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The Partner Channel Podcast | Season 2, Episode 29

What Your Onboarding Strategy is Missing

Show Synopsis

Just in case you missed it, we turned our most recent webinar into a special episode of the Partner Channel Podcast! Join host Tori Barlow and guest M.J. Patent while they talk all things onboarding and its importance among your partners. Listen in as they lay down the necessary steps at mapping out the onboarding process.


  • How onboarding sets the tone for the subsequent relationship with partners
  • Why you should cater specific onboarding programs to specific partners 
  • What to do when a partner has become disengaged

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The Script

Tori Barlow:  I would love to introduce our incredible co-host today. Mj You are the founder and ceo of Alveo, a go to market services company focused on helping B2B I.T. Service providers and tech companies take a holistic go to market approach to achieving sustainable and scalable revenue growth. And you’ve spent the last ten years building and scaling marketing teams for IT. Channel companies ranging from small business service providers to Fortune 100 I.T distributors, including Insight and tech data. You’re personally really involved in the community serving on Concordia’s North American Executive Council advising on get wise to small businesses and building a community of high growth. Go to market professionals as a pavilion ambassador. Love pavilion also part of it as well. You’re also a thought leader, frequently sharing your expertise at events on podcasts and as a contributor to publications like Channel Pro Network and Beyond. Helping Companies Reach Revenue Potential. You love traveling, trying new foods and spending time with your husband and two year old. You’re quite busy.

M.J. Patent: Yes, that’s what a lot of people say. I’ve always been that way. So there you go.

Tori Barlow: Well, I’m sure you’re going to have a lot to share today, so this is great. Before we get started, please tell us a little bit about why you’re so passionate about the onboarding process just from what you’ve experienced in your roles.

M.J. Patent: Yeah. So. One. Thank you for having me. I do love this subject and I do get very passionate about it because I’ve

M.J. Patent: Seen it from different parts of the IT channel. As you mention in my little bio, I started at a service provider, so I’ve had to deal with it from partnerships with VARs as well as from Dusty’s and original equipment manufacturers. Oems. When I went to work at Insite and I ran their global vertical marketing. I had to deal with thousands of different vendors and their programs and leverage their MDF funds in order to implement that across our sales and marketing teams. And then even when we when I was at Tech Data, we had a channel program ourselves and I had a partner marketing team and we had to develop these programs and for VARs to leverage as well. So I’ve seen it in different components. I’ve seen what has worked, I’ve seen what hasn’t worked and I think there’s a few things that end up getting missed and I’m just excited to get into it and dig into the weeds. And I hope if people have questions, please ask. I do have a lot of thoughts and experiences and everything and I am happy to share them and make sure people get a lot of value out of this.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, well, let’s start off with a really hard question, I would say, but what can go wrong if you don’t have a great onboarding experience for your partners?

M.J. Patent: The world will end.

Tori Barlow: Everyone loses their job.

M.J. Patent: Exactly. No, I you know, there there’s a few obvious ones. And the first thing I want to say is your onboarding experience really sets the stage. It is your first impression for your partner and makes sure that your partner understands, like, what is this relationship going to look like? What are they going to be expecting from you moving forward? And how are you guys going to strengthen that relationship over time? And if you miss that opportunity, it’s really hard to get those partners to think that you’ve changed and now it’s better, right? Actually, serious decisions did a survey and they found that if a partner doesn’t start to market and sell your offering within the first 90 days of recruitment, it’s highly likely that they will never do it. And so this onboarding process is extremely crucial as part of your overall channel strategy. Now, if you go ahead and you have something that’s lackluster and it’s not really refined, it can impact several things. One, it can impact your brand and your reputation across the partner network and partners do talk. For example, the MSP segment, they are very close knit. So if you burn that ship, that’s it. Like it crosses everyone else. And they’re very passionate about vendors that they like and dislike.

