Breaking Through the Noise: What Running a Successful Channel Partner Program Looks Like
There is more opportunity to drive revenue with partners than ever before. B2B companies can anticipate gains in everything from KPIs to account retention and attributable revenue. Money can be directly traced to partner ecosystems and it’s an exciting time to break through the noise with an avenue that drives value for your end users.
What does that look like? We spoke to Anthony Kapitanski, Head of the Channel Partnership team at Chili Piper, to gain some greater insight on running a successful channel partner program.
What is a Channel Partner Program?
A channel partner program is a strategy used to engage and motivate partners that ultimately creates more value for customers. Certain partners can create different types of value, including (but not limited to):
- Reseller channel partner - A local presence. They help introduce your solution to the market.
- Technical partner - These partners add new functions and features to your solution.
- Consultants and system integrators - These partners create a full, custom solution.
Channel partner programs are a useful way to expand into new markets if you have a proven product or service. Some of the world’s top tech brands like Oracle, Microsoft, and Salesforce run successful channel partner programs.
Tips for Staying Ahead of the Game
Staying ahead of the game and breaking through the noise requires some creative tactics. Here are a few tips for how the pros get it done:
“We need to be more targeted with our partners. We have to have a very good understanding of what prospects we're going after together, and adjust our marketing efforts to be ultra tailored to those prospects,” says Kapitanski.
As Kapitanski stated, one of the common themes in successful channel partner programs is the amount of time put into KYC (know your customer) strategies.
Give Partners a Platform
Partnerships are very much bidirectional and you need to give partners a space to evangelize. They must be able to convey their brand, voice, and thought leadership through your platform, while reaching a customer base and ICP as well.
Investing in Development
If you’re looking to be high-touch with partners, there must be some investment in development and marketing tools, so you can get in front of mutual customers together.
Investment shows you are giving back to the partner, and not just leveraging them for their installed base. It demonstrates you are focused on how to create a scalable go-to-market model with them, which also includes net new customer acquisition. If you can be helpful in this process, you are one step ahead of the competition.
As Kapitanski also mentioned, “The more we can use data points to target our messaging to the prospects that we're going after with each partner, the better. And the more we can do that in an automated fashion, the better.”
Companies are taking an ABM approach to channel lead generation and it’s helping to evolve messaging to another level of hyper-personalization. This starts with account mapping and understanding the overlap between prospect accounts and your customer base. It also means being able to intelligently leverage that data in your marketing efforts.
Channel typically lags behind in most marketing efforts because it’s a step behind what you would typically do with an internal marketing team. However, these days, with channel partnerships, adopting best practices around ABM will change that dynamic.
Common Mistakes When Starting a Partner Program
Many times, despite your best efforts, a business can fail to break through the noise within its partner ecosystem. Here are a few of the most common mistakes you can make:
Although you may be tempted to simply reach out like the competition, partners don’t always find this the most engaging introduction. Cold calling isn’t an effective strategy in this case. As Anthony puts it:
“I think we realized pretty quickly that the results from it are fairly limited. We have to offer something up first before we expect meaningful partnership in return. So, it changed the way we think about partnerships from a de facto referral business, to how can we have a more mutually beneficial relationship?” says Kapitanski.
That means you have to examine what should be done to make people excited about your program. That’s something that a business must focus on first.
Doing the Same Thing
Don’t copy the competition, especially if they are failing. Doing what everyone else does, just because they do it, is never the answer.
Revenue share is not always enough of an incentive to get people to want to be a part of the channel partnership. Top partners want to be enmeshed in what you are selling and a complete part of the program. There has to be a little something more.
Overscaling the Program
Another common mistake made is when a business scales its partner program wrong. Tech companies often try to take a page from conglomerates like Microsoft, but that makes for a bad fit. Replicating the programmatic efforts of massive partner programs (which are very low-touch and self-service) is not acting in a “partner first” manner.
Don’t treat a partner like they’re just another number in your ecosystem. Kapitanski makes a good point, “Each one of our partners, they have their own business, and failure to really understand their business is something that can hurt your reputation.”
If a partner feels like they are just one of many in a huge ecosystem, they’re less inclined to want to work with you. It’s a balancing act. As you grow, you’ll inherently have to lean towards more self-service models. But, the more high-touch you can be, the better.
Having the expectation that a partner’s only going to work with you and not your competitors, is a big NO. Most partners want to be trusted consultants to their clients. Doing anything that would harm their reputation with their clients, will ultimately harm your reputation with partners as well.
What Does it Mean to be Partner-First?
It’s a very crowded ecosystem of tech vendors. There are only a limited number of partners servicing your ICP and there are tons of vendors trying to work with those partners. For every potentially good partner, there are maybe 20-30 vendors constantly trying to talk to them. As Anthony puts it, “Being partner first is really caring about the partner experience, not just the financial outcome of the partnership on our own.”
Most partner teams are measured by the pipeline and revenue they provide. However, you have to step away from that and understand what the actual partner experience is that you are providing.
True Brand Advocates
When a partner is having a good experience, that’s when they become true brand advocates. They begin referring your business, implementing software, and spreading messages through word-of-mouth. Brand advocacy is very powerful in a long-term partnership. The more brand advocates you have, the happier your customers are.
Being partner-first is building an experience that really listens to partners and is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It starts with a general framework for how you want to partner. It should be tailored to each specific partner; providing them immediate value add through the partnership.
It’s also about being different and thinking outside of the box. How do you accomplish something no one else is doing? And how do you help your customers and partners derive value from that different approach?
It reflects well on a partner team when channel managers have the autonomy and flexibility to create custom, go-to-market strategies with each partner.
The Benefits of a Partner-First Approach
There is a multitude of benefits to a partner-first approach. Some of these include:
Having the reputation for being “partner-first” improves your ability to recruit partners, which is critical to the program and the success of your channel partnership.
How quickly can you get a partner to really do something meaningful? In some cases this is transacting, but not always. It’s about activating partners to the point where you’re seeing meaningful results.
As Anthony stated, it goes beyond just onboarding. “If we're providing continuous value and really creating a high-touch value-driven program for our partners, we're constantly top-of-mind for them,” he explained. Being partner-first means you’ll always remain top-of-mind. Be there when the customer conversations happen, and your brand will be brought up in the right scenarios.
The market is still evolving and there’s a chance now to really do things that no one else is trying. This, inevitably, helps you stand out amongst the competition and draws greater interest from potential partners. As Kapitanski puts it, “There's a lot of room for creativity for some of the smaller kinds of mid-sized B2B scaling startups. They are really redefining what channel means for B2B SaaS companies.”
Summing it Up
Partners are evolving to offer more SaaS solutions and managed services. They are becoming more specialized. However, don’t try to copy the Microsofts and Salesforces of the world. The low-touch, self-serve model isn’t the best for attracting top talent.
Leadership must be heavily committed to the project as well. It also takes investing a lot of resources in your channel partner.
The mid-sized B2B world is much more high-touch and open to adopting what a partner really needs. The takeaway here is that creating a successful channel partner program requires a great amount of time and effort. If you take a genuine and authentic approach to getting to know people, the payoff is exponential.