From your dealers and distributors to your franchisees and resellers, they all keep your supply chain running and help hit your company’s overall goals. Therefore, it’s in your best interests to provide them with the best channel partner training possible.
Businesses today have unprecedented reach. A customer from the other side of the globe can specify or order your product and have it arrive within a week. Yet accessibility doesn’t automatically translate to sales. Before an end customer even thinks about making a purchase, partners need to have the ability to connect and address their needs. That’s where training comes in…
However, since they don’t work directly for you, you can’t just provide your internal training prograes and expect a direct knowledge transfer or morale boost.
In this blog, we explain what channel partner training is, how it will benefit your business and the key steps to take to build an effective training program.
What is Channel Partner Training?
Training your channel partners equips them with the necessary information to function well with your entire network. It includes training them on your brand, products and services, requirements from other channel partners, regulations, and how to sell your product or services.
It is invaluable for equipping your network with the know-how to serve customers in the best way possible, and in the process winning loyalty and becoming a champion of the brand.
Just because they’re not on your payroll, it doesn’t mean they’re any less part of your team. These third parties work as an extension of your team and represent you in local markets.
Working with partners to improve their knowledge has benefits that extend to every facet of your business, from your sales and market reach to your growth potential.
What Does Channel Partner Training Entail?
Onboarding is typically a multi-step process that aims to get your partner’s knowledge and skills up-to-speed, and also integrate them into your overall partner program.
During this phase, partners should also be taught how to use, navigate and make the most of your chosen Learning Management System (LMS). Businesses can also use this time to discuss potential gaps and weaknesses that the training program will address.
Product training constitutes the meat of channel partner training. Over the course of training, partners are taught everything they need to know about your product, from basic specifications and installation to advanced troubleshooting. Some companies, like IBM, certify individuals as technicians after training.
One of the most important aspects of channel partner training is knowing how to sell your product or service. Closed deals are the result of effective communication, and during sales training, partners are taught how to talk to customers, address their needs, and deftly resolve uncertainties they may have about purchasing.
The Benefits of Training Channel Partners
The overall result of training your channel partners is that it helps both your businesses achieve success. Here are the benefits that lead up to that final point:
Better communication and a stronger network
Issues that might arise regarding your products, protocols, or performance expectations can be resolved before they become full-blown problems. Training opens up lines of communication, making it clear that your company and your partners are all in it together. Partners will believe in your partnership, making them more likely to stay.
Less need for your support and a lower churn rate
Training your partners on customer support, such as answering tough questions and providing solutions fast, can significantly reduce the chances of you losing customers. Remember that it costs five times more to acquire customers than to retain existing ones. You will also save on resources that are typically used for regularly providing support to your partners for such issues.
Educating channel partners has the bonus trickle-down effect of better educating your end customers. And when end customers know more about the strengths of your business, they are more likely to stay loyal.
Increase in sales
An important part of the ongoing sales process is gauging satisfaction. Training channel partners to improve their communication with end customers on that aspect has a positive impact on the sales process.
It typically takes a long time to onboard new partners into your business network. However, a training program based on previously successful onboarding methods can make the process much more efficient, especially when you start scaling operations.
Protect your brand
In this age of social media and virality, an ignorant PR blunder from a partner can damage your brand by association. Training can alleviate that worry, knowing your partners represent your brand properly.
Measuring the effectiveness of training requires gaining feedback from your partners who undergo the program. Take the results from your surveys and the sentiments from comments to improve your partnership.
What Problems Can Channel Partner Training Address?
When people walk into Apple-authorised stores, they expect the same thing: clean aesthetics, premium service and highly knowledgeable staff. Location doesn’t matter. Whether you’re in Shanghai or London, the experience–and the brand’s vision–is consistent.
That’s the power of channel partner training. Your customers have set expectations for your business. When these are met, it creates a stronger affinity and recognition for the brand. Conversely, your reputation also takes a hit whenever customers have a bad experience that involves your product, although this can be avoided through training with consistent, standardised messaging.
Lack of customer trust is not the only issue training can solve. Because they’re not directly employed by your business, channel partners can feel left out of the loop. They can be less likely to care about the impact of their behaviour on your business.
Channel partner training brings them into the fold. With access to a constantly updated LMS and accompanying training program, partners can feel more included and are more likely to continue working with you. It also gives partners a deeper understanding of why you operate the way you do, which can help secure their support and enthusiasm.
Lack of control
Clear communication is one of the challenges of working with channel partners. You are separate entities often focused on individual internal problems, quotas, and KPIs. Amidst the flurry of daily operations, regular communication can fall by the wayside.
With an LMS, businesses have a way to keep the knowledge of channel partners updated without being too disruptive. Simple reminders about updated courses and incentives help keep product training front-of-mind for channel partners and also offer an additional source of communication
Rising support costs
When sufficient training is not offered, you will see a rise in service support costs. For example, if your product requires professional installation, each of your installers must have the competence to fit the product and check their work. In addition, as your company expands into new markets, you can expect to start facing issues unique to the region.
Trained channel partners can help ease the strain on your in-house support agents by resolving issues before they reach your team. This helps customers get their troubles solved faster and helps decrease the cost of hiring more people to handle the load.
Knowledge will be your edge over every other product on the shelf. Around 70% of customers say knowledgeable salespeople heavily influence their purchasing decisions. The more trained partners are, the better they can sell your products.
