By Alan Feldman, Director of Business Development, and Michael Auer, Growth Marketing Director, Winn Technology Group
With the ever-changing landscape of sales for products or services, the need to optimize and grow your channel ecosystem continues to be more critical. From many years of working in this arena in the technology sector, and seeing some of the changes over time, we’re finding some key areas that can improve overall partner recruitment efforts, and the continued on-going management of those partnerships.
The channel model presents several challenges that have to be identified and overcome in order to realize the full benefits, and ultimately drive revenue. These challenges are both internal to the vendor, external with the partner, and ultimately, reflected at the customer-level. Some of the more recognizable challenges include identifying, on-boarding and training new partners, aligning messaging and solutions with partners, managing MDF’s and Co-op funding, managing leads and follow up activity, and ongoing nurturing and cultivation.
Finding potential new channel partners and resellers can be a slow, laborious process, as is courting them in hope that you and they can both see revenue from the joint efforts.
A critical mistake that many companies make is casting too big a net to recruit the right partners. Clearly, there are a lot of fish in the sea. Forrester estimates that there are over 600,000 partners worldwide when you include broader technology channels such as IT, telecom, print, pro A/V, etc..
But while the average channel program will grow the number of partners by 10X in five years, and 80% of these new partners will be non-transacting partners, it’s imperative that prospective partner personas be developed more precisely to expand effective ecosystems more efficiently.
Alignment with your objectives and approach are very important, as the partner needs to reflect your organization appropriately, understand the differentiators between the many solutions they may represent, and be able to best position your solution in the right situation. One of the more concerning errors made in finding new channel sales partners, though, is not being selective enough.
Traditionally, we’ve used certain approaches to identify the potential channel partner universe, segment and stratify that universe, and undertake outreach to recruit them into an ecosystem. One specific approach that has proven very beneficial is to evaluate the resellers of competitive products. Of course, other specific criteria have to be assessed, such as vertical markets served, company size/number of employees, business approach, geographical targets, etc. Meeting those criteria, it is likely that the prospective partner has an established business practice in your solution area, thus ramp-up time, costs, and potentially certifications, can be dramatically reduced. This approach has proven very successful and new technology has made it even more efficient.
Recently, more automated approaches have been implemented that streamline the process. New services (we’ve been using PartnerOptimizer from SaasMAX) can enable a thorough analysis of existing partners, or potential partners, based on a wide variety of criteria. The concept is to define the strongest partner persona, evaluate and assess who the most optimal companies are to pursue as new partners, or analyze those currently performing best, and drawing conclusions and targeting based on that data. The approach also relies on maintaining a substantial database of resellers, so that the best recommendations can be made.
From there, the actual outreach and discussions can be much more effective and efficient. Outbound calls serve as a great vehicle to get into the initial discussion with the decision-makers at these companies. From both a pre-qualification perspective, and a direction of providing key information on the value of a potential partnership, it’s important that it makes sense for both parties to continue the conversation.
While we have historically had great success in this, we know that the real goal is to identify and qualify the prospect companies, not sign them up. The best use of our services, or those of other external firms, is to schedule appointments with those deemed interested and qualified. Your market and partner development managers should have all of the tools they need to complete the process from there. This method provides organizations with potential partners that are a true fit for their partner ecosystem.
It is always important to keep in mind that this is a partnership. Co-op funds, partner portals, pre-approved marketing campaigns, co-branded market assets, training, and product expertise can all be offered to help. Both firms need to recognize the benefits as a two-way street. Provide what you can to help them be successful, and in turn, they will deliver.
Winn Technology Group is a full-service marketing agency providing a wide range of marketing solutions.