Channel Partner Programs & Channel Sales: 4 critical elements of success
Limited time and resources? For successful channel sales, focus on these 4 core elements in your channel partner program
Regular readers of my articles and guides will know I have two major conclusions about channel partner programs:
- Channel partner programs are an extremely rewarding way to expand into new markets if you have a mature (proven in battle) product or solution.
- A successful channel partner program takes time and effort to create. You will need to heavily invest resources in your channel partner and you won’t know if that investment has paid off until nearly a year later.
I have come to these conclusions over the many years I have worked as a Growth, Sales, Marketing and Digitisation Strategist who has designed several successful channel partner programs because of my passion to help organisations and people grow.
I have already written a detailed guide on how to start your own partner reseller program (Partner Program – The 14 Steps to Build Your Reseller Channel Program) and have provided a concrete example of the process too (How I built a hugely successful partner program and you can too (In-depth).
In this article, I will guide you on the four key elements that will ensure the success of your channel partner reseller program. Get these right, and your partner program will fly.
The four core elements that will ensure the success of a channel partner program are:
- Motivation of channel partners.
- Clear and direct communication.
- Tools to close deals.
- Removing blockers.
This core element is often ignored as I have found in my reviews of partner programs over the years. Companies just do not spend enough time thinking about how to motivate their channel partners. Most of them believe that the commission they pay resellers for selling their products and services should be motivation enough. They are wrong.
Take this simple scenario. Your company has made you the head of a sales team and has given you a free hand to hire 10 of the best sales people out there. You will need to pull out all the stops to attract the smartest and most energetic talent. A good financial package is likely to attract these stars initially.
But how do you keep your team motivated over the following months and years? To ensure your channel sales team stays motivated in order to perform spectacularly, you will need to invest in training them, and in developing great sales processes and tools. You might also organise a variety of events such as sales competitions, after work team-building activities and perhaps even taco Fridays.
A sales team’s profitability and efficiency lies in the salesperson’s lifetime value. Hiring, onboarding and training a new employee is a big cost and you want to ensure that you lengthen the time that person stays in your team. Generally, companies do this by shortening the ramp time (the time a new hire takes to become productive), along with coaching, management and a great work culture.
Remember, your channel partners are essentially your extended sales team. So invest in their success in the same manner you invest in your internal sales team. Ask yourself: What can I do to motivate my channel partners? How can I extend my channel partner’s lifetime value?
Before we start thinking about motivation ideas let us first understand what “motivation” means.
What is motivation?
According to Wikipedia “Motivation is the reason for people's actions, willingness and goals.”.
Motivation may be internal or external. Whatever the source of motivation, it drives people towards a goal or helps keep them committed to the task at hand. This may be a job, a course of study or even something as simple as going for a run every morning.
Motivation is especially important in the world of business because it helps companies utilise their resources to the maximum. It helps them get the most bang for their buck by increasing the productivity and efficiency of employees or partners.From the point of view of the employee or partner, motivation increases job satisfaction.
No matter the type of partner, you need to identify what motivates them. Remember, there can be more than one motivating factor.
Identify what motivates your partners
It is a common misconception that money is the only motivator. It is indeed a key motivator, but not the only one. The desire to belong to a community, to build something cool, or even the ability to be able to sell other value-added services along with the solution you offer can also be motivating factors for your potential partners. Here are a few examples of what I see as motivators, especially in the context of channel partner reseller programs:
- Revenue – All companies need revenue, and this is the most common motivator. Make sure that you do your calculations and ensure that the effort your partner has to put in is commensurate with the revenue you offer them.
- Happy end customers – Such customers are great motivators for your channel partners because they often ensure repeat sales. This is why it is super important that your product/service makes your end customer very happy. A great solution always does that.
- Education programs – Don’t we all love to learn while we earn? Really good education programs where your partners can learn valuable practical skills are great motivators. But though these programs are extremely rewarding in the long run, they are not easy to create and require considerable effort. If you plan to make such programs one of your core motivating factors, make sure you design them really well.
- Being part of a community – In some channel partner programs, the partners are not competitors but collaborators working together to build better products, services, and solutions for their customers. Take the IoT (Internet of Things) sector for instance. I built a partner program for European telecommunications operator Tele2 a few years ago. The company had wanted to create a partner program for their collaboration partners within this sector. It is extra important for companies in this field to work together, and Tele2 took the lead by helping all stakeholders in this sector to build better solutions for their customers.
- Storytelling – Creating a compelling story that partners are attracted to also works as a great motivation. In my opinion, it is one of the main reasons why the Appland channel partner program I designed in 2015 was so successful. It could be the story of how you created a very exciting solution for your customers. To create amazing stories that also sound credible, however, you must completely understand your customers and partners. I recommend you create detailed customer profiles and sharp value propositions for this purpose.
- Amazing sales tools – Most channel sales and partner programs do not offer salespeople and channel partners top-notch professional sales tools. But these also work as excellent motivators. Give your partners sales tools that are as good as the tools you give your internal sales team to see motivation levels soar. Read more about channel sales processes and sales tools in my detailed guide: How to Design a Sales Process for B2B Sales.
- Leads – Channel partners love to receive qualified leads they can follow up on.
- Certifications – Software and hardware solutions that require the partner to do implementation and maintenance can be a risk for the business if they don’t work well, and can also create problems for future sales. To prevent this from happening, ensure that your channel partners completely understand your product or solution and are well equipped to troubleshoot. You could motivate your channel partners in this regard by creating hardware and software certification programs that they can participate in. The certification must be interesting as well as challenging so that participants get a sense of pride when they complete the exercise successfully.
