The Action Plan for Recruiting and Onboarding Channel Partners

November 1, 2018
Samantha Brachat

Establishing a channel partner program can be a very powerful way to accelerate your growth. But it can also be a daunting process that requires a serious commitment of time, effort and resources. Fortunately, there are established best practices for recruiting and onboarding channel partners effectively. In this article, we’ll describe a solid 3-phase action plan you can use to build out your own successful partner program.


Phase 1: Identifying & Recruiting the Right Partners (Day 1-60)

Your initial goal is to identify and recruit the right partners to your program. This involves three steps:

  1. Determining what you want from your partners
  2. Determining what your partners want from you
  3. Reaching out to them effectively

The first step will require you to think carefully about your reseller strategy, and formulate a clear picture of what your ideal partner would look like. Each partner will bring a unique set of strengths and weaknesses to the table, and identifying the right ones at the outset will make everything else a lot easier. Some important factors to consider are:

  • What markets do they serve?
  • How large is their operation?
  • How committed will they be to the partnership?
  • Do they have strong, long-term customer relationships?
  • Do their existing product offerings complement yours?

Once you’ve identified your ideal partners, the second step is to figure out what you can offer them. The better your value proposition, the easier it will be to attract partners to your program, and the stronger your partnerships will be. These are some common value propositions:

  • Your product is in high demand by their existing customers
  • Your product can be bundled with another offering to improve its appeal to new customers
  • Your product can make another offering more sticky with existing customers
  • Your brand helps them to be perceived as a trusted advisor

If any of these are true, then it’s highly likely the partnership will be a win-win. Armed with a solid value proposition, you’re now ready to reach out to potential partners and sell them on your program.

The usual marketing methods – such as targeted advertising and email campaigns – tend to work very well in partner recruitment, but the most effective way to accelerate the process is to directly involve your sales team. Many of your sales reps already have established networks within their assigned verticals or territories, and can help greatly with both identification of targets and recruitment efforts. Set ambitious recruitment targets, offer the right incentives, and watch the partners enroll!


Phase 2: Onboarding Partners (Day 61-90)

After you’ve recruited your channel partners, you’ll want to provide them with a smooth, well-designed onboarding experience.

This is an extremely important phase of the partner relationship, and the quality of your onboarding training can make or break your long-term success. While every onboarding process is different, there are three key elements your program should cover:

1. Well-Defined, In-Depth Buyer Personas

At the beginning of the partnership, you know your own customers far better than your channel partners do. Their effectiveness at selling to your target buyers is directly dependent on the quality of the customer intelligence you provide. Here are some key details for B2B markets:

  • Industry vertical
  • Company size
  • Common reasons for requiring your solution
  • Known events that trigger a need for your solution
  • Key decision-makers and influencers
2. Simple Rules for Earning Incentives

The best way to motivate partners is to draw a clear line between each sale or referral they make, and their eventual payouts. If your incentive model is too complicated or ambiguous, selling your product becomes a lot less psychologically compelling. In addition, a complex model increases the risk of confusion or misunderstandings over payout milestones.

This is why it’s important to clearly spell out exactly what your partners need to do to earn each incentive, and advertise these steps on your partner portal. You can also provide email reminders or visual indicators such as progress bars showing them how far they are from their next sales goal, thus giving them a concrete target to work towards.

3. Training on the Partner Platform

Using a modern, well-designed partner platform is key to maximizing partnership productivity. Your partner software should be able to deliver conversion data and sales collateral, automate tracking and payouts, and be easy for both you and your partners to use.

Since this software will be the backbone of your partner communication, you want to make sure all of your partners are comfortable using it, and understand how to leverage all of its capabilities. This is not something you should leave to chance. Instead, take the time to find a platform that automates the channel management activities.

While it might seem like a lot of work, these efforts will eventually pay off in greatly improved partner productivity.


Phase 3: Providing Ongoing Support (Day 91-180)

Partner training and support doesn’t end directly after the onboarding process. The best partner programs are continually investing in partner success, providing regular updates and further education. In particular, the first 3 months after onboarding are critical, as your partners will still be new to selling your product, and will definitely encounter challenges along the way.

Here are three ways to support your partners beyond the first 30 days:

1. Provide Fresh Supplementary Training Material

As your partner program scales, it will become increasingly difficult to train every single partner on an ongoing basis. This is why it’s important to provide high-quality, up-to-date training materials on your partner portal. These can include:

  • Your ideal buyer personas
  • A “cheat sheet” for your incentive program
  • General sales training resources
  • Product user manuals
  • Marketing literature and sales collateral

This will allow your partners to stay current with your latest offerings without placing a direct strain on your in-house personnel.

2. Deliver Regular Program Updates and Success Stories

Fostering a sense of community and camaraderie within your partner program can be a great way to boost partner loyalty and maintain a high level of engagement.

You can do this with a simple newsletter that provides relevant, high-value content. Apart from plain program updates, be sure to include success stories from your best performers. Take a few hours each month to interview one or two of them, explaining their results and how they were able to achieve them. This will both inspire and educate the rest of your partners, driving them to increase activity and achieve better results.

3. Coach Struggling Partners

While you can’t train everyone, you should take the time to coach partners who are struggling in their first few months. After all, if you chose your partners wisely, then there’s a good chance their poor results aren’t due to a lack of sales or marketing ability. Rather, there are usually just a handful of sticking points that have caused them to underperform.

This means that focusing specifically on these partners is likely to have a large payoff for a relatively modest effort. If you can solve the issues they’re facing, they will probably go on to perform well in the future. In addition, these partners are sure to appreciate the extra support you provided in their time of need, which can only strengthen your long-term relationship.


Day 180 and Beyond

Effective partner programs are a constant work in progress, and you should always be looking for ways to improve your program over time. Continue your regular engagement and support practices, and be there for your partners when they need you. In time, they will return the favor many times over, and greatly accelerate your company’s growth.

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