How to nurture partner channel relationships

Posted by Christine Mulcahy on June 14, 2018 9:00:00 AM PDT
Christine Mulcahy

First and foremost, successful partner channel relationships—like all relationships—are built on trust. Following through on your agreements, delivering as promised, and providing opportunities to engage with your team and customers are paramount to nurturing partner relationships.

It is important to understand, from the onset, that the nature of a partner channel means that some of your partners will also be partners with your competitors. You cannot control that. But, you can do everything in your power to make your relationship with your channel partners more rewarding than your partners’ relationship with your competitors.

As with any business transaction, money talks. But, competing on price isn’t the only way to win. While you want to entice your partners to sell your solution with properly calculated price points, allowing your partners enough margin to make selling your solution profitable, it is also important that they recognize the upsell and cross-sell opportunities to add their solutions, services, and/or support to yours, to bundle an attractive customer-ready offer.

Enabling partner sellers to leverage the shared opportunity is crucial. Pricing your offering appropriately, illustrating how sellers can add more to the bundle to increase their margins, sponsoring or co-sponsoring customer events to jointly engage with potential customers and develop shared sales opportunities, and offering business investment funds or marketing funds to help your partners grow your business will go a long way toward nurturing your relationships.

Executive engagement

The fastest and surest way to gain traction in your new partner relationship is to secure executive sponsorship early on. Depending on how the relationship emerged—starting with an executive referral or perhaps growing organically through marketing and sales recommendations—there will likely be an action for the account managers to work together to develop a joint business plan. Collaborating with stakeholders across both organizations will be invaluable in defining the new partnership. Then, once the plan has been drafted, it is important to gain executive support as soon as possible. Executive decision makers are the leaders who can assign the right resources and funding to make the partnership profitable. Whether your executives meet in person, via virtual conference, or simply sign off on the plan independently, gaining their approval and commitment to the relationship should be a top priority.

Enablement and readiness

Not to be confused with training, enablement and readiness include training on your product or solution offering, but they also include providing the right content, tools, and funding to help your partners establish a successful sales motion. This likely means working with partner marketing and sales teams to develop a plan for the year, agreeing on joint funding for content development, events, and campaign launches, and ensuring partner sellers are confident and competent in their sales efforts. This might require allocating some of your marketing or sales experts to co-market and co-sell with your partners while they are ramping up on your solution. Your partner account managers are crucial to enabling and readying partners, so be sure they are adequately equipped and empowered to support partners throughout the marketing and sales process.

Investments and funding

There are a variety of ways to fund your partner channel’s marketing and sales efforts, ranging from influencing compensation plans (see my blog on How to sell through a partner channel) to providing marketing investment funding for approved campaigns or events. You can decide whether your investment model will be up-front expenditures in co-branded marketing assets or whether they will be provided as a refund for investments your partners have already made and executed against. You might also provide short-term sales incentives or contests for sellers who achieve a certain sales goal in a limited time frame. Some partners even fund the salary for a marketing or sales role within the partner’s organization to ensure the partner has a resource fully dedicated to the partnership. Providing partnership investments and funding is not an exact science—there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Just be sure that your investments are producing clear and measurable returns on investment and actively influencing the goals you are trying to achieve. This takes close monitoring by your partner account managers.

Continuous improvement based on active listening

Once you transform your sales model to sell through a partner channel, you will quickly learn that your partners are closer to your customers than you are. Your partners will have their fingers on the pulse of the market—deeply understanding customer challenges and business pains. And, since many of your partners will also be selling your competitors’ solutions, they will have a good sense of what does and does not work for your target audience. Be sure you have a mechanism in place to listen to your partners and gather feedback on how the marketing and sales pipeline is working (or not working) from their perspective. Don’t spend all your time providing guidance to your partners—take some time to actively solicit their input also. Whether you host 1:1 calls with each partner, assemble a partner advisory board, or host a regular webinar with multiple partners, it is important to gather feedback, so you can continue to improve your solutions, products, and processes.

Relationships require two-way communication—in life and in business. Be sure to schedule some time with your partners to nurture your relationships!

Topics: Consulting