As businesses expand operations globally and compete in increasingly competitive markets, channel partnerships have become a popular strategy to drive growth and revenue. Channel partners act as an extension of a company’s sales and marketing efforts, and managing these relationships successfully allows businesses to reach new markets and customers they may not have been able to get to on their own.
However, implementing effective channel partner management strategies is essential in order to be successful and navigate the significant challenges presented by managing channel partners, such as the misalignment of goals, inconsistent messaging and inadequate communication.
Whether you’re just starting a channel partner program or looking to optimise your existing program, this blog will provide valuable insights into how to manage channel partners successfully, some of the common challenges faced and practical strategies to overcome them.
The Challenges of Managing Channel Partners
Managing partners involves much more than product training and quarterly incentives. It requires a mutual business strategy, training, mentoring and support on how to sell your product effectively, particularly in a complex external sales environment.
There are a number of common challenges that businesses face when managing channel partners. Some of these challenges include:
Lack of insight into partner operations
Unlike direct employees, channel partners operate as independent entities, making it difficult to ensure that partners represent the brand and products in a way that aligns with the company’s goals and values.
Businesses often struggle to exert control over their channel partners’ operations, leading to issues such as partners deviating from agreed-upon sales strategies or not meeting performance targets.
Misalignment of business goals and priorities
Channel partners may have objectives that don’t necessarily align with those of the company they represent. This can result in channel partners working towards their own goals rather than aligning with the brand they are partnered with, creating tension and damaging long-term relations.
Reporting against these objectives can also cause problems, particularly if the channel partner is not giving updates or alerting you to key milestones being achieved (or not being achieved).
With channel partners operating independently, ensuring open and effective communication between partners and the company is challenging. Communication can be difficult, especially if they are located in global regions or have different languages and cultures.
Miscommunication can lead to delays, misunderstandings and missed opportunities.
Since channel partners are not direct employees, it can be challenging for businesses to ensure that partners provide consistent and high-quality service and support. They may have access to different resources than the business they work with, such as marketing budgets or product information, limiting their ability to effectively sell or promote products.
Conflicts of interest and channel conflict
Partners may have relationships with competitors or conflicts of interest that can affect their ability to effectively promote and sell your products.
When working with multiple channel partners, those partners may compete with each other for business. This often leads to price undercutting, cannibalisation of sales and other issues that can harm the business’s bottom line.
Strategies for Overcoming the Challenges
To effectively manage channel partners and overcome the challenges listed above, follow these best practices:
Retaining control and consistency
While channel partners operate as independent entities, there are still ways to ensure that they represent your brand and products in a way that aligns with your company’s goals and values. One way to do this is by providing clear brand and product guidelines, and training on how to effectively market and sell your offerings. You can also establish a process for regularly monitoring and providing feedback on partner performance.
Providing your partners with product and service training, as well as clear guidelines and standards for how to interact with customers will ensure a consistent and high-quality service is delivered. To help with this, you can also establish a process for regularly monitoring partner performance and providing feedback on areas for improvement.
Collaboration and transparency
Collaboration involves working together with channel partners towards common goals, sharing information and resources, and communicating regularly to ensure alignment.
Transparency, on the other hand, involves being open and honest in all aspects of the partnership, including expectations, performance metrics, and feedback.
By adopting a collaborative and transparent approach, you can build strong, trusting relationships with your channel partners, which can ultimately lead to increased sales, improved customer satisfaction, and greater market share.
It also helps to mitigate the risk of channel conflict, enhance decision-making, and foster a culture of continuous improvement. Effective collaboration and transparency are therefore essential ingredients for successful channel partner management.
Alignment of goals and priorities
Ensuring that goals and priorities are aligned between the business and channel partner is crucial for effective collaboration. This can be achieved through regular communication, providing written documentation, and setting clear performance metrics.
Set clear performance metrics for channel partners from the beginning and review these on a regular basis, to ensure they are achievable, but also to discuss any challenges or alterations needed. Incentivise good performance through rewards and recognition – both financial and non-financial. Incentives also act as a motivator to encourage partners to work towards your goals and objectives.
Communication and relationship building
Clear and consistent communication is essential for building strong relationships with channel partners. Maintain regular communication channels and be responsive to partner needs, actively listening to partner feedback and acting on it where necessary.
Open communication ensures that any issues or concerns are addressed promptly and that partners feel valued and supported.
Technology tools such as partner portals should be maximised to streamline communication and provide easy access to resources and support.
Resource sharing and allocation
Resource sharing and allocation involve providing channel partners with the necessary tools they need to succeed, such as marketing materials, sales training, technical support, and access to customer data. By sharing these resources, you can help channel partners to reduce costs, improve efficiency and increase revenue. Moreover, resource allocation ensures that the right resources are assigned to the right partners based on their individual needs, capabilities, and potential.
Sharing resources, and allocating them efficiently, can help channel partners succeed in promoting your products.
