Partner training is a universal requirement for partner programs. However, the format that training takes – in-person or online, live or recorded – and how programs should allocate resources is up for debate. In our survey on 2023 partner program predictions published in December 2022, channel experts anticipated that in-person partner training would increase in 2023, winning out over online training as a result of Zoom fatigue and digital burnout following the pandemic.

Was that forecast accurate? We’ve got some best practices for partner training based on input from channel experts, including:

Want to skip ahead? Check out eight best practices for partner training programs in 2023:

  1. Meet Partners Where They Are with Hybrid Training Options 
  2. Colocate Partner Training Sessions with Major Partner Events & Summits 
  3. Make Partner Training Content Available On-Demand 
  4. Reiterate Your Channel Value Proposition During Partner Training 
  5. Gamify & Reward Partner Training to Boost Engagement 
  6. Optimize Partner Training for Scalability & Speed-to-Delivery 
  7. Keep Partner Training Content Current & Relevant 
  8. Dedicate Staff Resources Across Multiple Departments to Partner Training 

What Is Partner Training?

Partner training is educational content, courses, and programs designed to teach ecosystem partners about supplier products and services so they can effectively promote, sell, deploy, and support them to end customers.

What Are Types of Partner Training?

Partner training isn’t one-size-fits-all. Training must be customized by partner type (e.g., referral, sales agent, reseller, integrator, and so forth.) and by departments within the partner organization (e.g., sales or technical).

The most common types of partner training include:

  • Sales Training – The most common type of training, sales training educates partners on selling vendor services to end customers. The training typically covers customer pain points and challenges, problems the vendor solutions solve, and situations where the solution is or isn’t a fit.
  • Technical Training – Technical training is designed to educate partner sales engineering, technical deployment, or support staff responsible for handling support requests, deploying services at customer locations, and/or monitoring, maintaining, and managing vendor solutions for the end customer.
  • Compliance Training – A less common type of training, compliance training is offered by suppliers that must meet industry compliance requirements like HIPAA, CIPA, PCI-DSS, and more. Compliance training informs partners about these requirements and how the supplier’s solutions ensure compliance.

What Are Partner Training Delivery Methods?

Partner training is primarily delivered through two distinct delivery methods: in-person and online.

  • In-Person Partner Training – In-person partner training is delivered in a classroom, seminar, or lab environment. Oftentimes, these trainings are held at the vendor’s offices or a conference facility. Common formats are “lunch and learn” or roadshow events. However, partner training may also be delivered coincident with an industry event or annual partner summit. Instructors typically are vendor subject matter experts but may include third parties.
  • Online Partner Training – Online partner training is delivered in several ways, including virtual events, live or recorded webinars, partner portal content, or courses in a learning management system (LMS) or partner relationship management (PRM) software platform. Instructors typically are vendor subject matter experts but may include third parties.

In-Person Vs. Online Partner Training

While in-person training and online partner training are each designed to educate, they have strengths and weaknesses to consider when developing your partner training program.

The primary differences between in-person and online partner training include:

  • Interaction & Engagement – In-person training allows for higher volumes of interactions between partners and suppliers, more opportunities for one-on-one discussions, more opportunities for authentic feedback, and higher chances of retention of information since multitasking is more difficult. Plus, the in-person format offers ancillary opportunities to network, build trust, and nurture relationships between suppliers and partners. Community-based learning between the partners themselves is easier to foster in an in-person training environment. Online training offers less opportunity for interaction as students often consume recorded content. Questions may be submitted even if they’re attending a live webinar or virtual event, but voice and text chat are often disabled to keep the training on track.
  • Training Pace – In-person training and testing must be completed within a fixed timeline (four hours, eight hours, etc.), which may be challenging for some students to keep up. Even if first held live, online training sessions typically are recorded, enabling partners to review at their own pace and relisten to complex lessons to reinforce understanding.
  • Guest Experts – Online training edges out in-person training when it comes to getting high-quality speakers and experts to present to partners since travel and time out of the office aren’t an obstacle. Additionally, if a supplier holds specialized training with an outsourced vertical expert or similar third party, the cost of paying for that expert’s time is greatly reduced in an online setting.
  • Partner Attendance – Online training presents an opportunity to reach a wider audience of partners by eliminating the investments of time and money to travel to in-person training. In-person training is limited to partners with the resources to travel or who happen to be in the immediate vicinity of the training location. That said, if partner training is not required, online training attendance also may be low if the content is not compelling.

