• The channel is more competitive than it has ever been. Even smaller players and upstarts need channel partner reporting data to compete in today’s environment.
  • Channel partner reporting helps you across a wide swath of strategic and operational objectives—from better decision-making to stakeholder motivation.
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are central to developing a channel partner management reporting framework, but it’s as essential to think about how metrics are derived as the output they provide.
  • Ultimately, KPIs should help you assess new partner potential and identify which established partners you’ll invest in.
  • Your reporting framework should consolidate information, deliver the right information to the right parties at the right time, and help you nurture relationships with partners.

Channel partner reporting impacts your entire channel operation. Without it, you’re flying by the seat of your pants.

To be fair, many companies launched successful channel programs without partner reporting—especially in the channel’s early days. It’s easy to take care of partners and their customers when you’ve only a handful. Get some basics right like provisioning, commissions, and support, and you could be wildly successful in the game.

But two significant channel realities are rapidly putting navigation-by-instinct in the rearview mirror:

  • Today’s channel competition is fierce. Competition in the channel isn’t what it was 20 years ago, or even five years ago. Its proven pay-for-performance advantages can power unparalleled growth, which has spurred competition in every aspect of working with channel partners and their customers. Leading channel firms are leveraging data to make smarter decisions faster and help their partners grow their businesses. Players that want to become leading channel firms need that same data to compete.
  • Channel success creates scale quickly. Throughout the channel’s history, companies with channel success often experienced growing pains when scaling up. As their programs matured and sales accelerated, their success sometimes got out from under them. Today’s channel entrants have learned from the struggles of companies before them and are building in growth-management tools from the get-go. That means data.

To help you develop or improve your channel partner management reporting framework, we talked with eight highly successful executives in the channel—from top analysts, marketers, and consultants to operators inside firms large and small. Here’s what we learned.

How a Channel Partner Management Reporting Framework Can Boost Your Business

Channel partner reporting is your flashlight in the dark. It helps you see where you’ve been, where you are today, and where you’re headed. More importantly, it empowers you to change course and optimize your journey. As we learned in discussions with these same channel leaders about best practices in channel partner reporting, having access to the right data helps you:

  • Make better decisions. From the C-suite to your channel account managers (CAMs), reporting dashboards can give your team the data it needs to make better decisions faster.
  • Identify strengths and weaknesses across your channel program, including people, processes, and partners.
  • Build stronger partner relationships. Incorporating data into your discussions with partners helps you build trust with your partners through transparency and helps tell the story of your partnership.
  • Motivate personnel and partners. People are competitive creatures; a good dashboard can go a long way toward coaxing partners to excel.

What to Consider when Creating a Channel Partner Reporting Strategy

Data, for all practical purposes, is a tool. Just as you need the right tool for the job, you need the right data in your reporting framework. In practical terms, this means that channel partner reporting is all about key performance indicators (KPIs).

Before we dig into the nuts and bolts of building your framework, consider these valuable observations and advice from our panelists regarding KPIs:

Tip 1: Building a successful reporting framework requires the right metrics

When it comes to assessing the best KPIs for internal use in evaluating the health of your channel program, it’s essential to take a holistic view of the data. That means it’s not only important to discuss the most important metrics to track but also the flaws in the KPIs most organizations use, how they can be improved, or be replaced.

Reconsider these commonly-used metrics:

This “feel-good” metric might look good on paper but doesn’t necessarily provide insights on revenue potential or possible problems. Better metrics include the percentage of partners and their salespeople that are consistently closing sales and the percentage of active producing partners that drop out (i.e., partner attrition).

Tracking total partner revenue or even partner revenue compared to quota can lead organizations to falsely believe that their partners and partner programs are successful. The reality is that they’re simply using channel partners to fulfill orders and not leveraging the multiplier effect of “having more feet on the street.” A more accurate reflection of partner contribution and value is partner-originated (or influenced) revenue.

Knowing how many deals partners are pursuing is a good metric. However, it is not necessarily a measure of opportunity or sales skill, but of reporting skill. More telling metrics are pipeline coverage and win rate/close ratios. Sales velocity is an even better measurement; it analyzes how fast deals move through your sales pipeline and generate revenue. (To calculate sales velocity, multiply the number of opportunities by average deal value and win rate. Then divide by the length of your average sales cycle).

