We do B2B Outbound programs for channel organizations all the time, everything from identifying new partners to delivering MDF-sponsored programs for channel partners directly. Regardless of the industry, there are common challenges within channel organizations I have seen over and over; one of them is early onboarding and adding partners that are truly going to generate revenue.
Successful partnering requires initial matching that goes beyond basic industry categories and actually needs to identify sales environment synergies to evaluate the potential accurately.
When channel execs consider a potential partner from the vantage point of similar sales environments, it ensures introducing your product as a natural fit versus something that will derail a sales cycle and both sides lose.
The complexity comes in because your channel is both an extended sales team and a customer in a sense; you are serving them as a customer with support, information, training, time, access, etc. Their "customer experience" with you impacts their level of success. As a sales team, they also increase your reach and visibility to gain greater market share and can quickly make a positive impact--but that depends on how they are supported as a "customer" in many cases.
A way to think about it is just as you hire an internal rep based on experience and understanding of your selling landscape, the same principles apply to channel partners. An example is a rep may have achieved Presidents Club selling servers or network hardware, but may struggle in a professional services sales environment. Why? Hardware and services are a completely different selling experience, not to say a rep can't move from one to the other successfully, but there are huge differences and some reps find it hard to make that leap. Channel partners multiply that challenge as they are generally running on tight margins, and can't afford a significant learning curve on a new selling landscape in addition to a new solution/product that impacts their existing productivity. They are only successful when additions to their portfolio fit in with the conversations they are already having and enhances their current solution, not distracts from it.
An example of this is in the IoT space; many equipment and device providers seek out complementary firms as partners but the sales environments can be totally different in every aspect, i.e. the stakeholders are different, the budget allocation is different, the sales cycle is different, and the investment is different. Not to mention many IoT OEM's go far up-chain and look at engineering or services firms as partners. In some cases it may work, but if their current sales process and environment is radically different, it will be tough to add your product into the mix successfully as their current sales domain is not.
Another dimension of that to consider is your channel managers and are they able to transform a sales team of a different product set to sell yours when the partner's selling landscape today is very different.
The complexities can be many, but the best way to eliminate a challenge preemptively is to match sales environments (or at least know what you are dealing with) up front as a first level of vetting.
As the OEM, enabling a new channel partner requires a lot, some of those things being:
- Ongoing training and supporting their sales team to close business
- Incentivize the partner to sell and promote your products—that can be in the form of leads and marketing incentives; if the partner is working in a different sales environment throwing leads over the fence just to be neglected and mismanaged is leaving revenue on the table.
- Staying in tight communication about new products, new releases, new features, etc. And having transparency into any challenges the sales team has in promoting those.
- Participating in sales calls, contract negotiations, etc.
As the channel partner, there is also a big commitment. Some of these includes:
- Training your sales team which often requires going offline for a bit to learn about a new product and company.
- Engaging your OEM and involving them in the process. A new topic of discussion can invigorate a sales team, and create new opportunities.
- Helping your team understand WHY this is a good fit, and WHY this expands their footprint in accounts. Assuming everyone "gets it" can leave huge gaps in execution.
We work with many channel organizations, and when companies are able to fine-tune these areas, they can make a huge impact for both parties.
I'll look forward to your comments on how you have modified your partner selection!