Successfully enabling your channel partners delivers numerous benefits in all the areas that matter to the C-suite, including:
The Key Components of Any Partner Enablement Strategy
Shorter sales cycles – A powerful enablement program shortcuts partners’ learning curves and speeds sales qualification and quote times. In turn, improving these key metrics accelerates time to contract and, by extension, closing.
Higher conversion rates – Partners get better at generating revenue when they’re better educated on products and solutions, or they have access to materials and hands-on support to help them close business. Partner enablement delivers on both fronts.
Better quota attainment – Partners that can shorten their sales cycles and increase conversions are better at meeting – and beating – their quotas.
Accurate forecasts – As all of these key performance indicators (KPIs) improve (sales cycles, conversion rates and quota attainment), so does the accuracy of your channel revenue and partner performance forecasts. Accurate forecasts translate directly to accurate planning – not just in your channel department, but throughout the company.
Scale inside the partner organization – Have you ever noticed that your sales team seeks out the best salespeople in your company for tips and tricks to help them close more deals? Partners are no different; they gravitate toward success. The better you enable them, the faster your company mindshare grows, and the quicker your products penetrate portfolios across your partner organizations.
Lower partner attrition – When you deliver a strong enablement program to your partners, you keep them active and engaged for a longer period of time. That’s because you’re strengthening the ability of your partners to close deals. There’s no more powerful way to build partner loyalty than by helping them grow their businesses.
Sales partner enablement should be an integral part of your channel partner onboarding program. We’ve identified seven core program building blocks that can simultaneously build your partner’s capabilities and your mutual partnership:
The foundation for any partner enablement program is training. The scope of this activity will depend on your particular company’s solutions. In some cases – vertical solutions, for example – a significant portion of the training will be dictated by industry-specific needs. But many of those principles apply to selling a broad-based B2B product. Training should include:
2. Goal Alignment:
Market demand and the problems your product class solves
In which niche(s) your product plays best
Why your product is better for your partner’s customers
What the partner gains from selling your solution
Current partner SPIFFs and end-customer promotions
How to get closing support when it’s needed
Hopefully, you’ve developed an ideal partner profile (IPP) and screened for partners that align with your strategic goals and operational capabilities. But don’t assume that success will materialize based on compatibility alone. Take the time to map out goals for the partner that align with your overall goals, identify where your partner has holes that you can help fill, and make plans to check in regularly on progress toward those goals.
Your competitors don’t pack up and go home when you’ve successfully converted a partner. They invite your partners over and over – often with steadily increasing incentives – to jump ship and sell their solutions instead. On this front, your best defense is a potent offense. Build in incentives that keep your partners selling your products in pursuit of higher-level rewards. Well-rounded partner incentive programs typically include SPIFFs on product sales, bonuses on revenue milestones, luxury rewards like car leases and trips for top performance, and public recognition of their achievements through awards.
4. Sales & Marketing Collateral:
Many channel partners are great salespeople. Most are not great marketers. Providing your partners with materials – both physical and digital – they can use to promote your solutions is key. Depending on your partner mix and your partner program model, you’ll need to provide fully white-labeled or co-branded materials to which the partners’ logos can be added.
5. Ongoing Communications:
These days, everything changes quickly. Keeping your partners updated is both challenging and essential. You need a communications plan just for partners like you do your internal teams and your customers. These could include product bulletins (for new products and updates), partner newsletters, email campaigns and dedicated social channels to communicate with your partners.
6. Get Feedback:
A good partner program incorporates partner feedback not only on your products and how they perform on the street but on your partner program itself, including your partner enablement program. In fact, the best partner programs have borrowed a fundamental tenet of design thinking—feedback-based development and refinement.
7. Partner Enablement Software:
If all of this sounds like a lot of work, it is. That’s why scaling is both a challenge and a necessity. On this front, partner enablement software can be your best friend. Embrace it.
10 Steps to Build Your Partner Enablement Framework
Partner enablement is a big undertaking, but it doesn’t have to be painful. We’ve broken the process down for you in 10 simple steps that can help you achieve success, and we asked a panel of industry experts for advice along the way.