Manage channel conflict and competition
Proactively managing channel conflict is critical for successful partnership management. Clearly define territories and responsibilities, ensure pricing is consistent across partners, and develop clear rules of engagement for partners.
To avoid negative or problematic competition and maintain strong relationships between partners and your company, establish clear rules and guidelines for how partners can interact. Setting geographical boundaries, providing unique offerings for each partner, and creating a transparent process for assigning leads and opportunities will help to keep tension low.
Some healthy competition is good for business and can help with the sales pipeline and conversion, but ensure it is well managed and communicated – and agreed upon – with all channel partners before anything is announced externally.
You can also create a culture of collaboration and teamwork by incentivising and recognising partners who work together to achieve common goals.
Regularly evaluate and refine
Continuously monitor the performance of channel partners, identifying areas for improvement, and making necessary adjustments to the partnership. By regularly evaluating and refining, you can ensure that their channel partners are meeting expectations, delivering value and aligning with company goals.
As part of this review process, also encourage your channel partners to offer feedback and be honest with you too, to ensure they are feeling fulfilled and accomplished with the partnership. It may also lead to new opportunities too, with the partner being able to give you real-time feedback on market and audience behaviours.
This strategy also allows companies to stay agile and adapt to changes in the market, customer preferences and partner capabilities.
By involving channel partners in the evaluation and refinement process, you can build stronger relationships and foster a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement.
The Importance of Training in Channel Partner Management
Training is a critical component of effective channel partner management. By providing training to your partners, you can ensure that they have the knowledge and skills they need to effectively represent your brand and sell your products or services. This training should be regularly updated, particularly when there are new products or company updates.
This not only helps to build their confidence and credibility with customers, but it also helps to ensure that they provide a consistent, high-quality experience.
Additionally, by investing in the training and development of your partners, you can build stronger, more productive relationships and foster a culture of collaboration and mutual support.
Types of training to provide to channel partners
There are several types of training you can deliver to ensure your partners are equipped to represent your company effectively. Here are some examples:
This type of training focuses on educating channel partners on the specific products or services they will be selling. It can include information on features and benefits, use cases, and target customer profiles.
By providing product training, partners can better understand the value proposition and USPs of your offerings and how to position them to potential customers.
Sales training can help partners to improve their selling skills, from lead generation and prospecting to negotiation and closing deals.
For this type of training, you can include information on effective sales techniques, objection handling, competitor’s products and how to create compelling sales presentations.
Remember, this training isaimed at helping partners to become more effective at driving revenue, removing friction from sales scenarios and closing deals.
In today’s digital world, channel partners should be comfortable using technology tools to manage customer relationships and sales processes. This can include training on CRM systems, marketing automation tools, and other sales and marketing technology platforms.
Offering training in these systems will help your partners have a smooth and streamlined relationship with both customers and your company.
Tips for Creating Effective Training Programs
Creating an effective channel partner training program is essential for ensuring that your partners have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.
Here are some tips for developing effective training programs:
Understand your partners’ needs
Before developing training programs, it’s essential to understand your channel partners’ needs and skill levels. This can involve conducting surveys or assessments to determine their knowledge gaps and training needs.
Create customised training
Based on your understanding of your partners’ needs, you can create personalised training programs that address their specific challenges and skill gaps. Include a mix of online training, in-person training and virtual training sessions.
Use a variety of training formats
To keep your training engaging and effective, consider using a variety of training formats, such as videos, webinars, interactive simulations, and case studies, helping to keep the training interesting and engaging for partners.
The formats you use will vary depending on the type of training sessions you are hosting, but do also bear in mind that everyone learns differently, so may have their own preferences too. Variety is often key to engagement.
Make training easily accessible
To ensure your partners can access training easily, use a cloud-based training platform that allows partners to access training materials from anywhere, at any time. This helps to remove barriers such as different time zones and when partners are travelling.
Using an online platform (or a Learning Management System) can also help to track partner progress and performance, and keep all content in one convenient location, where all tools and resources are easily accessible.
Provide ongoing training and support
Help your partners to continue to improve and stay up-to-date on industry trends and best practices by providing ongoing training and fully supporting your program. Deliver regular training updates and resources, as well as opportunities for partners to collaborate and share knowledge.
By following these tips, you can develop effective training programs that help to build strong, productive partnerships with their channel partners which leads to improved partner performance, increased sales and long-term growth for the business.
Managing channel partners can be challenging, but it’s a strategy that can provide significant benefits for businesses looking to expand their reach and increase sales.
By addressing the key challenges and following these best practices, you can build strong relationships with your channel partners, maximising their revenue potential and creating a strong and successful channel partner program.
If you’re looking to improve your channel partner management skills, look at investing in training. Training can provide you with the knowledge and tools needed to effectively manage your partners and overcome the challenges associated with partnership management. Get in touch here.
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