Staying Relevant to Your Channel Partners Part II: Five Critical Factors
It’s hard to get a true picture of how your channel partners feels about you as a vendor just by sending out a survey. As we discussed in a previous post, most requests for feedback yield responses from only the top-performing channel partners. But the ones you really need to know most about are those who are selling little or nothing at all of what you have to offer. The upside of converting just a few of these into high performance partners will be huge. The path to breakthrough lies in understanding what prevents channel partners from committing to a relationship with a vendor, starting with those who have dropped your solutions completely.
Getting to these channel partners takes time-intensive, though high ROI work. On behalf of many large companies, we have reached out personally thousands of channel partners world wide to ask the most important question: Why did you stop reselling for us? The results of our research showed that the top reasons for dropping a vendor were, in order of importance, poor technical support, lack of lead flow, and inadequate sales assistance. Fixing these problems will go a long way towards building bridges with disaffected channel partners, but paying attention to the following five areas will secure your position as a highly relevant vendor with a loyal and engaged channel.
- Special Pricing - One of the biggest hurdles for channel partners worldwide is special pricing. The larger the deal, the more resellers need to be able to offer special pricing because the buyer wants to know and show to management that the price was unbeatable. We have often seen channel partners lose deals to competitors because of overly complex special pricing processes. Delay and uncertainty about pricing will drive the end customer – who after too long a sales process is usually feeling that their requests are not being heard – to dump the original vendor and go with someone else. It is critical to make sure you have put in place a complete and transparent process for special pricing, beyond the list price. This is less the case with SMB transactions, but is critical for complex and large deployments.
- Marketing Funds & Programs – Once you have convinced the partner base that you are there for them through world-class technical support, lead distribution, sales assistance and special pricing, the next essential is helping the channel partners to drive leads on their own - although don’t expect them to become digital marketers overnight!
We have repeatedly seen that the vendors who are most successful in encouraging channel partners to market on their own are those who take a pragmatic, multi-quarter approach to building out their demand generation programs across horizontal products that sell in the highest volumes across all market segments, and then (only then) add specific, targeted vertical campaigns. This approach also calls for a state-of-the-art partner relationship management platform, which not only include a set of tools to train the partner on various aspects of the solutions, but also a set of do-it-yourself marketing campaigns running on a fully integrated marketing automation platform.
- Ease of Doing Business - We hear this again and again from channel partners. Most partners feel there are too many hoops and obstacles to go through to be able to sell a vendor’s products. Challenges ranging from technical certification, demo purchase requirements, license key issues, availability of technical and sales support and accessibility of sales tools all make it far from easy for a partner to form a relationship with and stay on board with vendors.
While vendors may want to try to remove all these hurdles at once, the more realistic way forward for a successful channel programs is to take a pragmatic approach. Start by determining what the partner is actually going to sell. If it is a transactional product, there is no place for complexity. Drop as many of the hurdles as possible, make it simple for the partner to find pricing and product specifications, and let them go sell. On the other hand, if they are aiming to deploy complex, large data center solutions for high profile enterprise customers, yes, make sure channel partners are willing to go through the necessary steps to learn and deploy the solution properly. Just bear in mind that separating the channel requirements for different types of sales goes a long way towards making sure your channel programs are easy to understand and will be adopted by partners.
- Human Touch - Why do banks have human tellers as well as ATMs? Apart from the fact that some people don’t trust machines with anything sensitive, the more complex the transaction the more variables are involved, and the more likely it is that we will have special requests that a machine cannot answer. At heart, we all want to talk to a human.
In the same way, channel marketing automation certainly has a place in driving productivity and growth, but it is not a replacement for the entire channel organization. Deploying a state-of-the-art partner relationship management platform should free up your channel organization from day-to-day, tactical tasks like tracking forms via emails, managing Excel spreadsheets and manual reporting, so that they can actually engage with channel partners, listen talk to them, and help them and grow their businesses.
- Rewards and Recognition - Last but not least, celebration is a key way to excite your partner base, spark healthy competition and share best practices. It is essential for you to recognize your high performing channel partners on a consistent basis across all countries. While many companies have sales rewards and rebates as core programs, together with annual awards at partner events, the best way to build momentum is to make awards an ongoing activity, recognizing partners on a quarterly basis on the various aspects of your channel programs. With so many easy-to-use video conferencing software options to choose from (like WebEx, Go To Meeting, Blue Jeans and others), it is easy to set up quarterly virtual award ceremonies where senior channel management members reward channel partners for their latest achievements.
In today’s hyper-competitive channel environment, loyalty is hard to come by without significant thought and effort, but a relationship can be earned, provided a vendor is sincerely focused on what the partners care most about. While channel marketing automation platforms comprising partner relationship management and partner marketing management are critical for scalability and success, not everything can be automated: the other critical components of channel programs such as technical support, sales assistance, lead distribution, relationship building and rewards remain cornerstones for becoming a truly relevant partner to the channel.