In this guide, we look at what a channel partner strategy is, the many benefits of implementing a channel partner programme as an effective sales strategy, and how you can create such a programme for your business.
What is a Channel Partner Programme?
A channel partner programme is a strategy designed to engage with and motivate channel partners to deliver value to your customers and, ultimately, sales for your business. Once well established, it offers fantastic opportunities to increase your reach and penetrate new markets.
Businesses today have unprecedented reach. A customer from the opposite 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 a customer even thinks about making a purchase, businesses need to have the ability to connect and address their needs. And for that, many choose to develop a channel partner network. Channel partners help gain a foothold in new markets by using regional knowledge to appeal to customers, navigate legislation, and tackle fulfilment logistics.
What are the Benefits of a Channel Partner Programme?
Today’s business climate is competitive. Companies will often struggle to meet sales goals on their own. With revenue to generate, brand images to craft and leads to track, seeking the assistance of a channel partner or third-party vendor can offer a time-saving strategy for delivering your product or service to customers on a much larger scale.
Partners are often key to growth and form an important part of the selling ecosystem. The benefits can be plenty, therefore ensuring you have an organised channel partner strategy will put you in good stead for the future.
Before we move on, let’s be clear about terminology.
- The definition of a “partner” means an approved reseller of products and components to end customers. So, although partners are customers in that they buy, they are not the end user of the product who would be referred to as the customer.
- “Customer” means a third party to whom a partner markets and/or sells products for use in their solution, and not for resale.
Often channel partners are already established within your chosen area – this is a great resource to tap into as they have local contacts and customer awareness, so you won’t be trying to break into a new market from scratch. Partners will be able to generate more qualified leads for your business because they are already well-established and have a trusted reputation.
This is closely linked with increasing conversion rates. Of course, the higher your conversion rate is, the higher your sales revenue is.
To convert more sales, your partners will leverage their relationships to attract new customers to your brand and its products. Often, customers (and feedback) are researched before the partnership is established, and therefore there will already be an appetite for the product. This is an ongoing process. Your partners will always look for new customers and new relationships to develop.
In turn, market reach and brand awareness will develop through a well-organised and considered channel partner network. New markets and customers will be explored and introduced to your business and its products, naturally growing your customer base – therefore reducing your customer acquisition costs.
How to Create a Channel Partner Programme – in 8 Steps
STEP 1: Creating your value proposition
Developing a professional channel partner programme takes time, resources and energy – all of which are valuable to you. Therefore it is important to ensure your business goals, objectives and value proposition(s) have been created and aligned with your strategy.
A solid value proposition helps you stand out from a crowded marketplace and gives you a competitive edge. It is one of the key elements in helping your customers understand your business and your product(s)/service(s).
In defining your value proposition, consider what your customers will get from using your product or service or the challenge it will overcome – the solution to their pain points, their increasing demands and the ever-changing times we live in. You should then rank and prioritise these points, discussing how important each one is. Another helpful tactic here is to compare your value proposition to those of your competitors or similar products/services on the market. This will help you to establish what sets you apart and the benefits your customers will experience.
There are lots of tools available on the internet to help you do this. The most important thing to consider here is putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and understanding their wants and needs, particularly when potentially purchasing your product.
For help defining your value proposition, click here.
Particularly with technical products and services, customers and buyers are more likely to be drawn to companies who are confident and self-assured in what they’re talking about. Channel partners are expected to be experts on the subject area so they can connect with customers and pitch enthusiastically and excitedly. Not only will this appeal to your end customers, but it breeds self-confidence in your partners and establishes a deeper level of trust and gratitude.
Understanding your value proposition will be transformational for your business. And being confident that your customers understand, will make “the sell” much smoother for your channel partners – creating much more successful channel partnerships.
When your partner relationships are booming and your customers are working well with you, they see an integrated, effective team dedicated to delivering on their needs.
STEP 2: Choosing your channel partners
Partner recruitment can be the greatest point of failure in a sales process, so getting it right often means the difference between programme success and a lot of wasted time and money. The consequences of “hiring” the wrong partner can be significant in terms of lost revenues, high support costs and damaged brand image, to name just a few. In addition, because there’s lots of competition for the best partners, having a strong partner support programme is critical. Partners usually want to differentiate themselves in the market with their core strengths and areas of expertise. These strengths are enhanced through the marketing, training and certification programmes you provide them.
