If your channel organization is like most, it’s come together over time with a patchwork of tools and processes stitched together to facilitate interactions between partners and various departments in your company. It’s not unlike Frankenstein’s monster. It can perform basic functions, but it’s slow, ugly and sometimes a tad scary. You won’t be the first to think there’s got to be a better way.

What you need is a channel operating system (OS). Think about it. Without an OS, your laptop can’t function. And without an OS for your channel, it can’t function (at least not well), either.

How channels operate

Regardless of industry or product set, all channel organizations have core functions. At a high level, these include the following five activities:

  • Planning how you’re going to leverage partners to sell your solutions
  • Recruiting partners to sell your solutions with marketing
  • Enabling and engaging partners to sell your solutions with training and playbooks
  • Growing partner sales with marketing materials and incentives
  • Measuring partner sales progress and results

It sounds simple enough. But it’s not. When Forrester’s SiriusDecisions group first  broke down the functions under each of these five steps and across sales, marketing, and operations departments (see graphic) back in 2017, it identified nearly 90 discrete strategies and programs that you must put in place to properly support your channel. While that number has only grown over time, it remains illustrative of the incredible challenge of running a channel program.

Source: Forrester SiriusDecisions, October 2017

Your channel program may attempt to address these functions by using spreadsheets or repurposing tools used to support direct sales models, such as:

  • Recruit – Marketing automation like Pardot or Hubspot for to-partner communication
  • Enable/Engage – Learning Management System (LMS) for training
  • Plan – Project management like Asana or Monday.com for planning
  • Grow – File-sharing like Dropbox for storing through-partner partner marketing materials
  • Measure – Customer Relationship Management (CRM) like Salesforce to manage partner sales opportunities
  • More

You may even have purpose-built platforms for various individual functions like registering deals, tracking compensation, hosting through-partner marketing, or managing incentives. Despite investing in all these point solutions, your channel operations likely will suffer because they don’t work together as part of a cohesive framework. These silos create inefficiencies that put artificial limits on your ability to scale your partner program and channel revenue.

The growing complexity of channel organizations

The challenge of running your channel organization only grows in complexity over time. Often, this is due to the sheer number of partners you’re trying to support. However, it can also result from other growth factors:

  • More products and solutions – If you successfully get your channel off the ground, you typically introduce additional products and solutions through your channel sales engine. With each new solution, your organization bears an incremental lift across all the functions in the SiriusDecision model – plan, recruit, enable/engage, grow, and measure. If your processes and platforms aren’t buttoned down, you’ll find it difficult to scale to support more product sales, and growth will stall.
  • More partner types – Introducing more partner types has a similar impact by slowing growth. In this case, you must build or extend processes and platforms to support different partner models. For example, if you start your program by supporting referral partners who send you leads, you’ll find that process is relatively simple compared to supporting margin-based resellers that sell, install, and service your solution in exchange for wholesale discounts plus technical training, market development funds (MDF), rebates, and so forth.Today, partner types have extended beyond the transaction (i.e., those involved in the sale) to include partners who influence the sale or support customer retention. An influencer, for example, might be a marketing consultant advising the customer about campaigns your solution automates. A retention partner may be a training company that makes sure your customer knows how to use your solution properly. Adding influencer and retention partners also requires you to define and execute new operating models.
  • More ecosystem collaboration – Along with the emergence of new partner types is the rise of partner ecosystems that include various partners and vendors that work together to help customers. The Microsoft ecosystem is an example of many partner types and complementary integrated vendors working together to deliver a holistic Microsoft solution for customers.Your channel organization’s challenge is supporting one-on-one relationships with all entities in the ecosystem (i.e., a hub and spoke model with you in the center) as well as their one-on-one relationships with each other (i.e., a mesh model). It’s easy to see how quickly this task can become unmanageable without a holistic framework – or channel OS ­– in place. 

How a channel operating system can help

What is a channel OS? Just like your laptop OS enables applications running on top of it to communicate, store, and share data, a channel OS ensures smooth communication between your team, your company, your partners, and the emerging partner ecosystem. The OS includes the processes – manual or preferably automated –  that map to the channel lifecycle and support how you plan, recruit, enable/engage, grow, and measure.

The channel OS provides the common language and view across the partner lifecycle. Without it, you can end up with communication breakdowns that stifle partner progression through the lifecyle.

A channel OS enables you to think holistically about your partner program and, more importantly, the partner experience from end to end. Without that, you will end up with silos and a long tail of partners who sign up to close one deal and never sell anything again because they aren’t empowered to be successful over and over simply and seamlessly.

Why a simple channel OS matters

Whether or not your channel OS is successful depends on the partner experience in the same way that a successful computer OS depends on the user experience. Apple’s OS, for example, is hugely successful because it’s a platform that users can actually use seamlessly across devices and applications. Similarly, your channel OS must be easy to use and span the entire partner lifecycle.

Not sure where to start? Zift Solutions understands the advantage of a universal and accessible channel OS and has spent many years building it into a platform that it now offers out of the box as the ZiftOne for Ecosystems partner relationship management (PRM) platform. With ZiftOne, you get one platform with applications that work together, guiding your team and partners throughout the partner lifecycle, including enabling collaboration among ecosystem partners.

By combining all partner lifecycle functions on one platform, ZiftOne enables measurable gains for partner programs. On average our customers experience:

  • 200% increase in touches with customers and prospects
  • 47% increase in partner engagement
  • 21% increase in channel sales productivity
  • 25% decrease in administrative and account management costs
  • 34% reduction in time to revenue from partners
  • 82% Partner community growth within four months of launch

Ready for a Proven Channel Operating System?

Contact a ZiftOne Channel Specialist Today!