This blog post is for VP of Sales or Channels who has made the decision to bring on new partners to replace under-performing dogs. As a comprehensive guide to Channel Optimization, download the workbook and turn to page 294 of the PDF.
Getting a potential partner to become an actual partner is exactly analogous to a sales campaign. In other words, you need to take a company from “prospect” to “partner” as though through the various stages of a buying process.
This may seem a simple, even intuitive observation. But the vast majority of channel managers have little to no experience in acquiring partners. What they know how to do is manage the existing ones.
To recruit effectively, you need to put on your “sales” hat and make your company and your partnership offering attractive. Almost all of your partner prospects, at least the ones you want, are already busy selling other solutions to other customers and making other people money. So you need to introduce your value proposition into that ecosystem. That is difficult too.
Find the Right Partner Candidates
Finding the right partner that meets the needs of your business is difficult. Ensuring the best fit means finding partners that have:
- The right industry focus
- The right technical skills
- The right selling capabilities
- Sufficient selling capacity
- The right value proposition with other solutions they sell
- The right customer base (of theirs)
- The right geographic coverage
And this is just a few of the key dimensions. That is a tall order to find the right partners. But let’s assume that you have put your fingers on the partners you need. Let’s say there are 20 of them worldwide. Now you need to actually get them to sign on the dotted line. Not so easy.
Selecting the Right New Partner
Because there are so many dimensions in play, SBI has created a handy assessment tool for you. This tool will enable your team to choose the right partner from among several options. It is called the Channel_Partner_Scorecard
Best Practices in Signing a New Partner
Just because you know which partners you want does not mean you can get them to commit to your company and its go to market plan. That is where the below best practices can help. If pursued together, they will greatly enhance your ability to close the deal on new partnerships.
- Develop a partner recruitment process. As noted above, the process of going from initial contact to a signed partner relationship mirrors a sales process. So yours should too. To do this, you should implement a multi-step process, designed with an outward-in view from the partners to your organization. You should have Job Aids, stages, exit criteria, leading indicators of success, pipeline, forecast, management inspection and so on. You should boast all the trappings of a fully-figured sales process for your partner recruitment.
- Create a compelling Recruitment Package. This package would include policies, procedures and support systems to entice a channel partner. The Package must have: how much money the partner will make, proof of product quality (testimonials, references), demonstration of sales and marketing support, price protection, guarantee/warranty, coop dollars, free sales support info, major account sales support, product customization, lead gen program, media plan, special pricing assistance, communications program, meaningful product training, territorial integrity, free trials.
- Perform deep research on the prospective partner. It is surprising how often companies engage with potential partners without really knowing much about their business. So before making the hard pitch, ensure that you have penetrating insight into their customers, sales model, products/services, marketing capabilities, industry reputation, geographic coverage, corporate history, technical prowess, and management structure.
- Reconcile your solution with the ones they are already selling. One of the most difficult challenges to overcome is to determine how your solution will “fit” with their existing portfolio. Is your solution uncomfortably close to others that are already in their selling bag? Do you close a product/services gap for them? It is vital to develop a compelling story around the specific synergy between your solution and all the others with which their sales teams are already familiar.
- Pilot new Partnerships. Just as with a new prospect for your solution, a partner prospect may not be willing to jump in with both feet. In many cases there are uncontrollable risk factors and other uncertainties that can only be addressed through time and experience. Therefore, you should offer a defined, measurable, time-bound pilot deployment that proves the partnership potential and gains you early supporters in the partner organization.
- Enrich the compensation program. Especially early on in a channel partner relationship, attractiveness of the compensation program is paramount. Initially, there are no success stories to tout, no tradition to uphold, no past practices to follow. So compensation needs to be rich enough to start cranking the wheel. If you skimp on this you might as well not do anything. Eventually, when the partnership is sound and the legacy of success established, the compensation plan can settle into something more ‘reasonable.’ Until then, ensure there is a lot of leverage, little friction, and plenty of SPIFFs in your program.
- Be clear about Channel conflict. Channel partners have a well-honed spidy sense for channel conflict with the direct selling teams of their partners. They will ask difficult questions about territory alignment, account assignment, deconfliction rules, and so on. Any hesitancy or indeterminacy in your answers will be interpreted negatively by a potential partner. So get your story straight and ensure that the leaders of the direct sales force are prepared to uphold their end of the arrangements with your new partner(s).
If you follow these best practices, you will be able to add more partners and improve your channel reach.
But having assessed your partners is only half the battle. The next step is to improve the performance conditions so that the partners who remain and any new ones you bring on will exceed expectations. Channel enablement, or to some, Channel Onboarding, will be the subject of a future blog post.
For Sales VPs who think these suggestions have merit, give us a ring for an introductory conversation with a channel expert.
If you are a VP of Sales CEO contemplating how to upgrade the quality of their partner community, consider spending time with me on this subject of channels. Come see me in Dallas at The Studio, our state-of-the-art executive briefing center. A visit to The Studio increases the probability of making your number because the sessions are built on the proven strength and stability of SBI, the industry leader in B2B sales and marketing.
Photo Source: Savrose WikiMedia Commons
Note: These stray animals were treated and cared for by Ravi Gill, President P.F.A Khanna, free of cost.