To quote the great Sherlock Holmes, the game is afoot. Partnership programs are no longer an elusive idea explored only by select SaaS companies. Now, the word is out, amplified by the events of the last few years—partners offer new ways to broaden audience reach and improve product offerings, all without the upfront time and cost of Direct Sales. As an increasing number of companies invest in their channel programs, now is the ideal time to do the same.
We compiled 20 ideas for elevating your partnerships and channel program to help you remain competitive in an increasingly cutthroat market.
1. DEVELOP A PARTNER MASTERMIND GROUP
The best ideas stem from collaboration. To gather the best ideas on how to better a partner program, collaborate with actual partners to evaluate if your solution is meeting their needs and how you can improve their experience. Two styles of groups to implement to drive collaboration are:
- Partner Advisory Council, this group is reactive; the vendors will make suggestions on how to improve the partner experience and the advisory board takes it into consideration and chooses which ideas they would like to implement.
- Partner Mastermind Group, this group is proactive; this is a group of partners who make suggestions and collaborate on the changes they would like to see implemented into the program.
Both groups can have an impact on the quality of your partner program ideas because they are driven by those who will be experiencing the changes.
2. STRUCTURE YOUR INTERNAL TEAM TO BETTER SERVE FUTURE GOALS
It should be no surprise that a technology provider like Allbound strongly advocates for utilizing PRM to maximize your team’s efficiency. Yet this does not downplay the importance your partner program’s team will play in executing today’s ideas to achieve new milestones.
Make sure you’re hiring the right people – Working in partnerships requires EQ, an appreciation for data, and a surprisingly diverse range of skills. Use these interview questions to inspire your own to ensure you extend a job offer to the ideal candidates.
Don’t neglect the operational arm of your team – It wouldn’t be far-fetched to call Operations the unsung heroes of partner programs. The decisions directly influence the health of your relationships. Therefore, bring aboard specialized team members dedicated to scrutinizing data and bringing forth new ideas to improve partner program procedures on the whole.
Invest in your team’s education – Give your team the available bandwidth and necessary funds to pursue outside channel sales training. Not only will they come back with fresh ideas on how to improve the partner program, but such professional growth opportunities can improve their job satisfaction.
3. FOSTER GREATER COLLABORATION BETWEEN DIRECT AND PARTNER SALES
When Direct Sales and partner programs cooperate to achieve one another’s goals, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is because the two don’t operate in separate bubbles; instead, the efforts of one can indirectly impact the other, a topic we further explore in Channel vs. Direct Sales.
- Partners can raise brand awareness and perceived credibility amongst new audiences previously unfamiliar with the company, benefiting future Direct Sales efforts
- Similar to the above, multinational relationships built by partners can lead to new case studies that Direct Sales can leverage in conversations with similar prospects
- Partners can grant in-depth insights into the audiences with which they regularly interact, helping to shape messaging and strategies used by both sales divisions.
- Direct Sales can help shape training materials, sales playbooks, and enablement materials
- Direct Sales and Customer Success managers can assist with recruiting partners from prospects and existing customers
- Direct Sales can provide additional context to data analysis based on outside influences (like market changes and competitor behavior) they’re observing first-hand
4. MAKE YOUR PARTNER EXPERIENCE (PX) A COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE
The many barriers to growth programs often face are rooted in one theme – a lackluster partner experience (PX). Fail to keep your PX in line with industry standards, and your program will have poor recruitment and retention rates. What’s more, a confusing portal experience prohibits learning, slows efficiency, and can lead to inadequate sales conversations between partners and prospects.
Therefore, audit your existing PRM’s capabilities in comparison to what else is available. Collect survey-based feedback from existing program participants about what features they’d like to see and frequent issues. Additionally, make PX a point of conversation with trusted partners and collect ideas on how you can improve your partnership program.
Our point? A strong partner experience based rooted in a leading PRM solution can help move the needle in numerous ways, from your partner win rate to your CAM’s ability to successfully manage relationships at scale.
5. TRIANGULATE THE TRUTH
There are three areas to focus on when creating a great partnership:
- Technology—The product technology must be forward-thinking and market-moving. Without a product that can stand the test of time, other technologies can be brought to the market quickly and overtake your market share. Your partners are relying on the technology to make a use case for the prospect, so it’s important to make sure there is longevity in the product and the use case is clear.
