How to Give Your Channel Partners the (Digital) Love They Deserve

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part·ner: noun:  a person who takes part in an undertaking with another or others, especially in a business or company with shared risks and profits.

Consider these stats:  A recent white paper by Model N indicates that enterprise channel partnerships account for 60% of large firm revenue worldwide.  According to IDC, 86% of business customers buy through channel partners for IT products and services.

Clearly, partners play a critical role for many organizations.  Yet, despite their importance, most partner management programs are stuck in the dark ages.

Too often, partners were left behind when firms developed their digital strategies.

Many companies are still focused on the first waves of digital change, including customer experience, employee engagement, and smarketing (the fusion of sales and marketing).  They haven’t yet turned their attention to overhauling their partner engagement strategies to include a digital footprint.

That’s a huge missed opportunity.  As a result, partners struggle for critical information, yearn for education and support, and suffer from distant relationships with the firms they serve.

Well-supported partners – whether they’re resellers, distributors, agencies, brokers, or advisors – drive revenue, provide customer support, and advance local relationships.  But their contributions have the potential to go way beyond that.

Because they’re on the front lines with buyers, partners get a front row seat to customer demands for new products and services – as well as to customer frustrations with existing products and services.   That means partners can play an essential role in resolving conflicts as well as shaping future innovations and offerings.

Partners also have a strong, unfettered understanding of your firm’s strengths and weaknesses. They understand – perhaps better then you do – your market position and where you fit in the competitive landscape. Since they partner with your company, as well as with other firms, they tacitly know who is the best fit for certain buyer situations and why.

Tapping this type of insight from your partners can advance your firm’s understanding of market and buyer needs – and can help you exceed market demand and stand out in a crowd.

There are a number of digital strengthening activities that companies can do to serve their partners better – which, in turn, helps them sell more and deliver insight back to your firm. (It’s a classic case of win-win!)

1)    Start by gathering information.  Take stock of your partners’ needs and challenges related to their digital sales, support, and marketing channels. Conduct interviews, do surveys.  Find out what they want and need most from your firm.  Then, use this feedback to give them the information and support they seek.

2)    If you have a large partner program, benchmark the partners’ capabilities and provide training and support tailored to meet their most pressing needs.

3)    Develop digital assets and campaigns that can be leveraged by partners.  After all, if you make their work easier, they will be more successful.

4)    Empower your partner marketing managers to communicate with your partners about the digital programs and opportunities available to support them.  Be sure to train the partner marketing managers first, and enable them to be thought leaders in support of partners.

5)    Consider investing in a centralized marketing hub that gives partners access to a broad array of customizable content, support, and training.

6)    Track your partners’ progress and successes using standardized measures and metrics. Uplift those in need of extra care and evangelize those in the lead.  Or consider a contest among partners – a healthy dose of competition can do wonders for productivity!

7)    Once you have established a strong base of partner support, continue to advance the relationship with programs that drive intimacy and collaboration.  When there is trust and ideas flow freely, partners can be a critical gateway to drive innovation and develop new products and services.

A true mark of competitive advantage is being smarter than the other guy – knowing more about the market, the buyer, and the sales process.  Partners hold the key to this knowledge.  By advancing your partner relationships through digital means, you can gain a unique perspective into the future of your business and use this foresight to keep your company out in front.

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