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Your channel managers have been hard at work scouring their contact lists, referral networks and online watering holes for ideal channel partners. Sales meetings are going well, and prospects are moving further down the pipeline with some now sold and signing agreements – to sell your services.

Now you can sit back and wait for the money to come rolling in, right?

Not quite. Despite the Herculean effort your channel team has made to win over these new partners, the work has only just begun. You now need to onboard these new partners into your channel program, so they can become the revenue-generating machines you’ve imagined.

What is Channel Partner Onboarding?

Channel partner onboarding is the process of introducing and assimilating new partners into your company’s partner program. Common elements of a channel partner onboarding are:

  • Business planning
  • Sales training
  • Technical training
  • Systems integration
  • Marketing support
  • Lead generation
  • Co-selling
  • Deal wins

These activities should be accompanied by periodic check-ins, quarterly business reviews (QBRs), and partner progress assessments in reaching agreed-upon milestones.

Why is Channel Partner Onboarding Important?

Learning how to recruit channel partners successfully is a challenging endeavor. You’ll only spoil the fruits of your labor by delivering a lackluster partner onboarding experience. Instead, give it the attention it deserves. How much is that? According to many of the channel leaders we surveyed, it’s the cornerstone of your partner program.

“Onboarding a new partner is the first experience that partner has with your organization, so it is the most important step,” said Chad Gagnon, Senior Channel Advisor at cloud communications provider Evolve IP.

When executed incorrectly, onboarding can leave selling partners ill-prepared, which is a disincentive to sell or, worse, opens the door for them to misrepresent your company and its solutions. Either way, poor onboarding can damage your reputation among potential customers and the channel community, which ultimately affects your bottom line.

When executed properly, channel partner onboarding pays off exponentially for providers by laying the groundwork for the channel partner program’s success. Results may include autonomous selling partners, a path to recoup the investment in the partner program, faster company growth, lower overhead in provider sales expenses, and loyal partner advocates who raise your company profile and impact your reputation positively.

B2B Partner Onboarding vs. B2C Partner Onboarding

Your channel partner program’s timeline to return on investment (ROI) is heavily influenced by whether you’re selling business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C).

Key differences between B2B and B2C partnerships (and by extension onboarding) include:

  • Time to value. Time to close deals will be faster for B2C partnerships due to the transactional nature of the sale.
  • Deal size. Individual deal size is likely to be larger in B2B transactions.
  • Partner enablement. Both B2C and B2B partners require marketing support, but B2B sellers are likely to need additional resources like in-depth product and sales training and even opportunities to co-sell.
  • Sales activity volume. B2C solutions are less complex than B2B solutions and typically appeal to a broad swath of consumers, increasing the overall volume of sales activities from the partner, but not necessarily the dollar value.
  • Customer service. B2B transactions may be large enough to warrant dedicated support, while B2C transactions are too small for dedicated resources.
  • The number of decision-makers. B2B transactions involve approvals from multiple stakeholders at the customer company. B2C transactions usually only require buy-in from one or two decision-makers in the household.
  • Solution training. To ensure adoption, B2B providers often must invest in live training for both the partner and their end customer. Conversely, B2C products usually don’t require instruction beyond a video tutorial or a short user guide.
  • Customer relationship management. Customer relationship management is much higher for B2B services and requires in-person nurturing on a monthly to yearly basis to retain the customer. With B2C, customers typically remain loyal or make repeat purchases if the product or service delivers value. Automated email or text nurture campaigns are mainstays for keeping the brand top of mind.
  • Personas. In B2B sales environments, the buyer of a product or service often is not the one using it, which adds further complexity to marketing and sales needs on the part of the provider and the partners. In B2C environments, the buyer and user often are one and the same.
  • Switching costs. In a B2B setting, switching from a competitive product to your solution has costs of its own, such as contractual penalties for early termination, migration fees, user training, etc. B2C switching costs, if they exist at all, are contained to a single person or household.

Factoring in the differences in B2B and B2C selling will aid you in building out your channel partner onboarding process.

Remember to set expectations based on your go-to-market model so that every stakeholder is on the same page. The last thing you want is executives or investors expecting wins from a new partner in month one if it takes four months to train them and develop a pipeline.

Map out the first 90 days (and beyond) so that your team and your partners know what to expect from your B2B partnership. Reference our blog on channel partner onboarding best practices for a sample timeline.

8 Steps to Include in Your Channel Partner Onboarding Process

To help you tactically develop a channel partner onboarding process, we surveyed 10 seasoned channel business leaders on their work in the trenches handling partner onboarding.

Eight concrete steps materialized from these interviews.

