Throughout my years in tech sales and marketing — and business in general, for that matter — perhaps the most fulfilling aspect of the journey has been the amazing people I’ve met, many (if not all) of whom have been laser-focused on solving very complex challenges, oftentimes even resuscitating old or broken business systems and processes.
In our role here at Allbound, we absolutely relish the fact that many of our customers are brilliant, agile thinkers who have been put in charge of breathing life back into their company’s struggling channel partner program. Tell me if this sounds familiar:
- You’ve seen the “old way” of doing things, and you know they can’t keep pace with the speed and digital connectedness of today’s businesses.
- You’re using a smorgasbord of portals and systems, and you’re ready to simplify.
- You’re not the only one frustrated — so are your partners.
- And of course, you’ve been asked to do more but with less while also proving it with channel data that’s either outdated, worthless, or (even worse) completely inaccessible.
You’re Not Alone
Those four bullets you just read? Don’t stress. We’ve heard them over and over again. Need proof? Just a few weeks back, I had a report hit my inbox listing the “Top 10 Challenges Keeping Channel Chiefs Up at Night.” A few minutes later, I Googled the exact same phrase and, little to my surprise, I found dozens of similar reports dating as far back as 2007 — all of which included a near-identical list.
But why? WHY, nearly a DECADE later are channel leaders still struggling to tackle their most pressing issues: margins, deal registration, demand gen, MDF, incentive programs. It’s like I hopped right into Doc Brown’s DeLorean and Marty McFly drove me right back into the time suck of channel programs past.
Listen, in today’s increasingly crowded channel partner software space, there’s a lot of money on the line. In the past several years, spending on channel enablement programs has skyrocketed, especially among companies with an ecosystem of 500 partners or more. Just a few years ago in 2013, spending was close to $63 billion, including $50 billion on partner incentives, according to a Forrester survey, as reported by Pulse Learning — that’s A LOT of Starbucks giftcards and trips to Punta Cana.
I get it. Measuring channel ROI is absolutely critical for organizations. In fact, every single dollar you spend on your partners should yield an ROI. And despite a rapidly shifting landscape, the majority of vendors are still using radically outdated sales practices and technology when it comes to enabling — or as we say EMPOWERING — their indirect sales partners.
It’s time to reconsider. Rethink, if you will. Below are some points to consider with so-called channel enablement “best practices.”
Excessive Sales Content and Information Overload
As digital content management continues to grow at a rapid pace, access to information has never been greater — not laterally amongst a “channel” of partners, but in a “fabric” connecting your entire sales ecosystem. While modern, digital accessibility can benefit your organization and sales relationships, more often than not we still see vendors who:
- Underwhelm their partners by providing them with too little content or training, often too late, leaving partner reps disengaged or unable to effectively move the pipeline.
- Overwhelm their partners by dumping content, training and other resources into cobbled-together portals and learning management systems, leaving channel managers and sales teams struggling to find what’s actually relevant.
- Erect barriers for their partners by loading their content into CRM or even worse, PRM systems that deliver a terrible user experience and leave partners frustrated and feeling micro-managed.
Undervalue the Impact of Content
You already believe in the power of content marketing. So rather than silo your sales ecosystem and channel partners with 2nd-tier tools and technology, it’s critical to draw in your channel with content that’s personal, shareable, usable, cognizant of the characteristics of their specific leads and opportunities, and above all, relevant to their needs.
Outdated Training Methods
As channel partners become increasingly affected by information overload, retention rates are similarly impacted. Studies show that nearly 87% of all training content is forgotten within 30 days. So much for that fancy certification badge, eh? Sure, this implication can be assessed from multiple angles—but the root of the problem rests in archaic training processes that some organizations cling to.
How do you revive your training process? Start with onboarding.
Consider implementing an onboarding and training process that intermixes certifications, quizzes, rewards, and leaderboards to ensure partner sales reps are get and STAY engaged with their efforts. Quick-hit, multi-step training tracks with engaging activities and competitive exercises that are aligned with recommended content, assets and campaigns help your reps fully comprehend the solutions they are selling, how to sell it, when, why, and to whom.
We’re all very well aware of the struggles of managing multiple channel partners. When no feedback or analytics mechanisms are utilized, a feedback gap occurs, affecting your ability to ensure that efforts are being spent in the right place. And when you and your direct and indirect sales channels aren’t on the same page, obstacles to mutual success are inevitable.
Collaborate — it’s easier than you think.
Intuitive, streamlined SaaS platforms can help you effectively empower and collaborate with your partner sales reps. Integrated collaboration tools allow your organization to quickly reach out to channel reps and safely centralize group discussions without the massive email threads, attachments and CC’s. Not only that, channel insights that create corresponding reports outline how partners are performing, allowing you to provide your reps with precious feedback.
Lack of Reporting and Analytics
Reporting and analytics is necessary for the channel on so many levels – but has failed both manufacturers and their partners for far too long, meaning key decisions are often being made by “gut feelings” rather than solid proof or business intelligence.
Dig a little deeper, and you’ll start to notice more serious issues: you’re unable to see how your partners compare and how sales have been over time. You have no idea why some are succeeding while others aren’t. And you have no idea of who has access to what content, if and how it’s being used, or how much ROI it’s delivering.
BYOD and CYOD means most organizations have employees with all kinds of devices. They need to be able to access content on them—a concept that many direct sales teams have caught-up on, but something we often see lacking in the channel, leading to ridiculous overspending on worthless mobile apps or custom tools that add yet another system to the process.
Alignment to Buyer’s Journey
The buyer’s journey has changed – that’s obvious. But at the end of the day, buyers still buy and sellers still sell. And if you’re selling with partners, those “sellers” can come in all combinations of shapes, personalities, cultures and sizes. So how on earth can you expect to align your content to the needs of a common persona AND to where the deal is in the sales cycle?
Welcome to 2016
If you’re not familiar with my Back to the Future reference above, not only are you making me really old, but you also probably don’t know that the movie’s “future” of October 2015 has now gone and past. And while I can live with the fact we still can’t buy a real hoverboard and the Cubs still haven’t won a World Series, I simply CAN’T understand how and why we are still so often using and being sold on the same technology and best practices to run partner programs as we did in 1989. No more excuses.