A company’s sales efforts are not exclusively confined to the sales department. That’s a limited way of thinking and will keep a business from making money. You must be open to exploring every type of channel to increase leads and drive revenue.
It’s likely there are other brands out there right now who are willing to fold your product/service into their sales offerings. The process of coordinating this type of collaboration is known as partner enablement.
Successful partner enablement starts with nurturing strategic relationships. These partnerships help a business reduce expenses and increase its customer base. The purpose is to form a mutually beneficial alliance that drives brand awareness, encourages collaboration, and gives you a competitive advantage.
Partner enablement programs can be tricky to navigate and creating one requires an organization to take specific strides. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at partner enablement, including the different types of partnerships you can make and the best ways to build a partner enablement strategy today.
What is Partner Enablement?
Partner enablement is the act of supporting your partners with the proper materials, training, and information to efficiently execute the sales process and enhance lead generation. It involves making technical tools, branded elements, and sales-related items available to any different outlet or channel that might sell your product or service (also referred to as channel partners).
These partners can be any type of entity that has a hand in your sales process, from resellers to distributors, managed service providers (MSPs), and more. Partner enablement can get complex because all of these different channels have varying degrees of technical knowledge and sales acumen.
Some parties might be stellar at sales, but struggle with the functionality of your product/service. Other channel partners might know your product/service in and out, but have trouble scoring new leads. This variability in skills and knowledge can muddle your partner enablement strategy and make it difficult to get everyone on the same page.
Sales enablement is a juggling act, where you’re trying to keep all balls in the air at once. The key to success is making sure everyone has the attention and resources they need to get the job done. However, there is a general process for coordinating and executing a partner enablement program successfully. First, you have to fully understand the type of channel partner you need.
Types of Channel Partnerships
A channel partner is an individual or company that sells products, services, and technologies on behalf of the vendor or manufacturer. Partner sales are produced by salespeople that can come from anywhere, such as a service provider, reseller, retailer, agent, or other vendors. Whenever someone is acting as a middleman between you and the customer (growing market share and increasing your revenue) consider them a channel partner.
A prime example of a channel partner business model is Amazon. Independent vendors can create online shops and sell products from millions of brands, every single day. A premium channel partner may also be responsible for other tasks like implementation, channel marketing, customer service, training, and consulting. Channel partners are typically onboarded through a partner portal, go through some form of partner training, and are judged by a variety of metrics related to performance.
Your indirect salesforce can be comprised of a multitude of different types of channel partners, which can include:
Typically referred to as a value-added reseller, or VAR, these are solution providers that add value to an already existing product, service, or technology. VARs can be regional partners that concentrate on a specific location or have a national scope.
One example of a VAR is a business that purchases specific equipment and builds an on-demand app around it, then bundles that as a package and sells it. In this case, the value proposition is the software. A VAR may also offer tech support, training, or help with installation.
Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM)
This channel partner has been traditionally defined as a business that builds a product to be modified, resold, and rebranded. However, over time, the definition of an OEM has changed. Today, OEMs will purchase a product, service, or technology and do one of two things:
- They rebrand the item and resell it as is
- Add extra features and/or bundle with additional items and then resell
A distributor is much like a middleman and will warehouse, transport, and sell products or services to installers, dealers, and end-users. People choose to use a distributor because it shortens the time-to-market and it’s already an established distribution channel.
These types of channel partners have a huge influence over which brands and products get promoted first. Distributors may also provide customer service, training, marketing, and other additional features that will complement the product/service being sold.
Managed Service Provider (MSP)
A managed service provider is a type of reseller channel that is responsible for looking after your IT infrastructure. This is a great solution for companies that do not have their own IT staff. It also helps larger businesses that want their IT department to focus on more strategic tasks. They can outsource basic work to an MSP.
Responsibilities for this type of channel partner include:
- Product installation and upgrades
- Remote monitoring of a company’s network
- Manage all end-user hardware
- Data storage and security
Other Types of Channel Partners
These are other types of channel partners you may want to look into:
- IT consultant
- Affiliate programs
- Agency partners
- Independent dealers and sales reps
- Systems integrator
How to Build a Channel Partner Enablement Strategy in 6 Steps
When implementing a channel partner enablement strategy, you should closely follow these steps:
1. Provide Initial Partner Onboarding
It’s in your best interest to familiarize channel partners with your business and the people that work there. Help them make inroads and build relationships that ultimately drive revenue. This is what makes the onboarding process so important.
You may also need to give them informational materials and some fundamental insight about the brand to prime them for the sales process. In a way, channel partners are working for you, so approach onboarding from that perspective. You owe it to them to prepare them for the next step.
