Three Cardinal Rules of Channel Engagement

There are three things to consider when building a channel program – three simple rules that almost every company forgets at one point or another. Why do they forget? It’s simple: they eventually hire a sales and/or marketing professional who really know sales or is an expert at marketing, but doesn’t know anything about working inside the channel.

It is all too easy to forget the three cardinal rules when the people charged with building and growing those relationships have not built or managed such a channel program before.

Rule #1: Channel partners are NOT your customers; they your sales and marketing team.
Chances are good that, if you know what is going to motivate your sales people, you can apply that knowledge to your channel partners. Good sales people hate bad leads and so do your channel partners. Good sales people like to make money, and are motivated by big opportunities; so do your partners. Finally, good sales people hate when they have no support, have their accounts stolen by the company, and they really dislike making promises on behalf of their organization only to find out later that the company “changed its mind.” Channel partners really hate that, too. If you are going to work with the SMB IT channel, you need to think about ways to empower your partners, not about how you can leverage them and leave them behind.

Rule #2: If you don’t own the relationship with the end user, your brand is secondary.
Most marketing professionals feel like it is critically important to build the company brand – and in the direct model – they are generally correct. The SMB channel is different, and it’s those distinctions that make them so valuable.

Small business owners (customers) put an immense amount of trust into the hands of the solution providers who support them, and often become quite dependent on them as a result. A quality channel partner knows everything about their business clients, including their future needs and even their moods. It is an incredibly sticky relationship that extends well beyond brand and well beyond anything that a vendor can offer them directly. If you want to enjoy the benefits of that kind of relationship, understand that your brand did not create that connection and cannot support it. Vendors that center their branding efforts on the partners who own that relationship, in a way that allows them to confidently build more of those connections, often find greater success. Focus on imprinting your message on the solution provider audience, and not their end user customers.

Rule #3: Build and manage your channel program with people who understand the channel.
Some people never really understand what it takes to work effectively with channel partners. This market is something that many have to fight tooth and nail to figure out, while for others it just comes naturally. If you are going to build your business around the SMB channel and enjoy the benefits of amazing growth, customer loyalty, and an often wonderfully low cost of customer acquisition, identify and recruit the insiders who understand and succeed in this space.

Figure out what characteristics make good channel managers and hire with those characteristics in mind (pro tip – solution providers like helping people and they enjoy working with others who like helping people as well). So often technology vendors hire those with no channel experience to build their partner programs and most of the time it simply doesn’t work. In the rare occasion it does, the costs are significantly higher than they would have been if they’d have hired an experienced channel professional to start.

So there you have it; three simple guidelines. Treat your partners like members of your own, valued sales team. Focus your branding on your partner’s needs and not on their customers. Finally, use channel experts to build it right the first time and, chances are, you’ll end up with impressive results in much shorter time frame.

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