4 Best Practices to Excel at Channel Partner Engagement
By: ITA Group
Companies that excel at channel partner engagement often enjoy higher profits, longer customer lifecycles and increased brand loyalty. Because of this, improving the partner experience is more important than ever.
In fact, a recent channel survey found 35% of channel leaders reported they would only work with vendors who offer seamless partner experiences, with slightly more than half (57%) reporting they’d accept slight deficiencies in the partner experience if the brands generated good revenue. Only 8% reported not being concerned about the partner experience.
While there are many ways to boost channel partner engagement, choosing the best channel partner strategy depends on the unique needs of your channel—which partners are in it, what programs you already have in place, your industry and what is happening in your partners’ worlds.
Here are four universal strategies and best practices to help you get started creating more engaging channel partner programs.
1. Identify Partner Roles & Personalize the Channel Partner Experience
Segmentation and personalization are the keys to developing an effective channel partner engagement strategy. In today’s complex channel ecosystem, partners are balancing many priorities, so they crave relevant programs that make your brand easy to do business with.
To begin improving segmentation and personalization, identify the partner roles in your program, then start considering each role’s values and motivational drivers.
Your ability to send the right message to the right role at the right time is imperative to gaining and keeping partner mindshare. Try using personalized partner portals to improve channel partner engagement. A partner portal best practice is to personalize the web platform for each stakeholder, tailoring engagement to their role within the program. For example, use the portal as an engagement resource by incorporating badges, leaderboards, challenges, quizzes, recognition and more.
Bonus Tip: Not sure what your partners value or how to motivate them? Find out using sentiment surveys or focus groups.
2. Create a Strategic Communications Plan
On average, it takes at least three touchpoints to get a person’s attention, five touchpoints for them to grasp your message and 10 touchpoints to convince them to act. (This is true even outside the channel world!) Selecting the right communications, using a combination of tools and setting a strong communications strategy are all important to send a message that resonates with channel partners and increases their engagement.
A best-in-class channel partner communications program covers all phases of the program (e.g., pre-launch, launch, post-launch and ongoing communications) in memorable ways. For example, we’ve seen very successful programs begin with a program launch brochure mailing that included a fun dimensional item, like a branded key chain.
Look into adding consistent and impactful branding for your partner program, quarterly promotion, or certification and badging efforts. Choose elements that are compelling and resonate with your audience to drum up excitement, recognition and attention.
The right communications strategy can yield impressive results: In a rewards study conducted by ITA Group, 90% of a sales incentive’s earning audience cited communication materials as the reason they participated.
3. Treat Channel Partners as Actual Partners
Channel partners are a vital part of a channel’s success, and they want to feel their value and contributions are appreciated. Don’t treat the partnership like a simple transactional relationship! Demonstrate that you value their efforts and recognize their work to build a stronger partnership that fosters channel partner engagement.
Make sure communication is steady so partners feel in the loop about new products and announcements, encouraging them to stay actively involved.
Channel program leaders should share both wins and losses, as well as areas of improvement. Only reaching out to partners when new marketing collateral is available (or worse, only when an issue emerges) doesn’t foster engagement and may stand in the way of building the partnership.
Your efforts to build the relationship don’t have to be drastic to make an impact. Make small steps to identify and recognize positive activity, as well as partner wins. For example, praise partners in front of other colleagues or send a short thank-you to recognize a job well done.
4. Use Data to Inform Channel Partner Strategy
Data gives you access to point-in-time partner engagement trends and the progress each partner has made on individual program goals. It’s invaluable when developing the right channel partner engagement strategy for your unique channel partners because it allows you to make better informed decisions about how to motivate them.
With real-time dashboards, channel leaders can see exactly what’s happening within programs at any given time and pivot to reach any partners who might be underperforming (as well as recognize and reward partners who are exceeding expectations), prompting ongoing improvement.
Over time, analyzing real-time program data will help you invest your resources wisely, as well as encourage your partners to reach and exceed their goals. Everyone in the partnership wins!
Related: Data is one of the most important and revealing tools available to gain insight into what your partners need. Learn how to collect and utilize partner data to your advantage in the white paper How to Get & Use Channel Partner Data.
Why Channel Partner Engagement Matters
Engagement is the key to increasing almost any channel partner program metric, especially in the current channel ecosystem where partners have many competing demands on their attention. Start with small steps to make partners feel like an important part of the team, and they’ll work hard in return to help you meet program goals. Building channel partner engagement is an ongoing process that takes time, effort and consideration, and it’s imperative to your program’s success.
Dive deeper into what it takes to increase partner engagement with our white paper Channel Ecosystem Participation: Increasing Partner Engagement & Fostering Community