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Successful Partnering is More about People than Programs


Today’s carefully architected partner programs that use industry accepted best practices often fail because they are designed to attract and engage all partner types but are not aligned with the changing business models or needs of individuals within these partner organizations.About AuthorToday, more than ever, the business of partnering has become personal in the way relationships are built and nurtured.  Any program that is successful in building mutual commitment and investment is one that is aligned with the needs of all key people within a partner organization.   Programs that generate this higher level of engagement offer something of value for each key role, including senior executives, partner sales, technical support, and marketing.

How Can You Tell if Your Partner Program is Not Building Personal Relationships?

If your partner program is not motivating partners to give you a disproportionate percentage of their time and attention to grow your brand, then you are probably not as personal as you need to be.   Partner “Accounts” are services businesses staffed by individuals that are doing their best to profitably grow their organization’s sales.   These individuals in sales, technical sales, marketing, engineering, professional services and senior management are more interested in working with companies that invest time in understanding their needs and building a deep, mutually agreed-upon, personal success plan for each role and each person in their organization.

Successful Partnering


Why Business-to-Business Partner Relationships Are So Personal

in 2018, the proliferation of verticalized business solutions has overwhelmed partner executives with choices of vendors to select from for their business portfolio.   As a result, the power in the relationship has made a significant shift from producers (vendors) to sellers (partners).  Given this dramatic expansion of options, individuals within partner organizations are choosing vendors and individuals that they prefer to do business with. Partner sales executives, technical specialists, and senior staff with many choices of vendors to support are defaulting to the vendor team members that make them the most comfortable to work with.  In many ways, these partner executives are behaving the same way their end B-to-B buyers are behaving. They are working with vendor personnel where they have made a personal connection. The bottom line is that partner team members are like B2B buyers that have too many choices and prefer to work with people they trust and have a relationship with.

How to Build a Partner Program that will Build Deep Personal Relationships

If you review the detail behind why award-winning channel programs get strong marks, it comes down to the high importance the survey respondents place on their personal relationship at the vendor.  We live in an exciting time in the channel!  The plethora of tools to support the channel and the interesting and imaginative business models some of the forward-thinking channel partners have adopted make it ripe for re-imagining how to approach the channel to leverage the relationships into true competitive advantages. However, this is a journey that is not for the faint of heart.  It requires rolling up your sleeves and understanding how to connect with the people who make up your channel and will often require being inventive with the channel tools that are on the market today and even repurposing other tools for use in the channel.  Here are five steps to starting the process:

Step 1:  Understand what you need to be successful

The different people at your channel partner organizations make up an important part of your sales team.  A successful vendor sales organization would never look at their sales target and start hiring whomever is available regardless of skill set or role and with no plan to generate the demand needed, to develop the needed skills or to competitively motivate and compensate the personnel.  The channel, as an extension of your sales team, should be no different.  The first step is to understand not just how many and what type of channel partner organizations you need, but to define how many executive management, sales reps, technical sales reps, professional consultants and demand generation specialists are needed within those organizations to reach your goal.  In other words, you need a hiring and enablement plan for your channel.

It is important to understand the different business models that may be needed to reach your different end users and incorporate that into your plans.  For instance, if you have a mixture of traditional IT buyers, line-of-business buyers and developer buyers, you will need to understand and plan for the different individual capacity needs for the channel to address those different types of buyers.

Step 2:  Understand how to make the individuals at your partners successful

The saying is, “Your success is only as good as the success of your partners.”  That should be modified to say, “Your success is only as a good as the success of the individuals at your partners.”  After all, the more successful people you have at your partners, from executives to sales people to technical people to marketing people, the more successful the partner will be in aggregate.  To support people’s success, you need to understand what success looks like to them.   The best way to do that is to talk to them on an ongoing basis.  Although there will be some unique situations, after talking to several different people across different types of partners, you will start to see trends in success factors across business approaches and roles that you can leverage into developing components for your program.

Keep in mind that partners are exploring different business models and will likely have multiple business approaches within the same company requiring different individual skill sets and focuses.  In fact, Partner Path’s 2018 State of Partnering Study, found that partner respondents chose 2.7 identifiers to define their business, on average.  The agility requirements needed to support the changing market landscape became evident during a recent discussion with Scott Pelletier, CTO of Lewan Technology.   Scott adopted the MSP (Managed Service Provider) opportunity early and worked with his team to develop a new business model, differentiated services and tools to support the new opportunity.  Even as this managed service provider (MSP) business grows and there is still significant revenue from the traditional IT consulting and resale business, Scott is exploring other expansion areas like business process consulting across the cloud infrastructure and application silos.  Not only does that mean Scott needs to continually transform his business, but each of these different lines of business requires different personnel skillsets, marketing approaches and compensation models. Vendor’s working with people like Scott must understand if and how each of the business lines can be mutually beneficial and then determine how to help Scott and his team be successful in each business area.  In one case, that might be a margin rich deal registration program and in another it might be marketing funds and access to a good marketing agency to help them support marketing their services without any mention of your brand.