- Executive Support—Testing a partnership never works out. A strong commitment is needed from both the vendor and the partner to make it work.
- Investment— Channels and partnerships take time. Getting a partner program up and running is not a three-month process. You must invest your time and resources into making sure your partner program is a success. In many cases, a truly successful partner program can take about 18 months to build. While you’re building your plans for a partner program consider stimulating the market by investing in tools and resources that support your partners, lead generation, skill-building, and people.
6. SUPPORT EVERY DECISION WITH DATA
As a channel pro, you tend to know what works and what doesn’t. However, resist the urge to base strategic actions on your gut rather than program data. Not only will it help you spot (and avoid) acting on your biases, but it can further support your partnership program ideas when explaining them to others. Having the necessary data involves:
- Your operational team should determine how to best document channel sales KPIs and integrate software as needed so you can see how tracked upper-funnel interactions impact lower-funnel successes. Keep in mind, much of this can be done from within your PRM.
- Audit the data to pinpoint performance trends and key comparisons. The idea is to let the data illuminate blind spots deserving of additional attention, whether that be slipping partner retention rates or one sub-group trailing all others for deal registrations.
- Naturally, the data should lead to brainstorms and creative problem-solving. However, the implementation of new strategies is hardly the end of your journey. After all, some of your partnership program ideas will be winners and others will be . . . not-winners. It’s important to use the previous data as a baseline and monitor how specific metrics respond to your new approaches and materials. This follow-up analysis can let you know if you’re strategically heading in the right direction or if you misinterpreted the data the first time around.
7. DELIVER DIFFERENTIATED QBR’S
Traditionally, Quarterly Business Reviews (QBR’s) are sets of reactive data that only reveal what has occurred in the past. If you want to differentiate your QBR it needs to be set up to work as a business planning tool.
During your next Quarterly Business Review, it is important to address the historical data but to also go further to define how the partnership will operate in the future and how you plan on supporting the partner in their journey. Differentiating your QBR’s will help make sure you and your partners are able to walk through the steps, tactics, and timelines to achieve the goals in place.
8. LOCALIZE YOUR PARTNER EXPERIENCES & ASSETS
While a partner program is a valuable tactic for increasing general sales, it’s particularly valuable for broaching markets in new countries. In turn, you should not only anticipate the needs of international end users, but also the partners that will promote your services by localizing:
- Battle cards to reflect relevant competitors
- Sales playbooks based on local preferences
- Marketing materials partners can co-brand
- Promotional tactics based on audiences’ preferences for media consumption
- Partner trainings
- Partner incentives and rewards
- SPIFF campaigns to reflect localized sales cycles and seasonality
To prevent your partners from having to slog through the full extent of your program’s library, choose a PRM that enables you to pre-set who sees what.
Want another tip? Ask your program’s partners for ideas on how you can better serve their local market. After all, they bring fresh eyes and past experience interacting with the targeted demographics.
9. AUDIT YOUR PARTNER OPERATIONS
When asked to think of auditing channel programs, our minds tend to focus on partner-driven metrics like the number of participants, deal registrations, revenue, etc. Not getting nearly as much consideration is the role of partner operations. It’s a good idea to semi-regularly assess your partner program’s processes in comparison to industry standards. Out-of-date operational practices can hurt both partner satisfaction and their ability to sell. Components to review include:
- Commission management and distribution
- MDF claims process
- Technology stacks and integrations
- Portal security
- Deployment of automation
You can collect anecdotal insights from various members of your partner program team, but it’s wise to hear feedback from the partners themselves using an anonymous satisfaction survey.
10. CREATE AIRTIGHT PROCESSES
Your programs’ procedures fall under the above-mentioned partner operations but are so important that it’s deserving of its own dedicated section. As we explore in Repeatable Processes Are the Secret to Partner Operations Success, thorough plans for handling specific scenarios help with managing partner upfront expectations, systemizing practice across your growing ecosystem, and minimizing the fall-out of common issues.
Ideas for partner program mechanisms and to reinforce through action plans and templates:
- Deal registration and distribution
- Conflicting claims of deal ownership between partners or with Direct
- Accounting discrepancies
- Breaches of confidentiality agreements or brand misrepresentation
11. TEACH PROSPECTING
The number one reason for failure in sales is an empty pipeline. Long-term partnerships need to have a foundation of empowerment and the full lifecycle of that relationship needs to be considered before bringing on any new partner. As you would train a new internal employee, partners also need to be taught to be intentional with their words and actions when prospecting. Like any new skill, prospecting needs to be practiced and developed. If you’re able to coach your partners to be intentional with their conversations and gather the right information up-front, you’ll be able to successfully pre-qualify more leads at a higher velocity.
