A partner sales program runs like a well-oiled machine when supported by a robust framework. It’s never too early to build or reinforce the skeleton on which your partner strategy can thrive in the short and long terms. Make sure that your partner management framework encompasses the below points to optimally enable sales and foster scalable growth.
Plan Your Partner Ecosystem
When asked why you want to have a partner program, the answer may seem simple: to make more money, obviously.
However, you should be able to provide a much more in-depth response. After all, you will need to defend why you want to invest time and resources into your channel partners rather than Direct Sales, inbound marketing, etc. More specific benefits of channel partners can include:
- Reaching new audiences, such as international customers or a new use case
- Piggybacking off of partners’ authority to build your reputation
- Limit upfront investment costs
Consult and Coordinate With Supporting Teams
Your channel partner program is part of a greater company ecosystem, so connect with related teams to ensure goals align and that resources and insights are efficiently shared. Objectives when meeting with various departments are as follows:
- Direct Sales – Your full-time sales team can share insights into which enablement materials yield results, what trainings they provide to newcomers, and projected timelines. However, don’t assume you can use such materials “as is”; as explained in Channel vs. Direct Sales, the strategic needs of the two sales divisions will rarely be identical.
Also, discuss how the two departments can supplement each other to achieve overall brand goals. For example, if Direct Sales wants to enter a new territory, attracting partners with established credibility amongst new audiences can build awareness Direct Sales can later leverage.
Lastly, integrate your PRM and CRM and synchronize your tracked KPIs as part of the sales enablement framework. This will allow complete visibility into the combined pipeline and direct comparisons between the two sales divisions.
- Marketing – Make sure that Marketing leadership knows the company-wide benefits of supporting partner acquisition and partner sales with targeted marketing materials. Additionally, make sure your company’s creative minds know any audience- or partner-specific messaging needs. As exemplified in Expanding Your US Channel Into Europe, what one audience likes may deter another.
Keep your marketing contact an active member of your partner management framework. Share regular results of various marketing efforts with them and invite them to brainstorm new ideas.
- Finance / Accounting – Hiccups in getting partners paid are a quick way to lose their loyalty. Therefore, address accounting hurdles in advance with the assistance of your company’s financial team.
Though not mandatory, consider scheduling a regular meeting with each of the above, particularly with Direct Sales and Marketing. This way, your needs can stay semi-top of mind, they can witness and appreciate performance growth, and joint-ideation occurs more frequently.
Map Processes for Different Scenarios
At no time should partner managers be forced to create solutions “on the spot” or feel lost about how to handle a situation. Therefore, an essential cornerstone of your partner management framework should be processes for various scenarios, including:
- Onboarding – A thoughtful training program is fuel in your rocket, flour in the cake. Partners will swiftly jump ship without you clearly communicating a solid onboarding process. Those that stick around will inevitably fail to generate profit. What’s more, you’ll struggle to create a consistent representation of your brand and products from one partner to the next. Create a foundational compilation of training materials that you organize into a precise sequence that allows learnings to build upon one another. Give an estimation for the expected time commitment for completion. As your partner program grows and participants diversify, give modified versions of the training process to each group that caters to their needs. (Tip: think partner type, location, or tiers)
- Meeting and communication – Defining the frequency and primary means of communication within your partner sales enablement framework will help participants understand your expectations before enlisting. Additionally, you need to provide managers with guidelines for their meeting structure. This improves the productiveness of the communications and helps to collect essential feedback that you can compare from one partner to the next.
- Partner progression – If you have a superstar partner who continually breaks records, you certainly wouldn’t want to treat them as you would every other program participant. Create structured partner tiers in which top-performers receive extra bonuses. This will help retain partners’ loyalty, but it also gives partners well-defined goalposts for which to aim.
- Channel conflicts – When two partners try to take ownership of the same deal, a decisive, premeditated course of action can smooth over the issue much better than an impromptu idea or a glum shrug.
Having predetermined procedures will ensure uniformity amongst your managers and program, and you can describe the processes to potential partners, so they know what to expect. For example, if program participants are well aware of how you will address conflicts in which two partners lay claim to the same lead, there will be fewer accusations of bias if such situations arise.
Remember, detailing your partner engagement framework processes doesn’t mean they’re locked in forever. Using the preexisting conduct as a jumping-off point, you’re free to amend strategies based on new data and shifting industry standards (in fact, we encourage it).
Finances: Commission Structures, Marketing Budget Allocation, Etc.
Money makes the world go around, and it does the same for your partner program. It will be the prime motivation for partners and the wind beneath your marketing’s wings. Therefore, make sure your partner sales enablement framework accounts for the following:
- The commission structure – first and foremost, decide how you want to pay partners. Most companies choose to reward a share of the generated revenue, but determine if some partners earn more significant percentages based on their value or partner tier.
- Marketing budget allocation – Will you put more money towards recruiting partners or funding partners’ marketing efforts? Will you allocate more of the budget towards a specific product’s promotion or towards attracting particular audiences? Though you can evolve your strategy over time, make such marketing budgeting decisions part of your initial partner enablement framework.
Finalize a Mechanism for Measurement
Remember the above-mentioned goals of your partner program? Your partner management framework must include a measurement plan. What partner program KPIs will you track, and what will be your primary metric versus secondary?
Moreover, establish how you will collect this data and the anticipated use. For example, will you conduct quarterly sales funnel audits? Present channel sales insights using charts monthly? Set up alerts if prioritized metrics fall below a certain threshold? Establishing such needs early on within your partner management framework lets you consistently gather and analyze the same performance indicators over time for maximum visibility.
Deploying Technology to Reinforce the Framework
The ideal partner management framework is not shortsighted but rather a series of solutions that you can replicate and scale as increasing numbers of partners come aboard. You’ll soon find that supporting technology like a PRM tool is necessary, as it enables the automation of key management and tracking functions. However, a PRM is not the software you’ll inevitably rely upon as your program grows. Further reinforce the processes that make up your partner sales enablement framework with solutions for virtual meetings, professional instant messaging, social media management, and other software detailed in 20 Necessary Tools to Enable Channel Partners to Sell.
Final Notes About Partner Engagement & Management Frameworks
Ideally, your framework is not stagnant. As you gather new data and your program matures, new opportunities will present, and your plans should adjust accordingly. Use the above points to create your initial partner engagement framework and revisit them regularly to ensure they still serve program needs.