You’ve determined that leveraging channel sales will help your business grow. And you’ve carefully evaluated potential channel partners to re-sell your products, or set your sights on preferred vendors whose products and services you want to bring to market. Now what?
In this, the third instalment of “A Guide to Building Successful Channel Sales Programs,” we combine our experiences along with insights from Constant Contact and ADP to help you get your house in order to attract the channel partners who will help your company grow.
1. Conduct competitive research to shape your channel program
For any vendor wanting to re-sell products and services, the first step in becoming channel-ready is getting a clear picture of what similar vendors have done to attract, retain, and win back channel partners. In other words, you need to research competing vendors’ go-to-market sales strategies, the perks and processes that make up their channel sales programs, and the channel partners who have enrolled in their programs.
Keep in mind that re-sellers whose business vendors are competing for certain expectations. If you’re a vendor, at a minimum, you need to match the perks and processes they have established. You will also have to distinguish your channel sales program in some way to make it more appealing than what competing vendors are offering.
If you are looking to be chosen by a vendor to re-sell their products and services, it is essential that you understand the other channel partners that have been selected by your targeted vendor. As far as potential vendors are concerned, you will be an extension of their brand. So, your research should include identifying the implications to your short-term and long-term processes and operations of meeting those requirements.
Fortunately, conducting this competitive research is relatively easy—you just need to visit potential vendors’ and/or channel partners’ websites and LinkedIn pages.
If you’re in the enviable position of bringing to market a ground-breaking product or service, the research you conduct to shape a channel sales program will focus less on direct competitors than on companies from other industries that have successfully enticed the channel partners (or vendors) you want.
That was precisely the case when Constant Contact, the world’s leading email marketing system for small- and medium-sized businesses, launched its software-as-a-service offering. “During those pioneering days, our competitive channel research focused on identifying companies that had successfully launched thriving channel programs aimed at the small- and medium-sized business market,” recalls Lorraine Leduc, the company’s Director of Business Development.
Whether you are a vendor or a channel partner, your competitors’ channel sales programs will evolve quickly to keep them as attractive as possible. That means you should regularly monitor them. “As more competitors came on the scene, we moved to stay one step ahead of them,” Leduc explains. “So, our channel sales research focused on medium-sized partners and that meant understanding what was appealing for technology solution integrators, non-profit partners, trade associations, and other member organizations.”
2. Define value for your channel partners
When you sell your products or services directly to the consumer, you have to develop a compelling reason why they should choose your offerings rather than those of your competitors. Similarly, when you are looking to attract vendors or channel sales partners, you have to articulate a value proposition that uniquely resonates with that specific audience.
If you’re a vendor looking to attract high-performing channel partners, you need to provide concrete evidence that you have processes and tools that will help them in their efforts to refer or re-sell your product. Potential channel partners will want to ensure that your program has the following elements:
¢ Fair and transparent compensation: Channel partners want details about how much they will receive for re-selling your product. Just as important, they want to know that the process for receiving payments and/or questioning decisions about compensation is painless and fair. The last thing they want is to enrol in a program that adds complex administrative rules or takes time away from their business activities.
¢ Product appeal: Channel partners want you to demonstrate that your product or service is easy to bundle into their product or services, can be modified to meet buyers’ unique needs, and can be delivered without hassles.
¢ Training support: Channel partners want to know that you will provide them with materials and tools to build enough expertise in your product and/or service.
¢ Sales support: Channel partners want to see that you have engaging sales and marketing materials that will help them efficiently qualify, pursue, and close sales opportunities as they bring your product/services to their customers and prospects.
If you’re a channel partner looking to attract a vendor that has developed robust programs, you too must demonstrate a compelling reason for why vendors should choose you. Two of the most important pieces of evidence that vendors look for are:
¢ Influence and access to the right market: Vendors want to know that you have a growing and loyal network of customers and/or prospective customers who have reason to purchase their product.
¢ Willingness to adapt: Vendors want to see that you are committed to taking on new processes for getting up to speed on their products.
3. Commit to your partners’ ongoing success
Whether you are a vendor or a channel partner, you make yourself more attractive to potential program participants by demonstrating a commitment to ensuring their ongoing success. Amii Stephenson, Director of Channels & Alliances at ADP—a leader in human resources-related technologies and solutions—says the company “has constructed a program that embodies that commitment. At the same time, ADP wants channel partners who are themselves committed to ongoing success.”
ADP’s industry-leading EARN’ channel sales program—which targets professionals such as accountants and bankers—focuses on four core principles:
¢ Educate: providing channel partners insights on changing market conditions and key industry trends
¢ Ask: managing channel partners’ expectations by clearly articulating what is expected from them in exchange for receiving partner benefits
¢ Reciprocate: finding creative ways to support channel sales partners including non-traditional activities such as providing them with sales leads
¢ Notify: constantly updating channel partners on their progress and results
“Channel partners value the discipline that we bring to the process,” Stephenson adds, “because they know that they are considered key to our success and that we are essential to their success.”
Once you are “channel ready” it’s time to take steps to make sure that you can successfully manage channel partners. We address that topic in the next instalment of “A Guide to Building Successful Channel Sales Programs.”
Andrew Z. Brown has launched and promoted over 150 products and services, spanning 15 industries. He has established and managed successful channel/alliance programs internationally, co-produced Canada’s most successful business podcast, and written over 350 articles on the topics of marketing strategy, strategic alliances, product innovation, and C-Suite communications. His most recent book, “Business Truths” was one of the year’s fastest-selling business books.
For over 25 years, Phil Hogg has built successful channel programs, partnerships, and strategic alliances. He led such programs at top tier brands including Bell Canada, Rogers Communications and Moneris Solutions. He served as the President of the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals (Toronto Chapter) and is currently, General Manager, Merchant Services at Everlink Payment Services.
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