Imagine: You set a pen down on a pad of paper and walk away. Would you be surprised if you returned and saw that the pen hadn’t written anything down? It’s the right tool for the job, but it has yet to do anything.

Why, then, would you recruit a channel partner and expect sales from that partner to come rolling in by themselves?

“…But We Provided Training!”

Get ready for the big “so what” coming your way… Training is great, but some learners return to their offices after training and are unable to do much with their new knowledge.

To some extent, you can’t blame them! Partners have plenty of other vendors who look to them for sales, just like you do. They’re busy and can get distracted or redirected.

Start by remembering why you recruited channel partners in the first place. You likely can’t hire enough salespeople to reach your customers directly. You need more “feet-on-the-street” if you’re going to make your numbers.

It’s also important to realize that every channel salesperson already has customers! They don’t have to go out and find them. They’ve already done the hard work of creating great relationships. All you want is for salespeople to include your products and services in what they’re selling to customers. There’s no faster way to get exposed to more opportunity.

Back in April, we talked about how to measure partner engagement. Our article focused on the five “metrics that matter” that lead up to the all-important increase in sales. Let’s now look at five great ways to drive those metrics up and to the right.

1. How to Improve Channel Partner Engagement

Your first step up the ladder of partner success depends on how many channel partners you’re expected to manage. If it’s only a handful, you should be able to climb the rest of this ladder quickly.

These days, however, most channel account managers are expected to do more with less, and that’s exactly the right strategy. Set yourself on doing more and producing more sales while focusing on fewer partners.

“Which Partners?”

Your first step is to understand who your partners are, and who they’re not. Both are equally important. From there, you should be able to identify partners who:

  • Are willing to put in the hard work to promote your products
  • Are enthusiastic about working with you
  • Have a large number of accounts who would be great candidates for your products
  • Proactively prospect and sell
  • Understand and appreciate the value of marketing
  • Participate in your training and promotional activities
  • Have the ability and the attitude needed to succeed

You should expect to find that about 20% of partners will meet these requirements. According to the Pareto Rule, 20% of any community will give you 80% of your desired results.

However, this certainly doesn’t mean you should ignore the rest of your partners. Some may surprise you. Do your best to get their questions answered and requests fulfilled. 

Review your partners with salespeople to hone in on top candidates. The right partners will show the highest likelihood of buying your products. They’ll respond positively and confirm expectations. The wrong partners may seem confused by your questions and become evasive.

2. Deploy the Buddy System with Channel Partners

Strong relationships are based on shared interests and shared experiences. Both you and your partners have shared interests, called “customers” and “sales.” The best shared experiences are those that result in success. Early sales will build excitement and enthusiasm not only for the sales rep you work with, but also for everyone else on their team. 

Even while you still have partners working with your partner enablement team to build skills and knowledge, identify customers who would benefit from your products, and encourage them to take you on a “buddy-call.” Nothing teaches a great sales pitch like watching an expert, so be that expert for them and show them how it’s done.

This is a good time to start making metrics mean something to partners. Introduce the sales representatives to what you’re measuring, how they can score higher, and what scoring higher will mean for them.

3. Consider Your Partner Engagement Manager

Your partner’s success depends upon having all cylinders firing, not just sales. Enlist your partner engagement managers to start coaching and mentoring the leaders of each department, including customer service, technical services, operations, marketing, and more. Your goal is to have the entire partner organization ready to pull the trigger the moment their salesperson returns with the first sale.

At the same time, your channel account manager needs to continue making friends and building stronger relationships with each salesperson. This is the best way for them to know who to focus on long-term. Top salespeople will work hard to digest good advice and put it to productive use. Again, don’t be surprised if this is 20% of the sales team. That number may be higher in partner organizations that are particularly good at selecting and hiring great sales talent.

4. Equip Channel Partners with Marketing Knowledge

Be sure to review every piece of channel marketing collateral you have with each salesperson. They need to know not only what each piece is about, but also how to use each piece to successfully pitch the product. 

Other great tools you can provide are reusable engagement models, which describe a specific project using your products. This is especially effective when selling into specific vertical markets.

Also, look for opportunities to work with your partner’s marketing team to customize your collateral for their use. Every partner wants to show how unique they are, and they should be helped to do so. The best outcome is collateral that presents the partner’s servicing capabilities and highlights what they can do for a customer using your products.

As partners become more familiar with how to pitch your products, you’ll see them become more effective at selling your products by themselves. These customized collateral pieces will really help to keep highlighting the close partnership between you and your partner.

5. How to Keep Channel Partners Engaged

Once all partner salespeople and management are enthusiastic about your products, it becomes time for your channel account manager to focus on the last work in that title: manager.

Checking on each partner’s pipeline is a fine way to keep in touch with their progress on the potential sales they are working on. But, if that’s all your channel account manager does, they may soon feel resentment coming from those salespeople.

The best salespeople need management driving them forward, and their management team needs someone focusing them on your products instead of the next vendor’s. Also, senior management often appreciates having an objective outsider to bounce ideas against. The best channel account managers become trusted confidants and strategic players in their partners’ businesses.

The support you provide to the development of your partner’s strategic plan starts with your own partner engagement plan. While the plans you have for partners may have some sections in common, you’ll want to include customizations based on your early exploration of each partner. Each partner is different with unique strengths. They’ll need varying support from you and your channel management team.

When you demonstrate your enthusiasm to have a deep engagement with a partner, the right ones will respond with the same enthusiasm.