1. Arm Your Company Before Arming Your Partners
2. Plan in Advance for a Simplified Partner Enablement Experience
3. Nail Down Your Other Partner Onboarding Practices
4. Establish Your Training Plan
5. Build Your Incentive Plan
6. Develop and Deploy Collateral
7. Establish Your Communications Routines
8. Align and Set Your Goals
9. Be Responsive
10. Assess and Adapt
Step 1: Arm Your Company Before Arming Your Partners
A little prep goes a long way. When establishing or evolving your channel program, it’s essential not only to work through how to recruit channel partners but also to enable them. You’ll especially want to think through platforms, including learning management systems (LMS).
“A solid LMS is critical to educating and certifying partners on your products and process,” says Robert Maute, Chief Revenue Officer for master customer experience technology integrator CX Effect. “In addition, a solid Partner Portal (PRM software) is critical to providing them with tools and strategies to help better market your products.”
Liz Lederer, Senior Vice President of North American Channel Development for Star2Star, agrees. The cloud communications provider gives partners access to its LMS for technical and sales training and its knowledge base for technical support, account information and quoting tools.
Step 2: Plan in Advance for a Simplified Partner Enablement Experience
Your partners saddle up with you to solve their customer problems and grow revenues, not to decode how to work with your company or use its systems. Like all of us, they suffer easily from app fatigue. Make their experience painless and positive.
“Make it easy. Make it quick,” says MeiLee Langley, Senior Director of Channel & Field Marketing at cloud communications provider Nextiva. “Give partners tools they can learn, use, and measure easily and quickly. Partners are busy selling and implementing products; show them the value the training, tool, or program will bring them and how little time and effort it will take them to complete/use it, and you’ll see your engagement soar.”
Tess Smith, Senior Vice President of Sales for NetFortris, shares these sentiments. “Simplify constantly,” he says. “Understand context, align priorities, prioritize time management, measure outcomes and adjust accordingly.”
Step 3: Nail Down Your Other Partner Onboarding Practices.
Partner onboarding and enablement are intertwined in a yin-yang symmetry. Partner enablement is essential to channel partner onboarding, but onboarding is also a crucial part of enablement. Getting the rest of your onboarding processes down pat will set up partners for success through the rest of the process and build trust at that crucial time when your partner is forming opinions about working with you.
“My advice [is to] build trust early on by demonstrating your commitment to the relationship and to the mutual success of the channel partnership,” says Jasmina Muller, Vice President of Global Channel Partnerships for global critical event management platform Everbridge. “Get to know their business objectives and how best you can help them support their end users, and continually offer the enablement and engagement they need to succeed. Build the relationship for the long term, and plan for the future.”
This is sound advice that applies throughout the relationship—from ensuring that you’re employing partner onboarding best practices to rewarding partner loyalty and longevity.
Step 4: Establish Your Training Plan
In addition to the LMS solutions advocated by CX Effect’s Maute, other opportunities for training exist, including:
Live training at your partner’s site
Live training on-site at your company
Remote or virtual training (including webinars for established partners)
Incorporating training in partner summits
Co-locating with or near major industry events that will attract many of your partners and planning training days adjacent to the primary event’s dates
Helping partners close deals (some may need assistance until they’re fully up on your products and value propositions)
In-person contact with your partners is important because video calls can’t fully replace the impact of face-to-face meetings, says Charlie Pagliazzo, Vice President of Channels at communications solutions provider Granite Telecommunications. He’s also a strong advocate for enterprise-wide support of partners when they need it.
Step 5: Build Your Incentive Plan
Make support] available all the way up to ownership to work with partners and their prospects,” Pagliazzo says. “Participate in partner training sessions. [We] attended every event partners were having pre-pandemic [because] attending industry events and always being there [demonstrates commitment]. [Embrace] partner and client visits. Video calls can’t totally replace in-person visits. I predict they will resume post-pandemic.
Once you’ve got your partners through the door, you’ll need to give them a reason to stay engaged with you. Your most potent competitors – and if you use them, even top-tier distributors – develop reward systems that incent their partners to send revenue their way. You’ll need plans of your own in order to compete in today’s channel.
Additionally, if the right support systems are in place, you can create incentives that help your channel partners develop more autonomy in their sales efforts.
“Like a building under construction, partners need good scaffolding,” says Heather Tenuto
, Chief Revenue Officer for enterprise channel management platform provider Zift Solutions
. “Provide tools and support while they are learning to sell and support your product or service, but also incentives for earning autonomy.”