2. Define Goals and KPIs
It is crucial that both parties are on the same page about the reasons why you want to partner up and what the point of the partnership is. In other words, what are your main goals and/or KPIs (key performance indicators) that must be met? What exactly do you want and need out of the relationship?
At this stage, you’re looking to define specific metrics and the targets you expect channel partners to meet. Get this information out into the open sooner, rather than later. This will help to set boundaries and improve accountability. Providing a performance-based roadmap gives channel partners more guidance, structure, and efficacy.
Consider your partner enablement strategy in the same way you think of external or internal training initiatives. What will they need to be successful? How will you measure their performance and impact?
Establish both learning KPIs (course completions, certifications, etc.) and business KPIs (improved retention, conversions, etc). Clearly define the content medium and delivery method preferred, as well as the ongoing support needs and implementation timeline.
3. Offer Recurring Partner Training Sessions
This is where you provide channel partners with the training programs and education to get the job done right. Make sure they have sufficient technical knowledge about your products/services, so they don’t get lost when talking to potential customers. They should also have a clear understanding of your partner marketing strategies including preferred messaging and the sales process.
Training can involve a variety of different formats like webinars, in-person seminars, videos, product demos, templates, white papers, social media, and even gamification. You want to go over compliance, brand messaging, best sales practices, customer profiles, pain points, and anything else you think your channel partner needs to complete a sale.
4. Create Relevant Content for Partner Use
At this point, it’s time to start creating relevant content with your designers and SMEs. Although time-consuming, this should be a smooth process. Do not make the assumption that using old materials from past training will do the trick. Each partner deserves an up-to-date, customized approach to learning your brand. Not all onboarding materials, sales enablement items, or previous partner content will fit the bill.
When creating instructional content, always prioritize legibility and readability. Keep it short and visual, and incorporate videos whenever possible. Customize elements and create learning paths (hierarchies) so people can better understand how to organize the information.
Group relevant content together to help partners better retain information and you can even include quizzes, interactive games, and other incentives that make the learning process more fun. You can also use a learning management system (LMS) to customize and automate content delivery.
5. Schedule Partner Feedback Sessions
It’s very important to periodically check in with partners and source feedback. Are they getting the value they expected? What are their top challenges and pain points? Is there something that’s working really well? This is also the time to check KPIs and monitor metrics to ensure both parties are still driving toward business goals.
6. Ensure Partner Relationship Retention
Every now and then you should check in with partners to discover ways to improve, from both a learning and profitability standpoint. Look at if partners and sales teams are still aligned with KPIs and how much net-new revenue was gained from the partnership. Are the mediums and content types you are using the most effective? You can ask other questions to better understand partner relationship management (PRM) like:
- What is the customer feedback?
- Are lost deals forming patterns? (i.e. not fulfilling a specific case)
- Are there parts of the training that aren’t working?
- What’s the preferred method of delivery?
- Which topics and/or courses are the most helpful?
You can get answers to all of these questions by meeting one-on-one with each partner or sending a survey. This is an ongoing process, so your enablement plan may involve circling back to steps 1 and 2 several times.
What to Look for in a Channel Partner
Every partner enablement strategy requires all parties to be on the same page. That means, you must look for specific traits and characteristics that complement your business goals. The following are a few different things to consider when aligning your strategies with the right channel partner:
1. Communication and Transparency
This type of business relationship isn’t smooth sailing 100% of the time. When things don’t work as expected, you must have a partner that’s willing to communicate and available to talk. If they aren’t open to constant communication, it may be time to move on.
2. Related Business Goals and KPIs
This is the next stop. If you don’t have the same goals, it will never work. For channel partnerships to be mutually beneficial, both parties must be working toward the same objective.
3. Alignment in Vision and Roadmap
Channel management is constantly changing and you will face a variety of problems you might not expect. You must have an aligned vision and a clear roadmap to maintain any level of success. The partner should have domain expertise and a commitment to learning to properly handle challenges.
These are just three things to consider when setting up and running a successful channel partner program.
Partner enablement means providing channel partners with the sales training, materials, and technology needed to create an ecosystem of learning and sales efficiency. It is absolutely critical to provide these affiliates with the information needed to not only meet, but exceed your business goals.
Building a solid channel partner enablement strategy involves proper onboarding, goal setting, sales training, relevant content, feedback, and relationship management. Relevize is a sales enablement tool that can help you efficiently onboard partners, set up new paid programs, and measure where leads are coming from. The platform allows you to effectively scale campaigns and rapidly onboard new partners. Click here to request a free demo, and get started with your partner enablement strategies today!