Good channel partners are vital for any business's success, but do you know how to build stronger relationships with your channel partners? The relationships you form with your channel partners determine whether you or your competition will be offered new business opportunities and whether you will be serviced at a lower cost, all without the risk of acquisition. If you are not paying attention to your partners, you may be losing out on the huge profit gains that they can offer.
Generally speaking, you can think of your channel partners in two ways: some are "transactional" partners, while others are "strategic" partners.
Transactional partners probably make up 80-90% of your total partnerships. These partners are in a purely business relationship with you, acting pretty much like brokers who sell your product and take their end. You may not be able to remember their names without checking your address book. That is okay, but a prudent entrepreneur will realize that just as he or she would drop a non-performing transactional partner if their performance flagged, so too would a transactional partner jump ship to a new vendor or supplier if offered a better deal.
Strategic partners, on the other hand, are those partners whom you have a deeper relationship with: you share information, you have more complex business relations tailored specifically to each of your strengths, and you give each other mutually favorable deals because you both work hard at strengthening the profitable relationship.
If you do not have any strategic partners, you should start to look around and see who you can build a strong relationship with.
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Not All Partners Can Be Strategic Partners
Now, obviously you should keep in touch with all your partners, but you must remember: for most of these partners your relationship is just a business transaction. There is nothing wrong or flawed in keeping your relationship at that level—so long as they are performing for you—but when considering who you might want to build a strategic partnership with you cannot just ask anyone and everyone. First and foremost you ought to use the quantitative channel management techniques at your disposal to analyze your partners and see who is performing the best. Your top-tier performers are likely those who you might want to consider creating a more complex but mutually beneficial relationship with.
Then you must go beyond your quantitative analysis, Consider: Which of these partners do you really trust? Who do you believe will work hard for you? Your business intuition matters here, but you ought to also look over old interactions you have had with them, taking note of whether they usually replied to you in a timely manner and whether they seemed direct and open when talking to you. Those who you feel good about should be put on a short-list of potential partnerships that you would like to devote the energy to strengthen.
Growing a Better Strategic Relationship
Once you know which of your current channel partners seem to be fertile ground for growing your relationship with you must determine if the interest is mutual. Your transactional partners may be high performers, but they may also be busy with any number of other projects which would prevent them from engaging you at the level you desire. That is, they may only be able to offer you a transactional relationship. It is for this reason that it is important that you start to work on your relationships with this short-list slowly: start to get to know their decision-makers, perhaps on social media or other quasi-business contexts. Feel them out as people and continue to refine your opinions about who is a viable strategic partner and who is not.
As you build these relationships you should write up a plan for each partner that details what you might be able to offer them that is unique to your company and what they might be able to give you in return, be it exclusivity in exchange for increased lead-sharing or some other strategic option you feel they would find attractive. Work hard at these plans and continue to refine them over time, perhaps bringing them up on occasion and feeling out your partners' reactions. It will be a long-game of sorts, but the objective of building into a joint agreement is well worth it. When you feel that you are ready, just go ahead and make the pitch; even if they are not receptive you will still have a wonderful transactional partnership that you can rely on, and it will likely be all the stronger due to your attentions.
Do Not Forget
Like any relationship, success requires continued attention and patience. Even once you are more strategically partnered, letting that relationship slip back into a functionally transactional relationship may jeopardize all you have built. If you thought building these relationships was a part of your job, so too is maintaining them. Your communications should always resemble what they did before you made your pitch.