Here’s a channel marketing problem that every revenue-focused marketing leader should have a plan to solve:
A sustainable (read: profitable) channel sales strategy must require each partner to sign up for and then meet a revenue target. This is because your channel strategy will only succeed if you focus your channel program resources on the partners that consistently over-perform. But, because these ideal partners are high-performers, they are likely in high demand and have a lot of opportunities to also represent other solutions.
So, unless you are prepared to start offering bigger margins (which defeats the whole purpose of focusing on partner revenue generation in the first place!), then you need to bring other value to the table. Enter your channel marketing program. Thoughtful channel marketing will consistently maintain and improve your most valuable partner relationships. When it’s done properly, this leads to partner retention and increased revenue. When done poorly or not at all, negligent partner marketing is a quick way to miss a revenue target.
As you begin to develop your partner support strategy, you’ll find it positively impacts a lot of other key revenue growth levers. That’s great news from an efficiency standpoint, but terrible news if you continue ignoring the problem because it means your entire revenue generation engine is under-optimized. Here are the four primary areas you’ll want to focus on first:
New Logo Acquisition: The Most Costly Sales Motion
Everyone knows it’s cheaper to keep an existing customer than to find and onboard a new one. But good luck finding a CRO who doesn’t think it’s a crucial investment anyway! Oftentimes the allure of launching a channel program is the anticipated “short cut” to new business. But this naïve thinking runs into the problem we’re already grappling with: those partners who are able to do heavy new-logo acquisition can be rockstars in any channel program. Marketing can help get them deeply invested in your business in two ways. Bringing them quality leads and making it easy for them to sell to those leads.
Deciding what leads belong in the hands of your direct salesforce and which should be offered to the channel is a very straightforward question to answer. Your marketing operations team will reference your current account segmentation and automate routing those prospects you’ve flagged as outside your Ideal Customer Profile to the channel. Obviously, if you haven’t done the work to effectively segment your accounts yet, then you’re fully appreciating why we said neglecting your partner support program means your entire business is underperforming. No worries—you can get the basics on account segmentation here.
If you have done the work, then you’ve taken a big step towards bringing your key partners real value: you’re offering them a source of free leads that are interested in the solutions you provide but need someone to work them. That brings us to our next point.
Partner Enablement: Making It Easier for Sellers to Sell
Let’s be frank: no sales team has ever said that solutions marketing couldn’t be doing a better job providing fresh enablement collateral. That being said, arming your salesforce (whether direct or channel) with as many touchpoint opportunities as possible is increasingly important as the length of your sales cycle extends. Partner enablement is challenging but worth the effort.
It’s challenging because an effective channel partner is not only going to want the data sheets and white papers that your direct sales team can never get enough of, they’re going to want help with turnkey sales decks, with battlecards, with sales training, and with differentiating themselves against other resellers. Additionally, they may well want it all to be white-labeled!
It’s worth the effort because most of your competitors aren’t doing a great job with partner enablement. So if you put in the time, you’ll build a moat around your channel program that keeps the high performers close (and performing). It’s also worth the effort because almost any gaps that you uncover in your partner enablement plan are gaps that your sales team is feeling just as acutely. As ever, failing to address your partner’s needs will impact your sales performance across the board. Start by doing a content review and prioritizing the assets your direct sales team finds the most effective. At the same time, look to your solutions marketers for support in packaging up higher-level collateral like buyer personas in a manner that your partners can easily consume.
Partner Technology: Simplifying the Administration Work
How are your partners registering deals right now? How do they request MDF funds or contra for future marketing activities? Where do they go to access their partner enablement materials, or get support? How do they learn about new products, news, co-marketing opportunities, or partner program changes?
You’re likely already working on your customer experience strategy to remove any friction your customers face around doing business with you. Your partner support strategy needs to do the same thing. You don’t want to make it painful on high-performing partners for the very same reasons. And like enablement, it’s often more challenging to implement the technologies. Almost always, the place to start is with deal registration and partner funds. You’ll need internal controls to ensure you don’t automate away direct sales and marketing budget on spurious registrations and expenses, but developing a seamless process is another impactful way to deepen your partner relationships.
Value Added: Becoming More Than the Sum of Your Parts
Truly great partnerships deliver an additive effect for everyone involved. Too often, supporting the channel becomes a tactical effort that misses the forest for the trees. Remember that you set out to support your highest-performing partners. Don’t forget to take a step back and ask why they perform as well as they do. If they offer unique services or combine solutions from multiple vendors in a way that differentiates themselves in the marketplace, you would do well to consider how that can be positioned as an extension of your own value proposition.
This final point involves looking at your channel program more holistically than simply how you can better support your partners. You’ll want to start by asking fundamental questions like, “why do we operate a channel program” and “what types of partners do we work well with?” You can get an overview by reading, Is Your Partner Marketing Strategy One-Size-Fits-All?
Next Steps: Coming to Ground Around the Opportunity
If your current channel strategy is a grab-bag of half-baked initiatives held together by the hope that a third party is going to do a better job landing deals than your own direct sales team, now is the time to take action. If you make an effort to define who you want to partner with, who you want them to sell to, and how you can both work together to close business, you can make a revenue-losing program profitable and lay the groundwork to make a good channel program great.
Start by looking at the gaps in how you leverage and support your partners in an organized, systematic fashion. Our downloadable asset: The Partner Program 4-Blocker is designed to help you do that. It breaks down your current channel program into 4 distinct areas: Channel Strategy, Channel Planning, Partner Development, and Partner support with a list of items to address. Working through the guide will help you uncover the right order of operations to get more value from and build sustainable long-term relationships with your channel partners.