Best Practices for Hosting a Channel Partner Summit & Other Partner Events

ITA Group
ITA Group

channel partner summit attendees participating in virtual reality

Building relationships is the crux of all indirect channel efforts—whether it’s done through field and account managers, marketing efforts or channel program elements. But one of the best ways to build channel relationships is through events: summits, roadshows, tradeshows, conferences, incentive travel, expos and anything else that brings people together. Events are a powerful way to strengthen relationships and develop brand advocates.

Related: Learn how ITA Group used an experiential event to help T-Mobile boldly announce their entry into the IoT space while showcasing the future of Narrowband IoT.

Mastering Event Design Basics for Channel Partner Summits & Other Partner Events

Planning for, executing, then measuring the impact of channel partner events is complicated—but far from impossible. Here are some pieces of wisdom we wrap into every single event we design.

Best Practices for Goal Setting

Start by defining your goals and objectives. What are you trying to achieve with your event? Knowing the reason why you’re doing something will help plan the rest. Common objectives include:

  • Education – to solve business issues and improve the customer experience
  • Product launches – to increase sales
  • Networking – to create a connection between peers, employees and experts
  • Relationship building – to build brand advocates
  • Recognition – to reward efforts

Related: Without the right planning, reaching sales incentive program goals can be challenging. Here are the tools you need to set meaningful, achievable sales incentive program goals.

Best Practices for Event Design

Designing an engaging event experience is the result of careful planning. What attendee experience will ensure the event achieves its objectives? Are you considering a virtual, hybrid or in-person event? How will technology be used? How will content be repurposed to build engagement before, during and after the event? What messages will resonate with which audiences? Should the agenda be personalized? How will you measure success?

These are all questions that must be asked and addressed before designing the event. Consider the following things strategic event design aims to do:

1. Drive desired behaviors and accomplish your top objectives

  • If training partners around the world on a new product or service is your goal, make sure the training content is easily understood online. If the product or service is more complex, would a hands-on demonstration or live interaction with an expert help?
  • If trying to inspire and motivate top partners, offer exclusive networking opportunities with industry experts and executive leaders.

2. Provide success metrics and ROI through the collection of the right data, such as engagement levels in trainings and demos, increased purchase intent, improved advocacy rates, etc. 

3. Understand where to invest to get the most impact from the event experience by using pre-event surveys and historical data (e.g., facilitating informal networking experiences during coffee breaks or offsite activities vs. investing in a gala dinner).

Additionally, a large part of event design focuses heavily on how you care for your audience. If you’re designing a large event, consider segmenting your audience and including special elements for each. The key to capturing attention is understanding your audience—how they engage with technology, how they’re individually motivated, etc.

Audiences to identify and plan special experiences for might include:

  • VIP attendees (e.g., executives, top partner executives, analysts, press, etc.)
  • Top-performing partners who make up a majority of channel revenue
  • Mid-tier partners who are poised for growth
  • Sales teams from your brand
  • New recruits (e.g., partners who are just signed on with you)

For example, invite top-performing partners to attend a day early for exclusive programming or 1:1 executive time, or offer something as simple as invitations to special cocktail hours. The perks of flying first-class, suite upgrades and additional or enhanced amenities still prove reliably effective as well.

For mid-tier partners, create a little FOMO by providing a sample or sneak peek of what the top-performing partners are getting. A great example is inviting them to the VIP cocktail hour once the special guest has finished their presentation. Keep in mind, however, you need to balance it well or it can become a sore point too—moderation is key!

examples of event amenities

Above: Private lounges for top performers and exclusive gift and entertainment opportunities create can't miss moments.

Related: Events that incorporate event design into their planning process can create deeper, long-lasting relationships with their attendees. Keep reading.

Best Practices for Competitor Research

Doing your homework, including front-end research, is another trick to the channel events trade. How do attendees feel about competitor events? What do attendees value (and expect), and how can your event stand out? You’re probably not the only brand putting on partner events, and many indirect channel participants have to pick and choose what to attend. Why will they come to your partner event? Here are some questions you should try to answer:

  • How does your brand stand out from other events?
  • How do partners choose which event to go to?
  • Does partner preference vary by audience segment?
  • Do you know who is most likely to attend or on the fence?
  • Who do you want to attract and what do they value?

Related: No matter if you’re running multiday meetings or a world-class conference, your event needs to stand out from the competition and express its unique brand and the benefits your audience will get by attending. Learn more.

Best Practices for Budgets & Profitability

Some events are planned for and executed out of a marketing budget. Others need to offset costs in some fashion. Get creative with revenue opportunities using tactics and budget adjustments, such as:

  • Offering sponsorships to complementary brands or alliances
  • Finding sponsors to fund an aspect of your event (e.g., an evening happy hour or give-back opportunity, like the example below)
  • Attaching an attendee registration fee
  • Supplementing fees that are earned through channel program participation
  • Including add-ons for purchase
  • Offering additional paid guests after a specific number of registrants confirmed

Sponsorships don’t have to follow a status-quo. Offer opportunities to engage with partners (while helping to fund your event) by finding sponsors for something like a yoga or fitness class. A give-back experience is another meaningful way to connect. See below for an experience we helped plan for partners to build bikes and pack hygiene bags for a local homeless shelter.

event attendees donate bikes to children

Above: Event attendees give back by donating bikes to children. 

Related: Learn more about how sponsorship programs can create memorable attendee and sponsor experiences.

Best Practices for Regionality

Reaching people where they are is another event trend. Road shows have evolved into a popular, effective and flexible means of promotion and direct partner approach. The value of doing a road show is an increase in brand or product exposure and the opportunity to build FOMO within your target audience. Using smaller scale regional events can be the perfect use of events. You’ll want to make sure the event:

  • Is repeatable
  • Travels well
  • Includes plenty of recruitment and communication
  • Plans to match partner coverage and desirable regional locations
  • Offers shareable and engaging experiences (e.g., think about how the event website, mobile app and social channels will be used to build community across regional events)

virtual reality game truck at event

Above: Virtual reality experience truck.

Related: If you’re planning a trade show, road shows build excitement for the event by promoting it in different locations along the way. Here are a few trends to help you differentiate your next trade show experience.

MDF: The Ticket to Unexpected Partner Events & More

Since the majority of vendors (63%) aren’t changing their market development funds (MDF) availability to partners, this is an opportunity to reimagine and innovate on the ways MDF can best benefit the channel. One way is through a bespoke event for top partners that includes a hands-on experience through workshops, seminars or solution showcases to attract, appreciate and retain clients and prospects.

But don’t stop there. Read more about some different ways to get creative putting MDF to work in new ways for a partner program.