And increased sales secures loyalty not just from customers. When channel partners can move your product faster off shelves and feel like they are fully supported, they’re more likely to choose to sell, specify or install your product over your competitors.
Designing Effective Channel Partner Training Programs
Now that you know how it’s beneficial to train your channel partners and have the confidence to sell the idea to them, you can focus on building a training program that works:
Identify training objectives
Objectives provide much-needed direction for effective training programs. Find out what your channel partners need to learn, as these will serve as your objectives. This can vary depending on how familiar they are with your network, what role they play in your supply chain and a host of other factors.
Product launches and plans to penetrate new markets demand product and market training. Onboarding partners require general training on your business’ values and practices. Let your partners’ needs guide your program design process.
Identify the individuals who need the training
Once you realise what the information and skill gaps are, you need to know your audience. Even one topic has to be explained differently depending on the level of knowledge of the learners taking the course.
Is it the front-facing sales department that you are designing a program for? Is it the technical support team? What about the marketers for a specific channel partner? Each division of a company has its own familiarity with a subject, its own way of learning, and its own uses for new information and skills.
Align partner’s KPIs with company goals
Without KPIs in place, you will have no concrete proof that your training programs are actually working. However, it’s not just enough that you have KPIs for your partners. They have to align with your company’s own goals.
If you want to increase customer retention by 30% in your current financial year, it should be clearly stated to your partners that this is your desired result from them taking your training course.
Identify the best training method
There are different ways to train channel partners, but they can be boiled down to traditional and online methods.
Dynamic in-person interactions that traditional learning does best can’t be fully replicated, but there is a great resource cost to assembling large groups of people with different skill levels and work schedules for classroom education and conferences. Our new normal has also made this method impossible for the foreseeable future.
The benefits of eLearning make it the optimal method for corporate training. It’s more cost-efficient and convenient than sending employees to workshops and seminars. Employees can access online courses anywhere and anytime at their own pace. Combined with occasional live training sessions like in blended learning, your organisation can enjoy the best of both worlds.
Gamify the training courses
We know gamification can have positive effects on motivating learners. Online learning, especially through a learning management system (LMS), facilitates gamification elements such as leaderboards, points and levelling systems, and digital badges for achievements. Gamifying courses introduces fun incentives and friendly competition that pushes learners to do their best.
Break down topics into bite-sized content
Instead of dropping multiple complete courses on your channel partners, you can slowly dole out small chunks of educational content that focus on one lesson at a time. They run full-time businesses themselves with deadlines to meet. Microlearning can fit into their schedules more easily while highlighting the most important concepts they need to absorb.
Use the right LMS
In-person training is out of the question for the immediate future, in light of COVID-19. Thankfully, having an LMS allows channel partner training to continue. However, not just any LMS will do.
A good LMS has certain features you’ll need for your channel partners. It should be optimised for various devices like smartphones and tablets. It has to scale well with the size of your business network, so a cloud-based LMS is ideal. Robust tracking and reporting are necessities if you want to properly measure your channel partners’ training compliance and performance.
Renew and update
As good as your partner training program is, it’s not a set-and-forget deal. There might be changes to your products or new regulations that your partners need to be informed of.
Technological innovation can raise industry standards, and new skills must be developed to stay competitive. Ensure continued relevance and success by regularly updating your partners’ training courses.
Sell Your Training Courses to Partners
The benefits of these courses might seem obvious to you but may not always be for your partners. In such cases, you have to sell them on the idea of taking your training courses.
Let your partners know you recognise their problems. You can communicate this with a marketing campaign that targets their corporate training leaders. It’s also advisable to include incentives (e.g. certificates/badges, discounts, giveaways, etc.) in the campaign to strengthen your case.
If you want to know how you can effectively sell your training courses to your partners, we have written a step-by-step guide that you can follow.
Mistakes to Avoid
Over the years, I’ve also seen many mistakes. Instead of motivating channel partners, these oversights and errors are ultimately going to partners off your training courses:
Not maintaining your channel partner training
Sometimes partners will look to build and launch their programs, do a big release of a large set of courses using a platform, and then the team will disperse to other projects, never to get the focus back on it. When launching courses, you have to maintain your focus and stick with it to ensure it works effectively as a tool for motivation.
Knowledge is an ever-moving goalpost, which means you’ve got to maintain relevance. And if you’re not updating your material, you’ll have no reason for your partners to come back to refresh their learning. They also won’t be able to find out about new products, new updates you’ve done, or any changes in your sales strategy.
Looking at training in isolation
Another key mistake is organisations that look at training in isolation. Training has to be seen as an element in a broader partner program, which includes more than just training to motivate partners. A successful partnership cannot be built purely on training alone..
It’s all about your sales model and your sales approach. It’s supporting your partner through product updates and maintaining your relationships. So don’t look at this in isolation; instead, look at this from a long-term perspective and incorporate other methods of motivation to keep your channel partners performing as they should be.
Make Training Accessible and Valuable to Channel Partners
Your channel partners need to see the value of training beyond your own business’ immediate benefit. Communicate what’s in it for them. Identify their pain points and create training programs that address them in a digestible and engaging format. Reward their efforts accordingly. If new challenges arrive, renew your training programs so that your channel partners can rise to the occasion.
Excited about channel partner training? Dive deeper into training program delivery with our blog ‘Outsourcing vs In-House – Which is Best for Delivering Your Training Program?’ and discover the pros and cons of outsourcing and in-house training delivery.