specific.
- Follow your target sales partners
- Like and comment on their content
- When you decide to message them, contact them to discuss something they’ve written
- Engage them rather than pitch them
Don’t rely on LinkedIn alone. You should also follow and read the same blogs that your partners are visiting. Comment on relevant posts—again, not with mindless product pitches, but with smart and engaging commentary. Prove yourself to be the solution provider you know you are. Sometimes, simply contributing to the conversation will draw all the attention you need. That way you present yourself with dignity and confidence, framing your organization as one people want to work with.
Finally, once you’ve made a connection with a potential partner, treat them as you would a potential employee. Be ready to talk about the benefits and perks of working with you. Let them know about the partner onboarding process before an agreement is reached. Tell them about your content library and partner portal. They want to know that they’ll be supported and in an environment of growth and profitability.
Mistakes to Avoid When Recruiting and Developing Partner Relationships
Everyone makes mistakes, but more often than not, the pitfalls are avoidable. Here are five things that often dissuade channel partners from taking on a new vendor:
- The partner offering is unclear or isn’t incentivized enough. This applies to content as much as communication. Through everything we’ve discussed creating a partner persona and reflecting on the value that you offer, you should have an idea of what a prospective partner seeks. If the way you communicate or present that value is too ambiguous or confusing, prospective partners are going to look elsewhere. Likewise, if the financials don’t line up for them they won’t budge. So get your math right before making a connection.
- Lack of support. Your partner portal, training platforms, and communication channels need to be immaculate. With all the technology available today, you really have no excuse not to have a portal that provides your partners with everything they need to train, learn, scale-up, increase your brand visibility, and make sales. Make sure you begin the partner relationship with a comprehensive welcome kit.
- Too many manual processes. Channel marketing can involve a lot of repetitive tasks. If you don’t have a platform that allows partners to automate some processes, your offering is going to start to chew into their time and, eventually, their bottom line. That’s a good way to get dropped as a vendor. Make sure you have an array of automated marketing solutions for email, social media, advertisements, and other initiatives in order to build a scalable partner channel program.
- Content is disorganized or difficult to find. Many sales partners list this as a major gripe: they have trouble navigating to the right content because the library is too messy and overwhelming. It’s not enough for your content package to be merely comprehensive—it needs to be navigable and efficiently structured as well.
- Co-branding isn’t easy to figure out. A lot of sales partners get frustrated with platforms that don’t allow them to easily co-brand their promotional efforts. You need to make sure your offering provides the functionality to collaborate on marketing campaigns with co-branded content.
4. Make Sure Partners Choose You
Keeping partners organized in a Google spreadsheet and emails is likely not the most efficient way to manage your time. But with the right PRM you’ll have a major leg up on the competition as a serious player who understands the needs of channel partners.
The writing is on the wall: you need quality systems and tools to be successful in any channel sales initiative. Fortunately, Allbound is here to help.
Think about it in terms of those five pitfalls vendors face when trying to recruit partners:
- Unclear or low-value offering: A channel program using Allbound will have a clear track laid out in which partners will know exactly what they’re getting, how to register deals, and how to perform any organizational task.
- Lack of support: Allbound provides a dedicated customer success manager to provide assistance and insights based on your portal, company, and market.
- Too many manual processes: PRM allows for automation of every part of the partner lifecycle, including marketing automation and delivery.
- Disorganized content library: There is an unlimited, searchable content library so partners can find exactly what they need, when they need it, where they need it.
- Co-branding is difficult: Co-branding with Allbound is extremely simple. The assets that can be co-branded are provided and the logos are implemented with simple drag-and-drop tools, so it’s quick and easy. You can also control which partners can and cannot utilize the co-branding feature.
Allbound grants you the PRM technology to attract and develop quality channel partner relationships. Don’t short-change yourself: As much as you choose your partners, you want them to choose you, too!