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How to set up channel - Step one

Kirsty Gilchrist, managing director at Twogether, shares her top tips for channel programme development

All too often, we come across vendors who are in a real pickle with their channel partners.

Quirky, individually-tailored partner contracts; support burning the midnight oil to get a VAR out of yet another installation mess; and griping from partners about compensation or lead distribution.

The root cause of the problem is nearly always the same: signing up partners before having a definitive channel programme in place. Predictably, it results in partners barely-prepared to sell and install your product.

That’s why you should have your programme in place before you go to market
A successful channel partner programme gets you out from under ‘specialty’ contracts. It puts the responsibility for performance on the partner. And it encourages the right behaviours (focus on you, not your competition).

But it’s not all one way traffic: you certainly have the right to expect certain things from your partners – but don’t forget they are expecting support from you in the form of training, technical assistance, management engagement and so on.

So, how to begin?
Start by surveying your customers to discover their greatest needs, and how they purchase. Consider elements such as system fit, smooth implementation, cost and the sales rep’s ability to understand the customer’s business.

Next, undertake a thorough analysis of your current channel partners
Chances are, it’s the top 20 per cent of your channel partners who sell 80 per cent of your product. If you’re smart, you’ll find out what makes the big revenue-generators so effective. And you’ll measure all potential partners against those values.

You’ll also do some weeding – cutting loose the unproductive partners who sell little, but consume your time and resources.

Get the governance in place
Any channel programme needs rules – to ensure mutual commitment, and to set expectations for both sides.  A properly-defined process will avoid one-off relationships, costly negotiations for every new contract and squabbling among competing partners.

Enable your new channel partners:  Say what you’ll do, then do what you say.

1.Process management
Lead generation: spend time now deciding who gets which leads by clarifying the split between partner and direct sales. Make sure your website has a customer-facing ‘Channel Partner Finder’ to make it easy for the buyer to buy.

Use deal registration to ensure that your channel partners have exclusivity over a prospect for a set period, and encourage them to generate leads.

Defined sales: create a customised sales process to encourage partners to understand how their customer buys – and then build training around the findings.

Implementation: ensure you have a training programme in place, and enough resources to help partners if the project deviates from a standard installation. Get it right, and it’s smooth sailing. Get it wrong, and you have unhappy customers, and a tarnished brand.

2. Knowledge management
A certification programme is one of the most effective ways to ensure that partner reps are competent and knowledgeable about the product they sell.

Website training: a ‘Partner Portal’ gives partners access to product specifications, implementation processes and FAQs, as well as marketing materials.

3. Performance feedback
A performance website should include specific partner performance metrics indicating prowess against goals and peers, and benchmarks for margin/pricing discounts. Real time performance management keeps you and your partners aware of who’s achieving – and who’s coming up short. 

Training sessions can critique and refine best practices. Award higher margin and/or product discounts in return for successful execution.

Dollars and discounts earned: on your website, list the number of certified reps and the discounts achieved by hitting targets. Also list the Market Development Funds (MDF) the partner has earned for the year and quarter.

Customer satisfaction: Make sure you get customer feedback on the overall sales and installation process. And if a partner appears reluctant to share - investigate as a priority.


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