Guide to Increasing Channel Partner Activation
The resources required to recruit new channel partners is an upfront investment that can potentially yield returns for years to come.
But what if only a small fraction of registered partners complete the necessary training or make a single sale? Suddenly, the initial effort of prospecting and onboarding doesn’t seem worthwhile.
The Importance of Defining Activation as a Measurable KPI
It’s an amateur mistake to assume that new partner enlistment is the same as activation; to do this is to count your eggs before they hatch.
An active partner is no longer in the onboarding process or the nebulous learning phase. They’re able to take the tools you’ve provided and confidently leverage them for success. They’ve graduated from their initial “partner journey” and are generally satisfied rather than disenchanted.
While the concept is simple enough, determining how to measure your partner activation rate is not as straightforward. There is not a single agreed-upon KPI you should utilize to determine “activation.” It’s up to you to find a solution that reflects your particular program.
A first-rate PRM will consolidate all partner activities and distill telling data about overall program engagement. Pinpoint the metric threshold based on historic data and your general observations. Are there early milestones that long-term partners achieve that elude short-lived participants? Similarly, consider when partners seem to operate with greater confidence and independence.
Possible events that can signify “activation” include:
• First deal registration
• First closed deal
• Closing a specific number of deals
• Generating revenue for a set amount of months
• Generating a specific revenue amount
Once you specify how to define partner activation, you can measure this KPI to track changes.
Not satisfied with your current success rate? Improve your program’s activation rate with the following activities.
Manage Partner Expectations During Recruitment Conversations
Partners should know exactly what to anticipate before joining your program. Any lack of transparency on your part could lead to their future frustration and a waste of your time. Make sure that partners can easily access full details about:
• Commission structures. If only a select group of top-tier partners earn a high commission, don’t mislead prospective partners into thinking this applies to most everyone.
• The expected time commitment. This pertains to onboarding, as well as training and event participation.
• Qualifications for upward growth. Relating to both points above, channel partners will be naturally curious about how they can achieve top-priority status and its many perks. Mapping out the criteria for each tier demonstrates that you have a well-established, objective plan. It also manages partner expectations about what can be achieved in a few months versus years.
If any of the above discourages a potential partner, don’t regard this as a loss. They’re simply self-identifying as a mismatch for your program. This ultimately spares you the time and low-activation rate that comes with investing in the wrong partners.
Evaluate the Drop-Off Rate for Each Stage Leading Up to Partner Activation
There are many reasons a partner may stop engaging with your program before they even find success. However, if the drop-offs occur at common junctures, this may mean that you have a particular activation issue you need to rectify. A PRM can track specific material engagement by individual partners or partner groups to help pinpoint problems, such as:
• The initial training is confusing. Pair learning tracks with quizzes to determine how much of the information resonates with participants. If a high amount of partners fail to pass, you know that the onboarding materials need work.
• People pass training quizzes but participation falls off during onboarding nonetheless. This could suggest that the partners’ expectations about the time commitment to learn the products didn’t align with reality.
This may naturally weed out participants who are less serious about committing to the partnership. However, it also signifies that you need to be more forthcoming during recruitment and reconsider the “ramp up” timeline.
• Partners pass onboarding but fail to register deals. It’s possible that the training is not properly preparing program participants to sell.
• Partners register deals but struggle to convert leads. This, too, can illuminate problems with both training and sales playbooks.
• Partners converted leads but disengage nonetheless. Perhaps partners aren’t receiving enough commission to make selling your products worth their time. Perhaps they found another program that better aligns with their internal goals.
Partners are consistently evaluating the ROI of promoting your products. If you demand too much upfront, fail to set them up for success, or don’t keep your offering competitive, they will disengage. Understanding partners’ explicit pain points will help you make necessary changes.
Model Your Partner Activation Strategies On Your Star Partners
Score your current partners based on their profitability, engagement, and marketing efforts. Chances are, the top performers share common traits or partner journeys. Use these insights to shape the following assets:
• Partner personas and criteria. As every fisherman knows, not every captured sea creature is worth eating. Focus your recruitment strategy on reaching the right kind of partner and knowing which professional or organizational attributes are deal-breakers. By concentrating on partners that are proven to be well-suited to your program and goals, you won’t waste your time on mismatched participants.
• Training tracks and playbooks. No matter how much guidance you give to partners, they’ll bring their own unique flair to prospecting. So why not bottle the winning secret sauce to share with others?
Examine successful partners’ specific content usage to determine which assets provide the most value at different stages of selling. Similarly, review their marketing spending and strategies. Most importantly, ask successful partners if there were any selling points they incorporated into the conversation that are not included in your materials.
Harness these insights to build and refine the sales strategies you share with the greater partner ecosystem.
• Share stories of emerging partners’ successes to continually inspire. Just because a partner registers doesn’t mean you’ve completely earned their trust and loyalty. New partners’ enthusiasm may flag as time goes on, especially if they have yet to generate revenue of their own. Use your partner newsletter to highlight real examples of what’s possible to keep their interest piqued.
Reward Early Efforts to Maintain Partner Interest
Partner managers tend to focus on rewarding revenue generators, whether through tiered commission structures or SPIFF campaigns. But what about the newcomers who may be months away from their first completed sale?