Before selecting partners, it is important to first consider your strategic plan and evaluate what kind of partner needs to be participating and working in that plan. Understanding the partners’ goals and business drivers will allow you to develop a mutual plan to address goals, and motivate and engage each partner.
There are different partner types and each one represents a different kind of relationship:
- Installers and resellers: Local experts who understand the regional specifications that impact the solution.
- Integrators: Organisations that integrate solutions with other technology to address the customers’ complex issues.
- Consultants: Advisors who help ensure every aspect of the customer’s solution is designed for excellent quality and performance.
- Distributors or retailers: Those focused on the logistics of stocking and distributing solutions around the globe.
STEP 3: Reaching out to/acquiring partners
To get the right partners, you need to create a good proposition that they simply cannot refuse. This isn’t just the obvious financial incentives, but first-class training, resources, marketing and all-round support that you will offer them during your partnership.
For example, marketing support includes supplying assets and templates that they can personalise with their logos and use in local PR and marketing. You can ensure these assets include all the relevant product information and important messaging, and they get a toolkit full of fantastic resources that makes their job easier.
Ultimately, successful partner relationships are the cornerstone of successful business, but can only really blossom with the right support and education. The more energy you put into making this the focus of your strategy, the more your channel partners will be able to drive your business forward – and the more attractive you will be to potential partners.
Consider the following:
1. Partner support
The key to successful relationships is to provide fast and flexible responses to partners. Companies often plan and launch a channel partner programme that promises to deliver the necessary support, only to lose momentum along the way.
Ensuring that you maintain a prolonged commitment to the programme as it progresses allows for long-lasting partner relationships, meaning your sales will only continue to rise over time.
2. Empower partners
The best way to empower your partners is to tap into their unique strengths. Every partner relationship is going to be different, and each partner will have individual qualities that you can utilise to harness an optimum outcome. Not only will focusing on their strengths allow you to get better results, but it will also empower and uplift your partners as they will be maximising their capabilities.
Understand how your partners communicate, their operations and how they present themselves. Identify their weaknesses, as well as their strengths. Learn their internal business processes so you can better understand how to channel your energy into enhancing them, thereby better aligning your mutual business goals.
3. Dedicated resources
A study from technology consulting service the Aberdeen Group showed that properly implemented platforms and processes that support channel partners result in 13% more sales reps achieving their quotas, and 28% shorter sales cycles. A long-term partnership that delivers value requires adding value to it first – dedicating the right level of time, money and resources to building profitable, everlasting partnerships.
This also plays its role in preventing partner churn, which can have an impact on the time it takes to build up momentum with generating sales. Suitable partner support systems can streamline the selling process by establishing connections between partners and the resources they require all in one place, rather than through multiple different avenues such as phone calls, emails and websites.
By providing partners with easily accessible and up-to-date resources, they will be more equipped and prepared to represent your company as best as possible, making for a mutually beneficial and healthy relationship.
4. Provide online training
With formalised training, time and care, your channel partner programme will not only strengthen your existing relationships but will pave the way for future partners to become entirely immersed in your brand.
This will enable partners to bring value to your end-users, as well as help your partners keep up with employee churn by offering on-demand online training to help them within their roles.
Training offers a constant touchpoint and an additional communication channel, which is an invaluable tool for supporting partners. These systems and tools help to engage partners to realise your market’s full potential, providing a great solution for generating sales and boosting revenue.
Creating the right platform is crucial to streamlining the training process, both for you and your partners, and outsourcing this solution can be a great way to enable a further understanding of how your goals and objectives align with those of your partners’.
Training underpins any partner programme – without suitable training, your channel partners won’t be able to work effectively. Online channel partner training provides:
- Trust: Trust is a crucial part of any relationship, and vendors have to put in a huge amount of trust in partners that their brand is represented in the right way. By providing training, you’re crafting a fast-track route to securing this loyalty and building a better relationship.
- Faster onboarding and sales: The faster you can supply the necessary training to your partners, the faster they can start selling your product or service.
- Unified business objectives: Training provides clarity – detailing your success metrics and incentives through training means sharing the vision for the company, defining your business goals, and mapping out the driving forces behind your brand. This allows goals to remain aligned and shared success between vendor and partner.
