Key to a thriving partner program: Avoid this trio of pitfalls

Jonathan Eisner, the chief channel officer and vice president of global alliances for Sovos, a company that designs and develops tax compliance and business-to-government reporting software, says there are three signals channel chiefs need to look out for as they start to build a partner program or are already running one.

The three are as follows:

  • They may begin to notice a static level of partner engagement throughout the program (aka fewer leads being registered and/or less participation in partner portal). It is not a “build it and they will come” situation. The program needs to have the right resources in order to properly manage and track its progress. Additionally, they need to actively communicate to existing partners the benefits of the program and recruit new partners.
  • They could lose partner deals due to lack of knowledge, the result of not receiving the right training and tools to confidently promote and sell solutions. This can include technical, sales and marketing training.
  • There is no movement from new partners after the onboarding process is complete.

Of note, he writes, is that if these signals occur, “you may (unfortunately) end up losing” to the following pitfalls:

  • Not being in alignment with partners’ business model (not offering relevant benefits and resources for their success.)
  • Making the program complicated (too many requirements, frequent changes in program requirements, and no documentation on how partners can participate.)
  • Not offering the tools they need (partners need to be trained on how to sell and implement your products, they need marketing materials to promote your solutions).

In a Q&A with Channel Daily News, Eisner noted that during challenging economic times, investing in the channel becomes critical.

“I’ve had first-hand experience in building and leading channel growth initiatives during recessions and have seen how the channel can be the rising tide to lift all boats (so to speak),” he said. “For an emerging leader, there is never a better time to innovate and invest in the channel than during challenging times when many entrenched competitors are holding back their spending and growth initiatives. Meanwhile, channel partners are looking for new plays.”

During good times and bad, Eisner said his next three tips will help businesses stay ahead and avoid these pitfalls proactively.

  1. Remove unnecessary barriers to participating in the program: Make it easy for partners to join and get ramped up quickly. Partners are more than likely participating in multiple partner programs, so if yours is too difficult to follow and does not ensure success, they will focus on your competitors’ programs.
  2. Build flexibility into the program: This flexibility will allow for different types of participation, such as reselling or referring.
  3. Lastly, make sure your partners trust completely in your program: Soliciting trusted partner feedback while structuring your program, as well as obtaining ongoing feedback, will ensure success.

Here’s an abridged version of the Q&A, which delves into the points above and others:

Communication is key when it comes to ensuring a partner program works. Can you describe the optimum type of communication strategy that works for both sides? There is not one size that fits all. First, you need to reach partners in ways they prefer and are easy to consume. Some people prefer email, while some prefer short snippets via social media. Others want webinars where they can interact with the vendor.

 I recommend doing all that your team can do to support on a regular basis – it is not a one-and-done thing – you must continuously communicate with your partners. One thing that is very clear is that for the channel, compelling content is king. If the content is sticky, the partners will go to it.

Bi-directional feedback is also key. Often, in scaled ecosystems, partner communication is at the local level with Partner Managers in-region. Once the feedback is compiled, it becomes actionable. Here, the key for channels and partners to ensure is a proper path to sharing feedback that reaches regional and global leadership.

Specific tactics include a collective of executive meetings with key partners, partner forums, annual surveys, and rolling up internal feedback from the field back to partner program teams and executive leadership.

What is your definition of a channel chief? Partners are an extension of a business. A channel chief manages the partner ecosystem and the global team responsible for them across indirect sales, marketing, revenue operations, and programs.

They own and ensure channel strategies, align them with the organization’s goals, and lead the charge with cross-functional teams such as direct sales, product, finance, and professional services. If you think about a dynamic partner channel with multiple routes-to-market, it is really an entirely parallel go-to-market strategy that sometimes is unified and other times is a bit siloed.

Everything from revenue operations to products, to go-to-market, to field teams needs to be orchestrated to make a channel thrive. Most importantly, the channel chief is the external face of the global marketplace and an internal advocate and voice on behalf of all partners across the organization.

Assuming a distributor is part of the mix, what role must they play in ensuring a program is successful? Distributors play a key role in two-tier channel models, helping you connect with the right partners (recruit, on-board) and helping to manage existing ones. They help amplify products and messaging, provide level one support, drive transactions, and act as a true extension of your team. Great distributors are value-add in that they ensure success with partners by extending a channel program across the last mile.

They support the efforts of partner managers and tactically help drive the behaviors intended to come from partner benefits (tiers). Obviously, we are way beyond the basics of credit, payment terms, etc.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Paul Barker
Paul Barker
Paul Barker is the founder of PBC Communications, an independent writing firm that specializes in freelance journalism. He has extensive experience as a reporter, feature writer and editor and has been covering technology-related issues for more than 30 years.

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