The world of indirect sales is booming, and there's probably never been a better time for a vendor to look towards the indirect sales model. Embracing an indirect sales model allows for a business to grow itself more quickly, spend less on marketing and sales, and dedicate itself to continually improving its core products and services.
The issue here, of course, is that the current growth in indirect-sales businesses is creating even more competition for partners. From the point of view of a local sales operation, it's very much a "buyer's market." There are far more solutions and products in almost every field than they could ever embrace.
Additionally, once they're onboard with a vendor, nothing guarantees they'll stay in that partner relationship unless they continue to see the impact on their bottom line.
Therefore, it's critical to build and maintain great partner relationships throughout the entire vendor growth process. A vendor which caters to the needs of its partners, and builds a reputation for doing so, is one which will have a far easier time meeting their growth and sales goals year after year.
Best Practices for Building Great Partner Relationships
1 - Understand that percentages aren't everything.
It used to be that the primary selling point used to get vendors onboard was pure dollars-and-cents. How much money would they make per sale? While this is still an important factor, to be sure, it's no longer the end-all-be-all of vendor partnerships.
Now that technology has greatly increased the potential for vendors to aid their partners and help garner more sales, it's at least as important to be easy to do business with. A vendor which can truthfully say they make life easier for their sales partners, and seek to lower the costs of doing business, is one which will attract a lot of attention. But it's important to understand that simply having the support systems in place does not guarantee a successful partners.
Best Practice: Start by defining your ideal partner profile and then work to deliver the tools and content they need to be successful.
2 - Stay in constant contact.
A vendor is going to be in danger of losing partners if those partners feel like they're being ignored or taken for granted. In much the same way that consumers and buyers are now influencing the sales and product development process, sales partners similarly want to feel that their own contributions are heard and valued. In fact, they are usually the ones closest to the end customer so their feedback can be that much more important. Additionally, communicating your own plans and upcoming initiatives to partners will allow them to plan accordingly.
A great partner relationship is based in having clear lines of communication, as well as showing that communication matters. Listening to retailer feedback can be invaluable for improving a product, as well as helping ensure they feel like part of the team.
Best Practice: Be proactive in your communication strategy to partners, and take the time to solicit their feedback at least once a year. An annual partner survey is a great tool for gathering this information and benchmarking areas of strength and weakness over time.
READ MORE: Channel Program Blueprint
3 - Minimize the interference of technology.
Are you still relying on a mess of different point solutions to handle specific areas of your partner relations? If so, you could be seriously endangering your partner relationships. Salespeople can easily become frustrated with too many logins to multiple systems, especially if those systems are unable to make their job easier.
This is one area where a Partner Relationship Management system can be truly invaluable. By creating a single unified portal which contains everything a partner or salesperson needs to do business with you, you'll be vastly simplifying their jobs. In the process, you'll be distinguishing yourselves from all the other vendors still mired in doing business the old way.
Best Practice: Conduct an internal systems audit to see which are critical for your partners to conduct business. Are there areas to consolidate functionality within a single tool? Where multiple systems are required, are you providing a single point of access to your partners to make their lives easier?
4 - Make onboarding as simple as possible.
Let's be honest, the onboarding process is often overlooked. It's frequently boring and tedious for individual employees, while being expensive and time consuming for both vendors and partners. Some amount of training is necessary, of course, but this is an area where a little streamlining can go a long way towards making everyone more productive.
It's well worth the time and money to create a great set of training materials. It's even better if you can make those materials available online through a system that allows for self-paced learning and self-service access to content. It greatly reduces training costs in the long run, while simultaneously allowing partner staff to start making sales faster.
Best Practice: Identify what content is needed for successful onboarding, and start filling the gaps beyond what is currently available.
5 - Be flexible and ready to respond to changing industry needs.
It's really no exaggeration to say that both business practices and buyer behaviors are changing more drastically and more quickly than at any other time in history. The Internet is revolutionizing business so radically that even the most 'tuned-in' of businesses have a hard time keeping up with the rate of change.
Don't allow your business to become static. Pay attention to feedback from vendors and buyers, while keeping a weather eye on emerging patterns in your own industry. Always be willing to alter your strategies as the situation requires.
Best Practice: As you are evaluating technology solutions such as PRM, make sure you a working with a scalable system that is able to support future business requirements.
For a deeper understanding of where your organization could benefit from other best practices, take a look at our self-assessment form. It will provide an instant score to help you prioritize your partner support initiatives.