8 Best Practices for a Successful Partner Training Program

How should your partner program handle in-person and online partner training? Our expert panel shared the following eight best practices to keep in mind.

1. Meet Partners Where They Are with Hybrid Training Options

Our experts’ predictions that in-person training would increase in 2023 may have been accurate in comparison with the previous year, which was still under the shadow of the pandemic. However, our channel experts don’t see a return to pre-pandemic preferences for in-person training.

“I believe you will continue to see a hybrid [of in-person and online training],” says Kathleen Martin of Community Architects. “The pandemic showed how you can do both and be successful. I think the big change in the last four years is seeing vendors step up and meet their partners where they are, not just where they want them to be.”

Choosing the mix is dependent on a range of factors, such as type of training, budget constraints, and participant availability, says AchieveUnite’s Caragol.

For example, technical training may require engineers to be onsite with access to a learning lab, while sales training typically can be consumed easily online.

“In-person [training] allows for more questions, open dialogue, and going off-topic and simply strategizing,” says TPX’s Stacy Conrad. “But online training allows economies of scale where you can train a lot more people in a faster time frame.”

Amy Bailey of Unusually Unusual Consulting agrees. “People have become more accustomed to online training, but I think many still learn better with a live instructor,” she says, noting for that reason, the best partner programs will offer a combination of online training and in-person events to meet partners’ individual needs and preferences and drive engagement.

2. Colocate Training Sessions with Major Partner Events & Summits

Another way of boosting partner attendance at critical training sessions is to colocate with larger industry events or partner summits where partners will be present.

Community Architect’s Martin points out that there’s a time and place for all types of training events, but that the large-size pre-event day training will be the “winner” for many companies. “Adding on a day or half-day training session to an event where everyone is attending makes sense in terms of capturing an already-in-attendance audience and limiting additional time and expense with travel and logistics,” Martin says.

This strategy is also recommended by AchieveUnite’s Caragol, who notes that “…given the current condition of the market, budgets are being squeezed, so partners will prioritize which events and how many to participate in.” Combining training with a must-attend event can improve participation.

3. Make Partner Training Content Available On-Demand

Fighting for partner mindshare is a challenge across every element of the partner journey, including training. To combat this issue, Community Architect’s Martin anticipates programs will create more on-demand training for online learning management systems (LMS) housed in partner portals, especially in video formats.

“These training platforms give individuals the opportunity to consume and engage when it works within their schedules – not taking them out of the field (revenue producing time),” says Martin. “It is a win-win for vendors and partners when it comes to increasing engagement and participation.”

She explains that webinars and LinkedIn Live events will continue to be effective, but partners may not be able to attend in real-time, depending on their competing priorities, like customer requests.

Keeping this in mind, BuzzTheory’s Henderson also recommends adding recordings of live training sessions to your on-demand access library. “Whether you host live, instructor-led training in person or online, be sure to record video and make it available online and on-demand,” she says. “This will maximize your investment in the programming by extending it to a wider audience.”

Consider working with distributors, if applicable, to expand access to online training beyond your own partner portal or LMS. Unusually Unusual Consulting’s Bailey says many suppliers in the IT space are adding training sessions to portals and LMS platforms operated by their distributors and technology services brokerages (TSBs).

4. Reiterate Your Channel Value Proposition During Partner Training

Our panel notes that the most successful programs make the most of their time in front of partners by producing training that includes messaging about the value of partnering with their company.

“Never miss the opportunity to drive home the message of partnering with your company and the benefits that are unique compared to your competitors,” says Community Architect’s Martin

BuzzTheory’s Henderson explains that “students” attending the training may not be the same as the decision-makers who decided to partner with your organization. “It’s important that these sales, operations, and technical folks walk away from training understanding how working with your company makes their jobs easier – whether that’s by virtue of offering a solution that just works or by delivering support resources like marketing, sales, and support they need to be successful.”

Of course, you also need to back up those claims with actions. “Training is only one element of a partnership,” says AchieveUnite’s Caragol. “For the training to be received well, the overall program needs to be a great experience for the partner. The better the overall partnering experience, the more well-received the training will be.”

