Beyond the Quota: 5 Steps for Building an Effective Channel Sales Engine
For solution providers, an effective channel sales engine can be a force multiplier for amplifying and accelerating sales and revenue. Yet it takes time to strategically build a program, recruit the right channel partners, and equip them with the tools and knowledge to succeed.
Since channel programs are more scalable than direct sales, it’s no surprise they represent 75 percent of global commerce, according to industry analysts at Forrester. Yet having a channel program doesn’t always lead to success. The channel can be highly competitive, making it challenging for solution providers to stand out and attract the types of partners that will make a significant difference. For many, success comes down to establishing the right foundation for channel success and consistently showing value to both the partner and their customers. Here are five fundamental ways to do it.
1. Conduct an internal assessment. Building an effective channel sales engine starts with assessing the current alignment of sales, marketing, operations, and services. With a solid understanding of how each function is performing individually and together, you can spot areas for improvement before you onboard new partners. Once those areas are addressed, you’ll be better prepared to accelerate a channel program.
2. Strategically recruit partners. Once internal processes are set up and you’re ready to recruit new partners, the next step is to identify the right channel partners. Based on conversations with leaders of dozens of channel programs, it turns out that most companies have not defined their ideal customer profile—even when they believe they have. Different teams in the company often have differing ideas on the ideal target customer. A consensus on the ideal customer profile is crucial because the partner is the gateway to the customer.
Once the customer profile is defined, recruitment should focus on engaging partners in the places online and in person where they’re most active. The most obvious ones are channel-focused events and media. Additionally, consider technology services brokerages (TSBs) and distributors. They can help recruit top sales partners and manage partner inquiries and compensation, and larger agencies often hold conferences creating more opportunities to connect with highly engaged partners.
Conversations with potential new partners should focus on building a relationship with the partner and highlighting the benefits and differentiators to them. All communications to the potential partner should be personalized, as opposed to generic messages and mass emails. After all, this is about recruitment.
Conversely, you also need to know when to decline a potential partner or remove an existing one. If the partner’s performance is continuously trending downward and they’re not engaged in ongoing training or taking advantage of readily available marketing campaigns and content, you can’t continue to put resources toward them.
3. Invest in channel marketing. Channel marketing programs need to be strategic, purposeful, and tailored to the partner audience. This requires proper funding, taking into account variables including geography, the market segment’s contribution to the company’s overall revenue, and the partner’s performance, with additional discretionary funds reserved for the highest performers. Once the channel marketing budget is established and recruitment efforts are under way, the primary areas of focus should be engagement and lead and demand generation.
When it comes to engagement, assume the competition is actively courting your top partners, so it’s critical to stay top of mind. Engagement can take various forms including direct communications as well as creating campaigns around rewards programs, sales contests, exclusive perks, and other forms of recognition.
For lead generation and demand generation, a dedicated channel marketing team should be focused on keeping the engine running. Essentially, lead and demand gen requires a comprehensive toolkit developed specifically for channel partners. This includes the steady creation of marketing materials including ebooks, webinars, advertising, and infographics that can be easily branded by the partner. It can also include tools such as calculators and tests, as well as press releases and news stories driven by public relations efforts. It’s important to include brand-agnostic thought leadership pieces in the mix. Partners don’t want to just be an amplifier for your message; they want to be part of the conversation.
As part of the continuous process of measuring, refining, and improving marketing campaigns, it’s imperative to include partner feedback on what’s working.
4. Prioritize partner enablement. Without partner enablement, channel efforts will not yield strong results. Another way to look at it is this—when you properly enable your partners, they will grow their business and yours.
Partner enablement can come in many forms. This includes training, regularly updated partner portals with compelling content and marketing collateral, and easy access to support and management tools. The key to successful enablement is ensuring partners are guided through the process of how to most effectively use marketing tools at various stages in the customer journey.
5. Complement CRM with PRM. With its ability to manage the funnel and host marketing materials, a CRM is often the go-to platform for managing a channel program. However, CRM is not purpose-built for channel partner programs. As a result, solution providers are faced with expensive and lengthy customizations of their CRM, or silos of critical partner information trapped in various spreadsheets, project management tools, payment systems, marketing platforms, and more.
Alternatively, solution providers are leaning into partner relationship management (PRM) platforms because they are specifically designed for channel programs and offer a comprehensive view into channel program data. Along with complementing existing investments in CRM, a PRM provides the structure, organization, collaboration, and automation managing partners. This includes recruitment, communications, business management, deal registration, content libraries, and insight into partner performance. And partners find PRM easier than CRM when it comes to onboarding, training, and sales and marketing support.
Building an effective channel sales engine requires commitment from the very highest levels of the organization. That commitment must be fully understood and executed by key stakeholders throughout the company—sales, marketing, operations, training, and more. One way to bring the channel engine together is through a centralized PRM that leverages existing CRM solutions yet acts as a single source for channel program management.
Anthony D'Angelo is vice president at Zift Solutions.