STEP 4: Creating a channel partner agreement
To get the best from your channel partners and give them the best opportunity for success, it is important to develop and implement a channel partner agreement. This is a binding contract between you and your potential partner, which outlines the partnership, the expectations on both sides, as well as contractual obligations and processes. It may also include targets or information about changes in commission, compensation etc.
In this agreement, you should outline:
- Purpose of the agreement – Naming both partners and the role of each person/business. Here you can describe the partnership and roles, as well as any goals or objectives.
- Confidentiality obligations – To give your partner(s) a real picture of the business and situational analysis, there will be a level of confidential information shared. It is important to communicate what is confidential and not. This may include your company trading name, trade secrets, proprietary rights, and other types of valuable intellectual property.
- Relationship with partners – Make sure the agreement records your partners as independent contractors, as opposed to employees. This protects your company from having to pay for additional company benefits or tax costs.
- Support available – detail what support, training and resources are available to your partner(s). Whether this is a detailed training plan, a marketing allowance or a dedicated number of product samples, your partners need to know how you will support them and what they can expect from your business in terms of training and getting up to speed. This may also include information on marketing support and promotion.
- Payment terms – This is vital as it will include when and what your partner will be expected to pay and any incentives which may be available, such as marketing support or financial rebates.
- Indemnification – When acting on behalf of your business, your partner incurs costs regularly.. When writing this section of the agreement, consider what you are happy to be recharged or covered by your business. Be very careful with your wording here, as you may also be liable for legal costs.
- Defining responsibilities – When working with external partners, it is important to clearly define responsibilities and ensure each party fully understands the role they are taking and what needs to be delivered to fulfil that role.
- Termination clause – Sadly, not all partnerships will be ever-lasting, so it is important to detail how and when partners (or your business) can terminate the partnership. This should include how they terminate the contract – in writing for example – and how much notice they have to give (in days/weeks). This ensures your partner cannot just exit the business at the drop of a hat.
Contracts will also include some technicalities and are legally binding, so where necessary, consider including a “definition” section (also known as a glossary of business terms), as well as payment terms and signatures from both parties.
The most important thing here is to not leave anything to chance. Always get a second, professional opinion on your agreement before you both sign on the dotted line, and if you’re unsure of something – seek some advice.
These agreements do take time to develop, but they are so valuable for ensuring you and your partner(s) are, quite literally, on the same page.
STEP 5: Agree on how to measure the success
Effective management of a channel partner programme is the key to success. Without proper measurement, neither the performance nor productivity of your strategy can be tracked or modified.
So, once you have partners in place, how do you evaluate them? Here are some questions you need to ask yourself:
- Does the performance of your partners align with your programmes and plans? Typically, the set of current partnerships is a random mix assembled over the years and as-a-whole are not assessed regularly. You need to measure if your partners and their certifications have kept up with the partner programme requirements and compliance.
- Are your partners still generating a competitive advantage for you by reaching vertical and horizontal market opportunities? Or, has your strategy developed and these partnerships no longer provide value to your goals? How is your overall partner portfolio performing? Do you have the right mix of partners and are they performing effectively for you?
- Are you working with the right partners for the stage in the product/solution adoption lifecycle?
- Are your partners supporting the combination of the “Push” and “Pull” strategies required in your plan and all the targeted segments?
- Do you have the appropriate training for each set of partners? Is there an appropriate mix of strategic, operational, and tactical partnerships?
- Which groups of partners deserve your training resources and attention? Which partners will provide a significant return on training investment, and which need to be transitioned?
- Where are partners able to fill gaps such as service and brand extension? As you launch new products or market initiatives which partners will be useful and where will you need to recruit and train new partners?
- Is the overall channel partner programme effective at attracting, engaging, educating, motivating, supporting and managing your partners for success?
Introduce a tiered system
Success is often just seen as an increase in revenue, however, it’s possible to agree on additional success factors. Another tried and tested technique for motivating channel partners is using what we call partner segmentation. One common example of this is a tiered partner network. For instance, you could introduce bronze, silver, and gold partners, with a ‘Platinum Partners’ tier for your top sellers. Each segment/tier has a set of criteria which can include: training levels, sales achievements, etc. In return, the partner receives varying levels of support including discounts, rewards, and additional promotional activity.