Step 3: Develop a joint plan for success that can be deployed at a personal level

There is a lot of attention being placed on the importance of the business plan.  All too often, the business plan is developed with senior management at the partner and is a check box item to satisfy program compliance requirements.  For a business plan to be effective, it needs to be personal.  It needs to drive specific goals and tactics for the different roles such as sales, technical, and marketing within the partner with clear goals tied back to how it helps the individual achieve success within their organization. Consolidated Partner Business Planif you have a large channel, you will need to be creative about building a personalized business plan.  Look for ways to enable your distributors to support the process for your tier 2 partners and to enable self-service business plan creation with inside sales follow-up.

Step 4: Develop the “Garanimals” of channel partner programs

Garanimals is a brand of children’s clothing that was founded on a simple but unique concept: to help parents dress their children in comfortable clothing that is easy to mix and match.  Your channel program should be founded on a similar concept: Design your partner program with components that are mixed and matched by partner role and incented toward achievement of program goals.Elements By Partner Role When re-imagining your program, think about it terms of achieving mutual success, not program compliance.  Using the research you’ve done with your partners, develop components that help your partner contacts be rock stars within their companies while helping you sell more of your solutions and services.  Work together to define mutually beneficial goals which may range from revenue achievement to growth in services built on your vendor solutions to expansion into new business areas. Then allow people to create their own education roadmap, marketing approach and compensation models from within the program components you provide to achieve those goals.  Again, implement self-service capabilities and creatively use data to suggest business growth areas and business plan options.

Step 5:  Plan your roadmap to automate for scale

The migration to a fully-personalized approach to the channel will be a journey that you should start as soon as possible.  Be selective on where you start as there will likely be several manual processes to start.  Look for areas that have a high chance of business return, for instance make it a benefit for your focus partners or use it as a recruitment tool for new types of partners.  You will find issues with system integration, lack of data or unclean data, and technology limitations.  Document those and prioritize them and then start aggressively determining how to address them.  Look for ideas outside of the channel.  For instance, there is a lot happening focused on AI and automation of the customer journey.  Could that be leveraged into the partner journey?  Don’t be afraid to push your channel infrastructure vendors to creatively approach the use of their tools to address the business need and constantly evaluate the new tools that are available in the ChannelTech marketplace.

Four Tools to Help Channel Managers to Build Deeper Personal Relationships with Their Partners

Any strong channel manager can build personal relationships with individual partner executives through a series of one-on-one work-sessions.  But the challenge is how to do it at scale.  A typical channel manager can have anywhere from 5 to 50 partners assigned to them to manage. The amount of time needed to develop meaningful personal relationships with each key member of each individual partner is simply too great.  The only practical way to deliver a relationship-centered partner program is with the assistance of scalable and effective tools that allow channel managers to do more in less time.

Tool #1: (Scorecards by Partner Role) – Partner Scorecards and Improvement Action Plans:  The key to building strong and sustainable relationships with partner sales is to help them with the most important issues. These include helping create a personalized success roadmap for each salesperson along with resources to help them achieve sales targets.  Also, sales team members are looking for the opportunity to jointly set sales targets and collaborate on company-provided resources to help achieve these goals.  Below are two highly-valued partner sales tools help build deeper relationships and motivate stronger performance.

  • Personalized Sales Scorecard:  A 5-minute workflow to assess a partner salesperson’s strengths, generate a stoplight report, and create an improvement action planSales-Scorecard

Tool #2: (Partner Sales Executives) Instant Partner Sales Targets and Performance-to-Plan Reporting:  Channel managers need a way to conduct business reviews with their partners instantly whenever they speak to them.  The tool pulls all key data together in one place, so all channel managers need to do is review online or download to PowerPoint and send to the partner

  • Personalized Sales Targets & QBR:  An instant, one-page partner salesperson performance summary that is exportable to PowerPointSales-Target and QBR

Tool #3: (Senior Partner Executives) Marketing Planning & ROI Estimation Tool:  A 5-minute marketing planning process to help partner executives select activities, tactics, and estimate leads, revenue, budget, and return on investment – in 5 minutes.Marketing Planning and ROI

Tool #4: (Senior Partner Executives) QBR – Quarterly Business Review PowerPoint Builder:  Senior partner executives are looking for a simple way to know where they stand and what they need to do to achieve their goals. These senior executives respect companies that come prepared to have thoughtful business conversations about performance, potential, and how they can improve.

  • Overall Partner Senior Executive Review:  A 5-minute QBR builder that brings all key performance-to-plan metrics together in one PowerPoint presentation.Qtrly Business Review

Relationships with individual members of your partner teams is how you win the battle for partner commitment. Winning partner programs focus first and always on building relationships with individual members of the partner team. Deep partner sales relationships are built when sales executives believe they will be more successful with the help of their vendor.   Partner marketers want all the help they can get from their vendors to build winning marketing programs that will deliver measurable leads and revenue outcomes.  And senior executives respond most strongly with vendors that are professional and can deliver strong business reviews that measure success and help plot future success. Well-prepared, supportive vendor teams will always build deeper relationships with their partners and generate stronger revenue growth vs. teams that don’t understand the importance of this new partner program model.

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