Maybe you’re a new hire at a company, brought in to build a channel partner program from the ground up. Maybe you’ve been at your organization for years in marketing or sales – and now your boss is asking you to take a new direction by focusing on partnerships. Or maybe you have experience in partner programs previously and pitched the idea yourself.
The partnership career path can take a lot of winding twists and turns. Regardless of how you came to it, you’re now faced with the challenge of building a channel partner program.
And like many new channel partner programs, at first, you’re on your own. A one-person team facing a seemingly Herculean task.
When you start planning the launch of your channel partner program, the list of to-dos to make it successful can seem endless. How do you get started? When do you scale? Who do you hire next?
Here’s how to build a partner program when it’s just you.
Focus on the Priorities: Getting the Program Off the Ground
Before you begin, take stock of where you’re currently at – you may not be starting from scratch as much as it seems or feels. Many times, organizations that benefit the most from launching a formal channel partner program will already have some of the pieces informally running in the background.
Are there people or companies that are already championing, perhaps even reselling, your product to their clients? That’s a good place to start.
Setting and Hitting Initial Goals
From there, sketch a vision of where you want the partner program to be in the first 60 days, 90 days, six months, year and so on. Having big picture goals will help you break down your plans into actionable steps.
These steps can vary depending on what stage you’re at and what has already been established, but typically include:
- Getting executive buy-in for the support and resources needed to start a partnership program
- Identifying your ideal partners
- Recruiting organizations interested in participating as a partner
- Setting up partner processes including standard operating procedures, compensation agreements and tiers
- Creating channel marketing materials to onboard partners and give them the tools they need to sell
- Setting KPIs and parameters for measuring success
Making Friends and Getting Cross-Departmental Alignment
As a one-person team launching something new, getting buy-in and support from other departments at your company is more important than ever.
You may be the only one with ‘channel sales’ or ‘partnership’ in your job title, but you’re not alone. Colleagues in other departments, particularly marketing and sales, will also be impacted by a successful partnership program – make sure you highlight those benefits to them and seek out ways to win together.
Sometimes, these colleagues who may later become members of your partnership team. It’s not uncommon, for example, for salespeople to later transition to a partner manager role as a program grows.
Leverage Technology to Make Your Job Easier
The good news is that the right channel technology can make your job a lot easier.
Freeing up the time you spend on manual tasks, like onboarding partners or registering deals, means you can focus on more important tasks.
A PRM System
If you’re new to the world of partnerships, you may be wondering ‘what’s a PRM system?’ Or the more important question, ‘why does your partner sales program need a PRM tool?’
In essence, PRM software coordinates sales partner management. It’s similar to how a CRM, like HubSpot or Salesforce, manages customer relationships.
Many organizations choose to build their partner program at the same time they implement a PRM. Having the right tech stack from the beginning has advantages, including helping you scale faster, save costs down the road and leverage the power of automation.
The Advantage of Automation
Especially as a one-person team, you want to take advantage of PRM automation whenever possible. Who has time for endless spreadsheets?
Not only does using PRM software give you more time in your day to focus on strategy, but it also creates a better experience for your partners – a win-win.
With a partner management tool like Allbound, for example, you can automate:
- Onboarding: Partners can learn and go through learning tracks at their own speed, on their own time.
- Communication: Share specific content with partners at different stages of their journey and centralize communication within one platform with email notifications. Allow partners to co-brand materials when needed and submit digital forms for marketing development fund requests.
- Engage and support partners: Prospect pages, playbooks and other important marketing materials are easily accessible within a partner portal.
- Deal registration: Avoid conflicts and duplicated efforts with real-time deal registrations.
- Measuring success: Get all the data and metrics you need in one place to measure what’s working.
Grow Your Team From One to Many
Once your partner program has taken off and is seeing return on investment, you’ll start to think about scaling.
As your program grows, you may need to hire additional team members to help manage partners and grow the program. Hiring the right person for a job – especially for a newly-created role – is no easy task.
Who to hire next
Who you decide to hire as the second and third team members depends on your goals and resources, but there are some general guidelines.
The first hire, you, typically holds the leadership position – particularly if the job description involves launching a program from scratch and building out a team. The job title could be something like Head of Partnerships or Head of Partner Marketing.
But it’s not uncommon for the first person working on a partner program to still have an older job title leftover from previous marketing or sales roles. If that’s the case, now is a good time to reevaluate your role and responsibilities.
With a leadership position in place, a good next hire is someone who can be more involved in day-to-day partner management. This could be a partner success manager or a partner development representative. These are roles that focus on supporting partners on an ongoing basis. It also involves working closely with sales representatives and account managers to make sure everyone is aligned.
Another good option for first hires is a channel sales manager, someone who wears several hats to manage relationships both internally and with partners. To further guide the hiring process, read Questions to Ask in Your Next Partner Manager Interview.
Finding the right candidates
The best way to recruit and hire the right employees is an age-old dilemma and definitely not limited to the partner space. But finding candidates for a new role in a newly-created program presents additional challenges.
Once you have a solid job description prepared for the new role, look internally for candidates. Someone from the sales or marketing team who has been involved in the partner program from the sidelines may be an ideal fit.
Other places to find top talent include LinkedIn or Slack communities focused on channel sales. But keep in mind that your next hire doesn’t neede previous channel experience – most people who end up on the partnership career path started out in other departments first.
Look for relevant skills and experience that may not include the words ‘channel sales’ but could instead be focused on onboarding, enablement or partner engagement. Someone who can work collaboratively with other departments like sales, marketing, product and engineering can be very valuable to your team.
Find Mentors and Learn From Others
Sometimes, the hardest part of being a one-person team is not having anyone else to bounce ideas off of or brainstorm with. You may be the only person in partnerships at your company, but you’re not alone.
The channel sales community is active online so don’t be afraid to tap into the resources that are available outside your organization. Join Slack communities, listen to podcasts and network with others in your industry.
This can help you find mentors (or your next hire!) and learn what others are doing that’s working for them.
And if you’d like to learn more about how to build a partner program from scratch, we break it down step-by-step with insights from leaders across the channel partner space in our new guide.