Building a partner channel isn’t just a numbers game. More isn’t always better and bigger isn’t always better, however better is better! When choosing channel partners, quality beats quantity. Great partners become a part of your brand, but so do poor ones who approach their end customers with anything less than a value-based offering. We’ll discuss what makes a great partner and how to find and recruit them for your channel program.
Getting products to market takes time and the road can be long with many turns along the way. The journey begins with an idea, followed by research and then a plan. The plan is prototyped, tested, redesigned, improved and finally approved for production. Then comes manufacturing, marketing, distribution and finally sales and ongoing customer service and maintenance. Unfortunately, a scaled sales effort covering the addressable market isn’t a cost-effective option, so you turn to the IT Channel.
What Is the IT Channel?
The IT channel exists because manufacturers and software providers realized they could not hire, motivate and manage enough sales and service people only to reach a fraction of the potential market. However, by partnering with highly qualified sales and service organizations, they could reach a much broader market while investing in areas and capabilities core to their business.
If you were to hire a sales person, you’d ensure they possessed the interpersonal, synthetic and professional skills to carefully listen to customers, develop excellent recommendations on value-based solutions and intelligently persuade those customers to invest in or continue to invest in your product or service. You would also support them with the best professional service and support personnel to ensure the customer experience is seamless and of the highest degree of satisfaction possible.
With all partnering lies the ongoing concern over quality in the sales process. Channel partners serve as de facto members of your sales organization – therefore you want the best, most professional sales people representing your company. However, as partners and not employees, the ability to wholly manage how they represent your product or service is greatly reduced.
Not all channel partners are created equal. If a product fails to perform as promised – through misrepresentation, improper installation or inaccurate instructions, the customer will blame the company that makes product. It’s imperative you know who’s representing your company—your brand—and the value they bring to the sales process.
It’s About Value, Volume and Velocity
It’s dangerous to think that “the more feet you have on the street,” the better. Your goal is to maximize sales volume and velocity—you owe that to your stakeholders and future—but not at the expense of value.
Your customers invest in value – the value attained by using your products and services. They seek a return on that investment, which ultimately reflects in their bottom line. Generally, helping to increase the customers’ bottom lines has a favorable impact on one's own. In other words, staying focused on providing added value should result in the highest possible volume and velocity of sales, which in turn, leads to better recruitment of channel partners.
The best channel partners teach and motivate their sales people to stay focused on value. A great channel sales person will learn as much as possible about their customers' businesses before offering any recommendations. They develop high-value solutions to address the challenges identified in their due diligence. Offering more than a simple “quotation," they submit a comprehensive proposal, spanning design to deployment to training and support, assuring that the user can extract the most value for their company.
5 Steps to Finding Great Channel Partners
While it's obvious the IT channel represents the best way to reach your potential market, it’s crucial to find the right channel partners to maintain your brand and reputation. How do you find them?
1. Identify Your End User
Figuring out your end user will help determine what kind of partners you need, with whom they will interact and when?
2. Define Your Ideal Partner
If you could build-a-partner, what would that partner look like? What services, solutions or complementary offerings would they provide? What would be their geographical reach? What vertical industry would they address?
3. Determine Your Requirements
Depending on how much support you’re planning to provide (i.e. training, funding, etc.), what are your expectations of the partner? Do they need a minimum sales force? Do they need their own marketing engine?
4. Spread the Word
If you have a pool of partners, reach out to them about your new channel program. If you don’t, consider advertising an application. CRN, for example, has more than 150,000 partner companies in their database. Just make sure to outline what kind of partner you’re looking for, so you don’t get applicants that don’t fit the bill.
5. Identify Aligned Partners
Once you start receiving partner requests, you’ll need to vet them. The best channel partners are those whose core competencies align well with your products, who possess a value-centered mindset and who will partner enthusiastically with you at every level, from marketing to product improvement to customer interface to periodic product refresh. If they don’t fit well, move on.
But It Doesn’t End There
“Why can’t I just enroll a bunch of partners and then reap the benefits?” Unfortunately, finding partners is only half the battle. Like flowers, they must be nurtured, continually supported and groomed. Fail to care for them and they’ll wilt and die.
Effective channel management is complicated and time-consuming, but necessary to ensure quality and efficiency. At Tech Data, our customer lifecycle management team works with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to acquire, onboard and enable more than 70,000 channel partners. By working together, Tech Data has been able to help OEMs maximize the channel.
In a Rush?
Sometimes you can't wait to develop a proper channel program, because you need it done yesterday. If pressure is building, think about working with Tech Data's Global Lifecycle Management Services. We can handle the channel management while you focus on the road ahead.
About the Author
Antonio is the director of Customer Management Services for Tech Data. He has more than 10 years of experience as a business development leader, with a focus on directing operations, sales strategies and managing outsource agreements.