If your partner activation rate underperforms or you saddle newcomers with lengthy onboarding processes, give extra incentives during earlier partner stages. Possible achievements include:
• Acing training quizzes
• Completing a learning track within a set amount of time
• Registering the first lead
• Sharing content on social media
• Pinning content in the partner portal
Small rewards like product discounts or gift cards can give that extra push for partners to reach the next stage of their journey.
Be Purposeful With the Partner Portal Experience
A comprehensive partner portal acts as the foundation on which you build relationships. It’s the most powerful tool in your arsenal . . . if you let it be. Use your platform to its fullest potential to strengthen partner activation.
Curtail the messaging to specific partner types
If you rely upon the same content and training to all partners, you will inevitably alienate certain groups. Instead, customize the platform experience, by doing the following:
• Abridging access to only materials that apply to the partners rather than “dumping” all content. Every piece the partner can access should provide value. Don’t make newcomers sift through materials in other languages or intended for different audience groups to find relevant learnings.
• Leveraging data-driven insights to further refine your strategy. Let’s say you observe that certain partner classifications tend to fail a particular training quiz or see less success with marketing materials. These data points signify the need to create separate targeted content that better address their unique needs.
Reduce potential confusion and barriers
Don’t make onboarding partners work to find the materials they need. Limit the number of clicks and scrolls to access the answers they seek.
• Organize materials into logical sequences. For new participants, create multi-tiered training tracks that clearly direct users towards the next step. For partners talking with prospects, organize sales materials into playbooks structured around audience-type and stages of the user journey.
• Automate content suggestions based on individual partners’ actions. At no point should a partner wonder “now what?” The platform should actively steer partners towards specific content that applies to their individual situations. Have they not engaged in a while? The portal can notify them of exciting case studies. Have they just registered a deal? An automated message can link them directly to applicable playbooks.
• Search function. Your content library will only grow with time. As intuitive as you believe your organizational system to be, it should not be the only way for partners to locate particular materials. A search function provides a convenient (and necessary) alternative.
• Don’t “gate” material. Simply put, gated content that requires a form-completion to access doesn’t belong on a partner portal.
Be consistent by sharing information exclusively through the portal
At some point or another, we’ve all needed to find a document but were not sure where to look. Was it passed along in an email? A Slack message? The shared drive? We’ve also witnessed too many project management tools swiftly be abandoned due to inconsistent adoption throughout the organization.
Avoid this pitfall by making it a key component of all vital processes, from the opening kick-off to prospect communication. If you divide partner communication between your PRM and other mediums, you undermine your own portal and seed confusion.
Don’t Rely Exclusively on Your PRM to Build New Relationships
Yes, your partner portal will act as the foundation on which you should forge new partner relationships. But, what’s the difference between a building and a home? The people and their shared connections.
A PRM is a tool that facilitates day-to-day management on a grand scale through strategic automation. In turn, partner managers are unburdened from much of the menial work and can pursue new initiatives.
Don’t treat the convenience of the PRM as an excuse to withdraw from the partner onboarding entirely. Instead, use the freed time to focus your conversations solely on meaningful topics rather than micromanaging. Ask them for feedback, brainstorm ideas, and share industry insights.
Human-to-human interactions help you foster loyalty and hear first-hand how you can improve your processes. In turn, you can take active strides to improve your channel partner activation rate.
Don’t Settle for the Status Quo; Seek Data-Driven Improvements
Just because something worked well five years ago doesn’t mean it will yield the same results today. This is especially true for software sales as the number of rivals and partner programs swell. Stay competitive in an increasingly crowded marketplace by seeking ways to improve your partner program.
• Reevaluate your materials and processes. Your partner portal should tell you which content partners gravitate to the most and which assist most with closing deals. Pay attention to statistics like repeat visits, “pins,” and related quiz scores for different content types and partner groups. If something is proven not to work, either tweak it or cut it.
• Stay on top of competitors’ activities. Chances are, your partners will participate in multiple channel programs. If your onboarding process fails to measure up to others, you will quickly lose their interest.
• Experiment and measure. You can’t collect data on something that doesn’t exist, so embrace new ideas! This can include new promotional channels, types of partner training, sales materials, etc. Collect and incorporate partner feedback for diverse perspectives, as well as to demonstrate respect for their opinions.
Gauge the success of the strategy by tracking key partner engagement metrics. Even if the results don’t match your expectations, you still gain valuable insights.
The Bottom Line About Improving Channel Partner Activation
If you struggle with a low partner activation rate, you’re not alone. Some factors are inevitably out of your control. However, there are always steps you can take to hook the right prospects and strengthen processes. Leverage a sophisticated PRM to optimize your organization and acquire engagement insights which will illuminate the necessary next steps to maximize partner program participation.
For more reading that can boost partner activation, check out the following resources:
- Templates for Your Channel Partner Program Strategy – Allbound created a suite of templates that can assist with all stages of partner management, from onboarding and activation to sales enablement and presentations for leadership.
- The Ultimate Partner Journey Map Template – Guiding partners toward activation is only one leg of a longer journey. Use this template to map out the full progression so partners can anticipate what comes next.
- 7 Elements of a Successful Partner Engagement Plan – If you’re struggling to keep partners activated and engaged, it may be time to formalize a plan of action. Find proven tips and identify potential gap within your current program framework.