For companies offering B2B technologies, there’s no faster way to achieve the coveted exponential growth curve than through a strong network of channel partners. These partnerships can open up new markets and supercharge customer acquisition rates, giving companies the edge they need to move from contenders to market leaders. On the flip side, a poorly executed channel strategy can cripple a startup or emerging company and cause setbacks from which they may never recover.
Leveraging the channel takes time, strategy and execution in order to create a high-performance network of sellers that are empowered and incentivized to tell your company’s story, demonstrate your core selling proposition and tailor it to their customers’ goals and needs. Companies don’t get many chances to succeed with their channel strategies, as everyone is competing for the same partners within specific industries, regions and markets. You may only get one chance.
Today’s digital tools have eliminated traditional implementation barriers for even the most entrenched technology companies to gain the flexibility, reach and scalability required for successful channel activation. In addition, SaaS applications are becoming increasingly complex, less self-service and more likely to require hands-on help. By leveraging the right combination of cloud platforms, tools and processes, vendors can increase their market traction for both legacy on-premise applications and modern SaaS solutions through the channel.
Here are the top areas where technology companies should focus to win channel partners and accelerate growth.
Co-marketing support and consistent messaging
Offer co-advertising opportunities within online and offline channels, events, sales and educational content and social media promotion. For example, if your channel partners bring customers to speak on your behalf at industry events, that is gold for you both. As you collaborate, remember that messaging is most powerful when everyone is unified. Present and impart the same messaging and content to all partners, but make room for flexibility because your partners naturally understand their local markets and culture better than you do and may tailor the messages accordingly.
The right incentive strategies can motivate partners to hit select targets, but they might not maximize overall sales if everyone is not aligned with each other’s overall quotas and business goals. Plan in advance as much as possible so you can correlate partner sales incentives with your company’s activities and strategies, such as product launches or advertising campaigns. When both are in sync, you can boost your sales success and ROI from your incentives.
Reduce investment barriers
Offer enabling technologies to absolve your partners of expensive resources needed to sell on your behalf. Cloud-based solutions can provide even better alternatives to on-premise IT labs where partners can have safe sandbox environments testing and support issues. By lowering these implementation barriers, you can enable smaller and emerging partners to recoup their investments faster, while also expanding your market opportunity.
The days of product training by PowerPoint are long gone. Identical elements theory tells us that if the training and on-the-job tasks are the same, knowledge transfer is much more likely to occur. This is the same logic you see within aviation for flight simulators and medicine for surgical training. And many of the fastest growing software companies like Atlassian, ForgeRock, Sophos, Palo Alto Networks, and Check Point are using virtual training labs to provide hands-on product training for partners to educate them on everything from product features to installation and configuration to support issues. When it comes to the impact that virtual training can have on a company’s bottom line, Robert Lillywhite, global technical enablement manager at security giant, Sophos, explains, “a trained partner generates an average of six times the revenue of a non-trained one.”
Many of today’s SaaS and on-premise solutions can take months to adopt and implement, so certification renewals can ensure that partners remain well-versed in all aspects of your products. According to Seth Jacobsen at LogicBay, “Since product modifications can be frequent and significant in today’s competitive market, certification is an effective system of checks and balances for sales performance. In addition, certification provides sales managers with an opportunity to measure, track and monitor the skill of channel partners.”
Real-world demos and POCs
Give your channel the ability to offer timely and full-featured selling experiences. Leveraging a cloud-based lab solution lets partners present your latest offerings on demand, virtually or in-person without modification, complete with a trial expiration date. Prospects can demo on their own time using an exact replica of your solution, eliminating the need to ship equipment and enlist the help of the prospect’s local IT. Advanced solutions also let partners monitor progress, address concerns or step in to help resolve technical roadblocks – all in real-time, from anywhere they happen to be. Lastly, usage statistics can show who delivered the most demos and which products are being tested most often, while providing the ability to charge back partners for their usage.
Partners learn a lot when given the opportunity to speak with others in their field. If something is working well in one region, there is a good chance it can work in other regions, as well. There are a variety of networking events you can offer, ranging from large annual kickoffs, including product information and trainings, to smaller regional lunch-and-learn events. Any way you choose to give partners the opportunity to learn from each other, the more you’re enabling everyone’s mutual success.
Customer success and retention programs
It’s a lot easier to keep customers than to gain new ones. It’s also more cost-effective. Still, many companies don’t invest in programs and processes to help partners in this area. Implement annual customer satisfaction surveys or use NPS to identify strengths and weaknesses in both your product and channel. You can create VIP programs to encourage more input and build direct relationships with high-value customers.
The true key that runs across everything
While all of the activities listed above are important, just paying homage to them won’t guarantee channel success. Your organization must be committed to partner success. Build personal relationships with partners and get to know their markets and their challenges. Your team must be willing to help your partners with every stage in the sales cycle, whether it’s attending client meetings, assisting with RFPs, overcoming objections, or working on support issues. The better you support your partners, the better chance they have of winning mutually beneficial deals.
Zvi Guterman, CEO of CloudShare
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