With a programme that sees the channel partners progress through a tiered system, it gives everyone in your network an incentive to want to succeed. You can then link your training to your tiers – to become a top-tier partner, they have to have a certain level of training within their organisation. This then tells you that they’re invested in you as an organisation, they’re knowledgeable about your products, and they have the technical expertise to install and support your products.
Consider these four areas of measurement to give a full picture of partner performance:
1. Financial fitness — there’s no doubt that revenues rule. If the relationship isn’t producing revenue opportunities for both parties, there’s little reason to continue it.
2. Strategic strength — does the partnership increase your strategy advantage by increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty? Is this specific partnership opening up new markets or customer opportunities?
3. Operational performance — is the partnership meeting operating metrics and milestones? This can be measured through the number of customer visits and staff members trained and certified (both in sales positioning and implementation).
4. Relationship health — this is the “soft” measurement of personal relationships – the relationship chemistry, trust developed, the flow of communications and the ease of doing business—one of the most challenging facets to measure, but a key metric of partnership potential.
You can also segment partners based on the certifications they’ve achieved, allocating resources and rewards proportionate to their certifications.
STEP 6: Have an onboarding process
You must have an efficient and effective onboarding process – get partners up to speed and able to communicate and sell your product well. When done properly, a good onboarding process will build trust, create the foundations of a strong working relationship, and ultimately pave the way for success for both parties.
A successful onboarding process should include a warm welcome with relevant parties, ideally face-to-face or video call, mutually developing your plans together and establishing what success looks like, and of course a good training programme.
STEP 7: Provide professional channel partner training
The ultimate goal of your training programme is to achieve success for all parties, whatever that may look like.
Benefits of Channel Partner Training
1. Building your and your partner’s brand
For your partners to be “on brand” and in the know, you need to educate and inspire them right from the start. Training is invaluable for equipping your partners with the know-how to serve customers in the best way possible. In the process, you win loyalty and partners become brand champions.
The key to long-term brand building is consistency. So, all of your partners must have consistent training, to ensure a cohesive brand image across the board.
2. Transparency & communication
Being available for your partners is imperative. Providing on-hand support and training allows for greater levels of communication across the network, allowing you to build stronger relationships with your partners. It also allows you to quickly and efficiently resolve any issues if they do arise.
Open, honest and consistent communication improves partner performance and ensures a two-way communication channel between both parties. It also equips partners with the proper training and tools needed to sell your product/service to the best of their ability.
3. Reduce costs
Whilst there is a level of investment associated with delivering a professional channel partner training programme, the risk of related costs down the line, such as fixing problems/providing extra support and training, is reduced.
4. Increase customer retention
Better training means partners will be better equipped to interact and deal with customer queries and concerns, and the more you can do to ensure your partners are equipped, educated and feel confident about your business and its products, the more sales will be made.
Better customer satisfaction means better customer retention.
5. Faster Growth
Taking the time to develop a concise training plan will reap rewards in the future. A prepared and established training programme in place allows for faster training of new partners and ensures all partners receive the same, consistent training and resources.
The accessibility and readiness of existing programmes also enable partners to participate in training from anywhere, at any time, without having to wait for someone to book and plan a training session.
6. New Revenue Streams
If your training programme has been designed to add value to your partners, you have the option to sell the courses online and generate a new revenue stream.
Monetising your training programmes can be a huge bonus for your business if done correctly and with the latest technology and platform.
Aligning Channel Partner Training to Business KPIs
Once you have a channel partner training programme in place, you must align the learning outcomes with your business objectives and KPIs.
Satisfaction & Net Promoter Score (NPS)
The most important KPI is how satisfied the customer is with the product or service provided. Customer satisfaction and NPS are also some of the biggest indicators of how successful your training programme is. Positive results and high satisfaction mean the training is effective.
Align training with KPI: Successful training = better customer satisfaction
as partners will be more equipped to deal with customer needs.
This is the number of partners that decide not to continue their relationship with you.
Align training with KPI: Informative training = lower churn rate
as partners will know how to best deliver and recommend products and features.
