Channel Ignition: How to Start a Partner Program
Focus Areas for Creating a New Channel Program
Your direct sales have been growing in your startup, and you are driving some great revenue numbers, but you need to go to the next level, and don’t yet have the funding for direct sales expansion and growth of the team. Partnership opportunities are starting to present themselves routinely, and you handle these opportunistically, and handle them as one off with no clear strategy. You have signed a handful of partners, but there was initial excitement, and they have petered out. Frustrated, you start to evaluate your next steps.
It’s interesting the lack of focused attention many startups give their “partner” or “channel” programs. I get it, many times focusing on opportunities with lengthy investment and time commitment can seem foolish when you can just keep all the margin and drive your direct growth. Many founders and early stage sales heads get a sour taste in their mouth from the channel, many times creating conflict with their direct teams, having failed deployments and high support requirements.
Typically it’s not the partner’s fault, the infrastructure and foundation just has not been created for them to succeed and meet expectations. It’s like giving the stick on an airplane to someone at 30,000 ft, handing them a manual and saying “land it”.
To be successful with your partner programs, some strategic groundwork needs to be in place, and a commitment to success on both sides. There are four primary pillars to any Channel Program, and before you hit the go button, you should have some minimal foundational components in place. Below are the pillars:
- Policies and Procedures (P & P) – Who needs policy right? Procedures, phooey. I admit it, I hate the formalities required to formalize a program, but I know not having them can create headaches and, for early stage companies, can kill momentum and reputation. With the channel, you are choosing representatives that sell, service and support your product out in the wild. Some basic foundational P & P must be in place, including documentation. Below is an initial stab at required items:
- Partnership Agreements (legal)
- Partnership Program Outline
- Partner Pricing and Tiers
- Rules of Engagement for Internal Channel and Direct Teams (deconfliction)
- Deal Registration Procedures
- Expectations/Planning Documents
- Sales Ops Readiness – how will you leverage your CRM to manage partner leads, accounts, opportunities and activities? Ah, the Salesforce messes I have seen when the whole channel flow has not been thought out. There are many details here, but it comes down to one question: “How will you track and report on the partner program?” The raw basics are being able to designate partner accounts (and partner type), register deals under the accounts, and track activity. I would also suggest how you would route partner inquiries. It’s a bad look when a high profile partner comes in as a lead for information on reselling your solution and the direct team is trying to sell them. Below is a quick list of necessities:
- Modify CRM- account designations and opportunity assignment
- Lead routing rules
- Define KPIs
- Ability to track partner prospects and close cycle for agreements
- Basic Reports and Dashboards (Pipe & Closed)
- Assets and Awareness – getting partners to join you on your wild ride can be difficult without the right assets and pre-work. First off, why would someone want to partner with you? What is in it for them? Most partners want to drive services revenue and make their customers bound to them and their specific expertise. If you have a $3 per year mail app that installs automatically, you may not have a partner play. Know you value prop to the partner and to their customers and build your asset arsenal from there. You need to arm the reps and their technical sales folks to sell. Here is a list for most SaaS companies:
- Landing page for partners with the why
- Value Video
- Partner Pitch Deck
- Partner battle cards
- Partner Sales and Tech Training
- Enablement – Nothing is worse than the needy partner that never produces. If you have picked the right partner (you can read more on Choosing the Right Partners here), theoretically, you should be able to provide basic training, educate them on finding prospects and start to build pipeline. Enablement does not stop with initial training, it is an ongoing processing of interacting, coaching and training for success. You know enablement has been successful when deals start appearing without your constant attention. Here are some enablement requirements:
- Enablement Training
- Partner Portal (or a Page with Info & Links)
- How to submit an order
- Support Plan – Sales and Technical
These are the pillars I have used before to start successful partnerships. Anything I missed? Happy hunting.