If you want to develop bigger and better rewards programs, refining your partner enablement framework into a well-oiled machine generates more ROI toward that goal. It delivers the revenue and margin predictability you need to cost-justify your incentives.
TIP: Some partner programs incorporate lead sharing into the mix. In some cases, leads are provided as rewards for business closed. If you include lead sharing in your partner enablement plans, be sure to track the outcomes of those leads to ensure that future leads are routed toward partners that work them effectively.
Step 6: Develop and Deploy Collateral
As we noted earlier, most channel partners have stronger sales than marketing skills. Providing materials they can use to present a more professional image can help them close business. And you’ll make your brand manager happy in the process because you’ll ensure that representations of your company are complying with brand guidelines.
Liz Lederer, Senior Vice President of North American Channel Development for cloud communications provider Star2Star, says her company leverages its existing knowledge base to give partners access to collateral that often can be branded for channel partners. “[We] give our partners access to our knowledge base,” she says, “which includes marketing collateral, sample campaigns, call scripts as well as help with technical support, account informant and quoting tools. They have access to all of our social media content, and we can co-brand most content for their use.”
Typical forms of collateral for channel partners to deploy include:
Step 7: Establish Your Communications Routines
Brandable flyers (digital and print)
Landing page templates
Digital ad templates
Product and educational videos
Nothing is static in 2021. You’ll need to communicate with your distributors and partners for product updates, training opportunities, partner events, contests, SPIFFs, promotions, commission distributions and much more. Much of that information also has to be communicated internally. Here are some simple but effective steps you can take to maximize efficiency and avoid duplicative efforts:
• Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to. Determine which internal communications assets can be repurposed to keep your channel partners tapped into vital information. This could include materials that can be rethemed/reskinned for the channel, internal distribution assets your channel team forwards to your channel partners, or information you can copy and paste into channel-specific templates and update routines. You’ll likely incorporate all three into your plan.
• Plan processes for the rest. Determine how you want to manage other communications that need to reach your channel partners. There’s a good chance you’ll end up with a mix of product bulletins, newsletters, updates on your channel-devoted social accounts, emails, texts, and portal and application updates. Depending on the content, you may share it across many of these communications channels. The important part is to establish processes, so your communications become automatic and scalable.
• Assess and adjust. Use surveys and one-on-one engagement between your channel managers and their channel teams to ensure you’re reaching partners on their terms and assess how effective your outreach strategy is. Make adjustments when needed.
Step 8: Align and Set Your Goals
The need for alignment between your firm and your channel partners’ needs isn’t new, but how your firm can help your partners achieve their goals has changed since the pandemic—particularly in areas of digital transformation. It’s accelerated, and alignment moving forward will need to be calibrated accordingly. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“While the pandemic presented many challenges, it has also provided many opportunities to reimagine how you conduct business in a digital normal,” says Michelle Ragusa-McBain, Vice President of Global Channel & Digital Strategy for channel consulting firm JS Group. “Once you align on your goal, vision and strategy, you can leverage a symbiotic strategy to survive, thrive and excel in innovative new ways.”
Step 9: Be Responsive
As we discussed earlier, getting feedback from your partners can keep you on your game and ahead of your competition. Solicit feedback regularly and empower your channel team to escalate channel enablement requests. And make closing support available when it’s needed. In fact, depending on the complexity of your product, you may prefer to prioritize closing support as a regular part of doing business. It’s also important to keep in mind that many partners assist their customers with a much broader solution set than yours, so it may be impractical for them to develop the same level of product knowledge as your internal employees.
“We advise our partners to not worry about becoming experts in our portfolio, or in the technology but rather to dive into business challenges their customers are facing and to engage us early in the conversation so we can become an extension of their team and help to solve for those business challenges,” says Lacey Rondon, Regional Partner Leader for multicloud solution provider Rackspace Technology. “Partners have access to so many providers it’s near impossible to be proficient in all aspects of the provider’s offerings. We try to teach our partners enough to gain their customer’s buy-in for the second meeting, and we find that is more valuable for our partners long-term.”
Step 10: Assess and Adapt
Modern channel enablement platforms make it easier than ever to assess the efficacy of your channel programs and the performance of your partners. You can use them to deploy live surveys, identify partners that may have been poached or showing signs of inactivity, and develop dashboards that you and your partners can use to maximize the effectiveness of your partnership.