As an organization, your goal is to stand out from the crowd and offer something no-one else does. When it comes to your channel, with your competitors also fighting to gain mindshare, you need to keep your partners interested and involved at all time!
Instead of – like Santiago – focusing on the ONE big fish and failing, shouldn’t you plan to catch many small fishes and spread your risk? But how do you ramp up your channel activities for 10,000+ partners? How do you manage tiers 2, 3 and 4 resellers across the globe? Can you manage the so-called “unmanaged partners”?
You cannot ignore them!
Before you say “I don’t need such a channel”, remember that your channel is there to open new opportunities for you, whether in terms of new geographies, new horizontal markets or new industries. You cannot ignore the need to set-up such a large-volume channel. The need may not materialize for several years, but trust me, you will have to face this challenge at some point in your career!
This group of partners will, one day, form the majority of your channel. Each will represent a tiny amount of business, but cumulatively, they will be your main source of income. They will also command how you are perceived – globally; they will be your voice and your feet on the ground.
What to expect?
These partners will typically be small (in revenue and team size) but will command the attention of their end-users in THEIR market(s). They will work with many other vendors and not be able to commit to just YOU. They will be difficult to find, as there are SO MANY and difficult to communicate and engage with, as their business is their FIRST priority. They will also have NO marketing resources, which will become a challenge for your through-partner marketing plans.
Are they really “un-manageable”?
The answer is a clear ‘NO’! You can definitively manage these partners and see some great returns, as long as you set your expectations correctly and focus your efforts on ‘relevance’ and ‘automation/ efficiency’.
You will need to automate and streamline all the processes you currently have in place (for your direct partners). You will need to think about the cost-effectiveness of all your programs. You will have to tailor everything by regions or even countries. You will have to translate and localize everything.
You will also need to expect less commitment, fewer sales, and marketing engagement, and smaller campaign ROIs for each partner (remember that’s it’s the total mass of these partners that will make you win).
How do you influence these partners?
You could tap your distributors or other ‘influencers’ for help and promote your brand, communicate your messages, and provide some sales, marketing, and technical support.
Whilst these options can and often do work to some degree, you are not in full control of what others do for you, and essentially you are delaying the inevitable. You need a ‘plan for today’ strategy. In other words, you should focus on these partners and ‘up a gear’ to be more proactive in delivering programs that turn these ‘unmanaged’ partners into ones you can ‘manage’ to achieve the success you desire.
Action 1: The Partner Program
An effective Partner Program is the first key step to success. You need to put in place an effective framework within which to formalize your partner proposition and to manage your partners – and not just your ‘top’ partners, but the hundreds or thousands of smaller resellers that desperately need some form of formal relationship with you.
Avoid falling into the trap, however, of believing that a partner program with lots of tiers and different levels of benefits will solve all of your problems. Only differentiate by tiers if you absolutely need to, promise only what you can deliver and above all, keep it simple to minimize the administration and management of your partner program.
Action 2: Partner Relationship Management (PRM) Systems
To be cost-effective, when it comes to managing these partners, you will need to automate as many processes as you have and require. You will need workflows and email notifications that replicate – electronically – what you do today with your tier 1 partners – face-to-face.
To do all this, you will require a Partner Relationship Management (PRM) system to not only run your partner portal from but also “enable” your partner relationships. I could spend hours discussing this, but have a look at the Impartner PRM ‘stack’ of modules. This should show you how extensive we can be and how much you should be able to do!
Action 3: Data
As channels proliferate and more specialized partners emerge, you need to really ‘get under the skin’ of your partners to build closer relationships and to create a best-fit match of partners to your portfolio.
In other words, don’t just gather a business name and address. Instead, obtain and manage contact data on your partners’ key decision-makers including their sales and technical teams. There are huge benefits to be gained by building information intelligence about your partners, such as: Which vertical markets do they specialize in? What size of business do they service best? What other vendors do they partner with to create turn-key solutions?
With this information on tap, you can speak in their language and optimize your ‘pitch’ from all angles – be it in person or through your marketing communications. But it goes beyond communications. One often-ignored aspect is your partner locator. If you are selling to Small and Medium-sized Businesses, it’s likely that only these tier 2, 3 and 4 partners are the only ones you can refer… and how can you refer people you don’t know?
