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Onboarding is one of the most important steps in establishing channel partner relationships. The old idiom that first impressions are the most lasting is a cliché for a reason. A subpar channel partner onboarding process can jeopardize a relationship before the honeymoon—and even worse, send a partner running for the hills.

That’s why it’s crucial for partner programs to have a strategic, repeatable onboarding in place. No matter how many accounts you manage, it’s important to put in the legwork to make sure that every single channel partner is enabled to sell. A strong onboarding process builds loyalty, establishes communication parameters, and provides your prospects with the right information. In other words, it sets your partners up for success before they even begin selling.

Whether you’re looking to bolster your program or looking to brush up on best-in-class strategies, here’s what a successful partner onboarding process looks like.

Ensuring You Have the Right Onboarding Materials & Messaging

Designate an internal onboarding team. Before you even get started, it’s important to outline a formal, cross-departmental process that includes all necessary channel players—including sales, marketing, and operations—and their responsibilities. By defining process ownership, you’re ensuring you have the necessary allocated resources and establishing accountability.

Mix up mediums to make the onboarding process more engaging. Some people prefer product demo videos, some like written step-by-step directions, and still others like visual diagrams. Accommodate a variety of learning styles by employing multiple types of content. The variety will also help retain partners’ attention, even during the driest of subjects.

Outline the benefits and automate the application process. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Making a positive impression starts with your first interactions before recruitment even begins. To attract partners in the first place, it’s important to be clear about the benefits of working with your company. Make it easy for partners to apply and establish an open line of communication from the get-go.

Provide a warm welcoming. Once partners are ready to start, it’s wise to reinforce that doing business with your company was the right decision. Have one of your executives call partners to convey their enthusiasm and answer any initial questions. Next, provide a digital (or physical) welcome kit with information, tools, and maybe even some swag that will get them excited to move forward.

Establish goals and expectations and communicate value. By now, your partners should know the exact benefits of working together. It’s up to you to build channel processes and create a document that outlines what partners should tackle in the first 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days. It’s during this step that you should establish expectations and timeframes.

Curtail training materials to the individual partners. While many of the training topics will pertain to all new partners, this isn’t necessarily the case for all. The intended product application, type of end-user, regional disparities, or business vertical can influence the key takeaways. Therefore, leverage your PRM to automate which partners can access what training, ensuring that you direct them solely to the messaging that matters most to accomplishing their goals.

Be upfront about how conflicts will be handled. The right PRM solution can help you avoid and resolve channel conflicts, but it’s inevitable that they’ll still crop up from time to time. As a preventative measure, communicate to partners how you will address such circumstances as part of the onboarding process. This way, if a conflict does arise, partners will know what to expect and can’t accuse you of bias.

Finessing Onboarding Processes for an Overall Positive Experience

Provide partners with all necessary credentials. If they don’t, politely nudge them with a quick email or phone call. Sometimes, they may need further instruction. And guiding partners through even this mundane first portion of the onboarding process can reinforce a working relationship.

Keep things simple with consolidated tools and technology. Part of a successful partner onboarding process is knowing that your partners are optimized for success—not inundated with technology. While most partner programs come with an inherent learning curve, a strong PRM tool streamlines the process by incorporating guided selling, deal registration, and gamification into a centralized, accessible platform. Make sure that your platform follows these portal design best practices to ensure an overall positive user experience. 

Make sure that processes are finalized and communicated to involved team members before being put into action. At no stage of the partner onboarding process should you have to walk back statements, communicate conflicting messages, or generally fumble the ball. Such actions convey a lack of professionalism at a time in which partners are forming their opinions. Take the time to calibrate repeatable processes that you can execute with confidence.

Organize your curriculum into multiple, sequential lessons. Some partners may choose to immerse themselves in your training for hours at a time. Others may prefer to engage fifteen minutes at a time. Adapt to both needs by breaking training into bitesize lessons with natural breakpoints. Your PRM’s training feature should point partners towards the “next step” based on their previous interactions.

Supplement lessons with quizzes. Quizzes are a surprisingly powerful tool. It helps to reinforce takeaways in the minds of participants and introduces an element of gamification. Moreover, it helps you gauge partners’ early potential and commitment, as well as the effectiveness of your training materials.

When possible, streamline training to be respectful of partners’ time. There’s a happy medium between being thorough and excessive. Merge quantitative data and qualitative data to help find that sweet spot. If your onboarding process must be demanding, consider doing some of the following to keep partners hooked:

    • Furnish partners with a lead upon completion of the training
    • Award minor tokens of appreciation for achieving certain training milestones
    • Offer a commission that is more generous than what your competitors provide

Put in (digital) face time throughout the partner onboarding process. Automation achieved through your PRM doesn’t permit you to disconnect from partners entirely. Rather, it allows you to make your communication more meaningful by eliminating the need to fulfill manual requests or address simple questions. Check-in with onboarding partners so they feel supported and valued. Do they have ideas for improving processes or fun co-marketing activities? Hear them out! This is your opportunity to get them pumped about the many possibilities that the program presents.

Prioritize ongoing training. Once your partners are ready to sell, it’s time to start training. In addition to providing your partners with an accessible online knowledge base and partner playbooks, your training environment should mirror job conditions. Immersive training models allow partners to solve real-life sales situations and keep partners engaged. Motivating partners with a culture of continued learning is the only way to foster long-term success.

Update Processes to Strengthen Engagement & Competitiveness

Harness PRM data to further strengthen your partner onboarding processes. Keep an eye on important metrics like partner activation rate, portal logins, and content engagement. These can identify which content partners prefer (or dislike), and turning points at which they may lose interest. Combine this data with qualitative insights to create strategies for improvements. For example, if there tends to be a steep drop-off in partner logins (and engagement) after the first week, you can explore questions like:

    • Does the complexity of the training materials overwhelm participants?
    • Did you miscommunicate expectations to prospective partners?
    • Is the required effort for onboarding too laborious for most partners?

Similarly, if your deal registration or conversion rates fail to meet expectations, the root of the problem could be the lack of training (quizzes can help reinforce or debunk this theory).

Upgrade your materials to stay competitive. Just like you would never use sales content from five years ago to sell today’s products, you shouldn’t use dated training materials to win over new partners.

Keep track of partner questions and gather feedback. Procedures or product elements that may seem blatant to you (an insider) may not be evident to an outsider. Therefore, ask program participants for insights into the various materials and what changes they’d like to see. If you, as the channel account manager, repeatedly hear the same questions from partners, identify this as a gap in your onboarding process.  Put forth the effort to collect input from partners representing the full range of your ecosystem. This way, you can better understand the unique onboarding needs of different groups. 

Key Takeaways About Strengthening Partner Onboarding Processes

A newly earned partner amounts to nothing if they fail to activate and generate revenue. Your onboarding process is paramount to retaining their interest and setting them up for success. Therefore, invest the time and resources necessary to get it just right. This entails adopting multiple mediums, refining your messaging, fine-tuning procedures, and testing strategies. What are you waiting for? Apply these tips or visit Why It’s Crucial to Get Your Partner Onboarding Process Just Right for additional pointers.