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The Partner Channel Podcast | Season 2, Episode 18

How to Recruit: Building the Foundation for Your Partner Program

Show Synopsis

In this episode, host Tori Barlow, VP of Marketing at Allbound, had the opportunity to talk with Ken Chez, Team Manager of Networking & Security Supplier Alliances at Arrow. Together they talk about the importance of partner recruitment, emphasizing that recruitment should be a living breathing entity of your overall partner program.

Highlights:

  • Why your recruitment strategy should be a part of your partner program from the start
  • How continuous recruitment can give you a competitive advantage
  • What internal alignment can contribute to the success of the program

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The Script

Tori Barlow: Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, the voice of the Channel. I’m Tori Barlow, VP of Marketing at Allbound. Excited to be here with Ken Chaz. Welcome, Ken. We’re very excited to have you.

Ken Chaz: Nice to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me, Tori.

Tori Barlow: You have a very colorful background. You’ve spent 30 years in the channel business, everything from the retail market, space retail partners, vertically market focused integrators and private and public sector. So if anything, you’re going to bring a ton of knowledge here today. So we’re excited to dive into what I consider a very hot theme with going to market with partners, and that’s partner recruitment. I think when folks think about partner recruitment, there’s not really a standard way to recruit partners, but it is obviously necessary to recruit in order to have a partner program. So curious, what is your take or point of view on why recruitment is one of the defining factors to a successful program?

Ken Chaz: Yeah. With partner recruitment, at all the companies I’ve ever worked for, it’s been a part of the initiative of the channel management team. So when you have you have you may already be a brand new company who is establishing a partner program and they want to increase their reach and their coverage. Or you may be an established company that has maybe some gaps in their market space, very vertically or geography focused on. When you have those kind of gaps, it just means you need to fill them so that you can basically expand your coverage and ultimately your market share. So I think that’s really important. also with scale and partner program, you also can build more incentives or features into your partner program. It might be a go to market program where there’s some demand generation or business development or activities that they can scale from in certain markets you’re going after. Or it could possibly be that you have a much more robust operations in your back end infrastructure to accept orders and manage the financing and credit the deals of transactions you have. Possibly even helps you with your enablement where you have your enablement, maybe your own sales force or maybe you don’t have an enablement program at all. But once you have start building that out, the more partners you have, the more that scales and you find out where your gaps are and you can fill those gaps. I think it’s really important that you have that incentives enablement piece as well as the go to market biz development incentives.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, those are all really great points and I think there’s so many different angles to look at with partner recruitment. There are so many places to start. Sometimes it can be daunting and overwhelming. So what are a few steps, a few first steps, that our audience can take when recruiting for their own company?

Ken Chaz: Well, I think it comes down to defining some of your sales gaps. If you have a direct sales force or a internal sales force, they may be covering geographies that they can focus on. They may be covering a specific vertical markets or going after those. And what you’re going to look at is as identifying where your gaps are. This has always been the way that we’ve approached it in the past. And so imagine that you’re in the top ten markets in the country or maybe just you’ve got in the top 25 markets in the country. But there’s other market cities that you want to get. You want to do it from a geography perspective. You may not have a sales coverage. So I had a territory of 14 different states, everything from a small town like Madison, Wisconsin, down to Phenix, Arizona, and which is a very large market. And we wanted to have partners in both those places because we could not have our sales force cover those places as well as develop the relationships with the customers we needed to. Every single market has a partner or has some type of integrator they’re working with.

Ken Chaz: They’re not working with just specific suppliers or vendors on their particular solutions and doing the integration themselves. They typically have somebody who’s helping them with that and those partners in those territories who have those local regionalized relationships or maybe vertically market expertise that is basically can help you penetrate those accounts in those markets that you can’t cover. And so I think there’s that’s always when I look at these things, you know, so if they want to go a vertical market, we’ve had an initiative, one of the companies I work with where we really wanted to get into the retail market space. So we looked at Minneapolis, which is a huge retail, lot of large companies there. And when you look at Minneapolis, you if you have one rep covering that state or that city, they’re not going to talk to everybody and they’re not going to be able to provide a comprehensive solution. So you’re looking for partners who have that expertise. That’s just one example. Houston and oil and gas is another example. Finance. Whether it’s Omaha, Nebraska, or it’s New York City. Right. There’s there’s different gaps there.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, that’s really important, you bring up geos and another piece you mentioned is sales org. So how do you recommend aligning an in-house sales org with partners and how do you enable them?

Ken Chaz: So it’s incredibly it’s imperative that you have your sales organization aligned with your strip partner strategy. The if your management doesn’t agree that working with a two tier or single tier two or three tier partner plan is part of their overall strategy, then you’re going to just be fighting an uphill battle What I mean by that is, it comes down from the leader in sales all the way down to the sales directors and managers and then even to the individual contributors. And with companies I’ve worked for where we’ve been successful is where the sales reps in the field know that a portion of their go to market sales strategy and their revenue was going to come from partners. And once that’s defined, then you have the ability to get very granular with the individual contributors, to put plans together to leverage those partners and expand their coverage with a minimal investment. They don’t have to have to pay for head count. You don’t have to pay for their insurance. You don’t have to pay for their infrastructure. They have that all covered. And so that is that’s very compelling. So I would say that that’s most important thing.  I’ve worked for companies who have a very direct mine focused and we struggle with that. And we had a lot of channel conflict. And when you have channel conflict, you disincentivize partners. It’s just not helpful to go into an account and have a partner in that account and have a direct team on that account fighting for the business. It just discounts the business and everybody loses money.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, I feel like that’s a big theme I’ve been hearing lately is just a) basic buy-in but b) cross-departmental buy-in. Working closely with the sales org. You’re going to have to work closely with the marketing org. Where do partnerships fall in that? And to your point, is it a company wide initiative or partner centric? At the end of the day, I think it’s it’s really important.

