Are You Overlooking These Critical Channel Partner Training & Enablement Components?

By: Tim Gass
channel partner participating in virtual training

Launching or assessing an active channel incentive program includes many considerations, from evaluating different earning structure concepts, to mapping out an effective communication strategy, to deciding on the right mix of motivational awards—just to name just a few.

I frequently see programs entirely focused on the end result (e.g., total sales by year end) and that only reward top performers on that metric. While these programs show initial results, they fizzle in the long run. The same top finishers repeat year after year, resulting in a demotivating effect for everyone else and leading to stagnant sales.

If this sounds like your program, then it’s time for a change. You’re missing out on engagement opportunities to truly move the needle and set your channel partner program up for sustained success.

Evaluate Channel Training Needs

First, get a thorough picture of what your partners need. Some partners, such as vendors or franchisees, might need general training in marketing your products. Sales representatives and distributors may need more hands-on product training, like how to use the product’s different features.

Determine what type of training would best enable your channel partners through regular surveys to identify frequently encountered problems.

Motivate Your Untapped Potential: Middle Performers

Take a step back and reconsider your ideal partner. What makes them tick and how can you get more of them? These considerations pave the way to assess how to motivate the middle-of-the-pack to rise to top-performing levels. A key reason top performers succeed is their knowledge and experience. They know your brand, your product and/or services and the benefits of having a strong relationship with your business.

When looking at the variety of ways you can adjust a program to achieve better performance out of your middle (and low) performers, don’t just look at modifying your earning structures and tiered approaches solely focused on the end results.

Look for what your channel partners need to truly be successful and find ways to integrate that into your channel program and incentives.

Related: Learn why channel programs need to identify, communicate and enable activities that help partners win business and extend customer lifecycles.

Align Partner Enablement Goals With KPIs

Clear expectations, a sense of reward and feeling like part of the business culture are all important for keeping partners motivated.

Aligning your channel partner training to KPIs, and making the goals of the training program explicit and easy to understand, will help you get the most out of training. For example, if one of your business KPIs for the year is to increase customer retention by 25%, make sure this is clear in your communications and correlate training to customer retention strategies (and track to see if those two data points are working together to increase that rate!).

Once you identify your training goals, break them down into milestones that partners can achieve during the program. This introduces opportunities to “top-up” on motivation by recognizing your partners’ work, while also making training more manageable.

You may offer certificates or other incentives for completing sections of training, such as product knowledge certification. These incentives can be tracked on leaderboards to encourage friendly competition.

Aligning your channel training with your business KPIs will also help you measure the ROI of your partner training program because you can track performance improvement after training against your goals.

Provide Channel Partners With the Tools for Success

Training and development is a key component of any partner program. Arm your middle performers with ways to improve their effectiveness and reward them for those efforts.

The best approach to a learning component can vary widely depending on your situation, but here are few high-level considerations to keep top of mind:   

  • Assess your audience
  • Develop personas to guide strategy
  • Review how messages are sent out
  • Review how content is developed
  • Seek feedback and iterate

More often than not, you’re dealing with an audience located all across the country (perhaps the world), and budgeting, schedules and resources can limit opportunities for live touchpoints.

Unfortunately, in these cases, we often then see audiences only receiving spec sheets, one-pagers, etc. attached to program-related emails or just made available as content pages or for download through an online resource.

This is fine as a supplement to your learning strategy and is a great way to make information handy for quick referencing or deeper-dives following introductory training. But be careful to not solely rely on this approach. The key is developing your content strategically and providing it through options.

Bring Your Information to Life

People prefer learning and receiving information in a variety of ways. If you’re not relaying what you want them to know through a cross-media approach, you could see some quick tuning out of your content. Or, if you’re not consistently reinforcing that information, you could easily have a retention issue you’re not addressing. Your audience, especially younger generations, is hungry for training, and it could be a key differentiator for you. Look for ways to bring life to your information—make it relevant and memorable and provide options for learning.

Webinars or online “town halls” are a great way to do this. These offer a chance to absorb information directly from a knowledgeable representative, and questions and considerations can be addressed on-the-spot. It also offers a chance to strengthen relationships and better position the benefits you provide compared to the competition.

Offering relevance in your training opportunities and communications adds an extra layer of “ease of doing business” with your channel. If you repeatedly blast the same training messages to everyone, you’ll be tuned out. Segment and create relevance by using messages and incentives that match training progress to:

  • Role type (Marketing, sales, implementation, technicians, drivers, agents, etc.)
  • Partner re-sell or service type (What are they doing? Reselling? Integrating? Servicing?)
  • Customers they sell to (Does this training change based on industry vertical or customer size?)

Through the webinar approach, you can end up with a cost-effective video that captures the walk-through of a well-structured deck and an engaging discussion.

What’s more, it’s simple to record and make it available for anyone on-demand so it works for their schedule.  

Video is another strong option to bring your information to life. Investing in video content that’s developed specifically for your audience can be a really effective way to make sure your information is retained. Attention spans are short these days, and they could potentially be decreasing even more. And your audience likely already feels busy enough as it is. If you overload your content, it’s easy for your audience to get intimidated and not even take the first step. Smaller, bite-size videos are a great way for your audience to learn when best suits their schedule.

This applies to static messaging as well. Incorporating visuals like infographics, related imagery and color is not only another great way to break up content, but the pairing of visuals with your information has a big effect on retention.

Whether the delivery method is through video, content pages on your site, emails, etc., consider how you can break the info up into smaller, more easily absorbed portions, and make it relevant to the people consuming it.

Get & Use Feedback From Top Performers

An important consideration to your training component is where your information is coming from. Audiences want information that relates to them as closely as possible from people they trust. Unfortunately, training often feels like a top-down approach. You tell your audience what they need to know, and they go out and execute. It can feel like a one-way conversation.

To combat disinterest in training, look for ways to include information that’s pulled directly from your audience.

Whether it’s relaying best practices compiled directly from first-hand experience, including testimonials from your top performers, or just positioning the information from their perspective, it’s an effective way to get your message across. You can also look for opportunities where a top performer or strong advocate could directly lead or support training sessions.

Involve Partners in the Training Development Process

Your partners should play an active role in the online training process from day one. This includes the design, development and testing of your online training materials. Before you launch your extended online training initiatives, invite your partners to test the online training and provide feedback. You can also conduct surveys, interviews and focus groups to identify their needs and preferences. Their input not only helps you improve your online training strategy but lets them know that their opinion matters and that your organization cares about the feelings and expectations of its partners. As a result, your extended sales channels will go above and beyond to uphold company standards.

Improve Engagement With a Better-Informed Audience

A lot of factors go into what best fits your situation. But the goal and key concept are the same. A better-informed audience opens the door to more engagement in your program and more advocacy on your behalf and, ultimately, leads right back to your main goal: better performance across the board.

Providing training and instructional opportunities, and rewarding your audience for their completion and retention, is a core component of a successful incentive program.

The most common approach to skills development is training current partners to acquire the knowledge they need to do the necessary skills. Take a look at some ways you can ensure you execute on skills development programs including upskilling, cross-skilling and reskilling.

Tim Gass
Tim Gass

Tim is a strategic, multidisciplinary creative director with over 10 years experience. While at ITA Group, he has developed and managed communication campaigns supporting engagement and incentive programs for several Fortune 500 companies. When he’s not helping ITA Group clients develop creative digital and print communications, you can find him enjoying live music with his wife, Erin or rooting for the Chicago Bears with their dog, Buckley.