Upsells and cross-sells
The importance of including selling techniques within training allows for better or increased sales and drives business growth.
Align training with KPI: Train for sales success, communication, identifying leads
= more sells, upsells and cross-sells
Your Channel Partner Training Programme
Now we’ll take a more in-depth look at how to get started with a channel partner training programme. Your channel partners represent your brand and present your products to clients daily. So, how much time do you spend thinking about their training needs?
The reality is, probably not enough – so let’s look at what we can do about this.
Outlining your needs
What sort of training will your partners need?
Depending on the partner, their location, and the product(s) they represent, they might have different needs and wants. Some might need installation training, whereas others might only need to know about product updates or availability.
Determine what is required by regular communication with your partners and identify the needs and challenges they are facing.
Consider how the training will be delivered and where – can it be done online, through videos, a live demonstration or training session, or is updated literature and resources enough?
Your partners need to become experts in the product/service you are offering, which means they may also require certification from your company to sell and support your product.
What product information and training do they need?
They may already be an expert in the sector, so already have a foundation of knowledge. First, establish what they already know and tailor your training to your products.
As products are updated, new launches happen and features change – ensure your partners are part of this communication and training is updated and delivered as a part of the plan.
Outsourcing vs In-House
In the early stages of training programme development, planning how you intend to support, maintain and manage it is the key to its success. For this, there are generally two options: outsourcing to a specialist or keeping it under one roof in-house. Deciding which route to take will depend on your business objectives, resources, budget and needs.
Your LMS and training programme are run for you
Expecting your company to have experts in every field is unrealistic, and bringing talent in-house when you realise a need is expensive and time-consuming.
Training internal staff is different to delivering training to external sales partners. It requires a unique skill set. Partnering with an outsourcing company gives immediate access to the expertise required to run this type of training programme.
It frees up internal resources and negates the need to employ, train and pay for new staff to administer, support and manage the programme.
Guaranteed flexibility and agility
Without the constraints of additional projects, daily workload and changing targets, often felt by internal teams, your programme can flex whenever the need arises.
Organisational requirements, audience needs and market growth all require specific attention. If the programme isn’t agile enough to meet these ever-changing needs, partners and customers can quickly become unengaged. If you are selling your courses, this can also lead to a reduction in revenue.
Working with an outside training partner means new concepts, changes in direction and solutions to new challenges can be implemented, quickly and efficiently.
Your budget is optimised
Training programmes have many moving parts. Setting and sticking to a budget is not an easy task, especially when defining internal resource and time requirements.
When you outsource, overspending is less likely to occur. A budget can be set with the confidence that it will be met. From the offset, discussions regarding initial and ongoing costs will take place with the expert insight offered by your selected specialists.
When working with a company like Wahoo Learning and taking advantage of the training eCommerce services, management of payments and invoicing revenue is also taken care of. A decision can also be made on whether to reinvest in the training programme (meaning it becomes self-funded) or whether it’s returned as profit.
Generally, outsourcing is the best option if you want full confidence that work is getting done, your programme is optimised, and everything is achieved professionally and strategically.
It’s also the best option to reduce the time, effort and complexity associated with running and managing a successful training programme.
Wahoo Learning – an outsourcing solution
As a full-stack training service provider, Wahoo Learning aims to build a service package that covers the management of the entire training programme. This includes L&D administration, LMS management, eCommerce management, eLearning content production, and user and learner support.
If you want to sell your courses, we want to help you make the programme fund itself with very few internal resources or expertise required.
Each of our services is designed to reduce the bottom line while delivering a high-quality training programme to external audiences.
Utilising the experience and expertise of our team gives your training programme the very best chance of success.
You could save money
If you already have a team of experts on the payroll, there is no real need to spend a budget on outsourcing. This alone makes keeping things in-house a much more cost-effective approach.
However, it’s important to consider whether your internal resources have the time available to enable an effective programme.
Continual optimisation is a concern here, especially if your programme needs to generate revenue.
You retain full control of your deadlines
Retaining full control of your training programme does come with its benefits, but only if you have the resources available to make things happen.
If you outsource, you will have to stick to the deadlines that are set by them. Keeping everything in-house gives you the flexibility to move tasks around should they be required. However, by doing this, you do lose an element of accountability – something which shouldn’t be overlooked.
