Partner engagement: what’s your story?

A common issue we hear when talking to vendors is the low level of engagement from many of their channel partners. Channel leaders are often frustrated that more of their partners aren’t eagerly devouring their email updates, knocking down the doors to get into their events and spending all of their free time browsing around their portals.

Yet when I look at how, and more importantly what, many vendors communicate to their channel, it’s not surprising that partners aren’t particularly engaged. Many vendors still devote the majority of their communications to partners talking about how great their products and services are, with occasionally a passing reference to partners ‘making money’, just to show how ‘channel focused’ the vendor is.

Channel partners are people too
In other spheres of life, constantly talking about yourself and telling people how great you are isn’t generally a great strategy for building strong relationships. So why do vendors expect it will be different in relation to the channel?  Despite some rumours to the contrary, channel partners are people too. And as people generally are complex, multi-dimensional beings, a number of different factors will influence where they choose to invest their time and their energies.

To complicate things further, channel partners are not even all the same person. They are actually a collection of different people with varied interests, attitudes, concerns, goals and prejudices that influence their actions.

Tell a strong story
So if you really want to engage your channel partners, you need to tell a story that will speak to them on multiple levels, addressing both their business goals and their personal drivers, their rational and their emotive concerns, their aspirations and their fears.

So here are a few questions to ask yourself about the story you’re communicating to your channel partners:

  • Does it explain why you’re relevant to them and to their customers, given the broader trends that are shaping their world?
  • Does it communicate a clear vision of the future that will capture their imagination and fire their interest?
  • Does it clearly explain how working with you will help them achieve their own business goals, not just yours?
  • Does it reflect the fact that different types of partners will have different drivers, different challenges and different needs?
  • Is your story credible and backed up by relevant proof points, as opposed to lots of hyperbolic marketing statements?
  • Does it address the varied needs of the different audiences you want to reach, reflecting the fact that what matters to a Service Delivery Director will be different from what drives a Sales Executive or a Pre-Sales Specialist?
  • Does it explain what you will do (in practical terms) to help your partners be successful? (other than allowing them the privilege of selling your products)
  • Does it address any reservations that your partners are likely to have about investing in a relationship with you, such as your longevity or the ease of doing business with you?

That’s quite a long list, but by no means an exhaustive one. Addressing all of those different elements takes time and effort. Maybe it’s easier just to carry on talking about how great you are.

But if you’re serious about engaging your channel partners then you should be challenging yourself about whether your partner messaging really does tick all of the important boxes. If your story has lots of gaps then you’re unlikely to get the levels of partner commitment that you desire.