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Context is a necessary element to incorporate when building a successful partner onboarding program.

The first consideration is the context of the onboarding activity itself. Overuse has diluted the impact of the word “partner” for many, but it’s critical to remember just how intimate a relationship this is. Partners work very closely together to help each other achieve their respective goals.

Next is the context in which each participant in the relationship lives. Though deeply related, a technology product maker is not in the same business as a systems integrator, managed services provider, or other channel partner. While their goals may be well-aligned, they are not the same. This means that each must come to fully understand and appreciate each other’s goals as they literally onboard each other into their respective partner strategies.

Some of this understanding will be obtained by each during the partner recruitment process, but further discussions will improve the opportunity for each partner to assure that they get exactly what they’re hoping for from the new relationship.

Creating a Channel Partner Onboarding Process That Works for Both of You

Think about the onboarding process as a two-way street. As much as the manufacturer/maker in the relationship is onboarding a channel partner, that channel partner is also onboarding a new product and its creator into their environment.

The channel partner enters into the relationship with the advantage of knowing clearly what the maker wants and needs to accomplish, namely sales volume for their product and the customer satisfaction that will assure repeat business in the future.

At the core of what the maker needs to embrace is the shade of difference between that goal and their new channel partner’s goal. They want the partner to sell more of their product, and if that partner is a good partner they’ll want that as well. But channel competition has eliminated most of the profit opportunity available to the partner from that sale. The partner’s higher priority is to sell more of the services they wrap around those products, services that generate the most profit margin for them.

The maker focuses on the sale of the product. The channel partner focuses on selling the value the end-customer will enjoy from the use of the product.

The partner training component of the onboarding process, therefore, should focus on assuring that the partner is sufficiently skilled and has a deep understanding of how customer value is produced by the maker’s product.

How Partners Define a Successful Channel Partner Onboarding

Accomplished channel partners seek manufacturers whose partner programs best enable them to create and promote substantial engagements that put the maker’s products to highly productive use for their end-customers.

The most basic resources that partners seek include market development funds, certainly. But the truly extraordinary program will provide flexibility in how funding may be allocated, approved, and used. Rather than tying future marketing to past sales performance, some programs begin with partners providing proposals for marketing activities they’d like to engage in together. They look to the maker not only for funding, but also for creative contribution, strategic planning assistance, networking, and much more.

Marketing resources are best when the partner can adapt them to also promote their services in the context of what they can do with the maker’s product to create real results for customers. Far beyond the traditional crash-imprinting of partner logo and location, successful channel partners seek collateral that can readily be adapted to deliver their differentiators and promote their superior value proposition, too.

Channel partners actively seeking long-term results from a new partnership will demonstrate particular focus on obtaining training enabling them to deliver a host of services wrapped very closely around the products. Strategic planning and consulting services. Provisioning and implementation services. End-user and administrator training services. Ongoing service and support. The more services the better.

Experienced channel partners also know that they cannot, nor do they want to be, all things to all people. Exceptional partner programs establish communities of experts available to partner with each other to deliver more comprehensive customer engagements. Partners seek to partner with partners in other geographies to extend their physical reach. Given the increasing focus on specialization in the channel, many now seek to identify trustworthy partners offering skills they do not offer themselves.

Co-selling is also among the resources partners seek from manufacturers. Nothing builds customer confidence better than having their channel partner show up with representatives of the manufacturer in tow.

Onboarding Best Practices for a Good Partner Experience

Avoid any semblance of “one-size-fits-all” mentality. The most important thing to any channel partner, to any company in any business for that matter, is the ability to establish and convey clear, sustainable competitive differentiation. A channel partner who feels they’re being treated as just another partner will often simply leave the relationship.

Pipeline patrolling is often considered a best practice in partner management, but care must be taken not to go overboard. Should a channel partner come to feel that pipeline patrol is the primary purpose of the program they’ll quickly seek better programs elsewhere.

Pipeline, forecasting of anticipated future sales, is the ultimate outcome of many other activities. Best practice is to manage the process that will create the success, not just the success itself. Is the channel partner fulfilling their strategic obligations to the partnership? One primary benefit manufacturers seek in their partners is the opportunity to sell their products to the partner’s existing account base. Is the partner scheduling plentiful meetings with qualified candidates among their clients? Are they completing training promptly?

More subtle indicators include the making of recommendations. Proactive partners perpetually seek to help their principals improve products, policies, and more.

By design, each of these activities should result in… results! Tangible, take-em-to-the-bank results. Therefore, should a partner fall behind in achieving their sales goals, it should be relatively easy to identify where in the partner process they are lacking and where more help from the principal is required.

Partnerships are Friendships, Too

People do business with people. Partnerships between companies are created and grown by people in those companies working closely together. When everything is working, friendships are created that will transcend any partnership agreement. Everyone is best served when everyone knows they are all committed to each other’s success.

The quality of those interpersonal relationships will be the best indicator of the success of any onboarding process.

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