Ken Chaz:  I just was talking to a company the other day where they just pulled all of their funding for their marketing efforts away from the partner organization, for instance, because they wanted to do their own marketing and generate their own leads. And that was fine. But in some cases, I’ve been in a scenarios where we’ve gotten the partners engaged in those marketing efforts and did it collaboratively so that was a piece of the business. So when you’re getting going to market there, you’re going to have to manage it from contact to contract. You have somebody else who’s helping you with that and scale that. So if you get 100 leads in a territory and you have one rep or you have five reps in a territory, no one can scale to cover all those and be as effective as possible to make those leads, you get the best bang bang for your buck.

Tori Barlow: Yeah. And when I think about partner leaders building a program from scratch and then going to market with a partner centric mindset, where does recruiting partners fall into place with all of that? When should channel leaders start to think about this?

Ken Chaz: So it’s got to be part of their overall program. And there have been scenarios that I’ve worked in where there’s been incentives to go get new partners. Or maybe I have lost mindshare because I have a competitive scenario where my product is not as competitive as another. I was in the hardware business for a long time, so systems, infrastructure, enterprise systems. And there’s one point when you have IBM and Dell and other vendors out there who are going after that business and you could lose mindshare with your partners if you don’t have a compelling program. And so what happens is that the if you’re not constantly recruiting partners and keeping them engaged and finding new partners, you lose your competitive advantage. I see this in the security software market space all the time, where the security solutions that are point solutions with a direct sales force, they walk into an account.  After they find their contact there, then they have to figure out how their software is going to work with all the other security pieces in that particular business and how which where overlaps and what doesn’t. If you have a partner engaged in that particular account, they may be managing that entire infrastructure.

Ken Chaz: Maybe it’s a managed service provider, it’s just an integrator, and they’re managing that overall integration and they can help you be successful in that particular market space, but it has to be a part of the overall program. There are times when I’ve worked with companies that gave us KPIs and management objectives, type of incentives to go recruit a partner. And then once we’ve recruited a partner, get him enabled and then once we’ve got them enabled, get them engaged in an account. And then having and obviously getting commission when you get the sales. And you take that level, you take that and you divide that up so that. There are milestones in your reps and your channel managers have to perform in order to get a partner and walk them down the path into 100% of it being integrated. But I haven’t worked for an organization yet who said, “Oh, no, partner recruitment. We’re not looking for new partners.” I mean, there have been times when the company can’t grow any faster, they can’t have the infrastructure to support the company. But in most cases and most of the jobs that I see out there that are being listed as everyone has partner recruitment as part of the as part of their responsibility.

Tori Barlow: And when I think of the 8020 rule, 20% of your partners are actually generating revenue. That seems to hold true. It should channel leaders always have a recruiting mindset? Should they always be looking to recruit partners when what does that healthy balance like?

Ken Chaz: Yeah, again, I’ll go back to the Gap coverage. You know, there are everyone has gaps, right? It may be in a particular territory where you don’t there are certain accounts that you can’t penetrate because the customer is engaged with a partner who is recommending a competitive solution, for instance. And you can’t penetrate that account because they have the relationship. They’ve had that relationship for ten or 15 years. You’re a new company, maybe your new cloud provider, your software company, and you don’t have that same relationship. So it’s much harder to penetrate that account. Just they should be constantly recruiting those partners who are in the accounts that they’re engaged that they wanted, they’re targeting. And so I’ve been in scenarios, in direct sales organizations where I’ve gone and sat down with my customer and said, okay, so this is what I’m offering. I’m offering the storage solution. It’s a point solution. It’s going to help you replace all your storage and all those other things. Who are you working with right now on your storage? And they’re like, “Oh, I use this other storage solution.” So who do you get that from? And they get it from a partner who they have a very good relationship with. It may be personal, for that matter, right? And so you really want to get to find out who they’re buying from today and then find out if they can go into it. So we went into an account where we didn’t have any footprint, we had better technology, and we found out who the partner was and reached out to that partner.

Ken Chaz: and we’re able to recruit them and not only get a competitive sale, we also got a new partner on hand who was able to expand our market share and customer base because we went out to that particular customer. Because we went, because we asked who is working with them and then we enabled them. We got them to certifications. We even help them with the first implementation so that they didn’t have any troubles or issues. It’s kind of like looking for new sales reps. The other part that we didn’t talk about is, are you growing internationally or domestically? That’s really important. There are so many domestic companies to say, I have a product that can fit anywhere, but I have no coverage in Europe and I’m talking about US companies,  obviously. I have no coverage in Europe. Well, how am I going to penetrate that market? I don’t want to hire a rep to work in one country that’s going to have to travel over those 16 countries that are in that continent. So why don’t I find some partners who specialize in my particular product area and they can go after markets and not only sell those customers, but support them. And that gives you such much more expansion and footprint.

Tori Barlow: Ken. I can hear the passion for recruitment in your voice, but also for partner programs. Thank you to our guest, Ken, and thank you to you, the listeners, for joining us here at the Partner Channel podcast. If you like what you heard, subscribe to our podcast episodes wherever you like to listen to podcasts.