So you want to build a robust reseller/OEM/service provider program. Extend the reach for your products and services. More people beating the bushes for business. Local representation. Regional distribution.
All of these are great reasons to for you to want a channel program. But how do you get them—the right partners in the right places—to want to work with you?
For channel sales people, partner selection boils down to the answers to two practical questions:
How will I make money from this partnership?
How easy will you make it for me to earn that money?
Regardless of the products and services you offer, you need to know the answers to these questions before you even start building your program. Then, once you have built your target list of partner prospects and a plan for getting your message in front of them, be sure that those answers are the guiding themes of all your communications.
Now, what do you say?
Let’s tackle the easy one first: money.
Just like you, channel partners are there to make money. It’s important to understand that for this answer, you have two audiences. The money is important to the partner company and also the company’s sales team members.
To entice participation at the company level, create a model that is competitive enough for management to take a look. Depending on the type of product you provide, partner companies may be looking for long-term recurring revenue in the form of ongoing license revenue or add-on services. Make sure you do your homework in advance to get a feeling for what their revenue strategy is.
Getting the participation of sales team members is a different challenge. One common challenge with channel partners is that their reps have several (or maybe even hundreds or thousands) of products in their portfolio, so they don’t focus on yours. If the partner company allows, counter this issue with easy-to-consume product value training and sales promotion incentive funds (SPIFs).
Product Value Training
This is a direct way to demonstrate to partner sales team members how they will make money selling your product. Training about product features and functions is important; but even more important is showing members how they can quickly turn your product into revenue.
They want to learn how to insert your product into existing conversations. How can they add your product on to a related product or quickly reach out to an existing customer for a cross-sell opportunity? Teach them what pains to listen for when talking to customers. Provide them with profiles of companies that will be most likely to buy. Tell them exactly who should want your product and why and let them mine their database for gold.
These incentive programs are designed to financially motivate the team to sell your product—and they are also highly valuable tools. Work with your channel partner sales leadership to design a program that is significant yet appropriate. (Most sales leaders will want to strike a balance so their sales members don’t cannibalize other revenue streams.) Offering products or cash in SPIFs can be effective; you’ll have to get a sense for what a particular team responds to. Also consider adding a gamification aspect to the program to foster competition among team members and make it fun.
Make It Easy
Sales people are smart. REALLY smart. And in my experience, 99.3% of sales people are driven by money. The combination of smart and financially eager means sales people understand that time = money. If you offer good salespeople a training or SPIF program that requires them to take more than one step to capitalize on your offering, you’re wasting your time and effort.
The key to simplicity is to centralize all the materials and tools your partners need and make those resources fast and easy to access. An intuitive and robust partner portal includes a number of highly useful components:
Searchable Content Library—Tag all of your sales training materials, spec sheets, and customer-facing content in a centralized location. Make the library filterable and searchable, so your partners can find exactly what they need quickly and easily.
Co-Branded Marketing Content—Some vendors provide co-branded sales content that includes logos and contact information for both the vendor and partner. Providing a centralized location to access this content—or request the creation of additional content—will incent partners to use your information.
SPIF Updates—If you are offering SPIFs, promote them on your portal and enable the channel sales team to register their success. A simple registration tool will make it easy for partners to claim their incentives and take a burden off your internal channel managers.
Lead Management System—Partners are frequently a little paranoid about vendors “cherry picking” leads in their territories. To avoid this concern, consider an automated system for passing leads through the portal and enabling a partner to register leads they have dug up so you can put them in your forecast.
Marketing Development Fund (MDF)/Co-Op Marketing Fund Tool—If you are offering an MDF (marketing funds supplied by the vendor to help a partner drive business) or a co-op (typically a marketing expense match), it is helpful to provide a tool that lets your partner to know the balance they have to work with and request those funds through a simple form.
Training/Certification Information—If you offer online training or certifications for your channel sales and support teams, the portal is a great place to provide direct access to them.
Product Availability—For many channel partners, it’s important to be able to see stock levels and order and ship products directly to their end customers.
Collaboration Space—Consider adding a way for your channel ecosystem to collaborate. A portal-based forum can to help promote sales best practices and foster creative engagement with your brand.
Remember: It's important to keep the portal fresh, relevant, and rewarding so they keep coming back for more.
Make no mistake: a well-done partner portal is a BIG project. But this is one of those efforts that is either worth doing right the first time or not at all. Most companies find it best to collaborate with a web developer to outline exactly what they want and let the experts in the big glasses make it work.