Take a look at companies such as IBM, SAP, Oracle, Microsoft and AMD to get an idea of how well using channel partners work for each of those companies. Whether they are value-added resellers (VARs), managed service providers (MSPs), systems integrators (SIs) or original equipment manufacturers (OEMs); channel partners provide a unique opportunity to help your company expand its business and enrich your marketing message on a local and global scale.
Instead of outsourcing, utilizing channel partners can make more sense, especially when it comes to building long-lasting and profitable relationships. It is much easier to get to know a partner (that is within your general geographic region) as opposed to one that is overseas. The barriers to communication are lifted, and they can go on client visits with you, as well. Additionally, studies have shown that many companies earn up to 70% of their revenue through channel partners.
Finding a Partner
Before selecting a channel partner, a determination needs to be made of whether or not the channel partner will add value to the company's bottom line. Do they have a presence in the geographical regions of your choice? Furthermore, the partner should have the ability to fulfill expectations on top of staying in constant communication. The partner should also share a mutual desire to make the relationship work; otherwise it could end up dead in the water. On the other hand, the company should also keep the partner motivated by providing them with a steady stream of leads. When these factors are combined, a channel partner can quickly extend your company's reach to more strategic levels.
Since the channel partner does not work directly for your company, they may feel a bit left out when it comes to getting information on new product releases as well as ongoing training. For this reason, it is crucial to provide continuing support. Do you have programs in place, which help augment their performance? There should also be a platform for joint strategy sessions. Here are other means of providing support:
- Use of performance measurements.
- Provide incentives and promotions.
- Offer training for any new releases or updates.
You have a level of expectation for your own employees. When channel partners meet with clients, on your behalf, they are representing your company. To that client, the channel partner may as well be you. For that reason, it is essential to have pertinent assessments in place to ensure they are delivering the right messages at the right time. For example, the partner should be cognizant of current market trends, as well as competition, that may affect their channel strategy. Furthermore, they should be breaking new ground for you in the form of opening up new markets and capturing new customers. Lastly, do they make the time to give themselves regular evaluations when it comes to promoting and selling your products?
Obtain a Channel Manager
If there isn't someone available to oversee the effort, then all planning, strategy and time will be wasted. Some companies think it is okay to use their direct sales manager as their channel partner manager. However, that can be a significant and costly mistake. First of all, the direct sales manager will have to divert their attention from their direct sales time, and it might result in a loss of concentration and potential on both ends. Hence the term, burning the candle at both ends. Instead of having a supreme focus, the direct sales team and channel partner team will only receive half-hearted work. And, this won't be the direct sales manager's fault because they are being pushed in both directions. Instead, you want someone who can give 100% of their attention to the success of channel partners. They can be available to review initiatives, provide support, offer a direct line of communication and ensure the program is remaining in line with your company's goals. Additionally, if they are tied to its success, they will be motivated to make that a reality.
Make An Adequate Budget
Some people say that to make money; you must spend money. This statement can be true, notably when it comes to working with partners. While you are excited to get the ball rolling, it may be several months before you see your first signs of profit. In the meantime, you will still need to provide support; otherwise all of your first effort will go to waste. Also, if you don't offer backing, you may risk a financial loss, and it might dissuade you from pursuing partners in the future. If you don't have a partner program, you could lose multitudes of potential profits. Moreover, planning an entire budget around building a partner network will help with company morale. If you don't, your direct sales team may feel channel partners take away from their abilities to be successful. Here are the list of expenses to consider:
- Sales and marketing.
- Administrative costs.
- Channel manager.
- Administrative infrastructure.
Learn from Your Competition
If your competitors are worth their salt, they very likely have some type of indirect sales program. Before starting yours, it would behoove you to analyze theirs. This way, you can learn from their mistakes. Understand their product, distribution and partner program. Determine their customer response to their indirect sales route. Is their program effective or ineffective? Are there areas that need improvement? How do they position their product and marketing? Is it unique? Who are their partners? Do you have the means to compete with them? Finding answers to these questions might help you to leverage their advantages while still giving yourself a distinctive benefits proposition.
Once you have set up the foundation for a channel partner program, you can then move on to focus on your company's core competencies. Operational efficiencies are improved on top of expanding your marketing team. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated to be a cost-effective route to market. In fact, many companies are increasing investment in their channel partner strategies. For instance, Dell recently announced that they will have their direct sales team push 200,000 accounts to channel partners. There isn't any doubt that once you have your programs running; the benefits might start to.