If your company relies on non-exclusive channel partners, that makes for a difficult balancing act. Obviously, you want them selling as much of your product or service as possible... but they have businesses to run, and it's only natural that they're going to be making the choices that are in their own best interests. Those choices might or might not involve putting effort into differentiating your properties for customers, based on their perceptions of what's best for them.
Largely, your actions towards your channel partners will make the difference in how much time and attention they spend promoting your brand over the competition.
It's All About The Information
If you're wondering about how your channel partners are differentiating your products, perhaps the first question to ask is "Do they have the knowledge necessary to differentiate it?"
Most of the time, the effectiveness of channel partners will rely heavily on how much helpful information they have at their disposal. We've seen too many cases of companies sending out literature to their channel partners which is nearly identical to customer-facing materials. It's full of buzzwords and promises, but with very little information about how your partners can add value to improve the customer experience.
That doesn't leave their sales reps much to work with, especially if those reps don't entirely understand what the product does in the first place. They're likely to stick to products they're more comfortable with (or just those with the highest margins).
So one of the most basic tactics of inspiring partners to push your product harder is simply to ensure they have useful information and plenty of training to accompany it. Local reps who fully understand a product, and know they have resources to turn to for tricky questions, are going to be far more likely to talk to customers about it.
In short, your partners need consistent communication that helps make their job easier.
Mindshare Means Constant Presence
The days that channel partners were left largely to their own devices are long gone. Today, the most successful partnerships are usually ones where there is a steady flow of information back-and-forth, with the top-level company maintaining close contact with their partners.
A company should be consistently looking to reach out to their partners, keeping them informed of new developments in the product, the market, advertising initiatives, and other changes which might affect their sales.
It's also useful to ensure that the ground-level sales reps have direct lines of communication open for talking to you, asking questions, and getting advice. If they're having to go through multiple levels of managers just to ask questions, that's also going to discourage them from pushing your product too heavily. On the other hand, easy communications often lead to easy sales, and reps are going to be inclined to push partners who make their lives easier.
Good lines of communication are nearly as big an incentive as bonuses. Speaking of which...
Keep Dangling Those Carrots
Being stingy with channel partners is a good way to become a low priority for them. Profit margins and bonuses are always going to be a major factor, and it's often going to be worth giving up a little raw profit for the sake of inspiring dedicated channel partners.
This can easily go beyond mere percentages. Offer prizes to the top earners, or small bonuses for successfully completing training courses about the products. You can rarely go wrong incentivizing activities which will inspire reps to talk about your product more.
Additionally, being good to your partners will inspire loyalty in the long run. The words "We've worked with these guys for years" are gold for many buyers, suggesting long-term stability and commitment to the product. Some of the best sales evangelism can come from reps talking about your company, not necessarily your product itself.
And that's even more true these days, with so many startups coming and going every year. Buyers need some assurance of stability. That, by itself, can often do a lot to differentiate your offerings!
Centralization Makes All This Simple
If you're looking at these ideas and thinking they'd be great if only you had the infrastructure to pull them off, that's where Partner Relationship Management software comes in. PRM creates an all-in-one centralized system that makes partnerships easier for you and your partners.
- Share all the technical information needed, in a central repository.
- Make marketing materials available freely for all who need them.
- Create training modules, tracked on a per-partner or even per-employee basis.
- Deliver sales programs that make it easier for your partners to sell.
- Have open communication back-and-forth, so partners always feel "in the loop."
- Share strategies, trends, and other data that drives sales.