For emerging growth companies, getting channel partners ramped up and ready to sell their products is absolutely necessary. The reason is obvious; for emerging growth companies, the focus is on growth. Developing a network of resellers or dealers is one of the surest strategies for growing quickly and reaching a greater number of customers in a shorter period of time. But, the reseller network cannot be managed the same way as an internal sales team. Part of the ramp-up process for channel partners involves training the people who work for channel partners.
If your emerging growth company has an internal sales force as well as an indirect sales channel, you most likely have some type of internal sales training program that combines online learning with classroom time. But the traditional model of delivering sales training does not necessarily work in the channel. Why not? Because the members of your indirect sales team do not have an incentive to succeed at the training or pay close attention to it. A profitable and growing sales channel is driven by quality engagement with channel partners. Resellers (in the “non-captive” sales channel) represent a number of different brands, often competing ones. Companies that are launching a new product or trying to grow quickly need to find ways to stand out in that crowded landscape.
If a salesperson who works for one of your channel partners finds your training program boring or difficult to access or irrelevant, that salesperson is more likely to tune out the critical information you’re trying to impart to him. For your sales channel to work the way you want it to work, you need to grab that salesperson’s attention (channel managers refer to this as “mindshare”) and hold it. Only then will he understand your products and the best practices for selling them.
Training and certification are areas where a focus on channel partner engagement is key. As the velocity of business continues to accelerate in most industries, the traditional methods of engaging with partners— intermittent phone calls, site visits, and emails—are not the answer. These activities can be augmented or replaced with a framework for successful engagement that is based on the following elements:
- Collaboration: Salespeople work best in an environment that is supportive and collegial. They want to know that they are “heard” and that there is healthy two-way communication.
- Marketing/communication: A successful sales effort requires timely and appropriate marketing collateral, a clearly articulated value proposition, and an understanding of the market positioning of your product or service. It’s critical to make marketing material co-branded for your channel partners easily available.
- Training and certification: You need a solution that will enable you to train your channel partners and monitor their progress and success. Remember, training is not an event; it is a process. As you launch updates, new products, and special offers, you will need a way to quickly and effectively communicate this to your partners so they can do the same for their prospects and customers.
- Performance Management: You need a system and process that allows you to track the performance of your channel partners. Also, your channel partners need feedback to know how they are performing against expectations.
These four things should form the core of your partner relationship management (PRM) system.