It’s crucial to have a strong prospecting strategy, after all, prospecting is like a first impression. If you’re looking to revamp your prospecting process, consider adding a multi-touch plan where your sales and marketing team reaches out to the prospect a number of times, with a variety of mediums.
The current buyer, whatever the industry, is no longer found in just one location. Having a variety of prospecting tools, strategies, and locations can help your team successfully make contact with your intended buyer.
12. AVOID THE FORGETTING CURVE PROBLEM
Partnerships rely on training and enablement, but how do you teach your reps so that they learn and retain the information? The “Forgetting Curve Problem” is the understanding that when you teach a large chunk of content, your audience will lose a percentage of the information after certain lengths of time.
- Within an hour after the content is presented, 50% of the information will be lost.
- After 24 hours, 75% of the information will have been lost.
- After 48 hours most people will have lost up to 90% of the total information presented.
How Do We Get our Reps to Remember?
Since it’s so easy for humans to forget, it’s important to reinforce the information by continuously teaching, and developing learning tracks that teach in increments. Focus on allowing your partners to learn in the way that works best for them. Just like students in school, there are different styles of learning such as visual, auditory, kinesthetic, or multimodal learners and it’s important to offer multiple styles of learning to accommodate those different learning styles. Unique opportunities for learning can include workshops, role play, webinars, peer discussions, worksheets, and downloadable resources.
13. DEVELOP CROSS-SELL/UPSELL IDEAS
You have gold in your current customer base and the ability to mine it with a strong cross-sell/upsell strategy. So many cross-selling and upselling opportunities are missed simply because representatives don’t know the depths of all product offerings, how to recognize the need, or how to start that initial conversation. Educate your partners on every possible idea to delight the customer—it’s less expensive to sell more to your current customer base than to recruit new customers.
14. CO-SELL, CO-MARKET, CO-SERVICE
Partnerships allow for an amazing opportunity to co-sell, co-market, and co-service with partners and vendors. When you have the philosophy to work together, market together, prospect together, execute service engagements together, and share information, the partnership is stronger and is more effective. In most cases, when partners and vendors work together, because of the collaboration and mutual understanding of the goals, the quality of the output is much higher than when one party executes alone.
15. CREATE MORE VIDEO
Videos have become a staple of communication in today’s market due to the high amount of content consumption via social media. According to Sales Gravy, “7 out of 10 B2B buyers claim that videos influence their buying decisions”. B2B and B2C alike, people respond well to video marketing because they want to get to know the faces behind the brand. The video should be used as a piece of your marketing strategy. Whether that strategy is to recruit partners or reach out to prospects, the need for video to effectively convey your ideas is real and immediate.
16. REFRESH YOUR SALES MESSAGING
Your message matters now more than ever. People buy products not just based on the product itself, but on the brand.
Failed companies will tell you that the number one reason why they were not successful was due to their failure to communicate their product differentiation and brand value when compared to competitors. To make your messaging resonate with the buyer, there are three main components to consider:
- Engage With Consumers On An Emotional Level— People buy on emotions, but justify with logic. If you can tug on the consumer’s emotions enough, they can disregard their need for logic.
- Give Them Insight and Engage Them With Curiosity—Consumers want to know enough about your product to feel safe about their purchase decision, but not enough where there is no opportunity to be delighted by the end results.
- Demonstrate Tangible Value— Appeal to the logical side to help give grounds for purchase.
However, just like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is the value your content ideas bring. Ideas on how to assess your partner program’s content approaches include:
- Collect feedback from partners by asking for input on what they’ve seen work amongst audiences and how sales prospects react to your assets, specifically
- Use your PRM to view data around which sales materials receive the most interactions and which assist with the most closed deals.
- Regularly audit your content offering, viewing it through the lens of prospects’ current priorities and shifting marketing best practices.
17. REFRESH YOUR CASE STUDIES
A common mistake many companies make is to hold onto outdated case studies for too long. Therefore, it’s a good idea to evaluate the studies you promote, both to attract partners and to enable them to sell. Ask yourself:
- Does the measurable result fail to meet today’s standards or no longer align with prospects’ interests?