You can work together with other departments and use your processes
Being told what to do and how to do it isn’t at the top of everyone’s favourite way to work. If you already have processes in place, and it’s important to keep to those, keeping things in-house can be an easier option.
It is also true that some teams would rather look after things themselves than have to talk to ‘outsiders’ about the best way to do things.
Perhaps it’s a part of your organisation’s culture for departments to collaborate on projects to build a sense of team spirit.
Every training programme will be different but some best practices will ensure yours is successful.
Planning for your budget:
- Be mindful of your financial capacity
- Explore the possibility of outsourcing
- Compare against the in-house resource and expertise
- Planning to sell courses? Create a self or part-funded programme
- Plan for training needs and compare them to the budget you have
Choosing the right platform:
- Match your training solution to the desired learning outcomes
- Consider all of your team and how they need to learn and/or how they like to learn
- Consider which LMS is right for you
Motivating channel partners:
- Incentivise training by offering motivational milestones and rewards
- Certification gives a sense of reward and recognises partner success
- Consider a tiered partnership programme
- Importance of continuous communication throughout
- Think about the different methods of communication for different topics and team members, for example:
- Instant messaging within your LMS
- Forums for discussions or problem solving
- Video calls and call-back functionality
Staging your training:
- Multi-level training programmes allow partners to break up their training into more digestible portions
- Reduces risk of overwhelm
- Allows your partners to keep up to date if there are any new courses or updates added
- Different levels can be delivered over an extended period, which also allows for a deeper level of partner engagement, making them more in tune with your goals as a business
STEP 8: Determine ways to motivate your channel partners and increase channel partner value
Once you have successfully recruited, engaged, and educated your partners, you will have an army full of highly trained sales teams and technical engineers. So how do you motivate your channel partners to pick up the phone, pound the pavement, and promote your product? Long-term motivation has to come from you understanding your partners’ strategic goals and ensuring you are aligned in helping to achieve them.
Traditional means of motivating partners to train such as marketing funds, marketing support, and reward and incentive programs are increasingly thought of as luxuries. There’s more to motivation than money. Often the depth of the customer base, industry recognition and brand awareness can motivate more effectively than financial reward.
Successful ways the training contributes to motivating your partners:
- Use website-based partner locators that offer end-users the tools to view partners and their training statuses.
- Offer them the opportunity for self-promotion with certifications, badges, and partner accreditations.
- Use incentives to reward the completion of training goals and KPIs.
- Link certifications achievement with partner tiers and statuses to encourage participation in additional training.
- Offer discounts for increased engagement with your training and brand.
- Create internal competitiveness by including gamification within your training courses.
- Promote and support communication with partners and with the wider community.
Provide certification incentives
Badges and certifications provide your partners with a vested interest in completing your training courses.
On our learning management system, for instance, we have bespoke, customisable digitised certification and qualification badges. They look similar to an ID badge and include the student’s photograph and the qualifications they have achieved. By using the accompanying app, students can then quickly and easily access the badge whenever it’s needed. They can also share those badges on social media like LinkedIn or Facebook to show which qualifications they’ve gained.
For the partner, this gives proof of knowledge and potentially a competitive edge.
Communicate frequently and keep them up to date
This is about having a good line of communication and maintaining multiple touchpoints between yourself and your partners. Be responsive to their questions, their wants, and their needs. Make sure that your communication channels are open and frequent.
Training helps with knowledge transfer, so make sure you get all relevant information to your partners and keep that up to date. It’s all well and good to set up a partner training programme with the best intentions of communicating effectively, but if it’s not kept up to date, frustration can quickly creep in and jeopardise the relationship.
If you’re giving them outdated information, then there’s a chance they’re going to look foolish if they’re out selling your products. Their reputation, and yours, will suffer as a result.
Your Final Checklist
- Create your value proposition
- Identify and evaluate your ideal partners according to your goals
- Ensure you have a robust onboarding plan
- Discuss goals and objectives – and agree on how you will measure success
- Implement a professional channel partner training programme
- Communicate regularly and be open to receiving feedback
We hope this guide has given you some insights and inspiration to start or develop your channel partner strategy, engage with new and existing customers and markets and, ultimately, increase sales for your business. To find out more, check our channel partner training resources.