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May 16, 2020

8 Partnership Tips from a Channel Leader

Why do we need a channel? Isn’t it just fulfillment?

Before you throw your hands up in despair, take a few minutes to read this blog. It comes with scars, wins, and a few lessons learned.

Whether your channel is mature or in somewhat of a nascent stage, someone in your company is going to ask what value your channel is providing. Don’t get defensive. That never works. Similarly, don’t look at the person posing the question as a complete buffoon. That is also not a winning strategy. Instead, get ahead of this inevitable situation.

Take the time to illustrate how the value of channel must be an integral component of your overall go-to-market plan, and we've compiled these eight tips to get you on your way. 

1. Define the entire sales and services cycle 

Your company must address this cycle because it drives your business. I would emphasize the services component as part of this initial exercise. The importance of the services component may seem self-evident to many, but we will deep-dive into this is as we continue this conversation. The entire sales and services cycle begins with prospecting and ends with support, then starts all over again in a never-ending cycle.

By illustrating what occurs in each stage of the sales and services activities, you begin to more clearly define where the channel can provide value.

More importantly, you highlight where the partner program can provide unique value. You start to educate your audience that each channel partner may bring different value along the spectrum, and, last but not least, you set the stage for a channel cost-effectiveness conversation.

On a side note about sales cycles, fulfillment seems to have become a dirty word. It is used to minimize a very important step in the sales cycle. Fulfillment can include several critical items, such as the procurement stage, where the customer’s desire converts to the actual purchase order. Don’t apologize for having an effective fulfillment capability with your channel. In many cases this is the only way that your end customer will purchase your products, especially as customers strive to work with fewer vendors.

2. Populate the stages

Begin by populating each sales/services stage with highly recognized names from your channel. This allows you to personalize the conversation. It also provides a template to replicate for each of your regions since, in many cases, they may have regional players that are more applicable for their in-region conversations.

3. Identify channel success stories

Locate successes/references where channel sales provided value in closing a deal. Ideally you will be able to show successes where the channel collaborated with your internal teams, and also where they were self-sufficient. If you can augment these successes with quotes or support from an internal sales manager, this will significantly reinforce your case.

4. Map your segments

Map where you believe channel sales can deliver value in each of your customer segments. You will, most likely, have a different value proposition for each segment. 

5. Demonstrate the value

Show your channel value dashboard, i.e. how you are measuring the value that you are generating from your channel.  If you don’t define this, someone else will do it for you ... probably informally.

6. Determine audience engagement

You need an audience engagement plan that clearly and accurately lays out your channel operations strategy and incorporates the value that you expect and are measuring. This plan should include presenting to all major internal stakeholders  — once up-front, then every quarter — as part of . Your audience engagement plan must include corporate and regions. It should also be part of your communications to your major solution providers, system integrators, and distributors.

7. Not all partners are created equal

The value that you derive from your channels is a two-way street. Part of the responsibility lays with you in defining what you need and expect from each of your channel partners.

You need to define and map out the value you need from which segments, geographies, and products. Next, you need to understand which partners are most likely to deliver this value for you. Just because they have the capability and potential capacity does not mean this will translate into the value you seek. To help ensure that value comes in, it is critical to provide your channel the necessary packaging, enablement, partner incentives, and environment for them to want to deliver the value for your products and company. Generating value also requires you and your channel to clearly communicate your expectations and desires.

8. Encourage partner knowledge of your products and services

A channel works with multiple vendors, providing integration and bundling to create a true solution that solves real business problems. You can maximize the value of vendor knowledge in your solution by leveraging the skills, infrastructure, and capabilities your channel partners have invested in. Channel partners can deliver these solutions with robust services teams. This is a value that vendors do not have in their own tool kit. This value is also a competitive differentiator for your channel partners. It provides a customer stickiness that allows for margin-rich offerings.

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