Creating a Modern Partner Program That Works
Creating a partner program is no simple task. A program framework will outline all the benefits you can offer to a partner, and all the requirements you’d like to receive from a partner. It will define your relationship and govern the terms of your engagement.
The “Channel”, as we know it, has evolved. It seems like new channel types are being born daily and the demand and monetization of cloud/SaaS have reshaped the way vendors and partner work together. With all this change, it’s important to have a modern program that meets the needs of today’s partners and tomorrow’s clients. So, no matter if you are just starting your channel program for the first time, or are renewing existing programs, here are some best practices to creating a modern program that works for your business.
There are 3 phases to a modern and robust program:
- Differentiation: This is where you define the program and all the supporting processes
- Engagement: This is where you define how your partners will connect with you.
- Collaboration: This is where you define how you will work together and with other partners.
Consider that if you make wholesale changes to your existing partner program, a partner may take a considerable time to adapt to and understand the intricacies of the changes. It may take 3-6 months for partners to adapt to the changes from announcement date causing confusion in the channel and poor partner experience and missing out on benefits and falling short on requirements. If you are starting a new program, you’ll still have to give partners a grace period to meet your requirements. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but if managed properly, changes can be a great thing.
Now let’s look at some of the best practices in each category:
You may think of partners as a revenue channel, but it is actually much more than that. There are many opportunities that partners bring to your business beyond revenue. If you want to capitalize on that, you will need to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack and embrace everything a partnership can bring you. To get started, you can start thinking about a few of the most popular best practices:
- Provide a clear set of benefits and requirements for each designated level within your program. Most plans are crafted around requirements for revenue and training. However, today’s modern programs are doing away with these requirements, and ranking partners by overall commitment and leading indicators to revenue, not the revenue itself. This type of program is a refreshing change, but one that requires diligence and self-control from the vendor to capture these activities and give credit to partners when due. Data capture and control are keys to moving forward with these value-based programs.
- Establish a project team with executive sponsorship to determine budget, operational requirements, and legal considerations. You may want to include appropriate stakeholders throughout the organization (legal, finance, operations, sales) to avoid surprises and unnecessary delays in implementing a partner program.
- A successful program will proactively provide reporting and other metrics to their partner base as well as internal stakeholders. Data is a very important part of the partner intelligence you need to have to make decisions about changes you need to make to your program in the future. Best to start collecting that data now.
Now that you have some sort of plan to work with partners, you now need to actively work with them and engage them with your program. Your goal here is to get partners completely entangled with all the benefits you are offering, and help them meet the requirements you laid out in your program.
Consider the behavior you want from your partners. There are many levers within a program that you can adjust to get the exact behavior you want. It is just a matter of layering in various activities or incentives to drive behavior in one direction or another. Review some of the following best practices when laying out your engagement strategy:
- Establish reasonable training requirements based on partner level. At the lower end, program entry will have minimal requirements and benefits. Partners are hesitant to take billable engineering resources out of the field for several consecutive days to obtain certifications unless there is a clear path to revenue or a specific financial benefit.
- Provide different mediums for consuming ongoing training and engagement opportunities, live, virtual, in person roadshows. Often times this is done using a Partner Relationship Management tool, also known as a “Partner Portal”, to help partners consume the various types of resources you have.
Another type of engagement lever is financial. This could be in many different forms but the most common one is deal registration.
- Most vendors like deal registration because it gives them some insight into a partner’s pipeline, helps to reduce channel conflict and then rewards this behavior with some additional discount. But be careful here, as there are other ways to understand a partner’s pipeline, so be sure you are rewarding the right kind of deal registration.
- Overall profitability is key. Often incentives or rebates can be used to drive the behavior you want and increase margins for partners. A best practice is to be sure you are driving the behaviors alongside a program initiative, not just for day-to-day business. So if you are rewarding individual sellers with spiffs, be sure the spiff closely aligns with a larger initiative you have, otherwise this engagement tool is not serving you as well as it could be.
The last phase of the program building is around working together with the partners in the field, and collaborating on success. As the word “collaboration” would imply, this phase requires communication between vendor and partner.
- Establish a cadence and flow of communication. Regularly scheduled communications such as emailed newsletters, social media or web-based meetings are great examples.
- The best way to promote collaboration with your partner is with joint business planning. Business plans can be as simple or as complex as the business relationship needs, but should always be done with both parties in agreement, and managed on a regular schedule.
Your output of all of this should be a documented program and set of partner resources that meet the needs of your business and provide value to your partners and their clients. If you take the time to consider each of these phases, and the specific areas in each phase, you and your partners will enjoy the benefits of this balanced, modern partner program for a long time to come.
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