  1. Welcome Partners to Your Partner Program
  2. Host a Kick-Off Call
  3. Develop a Partner Business Plan
  4. Establish Goals & Benchmarks on a Firm Timeline
  5. Train Your Partner
  6. Provide Easily Accessible Sales & Marketing Resources
  7. Hand Off Leads & Jointly Work Sales Opportunities
  8. Track & Measure Success

Step 1: Welcome Partners to Your Partner Program

There are no second chances when making first impressions, so set the tone with a warm welcome for your new partner. Proactive communication and engagement are essential throughout onboarding, but our panel recommends creating a professional partner welcome kit as your first touchpoint.

Contents of your channel partner welcome kit will vary depending on your solutions and business model. However, it typically includes some or all of the following assets:

  • Welcome letter
  • Table of contents
  • Onboarding checklist or next steps
  • Solutions overview and benefits
  • Partner program overview and benefits by tier if applicable
  • Instructions for accessing and using your partner portal
  • Overview of partner portal contents and functionality
  • Information on training or certification programs required to sell or implement your solutions
  • Overview of sales and marketing tools and customer-facing materials
  • Rules of engagement to avoid channel conflict
  • Deal registration requirements, guidelines and approvals (if required)
  • FAQs
  • Links to all resources noted in the kit
  • Contact information, such as channel managers, sales support, marketing support, back-office support and finance

Putting all of this information in one place creates one source of truth and makes your company easier to do business with. Being a no-hassle business partner is critical, says Patrick Sheehan, Senior Director of Field Channel Sales for cloud communications provider Intermedia. “Streamline the onboarding process and try not to overwhelm partners,” he says. “Keep in mind they already have a business to run, so they can’t drop everything and focus on you.”

When sending out the welcome kit, our panel suggests you also introduce your new partner to the primary point of contact for onboarding inside your organization.

Liz Lederer, Senior Vice President of North American Channel Development for cloud communications provider Star2Star, recommends assigning a dedicated representative to walk partners through the months-long onboarding process. “We start with assigning an engagement manager who will guide you through all of your onboarding,” she says.

Step 2: Host a Kick-Off Call

After sending the welcome kit to your new partner, you’ll want to host a kick-off call to set the stage and ensure everyone is on the same page. Getting day-one buy-in from key stakeholders in the partner organization is paramount.

Our panel recommends bringing in executives from both companies to the call. Their attendance and attention communicate how much you value the partnership.

“It may seem counterintuitive to have SVPs or C-level executives attend a kick-off call, but leadership presence can set the tone for the relationship,” said Heather Tenuto, Chief Revenue Officer for enterprise channel management platform provider Zift Solutions. “It shows we’re invested in the partnership and expect the same in return. An hour of your leader’s time today can pay off exponentially for the partnership in the long run.”

Once the stakeholders have met and virtually shook hands, introduce the partner’s team to their dedicated onboarding representative and walk them through all of the available resources outlined in the welcome kit. Don’t assume your partner has read the welcome kit. Go through it together as if they’re seeing it for the first time. Remember to record the walk-through and send it along to your partner after the call; they may need to refer to it again or share it with teammates who weren’t in the meeting.

Once the walk-through is concluded, schedule your next discovery call when you’ll begin the process of developing the partner’s business plan.

Step 3: Develop a Partner Business Plan

Successful onboarding requires that you develop a joint business plan with your partner. That begins with discovery. It’s important to get under the hood of your new partner’s company so that you understand their capabilities, resources and go-to-market motions and, more importantly, where their organization performs well and where it has gaps. This baseline information is essential to mapping a path for the partner to become an autonomous selling machine for your solutions.

Identifying the sales, marketing and training needs of the partner and where vendors can fill holes is essential, says Janet Schijns, CEO of channel consulting firm JS Group. “As we work with our vendor clients, we find what works well to onboard partners varies widely depending on the solution set, partner and channel program maturity,” Schijns says. “Some common things, however, are identifying the initial business, marketing and sales plans as well as determining the rules of engagement and training cadence.”

Hilary Gadda, Director of National Channel Development for TPx, a nationwide managed services provider, agrees with the need to jointly develop your partner’s business plan. “It is important to collaboratively build out a business plan,” she says. “As a vendor, I need to completely understand the partner’s business and what their customers look like. How can TPx help them achieve their sales goals and company growth? How do we fit into their business?”