5. Gamify & Reward Partner Training to Boost Engagement

Gamification is a tried-and-true marketing tactic to increase partner engagement in training programs. Gamification typically offers incentives that create an engaging training environment and increases retention of course material. Common gamification elements include:

  • Leaderboards
  • Badges & Awards
  • Certifications
  • Access to MDF, BDF, or joint go-to-market campaigns

Martin encourages channel leaders to keep it simple so that everyone can participate. Engagement is key. She also encourages vendors to leverage the training program to help build a community. “People want to go where others already are,” she says. “Invite them [to] a private party of people just like them – all winners. Show them how to be the most ‘winning-est winner’.”

While some students will take pride in completing training, Unusually Unusual Consulting’s Bailey points out that partners like displaying a badge on their LinkedIn profiles that validates their training, certification, or expertise. Partner companies also like to advertise these achievements to help win over customers.

Bailey says effective gamification can also generate buzz and help boost partner recruitment for your organization. She cites an example from her previous role as Senior Vice President of Marketing at technology services brokerage Telarus, where the distributor developed the “Race to the Summit” training program, which encouraged partners to complete challenges similar to the reality show “The Amazing Race” and compete for a grand prize. As part of the race, partners “created Instagram posts, called channel managers for demos, and watched training videos,” says Bailey.

6. Optimize Partner Training for Scalability & Speed-to-Delivery

Like all the other elements of your partner program, training must be scalable. This means creating a core education program that applies to a majority of your partners and layering more specialized content on that foundation.

BuzzTheory’s Henderson explains: “Partner training is a lot like going to college. You want to get your 100- and 200-level prerequisites out of the way so you can advance to ‘upper division’ classes in your area of specialization or hear expert guest lectures on the state of the art or the current market outlook.”

Most importantly, Henderson says, on-demand delivery is key to scalability. “Investing in an LMS, or better yet, a PRM with a built-in LMS, can help you deliver training courses with personalization by partner type and role at scale,” she says. “Partners have instant access to training and testing at their convenience. Meanwhile, your team can spend their time updating courses or creating new ones instead of teaching the same tired material over and over.”

7. Keep Partner Training Content Current & Relevant

Keeping content current solves another common problem for partner training programs. AchieveUnite’s Caragol notes that, too often, training content is not relevant or impactful when compared to the long list of competing priorities partners face every day.

Focusing on issues that are timely over and above the core curriculum can boost engagement. For example, helping partners stay abreast of developments in your industry such as innovations, regulations, and market conditions, can help them better advise their clients. This year, for instance, addressing strategies for dealing with a slowing economy and the emergence of Generative AI have been timely topics.

Another tactic is bringing in third-party experts who are leaders in your space to deliver guest lectures, which can also be helpful to engagement.

“Our live webinars have significantly increased in attendance this year (post-pandemic) as we are heavily focused on relevant topics and industry experts,” says TPx’s Conrad.

When it comes to your core curriculum, it’s easy to set it and forget it. But if your training courses don’t reflect the current product or state of the market, partners are likely to tune out.

“While you might be quick to update your product training, don’t forget to look at sales training,” says BuzzTheory’s Henderson. “Sales strategies change over time, especially as your space and client base mature.”

Also, be mindful to provide content that’s relevant to the partner – not only their role but their stage. “There’s a call for basic training, but it may be too elementary for more experienced partners who’ve been selling similar solutions for many years. You need to provide a path for them to continue to enhance their skills and success with your partnership,” says Henderson.

8. Dedicate Staff Resources Across Multiple Departments to Partner Training

High-quality training programs take input from across departments in the supplier organization. Our panel cautions against thinking of your training program as separate from the rest of the partner program.

TPx’s Conrad argues that a strong partner training program requires dedicated resources. (No, sending a single channel manager to host occasional in-person events doesn’t count.)

In her view, partner training requires a larger strategy that:

  • Combines in-person and online delivery methods
  • Covers topics that a range of partner types are interested in
  • Solicits feedback so you can make improvements along the way
  • Assigns a dedicated sales enablement department and national account team to assist with event recruitment and training programming

Partner programs and ecosystems should consider adopting these best practices to get the most out of their partner training programs.

Ready to get started with managing partner training through your PRM? Request a demo of ZiftONE today!