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Capturing Mindshare & Loyalty: Treat Channel Partners like Leads

I recently had the pleasure of serving as speaker and workshop participant at Specialized Channel Focus 2016, where I shared best practice approaches to recruiting specialized partners, which include accounting firms, marketing agencies, agents and other types of influencers. The topic resonated extremely well with the conference attendees — so much that I wanted to bring a few key messages home to Channel Chatter to share.

Too many organizations at the event reported trying to recruit partners just to add new business. These organizations indicated that, by doing so, it often led to disappointment on both sides of the channel. The simple fact is that many of today’s channel partners have transformed the manner in which they form business relationships and alliances, calling for a shift in recruitment strategies on the part of suppliers. Why not take a different, more systematic approach and start treating your partners like leads? By this, I mean seeking out specialized partners using inbound programs and carefully qualifying them as you would when scoring leads, then engaging in demand programs once they commit to joining your program.

Identify Your Suspect Specialized Partners

Think about how you identify your key sales prospects. Most likely, you take a targeted rather than scattershot approach. The same careful thought and preparation should be applied to developing an ideal partner profile. With a clear profile in mind, you can create offers to learn about your partner program and begin converting suspects to prospects who may become interested. Moreover, be sure to speak their language and look for “watering holes” on the web that include business community portals, industry groups and professional associations where these specialized partners frequent.

Once there, don’t be in a rush to make an offer to have them join your program. Instead, arm yourself with information and incentives that communicate the value your program will deliver to specialized partners, which doesn’t necessarily always mean resale opportunities. Furthermore, workshop participants emphasized the need to focus on the additional services your specialized partner can deliver based on your offering, e.g. payroll services. Customer retention could also be of great value to a specialized partner, who needs your solution to remain competitive.  Chances are, your target partner has more than one supplier to choose from, so let them know what’s in it for them.

Qualify Partners & Keep Commitments Simple

Another area the group reported they still need help with is getting commitment from partners.  Since simply adding partners to add more transactions will eventually drain your resources rather than build your business, you should be qualifying partners just as you would qualify leads.  Better qualified partners are more likely to make commitments to your program.  Take time to ensure that the partners you pursue not only meet your defined criteria, but also align with your overarching business goals.  Once qualified, don’t get carried away with overly complex commitments. A simple letter of intent will go much farther than a highly complicated contract, which may require your target partner to seek legal advice at the start of your relationship.

Engage & Empower

The workshop participants also concurred, it’s not enough to just sign partners up into your program without having a strong on boarding process. You need to go the extra mile to engage and empower them. Eliminate hurdles to success by really understanding their journey, recognizing that different roles in the partner organization participate at different stages, e.g. at the offer stage you’re likely to speak with an owner or principal and later during the training stage, you might be dealing with product specialists.

Clearly, gaining input from partners is the best way to start. By understanding their DNA, later taking the time to plan a successful approach and showing them exactly how you’re going to augment their capability to drive pipeline, ideally with a channel marketing solution like the Zift platform, you’ll activate a strong partnership.  But remember, when activating partners so they can become productive, it’s never just about tools. Make sure you help them tell “their story”  and be prescriptive by providing them with concierge services that guide them through marketing activities whenever possible.  In most cases, you’re signing them up for their market expertise and customer base — not because they are expert marketers.

At the conclusion of the workshops and conference, it was clear to all attending: using a systematic approach like the one I’ve described here, where partners are identified, qualified and later empowered into your program, are the keys to driving recruitment success, long term loyalty and overall sales and marketing effectiveness.

Originally posted on Channel Chatter

Don’t miss more from Laz and other channel thought leaders on ChannelVisions.tv.  You can reach Laz at lazgonzalez@ziftsolutions.com or follow @lazgonzalez and @zift on Twitter.

As a prominent thought leader, Laz brings unparalleled channel expertise to Zift as Chief Strategy Officer. Before Zift, Laz was Group Director of Channel Sales & Marketing Strategies at SiriusDecisions serving as a strategic advisor to leading B2B channel programs worldwide.
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