Managing channel partners is a daunting task. Most sales executives don’t relish the responsibility without direct control that comes with channel partner management. Nevertheless channel sales is one of the best ways to grow the top line in an emerging company with limited resources. On my wall is a list of all the things I have to worry about when recruiting, onboarding and managing channel partners:
- Profiling and qualifying new partners
- Signing up new partners - onboarding
- Making it easy and efficient for partners to get up to speed – training and education
- Efficiently and effectively communicating to your partners
- Supporting your partners with marketing and other services
- Managing lead registration and avoiding channel conflict
- Having real-time visibility into your channel partners’ performance - incentives
I could write a book about each of these subjects, complete with war stories! But one topic in particular has my attention today. Let’s take a look at how to educate channel partners, because let’s face it, if your channel partner doesn’t know your product and value proposition, they aren’t going to help you make your numbers.
A lot of effective education in channel relationships is about confidence. Channel partners want to know you’ve got more than a PowerPoint presentation to help them hone their message and respond to objections. You have a small window of opportunity to make a great first impression, which is the time right after you ink the partner agreement – the honeymoon phase.
Like most honeymoons, this phase lasts about a week. You want to give your new channel partner a lot of attention, support and confidence in the new relationship and in your product or service. Training and certification is critical while you have your partner’s undivided attention. It is important that you deliver training content, classes and exercises, and assessments to your new channel partner in an organized and easy-to-use format.
In an emerging growth company, chances are that you do not have in-house training resources to support the kind of education effort required to build and maintain an all-star team of channel partners. An external solution with lots of firepower, especially when you’re building your channel is a must.
There are many good sources of on-line training and education tools (learning management systems providers), but you need to consider training needs in the context of the other channel management challenges that are listed above. Separate systems and providers for each aspect of successful sales channel management can quickly reduce confidence in your ability to support the channel, which puts you back on the hot seat trying to convince channel partners they can be successful rather than incenting them to sell more.
Integrated channel management systems are out there and comprehensive solutions include strong training and education modules as well as other tools to help you set goals and assess performance. The new industry buzz word for this type of comprehensive channel management solution is partner relationship management.