M.J. Patent: But if a partner decides to just go ahead and then misrepresent your brand, right, you’re now also potentially damaging your brand out in the market with your customers. And all of that is going to obviously hit your your revenue. And then obviously, the number one implication is just a delay of the results. I’ll give you an example from a previous life, we had a vendor and I’m not going to name who it is, but it was a it was a large vendor. And they decided to partner with us at Insite and we launch their their program. And they didn’t focus really on the onboarding process or on enablement. And because they didn’t, they ended up with a huge volume of partners, but no one was transacting. So the entire program fell apart and had to be completely overhauled. So it delayed the results of the entire program. It cost the vendors significant time, resources and money to go backwards and then develop it and then relaunch. So you want to avoid those things because we don’t have the luxury of time on showing results. So this is a good way to make sure that you hit those your KPIs a lot sooner than later.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think there’s so much excitement and buzz around getting a partner signed. You have this agreement that’s locked and ready to go and you’re expecting your partner to go, refer or sell on your behalf. But it’s almost like people in partner leaders should treat this as if onboarding employees if you don’t onboard someone. On your team, for example, correctly, or give them a 30/60/90 like they’re set up to fail similar to partners. Like you can’t just let them go in the wild. So if, say, for example, you’ve noticed that your partners have disengaged or haven’t completed an onboarding process, like is it possible to get them back or save that relationship?

M.J. Patent: You can, but it makes it really hard, right? Because you really have to show them that you put the infrastructure in place. One way you could do that is bringing them into the process to refine your approach and just admit to it. Listen, our program wasn’t built out and didn’t meet the expectations of you and us, and we refined it and we’ve changed it. Can we get your feedback to make sure that we’re hitting the mark this time? I think that’s one way you’re taking accountability for missing the mark and then to making sure that you’re involving them in the actual process as well. And then that’ll help. I think a lot of companies would and a lot of partners would respect that type of approach.

Tori Barlow: Yeah. And thinking about different partner types, you know, a lot of companies have tech partners versus resellers versus VARs, whatever it is. Should there be one unified onboarding process for a vendor or should they be thinking about different partner types and that process being different?

M.J. Patent: They should definitely be segmenting out their partners. This is one of these areas where I made this mistake back in the day. And now looking back and given what what I do with companies today, like why did I do that? But I didn’t know any better. So I did what I thought was right at the time. And we were building out the solution provider segment for, for insight and we bucketed everyone together; MSPs, solution providers, ISDS.  And everyone had the same type of process. And the thing is, all of those businesses are different. They have different priorities. They have different internal infrastructure, they have different capabilities, they have different environments. When it comes to how many partners do they support? And you really need to understand your partner profile and what does their business really look like. So, for example, one of the things that a lot of vendors they forget is if you’re at a large bar, right. I was saying I was at Insite, we had thousands of vendors that we were supporting. So how are you supposed to break through all of that noise and really make sure to capture mindshare of the sales team and the marketing teams at a bar of that size versus maybe it’s a smaller organization and they only have a few vendors that they strategically included in their portfolio.

M.J. Patent: So the way that you’re going to onboard is going to be different. The amount of hand-holding you’re going to need, depending on the type of partner it is, is going to be different. For example, if they don’t have a sales team, you are probably going to have to have more support on sales because they don’t have those capabilities internally versus an organization that has a huge sales organization. Right. So it’s extremely important that you understand your partner type and then you adjust your onboarding specifically to that. A great way to do that is actually doing a partner experience mapping exercise very similar to how you do a customer experience mapping exercise. Lay it out of this is what we would like our partner experience to look like and break it down based off of your profile. Right. And then map out exactly what you’d like it to look like and then what it is today, and then identify where those gaps or there’s areas for improvement where you can automate, etc., but that’s going to give you a really nice start. And then you have different ones for different types of segments.

Tori Barlow: Yeah. No, that’s a great point. I love the mapping exercise. Do you do that in Excel or is that in a certain format that you like to do that?

