It's easy to generalise the needs of channel partners, but every partner is unique so a one-size-fits-all approach to Channel Marketing won't work. So how can Channel Marketers can be more effective?
For many software vendors and service providers a partner channel is the most effective way to reach end users. They provide specialist knowledge in vertical sectors, specific addon solutions as well as local market expertise.
When your partner channel works well it’s a huge asset to your organisation. But every partner is different, they might be a partner for multiple vendors and their own business goals, priorities and ambitions will differ too. So, it’s rare that a one size fits all model will work.
Real challenges can arise when your channel isn’t managed well; when they don’t have a clear vision for the future, or they can’t see a clear journey mapped out for them. Perhaps they don’t feel like they get the right support or reward. Before you know it, it can feel like your channel is running your business rather than you.
When partners aren’t managed well, unhealthy competition and poor practice might start to appear which can also hamper effective growth and achievement of your organisation’s goals.
So how do you effectively manage your channel?
What’s your Why?
Asking the question, "Why do we have a channel?" seems very (almost too) basic, and that’s probably why it's often overlooked.
When the organisation was in its infancy the question was most likely answered, otherwise you wouldn’t have a channel today. Yet as organisations grow, their vision, mission and goals change and going back to the question of why you have channel partners and what purpose they serve in achieving your goals is critical to success.
An audit is a really good way to review and refine your channel partners to make sure that you’re driving towards to same end game. It’s something you can do internally or you can hire an external agency to support you and provide some independence.
Only when you have the right mix of partners can you start to manage them in a productive way, providing the support, guidance, reward, and recognition they need to thrive.
Every partner is different, they might have some commonality in that they all sell one or more of your products and services, yet they are each a business in their own right. And so, it’s worth considering segmenting your channel, allowing you to better tailor what you offer to each group.
Even if you’re just starting to recruit channel partners and this doesn’t seem important now, it’s still worth thinking about it now. This will allow you to prepare in advance and ensure that you’re ready to act when the time is right. It will also help you drive the narrative of your communications.
How you segment your partner channel will depend on your business model and set up. Some might consider geography while others choose size or sector. Whatever you choose it should be closely aligned to your vision and goals, allowing you achieve them in the most efficient way.
We all know that communication is a key part of any human interaction or relationship. It’s how we transfer instructions, information, and knowledge. But as George Bernard Shaw famously said,
“The single biggest problem in communications is the illusion that is has taken place”.
It’s something we’re all guilty of at times, we send voicemails, messages, and emails without always checking that they’ve been understood. And that lack of understanding, or misinterpretation of information can be costly for an organisation in terms of revenue, reputation, and relationships.
A common problem we've seen is for channel partners to receive mixed messages from vendors, especially when the vendor is a large organisation, with different marketing teams. It's common to hear of partners receiving one message from a corporate team, whilst receiving different news from their local channel team.
Before you send partners communications make sure you’re clear about the information you need your partners to understand, consider the best way to transfer this information. Think about the mechanisms you can put in place to be certain that it’s aligned to the one message, been received and understood as you intended.
To further complicate managing and communicating with your channel is the sheer number of one-to-one relationships involved, and there’s a formula you can use to get a sense of the scale of those interpersonal relationships.
(x2-x)/2, where x is the number of people you have in your team, including yourself. And remember in the context of your channel, you’ll be including each team member at the partner as well as any of your team who works directly with them.
Let’s say you have a team of four and you have five partners each with 3 staff, that’s 20 people, and if we run that through the formula, it’s a whopping 190 one to one relationships. And each of the people in that team will have their own preferred learning and communication style.
While we’re not suggesting that you spend time counting up the number of people across your partner channel and internal support teams, it puts into perspective just why communication within your channel is so complex and why it’s so easy to get it wrong.
With 2022 coming to an end, now is a great time to think about how your channel will look in 2023, starting with an audit. And you can take a moment to discuss with peers the challenges of finding the "Right" partners to do business with, in an upcoming channel community roundtable - How to grow your partner network in 2023. If there's anything else troubling you about your channel, you can always drop us a line.