Laying the Foundation for a Scalable Channel Marketing Strategy
Channel partners will be the future of sales. Most companies expect channel sales to increase in importance in the next two years, CSO Insights notes, so now is the time to move beyond direct sales and expand into channel markets. Creating and scaling a successful channel marketing strategy from the ground up, however, requires proper preparation and the right frameworks for growth.
Here are three key steps for company leaders to take before expanding into channel markets:
1. Evaluate Product Maturity
Many companies enter into channel sales to grow revenue, especially as products mature and create flat profits. Assessing your product’s maturity is the first step toward preparing channel partners to sell in a competitive market and, ultimately, to scale your ROI.
Working closely with presales teams is a crucial part of this process because it will help you to identify and troubleshoot any problems with your product. Pay attention: Because these teams routinely work with end users, understand your value proposition and assist in selling the technical aspects of your product, they can advise you on any product-stability challenges that could arise during the sales cycle.
Professional services teams also can provide valuable insight into your product’s maturity and future road map. These teams help customers with product implementation and often also support product development and strategy, so they’re typically a great resource for information on emerging technologies and trends that could affect the adoption and functionality of your product.
The following strategic attribute feedback framework can help you to more effectively obtain and understand these types of product-maturity insights from professional service and presales teams:
- Product Demos: Learn what a successful demo looks like, identify the technical requirements and other components needed to help ensure success and examine what challenges your presales team faces while preparing for and executing the demo.
- Competitive Positioning: Ask presales teams for a copy of any existing competitive analyses. Understanding a product’s differentiation and competitive advantages and disadvantages can help you determine how it might compete in a saturated market. If an adequate differentiation model and market research are unavailable, you may need to work more closely with the presales team to identify your product’s unique angle and market positioning.
- Proof of Concept (POC) Evaluation: Consult with presales and professional services teams to gain insight into their execution strategy for, and the product’s ease of deployment during, POCs. Any challenges you observe will offer a glimpse into the types of problems channel partners and their prospective customers may encounter while working with your product.
It’s crucial to identify and address any such issues before bringing your product to channel markets. Many channel programs — especially younger or less mature ones seeking to accelerate growth and product adoption — offer special incentives such as trade discounts, package deals, advertising allowances or liberal return policies to help attract new partners. However, these types of incentives can backfire when a product’s performance is subpar.
2. Develop a Partner-Enablement Plan
According to CGS Inc., 54 percent of companies say partner-enablement strategies increase sales, 72 percent report that they increase market penetration and 82 percent expect them to increase geographic expansion of sales in the next year.
Indeed, the right partner-enablement strategy can help ensure a smooth and lucrative sales process. This is why it’s essential to engage with direct sales and presales teams to identify any internal barriers within the sales cycle before launching your channel program. Most channel partners don’t want to spend their time creating enablement content within their own organizations, so they may be hesitant to team up with companies that would require them to do so.
The following product-feedback framework can help you structure your enablement strategy by providing insight into how your company’s sales process would affect new partners:
- Value Proposition: Determine whether you have enough information and supporting materials to define your product’s value proposition. Having a thorough understanding of your product’s intended audience, the challenge or need your product aims to address for this audience, detailed use-cases that demonstrate how your product does this, and any documented third-party validation can all provide valuable support to channel partners throughout the sales cycle.
- Sales Presentations: Does your sales team use quality content to support the product during calls? Forrester reports that a common reason for channel partners to not engage with content is because their portal applications and information “lack relevance.” Instead, businesses need to create content that’s accessible through multiple platforms and devices, but also geared toward different personas.
Enablement is essential for success. The enablement materials you provide partners don’t have to be new; repurposed or slightly adjusted versions of existing sales-enablement collateral can still help partners succeed. Discussing enablement needs and challenges with channel partners can help you determine which materials they need to achieve market success.
3. Align Your Organization
A successful channel marketing strategy requires alignment with all teams and hierarchies across your company and your channel partner companies. It’s common for company leaders to develop a partner strategy, but then fail to communicate its value and impact to those who don’t regularly interact with sales-related functions. If a product team, for example, is unaware of the likely increase in demand for, and adoption of, their product via channel partners, this could hinder their ability to anticipate or address problems with the product and enable partners.
Another key consideration is that without internal and external alignment regarding the value and operational aspects of channel partnerships, employees may feel as if the company’s priorities have shifted in favor of partnerships to the detriment of direct sales and related teams.
To ensure alignment, Accenture advises creating an evolving ecosystem-operating model that clearly maps a growth strategy and shares and celebrates partner successes and strategic milestones across the company. The following product-feedback loop can help you to determine the progress of your company’s alignment with your channel-partner strategy:
- Compensation Structure — First, company leaders and finance teams should anticipate, analyze and address any compensation conflicts that could arise between direct sales and partner sales teams. It’s imperative to automate the payment process to ensure a partner-friendly structure.
- Deal Registration — It’s essential to create protection for deals that are owned and managed by partners. Otherwise, partners may remain elusive about their pipelines or strategies because of concerns that they may not be able to trust direct sales to utilize their services in the future.
- Partner GTM Support — Ensure that your company’s internal product-release processes include steps for supporting partners. Otherwise, the analysis may be more likely to result in lack of margins and therefore further complicate the go-to-market process for partners.
Keep in mind that as you expand into channel markets, you may find that your mission, goals, and sales operations will need to adapt — and this adjustment period can be challenging. However, using the above frameworks as a starting point can help you create the positive partner relationships and, therefore, the positive customer experiences that drive sales.
As director of global channels at Flashpoint, Ayesha Prakash leverages her extensive experience driving business development and marketing efforts in the IT sector to build Flashpoint’s global channel program. Follow her on Twitter at @yoursocialnerd.