Generating revenue from net-new customers is critically important to growth and is an important metric to track. However, maintaining and expanding existing customer satisfaction and revenues is just as important because it produces advocates who drive net-new customer revenue. In addition, renewal and repurchase rates and upsell/cross-sell revenues are critical contributors to profitability and long-term viability, especially in a recurring revenue model.

To drive revenue growth, you need to maintain an active pipeline of potential partners and organizational accountability for signing qualified and committed ones. However, signing new partners is the easy part and not necessarily representative of future revenue. Remember the Pareto Principle, which says 80 percent of the typical supplier’s revenues are derived from less than 20 percent of their partners. The more important metrics to track are the cost to acquire and activate a new partner, onboarding completion rate, and the average time to a partner’s second deal to avoid counting on the “one-hit wonders.”

Other key metrics that channel organizations should be tracking to measure their health include: 

  • Return-on-investment (ROI). To eliminate wasted investment, focus on high-producing programs and maintain the company’s willingness to invest in channels, you should measure and compare your various partner programs’ ROI (revenue generated by the program compared to the cost). Focus on deal registration and co-op/market development funds (MDF) since they’re usually the most complex and expensive programs within a channel organization.
  • Partner profitability. Eliciting feedback from partners about their satisfaction with all aspects of their vendor relationship is essential. Since the major factor contributing to partner satisfaction is partner profitability, this metric is just as important, if not more so. If your partners are not driving profitability by promoting, selling and/or supporting your offerings, they’re not going to invest in more training, marketing or sales activities.
  • Channel team performance and satisfaction. Nothing matters more when it comes to channel revenue success than having the best possible people in place to support your partner community. Best practice metrics to track are the percentage of channel account managers (CAM) achieving at least 75 percent of quota as well as their churn rate and their satisfaction level.

Tip 2: KPIs should help you decide in which partners to invest

When discussing which KPIs are the most important for external use in communicating with partners, determining which partners to focus on is essential to successful channel management.

Not all partners are created equally. Therefore, a core determinant of channel success is effectively deciding on which partners to focus time, effort, and resources to drive the highest return. The traditional approach has been to assess, rank, and prioritize partners based primarily on revenue performance. However, revenue is a lagging indicator that measures how a partner performed in the past.

With rapidly changing buyer behaviors and market dynamics, past performance is no longer the strongest indicator of future performance. High-performing channel organizations derive more accurate insights by assessing and prioritizing partners based on revenue performance as well as the value they deliver and their growth potential. They also share that data directly with the partners during joint business planning and quarterly business reviews (QBRs) to open dialogues about where and how both parties can make needed changes or improvements to drive mutual success.

Tip 3: With new partners, look for leading indicators that help you assess future potential

Partner engagement metrics, such as those listed below, are important leading indicators of the future success of a new channel partner. In other words, the more engaged they are, the faster they grow and the more they grow. That said, as partners move beyond the onboarding and activation stage in their journey with a supplier, there are more predictive and prescriptive metrics to track, as outlined above.

Does the partner actively participate in annual joint business planning and QBRs, with the right people at the table? Additionally, are they willing to engage in collaborative account planning and cross-sell targeting? The long-term metric should be the effectiveness of those plans based on pre-established metrics.

How many and what percentage of partner employees are trained and certified? The long-term metric should be how many of those are actively closing deals.

What is the number and percentage of partner employees regularly logging into the partner portal and downloading information? What is the average amount of time they spend on the portal?

How many supplier-specific marketing initiatives has the partner executed? Did they achieve the established measurable results?

Does the partner maintain a professional website with accurate, relevant, and timely information on your portfolio? Additionally, are they promoting your portfolio via social media?

7 Steps to Build a Channel Partner Management Reporting Framework from Channel Leaders

With the KPI overview as a backdrop, you can apply the recommendations from industry leaders on building out your channel partner reporting framework. Here’s their advice, presented as actionable steps you can take to set up your organization for success.

  1. Map Your Channel Partner Reporting Needs with Stakeholders
  2. Pick Strong Tech for Channel Partner Reporting
  3. Integrate PRM and CRM to Improve Channel Partner Reporting
  4. Build In Best Practices for Channel Partner Reporting Upfront
  5. Design Your Channel Partner Reporting Dashboard and Report Templates with Your Brand in Mind
  6. Build Channel Partner Reporting Dashboards for a Range of Roles and Relationships
  7. Leverage Quantitative Channel Partner Reporting Data to Spark Qualitative Discussions

Step 1: Map Your Channel Partner Reporting Needs with Stakeholders

Since it’s difficult to establish meaningful data when your metrics keep changing, you’ll want to bring stakeholders together to nail down those metrics. That means internal personnel and alike.