Some questions you’ll want to consider in building an effective partner business plan include:

  • What is the current total partner MRR? How much of the current total partner MRR comes from solutions like those your company offers? What is a realistic increase in MRR in six months or a year?
  • Does the partner currently see opportunities to increase MRR with your company’s solutions? If so, how many opportunities? If not, what vertical or horizontal industries does the partner feel capable of targeting to offer your solution? Can you spearhead penetration in these markets for the partner?
  • Will the partner sell into their existing customer base with your solution? Or is their existing customer base not a fit?
  • How well developed are the partner company’s sales, marketing, customer service and operations departments? Are some departments, such as marketing, nonexistent
  • Does the partner have the capacity and staff to handle front-line customer support inquiries? Or do all trouble tickets need to be fielded by your organization?
  • Where does your partner believe they struggle the most? Can your company fill any of those gaps? If so, to what extent? If not, can you connect the partner with a third party that can?
  • How familiar is the partner company with your type of solution and the industries you typically serve? How much education or assistance can you offer in this area? How does their level of knowledge impact the long-term timeline to ROI?
  • What market development funds (MDF) can you contribute to this new partnership? How will you allocate MDF and ensure agreement for its use?
  • How important are you as a vendor to the partner’s overall business right now? Are they partnering with you so they can close an immediate opportunity or fill an unmet need? Or are your solutions “nice to have” as an add-on or yet another variation of similar offers in their portfolio?

Answering these questions with your partner will get you well on your way to establishing a roadmap and realistic timeline for your partnership’s future.

Step 4: Establish Goals & Benchmarks on a Firm Timeline

As part of building a partner business plan, milestones must be set and tied to dates. Once you have a solid timeline, you and your partner will understand the pace for ramping up sales and what resources are required from both sides to reach agreed-upon goals.

“It’s important to clearly define what resources and materials are needed for the channel partner to reach the benchmarks and goals established in the business plan,” says channel veteran Robert Maute, former Senior Vice President of Channel Sales for Evolve IP.

Maute also advocates looping in stakeholders across the partner organization to ensure targets are understood and met and determine whether the partner is genuinely interested. “Engagement and participation levels with the executive suite, marketing and sales feet on the street is a good initial barometer that your process is working well,” he says. “Building KPIs aligned to ongoing success is important.”

Joint business planning is the leading indicator of success for channel partnerships, but other KPIs that are leading indicators include:

  1. Participation in technology or sales and marketing training
  2. Attendance at your events or webinars
  3. Engagement with the portal
  4. Number of campaigns sent (if supported in the portal)
  5. Number of demos or proofs of concept performed
  6. Number of deals registered

(Note: See Step 8 for performance KPIs .)

Be sure to establish frequent check-ins with your partner on reaching milestones and goals, so you can work together to make any adjustments.

Step 5: Train Your Partner

Once you’ve got the partner business plan and timeline finalized, you’re now at the point where you need to train your partner. A word of caution – don’t take your foot off the gas just because the plan is done. Multiple people at the partner organization need to understand your products, solutions and business processes so they know how, when and why to pitch your company to their customers.

“[Training] involves teaching the company story, training on the key products (high level or in-depth), showing them when your company wins and why, and then ends with how do you do business with us (quotes, orders, repair, etc.),” says Stacy Conrad, Director of Channel Sales, Southeast for TPx.

Just as the partner business plan is customized, training also must be tailored to your partner’s needs. “We have a philosophy that not all partners are created equal. So, giving them the proper training [aligned with] how they do business is important to us,” says Star2Star’s Lederer, noting that while all Star2Star partners take general sales and technical training, more advanced training tracks are based on how the individual partner sells and goes to market.

Your channel business model also will determine the required training. If you’re offering white-label services, your partner may need extra technical certification training so they can onboard customers and diagnose and resolve customer problems on their own.

You’ll also need to iron out how training is delivered by asking the following questions:

  • Will you offer self-service training (written or video courses) through a learning management system (LMS)? Or, will you provide live training – online or in-person?
  • Are certifications earned by passing courses in the LMS? Or, are mandatory live training and assessments required?
  • Is scheduled live training regularly offered so that partners can attend at their convenience? Or will partners need to schedule one-on-one live training with their dedicated rep?
  • How often will partners need to get retrained or recertified?

Step 6: Provide Easily Accessible Sales & Marketing Resources

Hallmarks of successful channel partner programs include an abundance of partner-ready sales and marketing assets, including:

  • Fast and accurate quoting tools
  • Simple deal registration processes
  • Responsive and available channel managers and sales engineers
  • Brandable sales collateral, such as
    • Flyers and datasheets
    • Battlecards with comparisons to the competition
    • Templated sales cadences with emails, LinkedIn mail and call scripts
    • Pitch decks and presentations
    • Demo videos
    • Sample proposals
  • Brandable marketing materials, such as:
    • Partner marketing kits or “campaigns in a box”
    • Templated email campaigns
    • Topical blogs
    • Demo or marketing videos
    • Promotional social posts
    • Content-rich vendor website for partners to direct customers
    • Customizable web landing pages
    • Active vendor social media accounts with valuable, shareable content for partners

It’s vital that these resources not only exist but that they are easily accessible and brandable via a self-service portal, so your partners can leverage them as needed.