Certifications are good from the end customer’s point of view too. Think of Apple or Microsoft certified partners. Customers largely trust these partners implicitly because these partners are “certified” by the company. The perception is that the channel partners must be good because Apple or Microsoft must have carefully selected them and trained them.
The partner views certification programs as an investment in their growth. This motivates them to work more on your specific solutions.
- Build new and improved solutions – By working with channel partners to build improved solutions for end customers, you both deliver increased value to the customer. This is also very motivating for partners because it shows that you are investing in their growth.
- Excellent sales support – When your internal sales team has problems of any kind, they can easily run over to developers, engineers or other colleagues in the office to help them solve these problems. Ensure your channel partners have the same access to your qualified staff.
2. CLEAR AND DIRECT COMMUNICATION
Great communication is critical to the success of your partner program.
This may not seem like a big deal, after all doesn’t everyone know how to communicate? I agree that all companies and people can communicate. The catch is that very few can communicate clearly.
The ability to communicate efficiently and clearly can mean the difference between a successful partner program and an unsuccessful one.
Communication shortcomings can take several forms
First, several partner programs (such as those I have reviewed in the past) present information about their products and services in an egocentric manner. This information tends to focus more on the features and functions of the solution or the glorious history of the company instead of how the solution can deliver value to partners or end customers.
Second, information about how the channel partner program works is often messy and difficult to understand. You cannot expect partners to join your program if they do not immediately understand how it works and what’s in it for them.
Third, companies may find that they either have very little time to give each of their partners or they are competing with other things for the partner’s attention.
All these limitations can affect the success of your partner program but can easily be overcome with well-planned and clear communication.
For starters, ensure that all the information about your company and your solution is extremely clear with no room for interpretation. The message in all of these resources must be consistent. This information includes sales training tools, details about your solution’s features, functions and implementation, sales presentations and brochures. Clear and consistent communication will enable your channel partners to understand your solution and your end customer’s requirements completely even if you do not meet or speak to your partners every day.
Here’s a handy hint: To create sharp sales communication it is essential for you to understand your customers and partners completely. I recommend you create very detailed customer profiles and sharp value propositions for this purpose.
3. TOOLS TO CLOSE DEALS
The channel partner needs to have access to the same resources as your internal sales team. Make sure that you create spectacular sales tools such as presentations, articles, documents and videos that your channel partners can use to close deals and deliver more value to your end customers.
Why are these tools important? A good sales experience leads to better customer loyalty and more sales. With great sales tools both for your sales teams and channel partners, you can elevate the sales experience to create the exceptional results you are looking for.
Here are some examples of sales tools:
- Pre-written emails or email templates
- Sales presentations
- Product demos
- Customer Profile and Buyer Persona guide
- Competitor information
- Customer references
- Conversation guides
- Analysts statements
- ROI (return on investment) calculations
Here are examples of some marketing tools that your channel partners can use.
- White papers
- Blog articles
- Pre-written text for your channel partner’s website
Special tip for your own channel partner program
When you build your own channel partner program, make sure that you build amazing tools for your partners. It takes considerable effort, but always pays off in the long run.
Just so you get an idea of the effort it takes, this is what I did to create sales tools for Appland’s channel partners. These included pre-sales and post-sales tools:
- I created over 80 slides in the standard sales presentation that could be used to answer any questions the end customer may have. I also created educational videos to help channel partners train themselves to sell, and I created special sales material directed at different issues that might come up during the sales process.
- For post-sales material, I created hundreds of slides and documentation explaining how the partner could be successful. For instance, one of them was a 70-slide long presentation on how to be successful in marketing.
You can also taste success if you put in BIG effort for your own channel partner program.
4. REMOVING BLOCKERS
Don't make a channel partner program more complicated than it needs to be. Ensure that you remove any blocker that complicates the relationship between you and your channel partner.
Here are some examples of things that make these programs unnecessarily complicated or slow down the entire process.
- Long agreements – Long and complicated partner agreements take time and cost a lot of money to process for you and the channel partner. The longer you take to negotiate, the longer it takes your channel partner to make their first sale.
- Egocentric agreements – If the agreement is all about you (the company) and your rights, it is not a mutual agreement. A partnership should always benefit both stakeholders.
- Low-quality sales material – Your channel partner has access to very little or no sales material. Provide your channel partner with the best sales materials you can develop for your partner program to show quick results.
- No one to speak with or ask questions – When your partner has questions or needs help, there is no one they can get in touch with. This is not only bad for the partner, but also for the end customer and has the potential to damage your company’s reputation.
- Communication is slow – You are hard to get in touch with and you take more than 48 hours to respond if you get a question from a channel partner. Avoid this situation. A good standard is that a channel partner should always get an answer for a query within 24 hours. Ensure direct communication with your partner via platforms like Slack, Skype or WhatsApp. Whatever your platform, the query should be resolved fast.
- Low-quality education – You have an education program but it is low quality and does not give the channel partner any interesting information about your company or solution. You need to fix this. If your channel partner understands the ins and outs of your solution, they are more likely to be successful in selling it.
Check out my article How I built a hugely successful partner program and you can too (In-depth) for a concrete example of how I built a successful channel partner program.
This article outlines how we, at Appland, in 2015, made things very simple for our partners. Partners signed a non-disclosure agreement and were then able to go out and pitch our solution immediately. We made the whole process super simple by offering them all the presentations and demos they needed to get going immediately. There were almost no blocks at all and Appland’s solution could reach the market faster.
While building your own channel partner program make sure you keep these four essentials – motivation, communication, tools, and blockers – in mind at all times. They will help you avoid some of the biggest mistakes made by people designing partner programs, and will also ensure that your program will be hugely successful.
Did you like this blog? If so, you may like one of my most popular blogs too: The 14 Steps to Build Your Reseller Channel Partner Program.