Action 4: Communications
Assuming you have solved your partner data intelligence issues, it should now be relatively easy to deliver segmented and tailored marketing communications to your partners. This is critical; they have little time to spend with you, so you need to make absolutely sure that they ONLY receive the news they want and that are appropriate to them.
I am very biased but have a look at Impartner’s News on Demand; such innovative solutions will help you deliver 100% targeted and 100% personalized content to every single recipient. You’ll also save money on managing multiple, multi-lingual communications, whilst retaining control over your communications in different countries.
Action 5: Training and certifications
Training is often considered as the ‘first’ step into the partner program for tier 1 partners, yet is often overlooked for tier 2, 3 and 4 partners. But, it is particularly important to have a training process in place as part of the partner program and to make sure that they are trained before acknowledging them as a partner – otherwise, you will have to deal with many dissatisfied customers!
Using your partner program as the vehicle, offer a zero-cost training syllabus to your lower tiers, with sales and technical tracks available together with online tests and webinars. Achievement of a ‘mini-certification’, i.e. partners that have passed tests, should result in additional benefits for these partners such as an advanced tier level, improved listings on your partner locator or deal registration access to the business.
Action 6: Sales support
Ask any tier 3 or 4 partners what their biggest bugbear is when dealing with vendors and you’re more than likely to hear the answer of ‘inaccessible’ or ‘unresponsive’.
The most successful vendors are those that treat partners truly as customers, not just a route to customers. Your focus should be on delivering great customer service to those partners through an account management function (even if this is inside sales-based) and on providing a solid process for handling inbound requests.
Should you in-source or outsource your partner help facility? If you’ve got hundreds or thousands of partners in multiple countries, chances are that you will receive a plethora of diverse in-bound partner queries. Whatever route you choose, you need to give your partners the very best technical and sales support by filtering and answering queries in a timely and accurate manner.
Action 7: Sales and marketing programs that work
Delivering sales and marketing programs for your tier 3 and 4 partners that really work (and assume that many won’t!) is key to your success. To make programs succeed, they need to be strategic, kept simple, measurable and enforceable.
Sales and marketing programs that work for tier 3 and 4 partners include deal registration, lead generation, license renewal management and market development funds/co-marketing.
Action 8: Incentives and loyalty
Partner loyalty programs are a critical part of managing partners. Much like a partner program, a loyalty scheme is often mistakenly seen as a must-have ‘tick the box’ type activity as opposed to a strategic marketing tool that can drive your partners’ behavior exactly in the direction you want. I think you should incentivize and reward your partners – and preferably those who will close the deals for you! Not only will this give them something for them to think about you, but it will also give you extra reasons to get in touch with you and be top of their minds!
Action 9: Recruitment
Once all this is in place, it’s time to recruit those tier 3 and 4 resellers you need. You need to be able to provide answers to the following questions; Who – what sort of partners do you want?; Where – in what geographical locations?; What – what skills, experience or other attributes should they have?; Why – what is the reason they should be interested?; How – what will be the recruitment process?; Numbers – how many are needed?
Answering these questions will provide the basic groundwork to form the basis of a coherent recruitment program. It will also dictate where you get lists of potential partners, how you should recruit them and what event you need to attend or organize to ‘meet them’.
You will need to write your partner proposition, write your recruitment emails, create your telemarketing scripts, produce show banners and get ready to recruit partners!
Summary: you CAN manage these ‘unmanaged partners’ and succeed
If you do the right things (at the right time and at the right cost – for you), if you humanize your programs (to meet the need of these 10,000+ individuals), if you allow your partners to get what they need (when they need it), you will discover some gems and some very manageable partners!
Olivier Choron joined Impartner in June 2018 when Impartner acquired Tremolo Software. Olivier was the CEO and Founder at Tremolo, the provider of News on Demand and Social on Demand products, which have now been added to the unique Impartner PRM portfolio. He is currently the Managing Director for EMEA.
With 25+ years of channel marketing expertise, gained in Europe and in the US, at companies such as 3Com and Nortel Networks, Olivier is a well-recognized figure in the channel. Having also run a channel marketing services firm for 12 years in the UK, Olivier has advised many organizations on how to best structure their channel programs and how to best enable their partners, including Adobe, Vodafone, Trend Micro, Zyxel, and Samsung, among others.
Olivier holds a ‘Diplôme d’Ingénieur’ in computer science from the ENSI de Caen (France), and a master’s degree in electronic engineering from the University of Kent (UK).