partner engagementAs an account manager in the channel marketing space, I work with organizations of all sizes. The one common challenge that is frequently brought up is partner engagement – how to build it and how to maintain it.

More and more companies rely on their partners for indirect sales and as a means of reaching additional customers. Therefore, having a partner communication and engagement strategy in place is crucial to ensure the success of all parties. Additionally, partners and resellers have multiple suppliers making it even more important that the supplier stands out and establishes an engagement plan to build partner loyalty.

When creating and executing a partner engagement plan, there are a few key tips to keep in mind for ensuring success.

1. Relationships

Building relationships is important in all aspects of life, both personally and professionally. When solid relationships are built, all involved parties achieve some level of satisfaction and value. Of course, this is easier said than done – there are many instances where a relationship is a one-way street and only one involved party is gaining value while the other is getting nothing in return. This concept also applies to suppliers and their channel partners. Treating channel partners as an extension of the supplier, and not just another task on their to-do list, will only help strengthen that relationship.

2. Developing programs and content that are responsive to channel partners’ needs

Take some time to understand partners’ challenges and be sure to structure programs to address those challenges and needs. This will only help drive partners to sell the products and services to the end customer and increase ROI. If channel partners are not receiving relevant marketing materials from a supplier, focus will shift to a different supplier that is taking their needs into account.

3. Consistent communication and follow-up

As in any relationship, keeping consistent communication is key. If the only outreach to partners is once a month, when new content happens to be available in which they may or may not be interested, or just out of the blue to make an announcement about a new product, it is likely that the partner will brush it off or ignore it altogether. Keeping partners up to date on upcoming product releases or changes to existing products or solutions enables them to keep their customers up to date as well. Channel partners should be encouraged to stay current, adopt new technology early, and be fully supported to retain their reputation as collaborative trusted advisers.

4. Getting partner buy-in

Show that you care and have listened to their needs and challenges. Your partners are only as successful as the tools that you make available to them. Pushing out a bunch of marketing materials that are being used on the direct side may not be of any relevance to your partners. If they see this as a trend, and that you (the supplier) are providing them materials that do not suit their needs, the end goal of increasing sales for both parties will not be met and partners will begin to lose trust. If partners are able to provide their input, they will be more likely to participate in programs.

5. Getting channel managers’ buy-in

Channel managers play an integral role in providing partners with the tools and education they need to utilize the marketing materials from the supplier. Demonstrate the value of programs to channel managers and provide them with the resources they can use with partners and resellers to keep partners engaged. The more program advocates, the better, and this will result in increased leads, more sales, and improved ROI.

Bottom line, partner engagement is essential in creating partner loyalty. Putting channel partners in a position where they can become experts on the suppliers’ products and solutions will enable them to go to market with confidence, build their sales funnel, increase revenue streams, and produce an overall increased ROI.