Channel Marketer Report


Five Questions Vendors Should Ask Partners About Their Channel Program

Heather K. Margolis, founder, Channel Maven Consulting

By Heather K. Margolis, founder, Channel Maven Consulting

Thanks to the Internet, cloud adoption, and changes in buyer behavior, the Channel has slowly but steadily shifted towards selling outcomes versus products. With this comes a monumental shift in vendor-partner relationships whereby partners are self-selecting relationships with anywhere from 5 to 25 vendors at any given time.

This new channel dynamic makes ease of doing business with vendor programs and simplified to-channel communications critical for long-term success. While many vendors have made the switch from dictating program rules to listening and catering to partner needs, many others still struggle to understand how to evolve their communication strategies and partner programs.

To get started, here’s what vendors need to know:

  • To-partners communications are critical but can be overwhelming.

Imagine partnering with five different vendors. Each vendor has important messaging to get out; pricing, portal updates, MDF and SPIFF information, new product releases, and accompanying demand generation assets (to name a few). The sheer volume of incoming communications would be staggering and as a partner, you would likely have to tune out to some degree.

  • In order to be heard, you first have to listen.

Many vendors aren’t focused on what their partners think of their channel program or how they want communications. Worse, they don’t realize that not having these insights hurt them – especially when another vendor is listening, and making changes accordingly.

Vendors successfully engaging partners with their communications and programs know where, when, how and what type of information partners want and don’t assume they already know. Instead, they let partners express their preferences — through a survey, on the phone, at a quarterly business review, or as part of your onboarding program.

Thanks For Asking

Asking your partners these five questions will help you understand what partners really thing or your channel program.

  1. Which Partner Program attributes drive your decision to participate?

This question will help inform partner recruitment activities to ensure vendors are working with the right partners as well as gaining an understanding of what matters most to partners. Armed with this knowledge, vendors can better align conversations with partner needs. For example, if post-sales support tops the list, partner facing blogs and newsletter content can be strategically paired. When asking opinions, give options to choose from such as margins, requirements and benefits, sales and technical certifications, and pre and post sales support.

  1. How many vendors are your partners actively working with?

The number of vendors each partner actively works with significantly impacts their ability to focus on any one vendor’s communications. Think about it – if the average vendor sends five emails per week and a partner works with 10 vendors, they’re receiving 50 vendor emails – weekly. Now add-on other communications from their internal teams, customers, and prospects and the sheer volume of email can quickly overwhelm them. Having insight into the email fatigue partners experience helps vendors realize that they need to condense and simplify their to-partner communications strategy.

  1. How do your partners prefer to communicate?

Alongside communication overload, it’s critical to understand partners’ preferred channels. Be aware that segmenting communications by Partner tier alone is not enough. Their preferences may change by roles within Partners organizations so give every role within a partner organization a list to choose from such as; one off emails, phone calls, texts from partner-facing teams, general emails, LinkedIn Groups, Twitter, Facebook, or other communication tools such as Slack.

  1. Which resources are most useful for driving demand?

No two partners are exactly alike and their demand generation strategies are just as varied. Some partners have marketing and sales teams in place and others are one person wearing all the hats. Everyone benefits when vendors understand partner needs. Ask partners to rank in order of importance your demand generation tools and offerings such as; co-branded email campaigns, marketing automation tools, video content, social media syndication, marketing concierge services and other demand generation initiatives. Use the information to inform decisions on what you need more or less of in your program offerings.

  1. How can vendors help?

The first four questions are meant to help vendors gain an understanding of how, where, and what type of information partners want. But there’s more to consider for successful partner engagement. Vendors need to have conversations with partners and ask specific question pertaining to their unique value proposition in order to align the two organizations.

Vendors need to know:

  • How are Partners going-to-market?
  • How are they making money?
  • What’s changing in their business?
  • How can we help?

Focusing on partner needs not just for communications but in all aspects of the channel from program offerings to portals, tools, assets, and delivering revenue models they want, drives successful outcomes. Most importantly having conversations that align vendors with partner goals is key in channel evolution.

Founded by Heather K. Margolis, Channel Maven Consulting works with IT and telecom vendors on strategic and tactical levels to engage partners. We specialize in channel strategy, recruitment, program development, enablement, speakers, workshops and trainings, to and through channel marketing, and integrated demand generation.