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How to get the channel partners you want (and want the ones you get)

Kirsty Gilchrist, managing director at Twogether, explains how to attract potential channel partners

If you know your market, you’ll have identified potential partners with the right industry focus, technical skills and selling capabilities. Those partners will also have the selling capacity you need, the right customer base and the right geographic coverage.

Of course, they may well already be selling your competition’s solutions, but if you’re lucky, those two parties will have fallen out of love. Relationships fade over time, and a value added reseller (VAR) or a value added distributor (VAD) who suspects the grass is greener on your side of the hill may be open to your proposition.

If not, you’ll have to fall back on the very thing you want that partner to do for you, you’ll have to sell yourself.

That means making a buyable proposition out of your company, its products/services and its go-to-market plan. You need to dangle several carrots – including earnings potential, longer-term profitability, growth prospects, a well-defined product roadmap and more.

And never fail to give potential partners a glimpse of the stick that goes with the carrot; FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out.

So how to best convince them that your package will beat the solutions that are already making them money?

Build a multi-step partner recruitment process
Ask yourself why someone would want to work with you, and then lay out the various stages of the relationship - exit criteria, leading indicators of success, pipeline, forecast, management inspection and so on. 

Make the recruitment package compelling
You’re wooing prospects, so include all the goodies that turn partners on. Set out how much money they will make, proof of product quality (testimonials and references), sales and marketing support, price protection, guarantee/warranty, MDF, product customization, lead gen programs, special pricing assistance, communications program, meaningful product training, territorial integrity, free trials...and anything else you can think of.

Don’t get married on the first date
Do your research. Know everything you can about a potential partner’s business before making your pitch. Examine their customers, sales model, products/services, marketing capabilities, industry reputation, geographic coverage, corporate history, technical prowess, and management structure. If something jars, dig deeper. If alarm bells still sound, walk away.

Are you a good fit with what they already sell?
If your solution replicates others in their portfolio, they’ll need a good reason to take you on.  So find synergies between your solution and those which they are already selling - and try to show that you close a product/services gap for them.

Try before you buy
They may be as unsure of you, as you are of them. Time (and experience) will tell, so offer a defined, measurable, time-bound pilot deployment that proves the partnership potential. It will reassure your people, and win supporters in the partner camp. 

Let’s make some money here
You start with a clean sheet. There’s no ‘bad baggage’, but there are no joint success stories, either. So what gets the motor running? Money talks – and, initially, it should shout loudly.  When the partnership has settled down, you can review the compensation package. Until then, reward generously and obviously!

Direct vs. indirect: avoiding the conflict
The channel wasn’t born yesterday, so when prospective partners ask about territory alignment, account assignment, and conflict rules, be straight with them.  Obfuscation (intentional or not) can be a deal-breaker; at best, it will arouse nagging suspicion.

Act like a swan
Your goal is to offer prospective partners a straightforward and rewarding working process.

So glide graciously - but paddle furiously under the water, keeping everything covered while being visibly calm and amenable.

That way leads to long-lasting, mutually profitable relationships with your chosen partners.  Additionally, having done your homework and laid out the ground rules clearly, you shouldn’t have any nasty surprises further down the line.