How To Form The Best Channel Programme In The World, Probably

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Netrwrix’s regional manager uses his experience in vending, reselling and distribution to map out a mutually beneficial programme

Putting together a partner programme that works for a vendor and its channel partners is not rocket science, yet so many companies get it wrong and make basic mistakes.  The success of the relationship will impact on sales performance and ultimately the business success of both parties, so there should a strong incentive to get it right.

Ask distributors and resellers how they perceive the attitude of vendors they work with and, all too often, the view is one of arrogance. Generally, vendors give the impression they are somehow further up the hierarchy than their partners; whereas, a successful channel model should be the opposite. Good partners ought to be treated as the lifeblood of the organisation – and a bit of humility and understanding can go a long way towards building a solid relationship.

Humble beginnings

A good starting point is protection. All vendors claim that they protect their partners but, in reality, they rarely do. Despite fancy deal-registration programmes, in most cases the small print still gives very little protection.  It may be that one partner only gets a small discount advantage over another; meaning that, even if they do all the work on a deal, they end up making 15 percent or less. To my mind, this isn’t proper deal protection.

Vendors often go after the same large, established partners in the belief that big is beautiful and therefore should be rewarded with equally big margins.  In reality, unless these larger, well-known partners really buy your proposition at management level, they will serve as nothing but fulfilment channels and won’t grow your market share.

The important thing is to establish partnerships with those that are willing and able to proactively grow your market and reward them on this accordingly. Rather than offering high margins or, in some instances, paying to become a vendor in their portfolio, a partnership should be a two-way process offering mutual gain.

Once a partner is on board, the first thing many vendors do in the honeymoon period is to visit their partners for a day of training and corporate presentations in an effort to motivate the sales team. But this can be short-lived and, like any relationship, a lack of effort and communication means that interest soon dwindles and the affiliation breaks down.

It’s critical that a clear and defined long-term plan is put in place, agreed at the right levels, and executed accordingly. Most importantly, training has to deliver the actual skills to sell your products. The sales, technical and marketing teams must know the questions to ask in order to recognise the right opportunities and be able to handle objections and understand how your business works to ensure total and consistent engagement.

Furthermore, vendors need to lead by example, showing best practices and providing real-world examples of selling into other organisations. The aim is to kickstart a habit-forming process that can be maintained over a long period of time.

A vendor needs to understand the business of its partners and how its products can add value. It is important to appreciate the differentiators and get to know their customers to construct an actionable account plan, based on what it will deliver to a partner’s business, its customers and of course, its pockets.

It’s also important that, if you say you are going to do something,  you actually do it – and do it quickly. Nothing kills a relationship faster than too much talk with minimal action. If you say you are going to call a customer, just do it. If you say you are going to book a demo for a prospect, just do it. If they need help bringing in a deal, react quickly and this will go a long way.

Clean and simple

Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind is that keeping your channel clean and friendly must be your number one goal. Don’t tolerate box shifters; only accept real partners that know what you do and are able to add value, otherwise you damage your true partners.  Ensure you build trust and loyalty with your partners and exclude those that aren’t willing, ethical, loyal or able. Don’t offer margin to partners that don’t understand your business.

Then there is the question of “direct touch” teams. The very nature of direct touch is to have maverick hard hitting sales staff; however, make sure they are closely managed. While it’s great they are able to find and drive opportunities, they need to engage with partners to build trust. Far too often, there is a divide and lack of engagement between direct touch and the channel that can be damaging.

Everyone knows that running a direct and channel sales model in the same region simply will not work – yet many vendors still try. Selling products through a web store while trying to maintain a serious channel is an impossible task. You have to make the commitment; either work through your partners or sell direct, but don’t do both.

Above all – a good channel programme is simple and personal. You want to make it easy for partners to do business with you. Moving all engagement to an online portal, making partners fill out endless forms, or forcing them to jump through pointless hoops does not drive engagement or create a nice warm feeling.

While there seems to be a culture to move everything to self-service portals, there’s a lot to be said for good old fashioned conversations.

Aidan Simister is regional manager Emea for Netwrix, a specialist provider of IT infrastructure change auditing technology.

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