M.J. Patent: So, you know, it’s it’s up to you for me. I use Miro and so I like it to be visual and I have a framework and a template that I use and we lay it out that way. The big thing there is that you want to make sure that you’re including all the teams, so you’re not doing it in a silo. So you’re looking at it from your partner sales, from partner marketing, you’re looking for it from the partner. Make sure you’re getting them to tell you about their experience and then that way you’re mapping it fully out. And then that that also helps you identify are there opportunities to reduce friction in the process? Is there channel conflict that may be coming up or whatnot and make sure everyone is aligned on what the process actually looks like?

Tori Barlow: Yeah. Okay. So we start off with a partner experience mapping exercise with multiple leads within each department. And in terms of what’s next, you know, where do people bite off what they can accomplish in this next piece of the process after they’ve experienced or have done the partner experience mapping exercise? What’s next in the steps there?

M.J. Patent:  There are several things. So once you do the mapping exercise, I mean, this is where you can align your content and what kind of content you need at every single stage. Do you have gaps there? If the first thing you’re going to do is the welcome to the partner program and then it goes into the kick off. Do you have all of the assets that have to align to that? Are there opportunities of how are you going to disseminate that information? Should it be a video or should it be, you know, a playbook or whatnot? Get into agreement with that. What are the processes internally in order to support that? Are there technologies then that are going to support that process as well in order to make it easier if, for example, someone signs up to be a partner, does that kick off something automated and then get gets things sent off there? So there’s so many teams involved. This is the reason why I mentioned you need to make sure that all of the teams are involved when you’re developing it, because if you’re doing it just from one piece, you may miss out on an opportunity or you may not know of a certain process. And then also, more importantly, making sure that the partner is part of this exercise as well, because you don’t know what they’re dealing with. Right. You really need to understand, well, what does their internal priorities look like? Can they do this? Do they have the time and the resources to do all of your trainings right? Or are you asking for them to take on a significant amount of burden in order to sell your product or solution? Right. So getting that input will help you really refine it. And then you can implement that with leveraging people and technology, etc., whatever the right mix is for, for your organization.

Tori Barlow: Okay. And we talked about partner types and creating different processes there. What about tiering based on geography or level of partnership status? Do you create different processes for that type of structure?

M.J. Patent: Well, yeah, all of this goes back to what the expectations and what level of partnership you have. So the terrain, the geographies all make sense. Obviously, it has to be adjusted according accordingly to that because a part of your onboarding should tell you here’s the benefit of the partnership for your organization. Right? Here are the resources that you have internally in order to make you successful. Here are all of the assets and the enablement, making sure that you guys are aligned on the goals and the benchmarks and the timetables to be successful, and that has to then be adjusted. Obviously, if there’s a geographical mapping that you have to do or types of solution mapping that has to happen, or if there are tools that you’re using for cross-selling or whatnot. And then when it comes to tiering, that also amplifies the level of support. So you’re going to have to have that information and adjust it accordingly, right? Because you’re going to probably give more handholding or more involvement with your top tier partners that are very invested in you versus the ones that kind of just have you on their line card.

M.J. Patent: But they’re not paying attention to you because you’re not part of their overall business strategy. Right. They just kind of have to have you. But you’re you’re not part of that core strategy. So, yeah, all of that gets adjusted. The thing that I think, though, is missing is just the maturity of their go to market strategy. A lot of companies don’t take that into account. And like I mentioned before, some don’t have sales teams, some do. I saw another study. It said 84% of partners don’t have a dedicated marketing person. So if you are giving them all of these assets and all of these enablement materials and you’re giving them all of this training and they don’t even know how to do it because they don’t have anyone who has that expertise, then they’re not going to engage and they’re not going to get the full benefit of your program. So what are you going to do for the ones that don’t have that? How are you going to adjust accordingly? And this really really emphasizes why you shouldn’t only be creating your ideal partner profiles based off of from graphic information, but also their go to market maturity information as well.

Tori Barlow: Okay. So it sounds like you get the contract signed, whatever that looks like, and then a good next step could probably be. A kickoff call with these partners. And even if you have a lot of partners, maybe just hearing that out to with the ones you’re going to prioritize, but understanding their support on their end, what that might look like, because then you can tailor and tweak your onboarding process accordingly. It sounds like.