Matthew PeeplesStep 2: Pick Strong Tech for Channel Partner Reporting

“It’s almost cliche to say that not all solutions are created equal,” says  Lionel Farr, Chief Technology Officer for Zift Solutions. “But as any seasoned channel executive can tell you, it’s true. Hopefully, you’ve got a partner relationship management (PRM) that’s up to the task of delivering the data you need to know from your partner activities that also can pull in the external data you need so you can centralize it.”

If your PRM isn’t up to the task, consider business intelligence (BI) and data visualization platforms. “[Use] a wrapper like POWER BI to generate centralized views from disparate data sources,” says Brent Earlewine, Senior Vice President of Indirect Channels for IntelePeer.

Brent EarlewineEileen Corrigan, channel leader, uses reports instead of dashboards. She says BI can be helpful across complex business units, markets, and ecosystems.

Eileen Corrigan

Step 3: Integrate PRM and CRM to Improve Channel Partner Reporting

Farr’s observation on leveraging your PRM for data centralization was echoed by most of our experts. Using your PRM as a single source of truth is logical and convenient—particularly when factoring in integrations.

Kris Blackmon, Chief Channel Officer for JS Group, advocates using a PRM to centralize data and emphasizes the need to integrate the PRM with your customer relationship management (CRM) system–not only to eliminate data silos but to avoid channel conflict, too. “Vendors wanting a full understanding of their channel have to start with really leveraging the heck out of their CRM,” she says. “I see too many examples of companies that use only the barest capabilities of their CRM, which is a giant miss.”

 

Kris Blackmon

“Being able to pinpoint where in the pipeline you’re losing prospects is absolutely critical for growth efforts. Your CRM needs to tie to everything, especially your PRM system. Every time you have to manually enter data into your CRM, you’re wasting time and increasing your opportunities for error. Having your CRM and your PRM closely tied together not only gives you vital visibility into your own pipeline but it helps you manage your partners’ opportunities. Most importantly, it helps mitigate channel conflict, which is the number one complaint of partners about their vendors,” Blackmon says.

Step 4: Build In Best Practices for Channel Partner Reporting Upfront

“Leverage everything you know about best practices upfront so you can minimize refinements later,” says  Heather Tenuto, Chief Revenue Officer for Zift Solutions. “You want to focus on how to use your data effectively and not become bogged down in experiments and redesigns.”

We’ve developed an extensive review of best practices with channel leaders, which you can review in full here. Here’s a quick highlight video as a refresher:

Video: Channel Reporting Best Practices

Step 5: Design Your Channel Partner Reporting Dashboard and Report Templates with Your Brand in Mind

Once your data is in place, ask your brand manager to design your dashboards. Today’s visual brand specialists are skilled in data visualization. If you don’t have a brand manager available internally or through your marketing agency, make sure you use your formal brand guidelines when developing your dashboard.

“You may think it unnecessary to focus on the data presentation, but it makes more sense to do so when you consider a recent webinar you watched and how the quality of the slides impacted your perception of the presenter and his or her company,” says Khali Henderson, Senior Partner for BuzzTheory.

Khali Henderson

Step 6: Build Channel Partner Reporting Dashboards for a Range of Roles and Relationships

Everybody looks at data differently depending on their role in the organization. For example:

  • Executives don’t want to sift through piles of data to get what they need.
  • CAMs need actionable information.
  • Partners want to understand and improve upon their performance.

Take the time to build the right dashboards or reports for the right parties.

Step 7: Leverage Quantitative Channel Partner Reporting Data to Spark Qualitative Discussions

When all parties have the data they need, you can leverage that data to improve performance. Sometimes, driving quantitative improvements requires qualitative assessment with partners. Having objective data at your fingertips helps to put those discussions in perspective.

“The quantitative data should lead to qualitative discussions,” says IntelePeer’s Earlewine. “The struggle is embedding or producing qualitative data as part of the actual dashboards. A [partner] relationship health index score is a possible example where we can use the quantitative data to feed a qualitative ‘report card.’”

Andy Gilbert