- Does the product or ideas mentioned in the case study no longer apply?
- Does the customer in the case study no longer use your services in a way that would be immediately obvious to anyone who does light research?
- Is the case study generally “old” by industry standards, inherently raising suspicions about why you don’t have more recent examples?
18. CREATE A PARTNER NEWSLETTER
To partners, your program should offer more than merely a way to raise extra revenue and access your products. It should be a hub of professional learning and exciting opportunities. While you may not be yet ready to host partner-specific conventions worthy of international attendance, a small but impactful idea to build a culture around your program is a regular newsletter.
Include a mix of content focused on your brand (such as product releases, leadership news, etc.), but also shine spotlights on star partners themselves. Lastly, always include thoughtful industry insights that can benefit readers’ general performance so they continue to find value and reasons to click.
19. RELATIONSHIP, NOT DICTATORSHIP
Partnerships are all about relationships. When managing any relationship, whether that is a partner relationship or a team relationship, the communication between both parties truly defines whether the interactions will be relationship or dictatorship based.
What Causes a Dictatorship?
If you are in a leadership or management position, think of the way you interact with your team. Are you a boss or a leader? A boss will issue ultimatums, will demand, will rely on authority, take credit without giving credit where it’s due, place the blame, and live by the motto “my way or the highway”. A “boss” is not open to collaboration, which can make their employees and partners feel like they have no voice in the matter.
Alternatively, a leader listens to the needs of their team, coaches their team to learn from mistakes, that says “we” at every turn, gives credit, accepts blame, and lives by the motto “there’s strength in unity”.
If you’ve noticed that your partners are unmotivated, downtrodden, or have a high churn rate, focus on becoming a leader rather than a boss. Ask your partners what they need to be successful in their role and actually listen to their responses. When partners feel like their ideas and needs have been heard, they are likely to increase their loyalty to you, which can lessen churn.
20. ALLOW REAL-TIME DEAL ENGAGEMENT TO OCCUR
We’re in an era where technology is not only readily available but where it’s necessary to leverage technology to provide flexibility within your sales cycle. Keith Lubner from Sales Gravy states “buyers now know more than 60% of your product before they ever interact with your brand”. When customers are able to research so much information on their own, the sales cycle must be enhanced with relevant information and technology that allows for real-time engagement to occur.
When engaging with prospects, don’t simply give them the requested content, add value to the conversation. Ask what is important to them and tailor your messaging to fit their needs. A unique tailored solution will make your prospects feel heard, valued, and in many cases will play a role in helping to close a deal.
Inside the Brain of a Prospect
When a prospect meets you, they will have five questions they need to self-address before the product is pitched. These questions will define the nature and longevity of your relationship with them. The prospect will ask themselves:
- Do I like you?
- Do you listen to me?
- Do you make me feel important?
- Do I trust and believe you?
- Do you understand me and my problems?
These are questions that every single person, in every single interaction is thinking about before they will even consider purchasing your product. As a professional, it’s important to start leveraging emotions and start locking in the people-aspect before getting into the nuts and bolts of your product. When strong relationships are established, whether that’s between vendor and prospect or partner to partner, you’re able to create a longer-lasting relationship.
Find Additional Ideas for Your Partnership Program
If you have one takeaway from this article, it should be that partner program best practices continuously advance, as does the technology that supports them. Therefore, your team must dedicate themselves to stay in touch with the industry’s ongoing learning. Below are additional resources that will help inspire new partnership program ideas:
- 14 Partner Marketing Events to Attend in 2023 – We love our articles, but we also know that there’s no beating the excitement of meeting fellow partnership professionals. Attend these events to network, compare notes, and hear new ideas that you can bring back to your program.
- Co-Marketing Activities and Ideas for Joint Promotion in 2023 – Marketing tactics never stagnate as companies continually seek to one-up one another. Find plenty of ideas to help refresh your partner program’s promotional tactics to best face the business realities of 2023.
- Advanced Ideas for Increasing Channel Sales in 2023 – While the current article gave you ideas on how to improve all areas of your partner program, this next piece focuses specifically on ways to improve sales.
- Questions to Ask in Your Next Partnership Manager Interview – It doesn’t matter how many ideas you have for your partner program if you don’t have a talented team to bring concepts to life. Use this guide to vet quality candidates and make sure you put the right people in the right positions.
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