M.J. Patent:  There’s a ton of content out there on how to develop onboarding programs and processes and what they typically look like. And so usually it’s starting with a kickoff call and I’m sorry, like with the welcome letter, and then you have a kickoff call and then you do business planning workshops. So that way you align on what are you, what are your goals and how are you going to achieve them? And on your timelines, then you show them all of the materials that you have to support them. Then you focus on the training, then you make sure that all of the deal registration process is figured out and then from there you start measuring success, right? So that’s typically what happens and that’s it’s a great framework to start with. But the idea is you have to refine it to the partner that you’re going to be working with. So this is where you’re going to be adjusting and tweaking and everything, but it’s a good base to start from and then adjust from there.

Tori Barlow: Okay. Obviously, this sounds like a lot of effort, a lot of upfront, you know, programs to put in place, working with marketing, whoever it may be internally. How do you measure the success of this and how do you even set KPIs for something like this?

M.J. Patent: Yeah, so revenue is always going to be your number one answer. I’d like to hear someone who doesn’t say that that’s the answer. But typical measures of success are sales performance to plan, its your pipeline performance to plan, the engagement that you’re seeing across training certifications, the enablement you’re looking at your deal win rates, you’re looking at how many of their existing accounts where they are able to upsell or to upgrade into your solutions. You’re looking at how much MDF are they utilizing? A lot of companies. I think the last report I saw 60% of MDF is not utilized by partners probably because they don’t know how. And it’s a complicated process looking at their renewal rates, their churn rates. So you have those typical metrics. The thing that I would also add in is look at your time to value. So how quickly are your partners ramping up and getting their first opportunity or their first close, etc.? Because the more you can shorten that, the better. And that means that they’re very enabled where they’re they’re just hitting the road right away and that’s how you can continue to refine it.

Tori Barlow: Yeah. And I think, too, if, folks have not gotten a solution for onboarding their partners where they can accurately see if a partner has completed something or completed an entire phase of a process. You know, I recommend definitely finding a way to measure that. Otherwise, you’re kind of in the dark of if a partner completed this video training course or if they’ve completed the entire piece, that also gives you great conversation to have with the partner. So and then closing up, what are some common missteps that you’ve seen in a typical process? And how can folks listening avoid these?

M.J. Patent: Sure. So I have three that I wanted to make sure I covered on. So one, and you said this Tori; There is a lot of work that is part of building out this process. So don’t underestimate the importance of building an onboarding process. It’s so easy to just think we’re going to figure it out as we go. But that fails and it’s not good. Once the I suck at idioms, but once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s hard to put it back in. Right? It seems like it’s a lot of work, but it’s really it’s going to help you in the long run. So make sure you’re taking the extra time to create an actual onboarding process and then gather feedback. Feedback is the second thing. Don’t do this in a silo. Just because you think it’s an amazing onboarding doesn’t mean it is. You’re you’re the person who’s in the company. Of course, you’re going to be like, Well, this all makes sense. And like, I would read this and I would read that. That’s not what these partners are dealing with. You have to think about it from their perspective.

M.J. Patent: They have their own businesses, right? Like they have to be thinking about that. And so they’re not thinking about you constantly. So include your partners in this process, get their feedback right away. So that way you can adjust and you can make sure that they are getting all of the information you are trying to communicate out to them. And then the last one I would say is don’t assume don’t assume that they read the video. And, Tori, you mentioned this, too, right? Like talking about these things at CBR is a different touchpoints, etc., because you can’t assume that they watch the video or read that email or read this book or playbook that you spent tons of time on. You have to make sure that you’re over communicating rather than under communicating. So those are my three takeaways. Don’t underestimate the amount of work required for this, but it’s really important and it’s worth it. Gather feedback from your partner community to adjust and then also don’t assume that they’ve read or consume the information that you put it out there over communicate.

Tori Barlow: Mj You are a gold star in this industry. We’re so lucky to have you part of the partnerships world. Thank you for joining today and thank you for all of our guests. We’ll see you guys later.

M.J. Patent: Thank you. And thank you, Tori, for having me. Bye, everyone.