Tips for a Successful Channel Partner Relationship

The channel partners that deliver your products greatly influence your customers' purchasing decisions. Nonetheless, many senior executives believe that their brand will generate the demand and the channel will merely fulfill it.

Your channel partners are seen by the customer as independent, vendor-agnostic trusted advisors. Whether the partner is a technology system integrator, an independent financial advisor, a motorcycle dealer, or an insurance broker, customers expect that they are getting sound and impartial advice on which manufacturer's product to buy.

The quality of your relationship with your channel partner profoundly impacts the information reaching your customers, and that relationship is entirely up to you and to your company's execution of a channel strategy. A winning strategy takes into account your own company's needs as well as those of your channel partners. This requires devoting equal attention to executing well in every phase of the partner life cycle as well as fluid two-way communication through:

  • selection and segmentation;
  • recruitment and onboarding;
  • training and enablement;
  • establishing shared goals;
  • incentivization, motivation, and compensation;
  • go-to-market collaboration;
  • provision of information, tools, and resources; and
  • performance management and optimization.

Many companies succeed in executing such a holistic channel strategy, but only to a handful of their top performing partners. This effectively engineers a self-fulfilling Pareto principle and an overdependency on a set of large partners, while the rest are left behind.

The consequences of poor execution are clear. Even if your competitors' marketing execution is weaker than yours, but they have greater influence over the channel partner than you do, all other things being equal, you will lose most of the time.

So how effective are you at addressing the needs of customers who are serviced not by you directly, but rather by your channel partners? And how effectively are you partnering with the channel to help them to be more likely to market and sell for you and delight your customers every step of the way? Here are my suggestions for some next steps:

Meet your customers. Not just the blue chips, but the small to medium-sized business owners as well. Ask:

  • What they buy, who they buy it from, and why
  • What value they perceive in their relationship with their local seller
  • How much influence the seller has on their buying decisions

Meet your channel partners, large and small, loyal and disloyal. Ask:

  • Which is their top vendor and why
  • What makes a great supplier and a poor one
  • How you rank with them and you what you could do better
  • If you made their suggested changes, would they recommend your products over those of the competition?

Find out what proportion of your human resource, IT, and marketing budgets go toward providing manpower, systems, 

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