“If you’re just beginning your channel program, you’ll need to invest in creating marketing and sales materials for your partners to use to sell your solutions,” says Zift Solutions’ Tenuto. “Simply having a rolodex of agents isn’t going to get the sales coming in; partners need collateral to communicate your value proposition to the end customer.

“Keep in mind, your competitors are putting in the time and money to enable many of these same partners. If you neglect sales enablement, you’ll lose out on opportunities.”

Step 7: Hand Off Leads & Jointly Work Sales Opportunities

Yes, you read that right. Send opportunities to your partner as early as you can in your partnership. You might be thinking, “Isn’t my partner supposed to bring leads and deals to me? Isn’t that the whole point of the partner program – that prospecting is their responsibility?” Yes, the goal is to eventually get them to sell independently most of the time, but the odds are that they’re going to need help selling your solution and getting a few wins under their belts.

By sending leads to partners and co-selling, you’re training them to handle real-world situations, which fast-tracks the onboarding process and gets partners closer to their revenue targets sooner. Plus, your partner will have tangible evidence of your investment in your partnership and understand you’re serious about creating success for both parties.

TPx’s Gadda believes co-selling is key to getting the partner to a place where you can finally remove the training wheels. “I believe working side by side with the partner on the first two or three opportunities is critical,” she says. “Having the partner hear how I would lead a discovery meeting, uncover needs, position a product or service and deliver solutions [is on-the-job training]. … I know it’s working well when I have helped them gain confidence [and] they bring me in when they need me vs. throughout the entire process.”

Step 8: Track & Measure Success

Now that your partner is out in the wild, hunting down deals and learning to handle the sales process more independently as months go by, it’s time to begin assessing the success (or failure) of your partnership.

Oanh McClure, Director of Alliances and Channels at cloud security provider Zscaler, measures success through two lenses:

  • The first way is through hard sales numbers. “Quantitatively, success [is measured in] deal registrations,” she says, noting this shows that the partner trusts you, validates their belief in your product and demonstrates the effort they’re willing to make to achieve success.
  • The second way is through how the partner talks about you publicly. “Qualitatively, [the] partner wants to brag with and about you,” McClure says. “They want to post about you and your business on social media, [and] they’re excited about big wins.”

Creation and execution of the agreed-upon business plan are key, says Ayesha Prakash, Vice President of Global Channels & Alliances for KELA, an award-winning Dark Net threat intelligence provider. “All of which [execution and engagement of the plan] can be tracked by implementing a partner scoring program within your CRM,” she says.

A partner scoring method will help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your partner and your channel program in an objective and data-driven way. For an in-depth look at partner scoring, reference Forrester’s article, “How Do You Know You’re Winning With Channel Partners If You Don’t Keep Score?”

At a high level, partner scoring involves classifying partners by how they fit into five categories, dubbed by SiriusDecisions “the five “Cs”:

  1. Coverage – partner access to buyers in targeted markets
  2. Compatibility – partner alignment with your company’s business model and portfolio
  3. Capability – partner departments have the abilities, skills, and experience required to function and pull in new business
  4. Creditworthiness – partner long-term financial viability
  5. Capacity – partner ability to reach revenue targets and workforce to sell

Metrics for measuring the 5Cs can include:

  • Sales Performance-to-Plan – Does the partner meet revenue targets?
  • Pipeline Performance-to-Plan – Does the partner have a sales pipeline that meets targets?
  • Existing Account Cross-Sells & Upgrades
  • Number of Sales or Technical Training Sessions Attended
  • Number of Certifications Passed
  • Deal Win Rates – Does the partner frequently win deals that involve your solution?
  • Installed Base Refresh Volume – How many existing customers were migrated to your solution or upgraded from a previous version of your solution?
  • MDF Utilization
  • Service Contract Renewals
  • Customer Churn Rate

Measuring partner performance will vary by company, solution and partner program, so use this list of KPIs as a guide to developing your own.

The Partner Onboarding Process Flowchart – Download

There you have it – eight must-have steps in the partner onboarding process. Download our onboarding process flowchart to use as a channel partner onboarding template when creating your own.

DOWNLOAD FLOWCHART

Following these steps in building and delivering your channel partner onboarding experience will give you a leg up in creating and retaining top-tier partnerships.

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