6 Strategies for Channel Partner Engagement & Onboarding Success

By: Brian Steele
man designing strategy to engage channel partners
Ongoing engagement is important to successful partner performance, and placing emphasis on the onboarding part of that journey is one of the key elements.
To set the stage, our framework for partner engagement centers around an intentional approach to addressing distinct phases aligned to the partner journey in your channel program —think “purposeful design” or what we lovingly refer to as the three A’s. The three A’s are: Attract, Activate and Accelerate. 

Partner Engagement Journey

channel partner engagement journey diagram
Let’s dive in.
How can you maximize channel partner engagement with onboarding?

1. ATTRACT the Right People

You’ve successfully recruited partners into your program (which is a topic all on its own!). Now what?
Attract their attention—then earn their time. This holds true for joining a partner program and even when launching national incentives, promotions, new products and campaigns.
You can pique their interest through cross-media communications, creative branding and theming, and using a message tailored just for their role. You're going to have to be able to explain the core fundamentals of the program so they know what’s in it for them so, in return, you get the right action or behavior.
Like with any amount of learning, you don't want to overwhelm them with information—you’ll want to trickle it out to them in smaller chunks. Don’t overload them with ALL the things they need to get started—onboard them deliberately and with care for their role, customer interactions and solutions.
In order to sustain that attraction to your program (those first few steps in the right direction) you’re going to need repeat yourself, several times, to drive that message home.

2. Make Onboarding a Self-Paced Journey to ACTIVATE Partners

Each partner will be on their own distinct path and reach different parts of their individual journeys at different times. Some will onboard early and move quickly through activation. Others will join the party later. But all will still need to be nurtured through their individual steps in the journey.
Make sure onboarding for partners doesn’t have a physical date tied to it. Strive for an automated effort that flows with partners whether they join at Program launch or 6 months later. You may also need to use your onboarding with partners who are dormant or signed on years ago. Onboarding is about getting partners attracted with the right message and giving them enough information and help to be dangerous – to get them to take that first action you’re looking for (register a deal, make a sale, build a proposal, execute a marketing campaign, use the email tool, onboard a client, etc.).
When you start planning and figuring out which partners you’re trying to draw the attention of, keep asking yourself: What will help them simultaneously take action quickly AND continue to engage throughout the program?

3. Continually Get to Know Your Partners

The more you know about your partner entities and those who participate in your programs, the better you can tailor and personalize program elements to them. And with greater personalization, comes great responsibil…wait, wrong quote; comes greater partner investments of time and revenue. We’re actively helping clients grow their collection of other attributes the partner and person in the program.
One way we’re doing that is through pulse surveys throughout the journey. If one participant is hitting all of the goals and milestones that becomes the optimal point of sending out a survey to get feedback on the program or help fill in a little bit about who you are.
In one example, instead of having partners fill out an entire profile of all the attributes, we sent smaller prompts to them over a longer period of time. This has resulted in a higher rate of completion on those profiles, and it’s now a data lake for us and the client to individualize the program.
Or in another example, if the participant already worked through the self-paced onboarding, but hasn’t taken the ideal action—serve them an offer that attracts their attention.
Focus on speed of action, generating attention, providing feedback or reinforcement, and continually getting to know your partners.

4. Anticipate Disengagement & Waning Interest

There's going to be natural high points and then natural lows of disengagement. To maintain engagement after onboarding, you’ll want to be intentional about predicting and anticipating these low points and then things specifically to address that.
We can anticipate this in our program designs and incorporate acceleration tactics like fast-start or sprint initiatives. You can also employ incentive initiatives over a limited period of time, maybe quarterly or over a few weeks that focus on different types of sales efforts, training offers or engagement components.
The goal is always to reach highly engaged and disengaged participants with something that gets them back into your portal, taking action to support goals, and motivated by your brand. You have to design and communicate this differently.

It’s not about more or less communications for those who are engaged and those who aren’t, but different communications—the right communications going to the right people at the right time in the various phases.

5. Recognize Behaviors to ACCELERATE Engagement

The next element of ongoing engagement to design into programs tactics that accelerate desired behaviors.
Think about the individual and what kind of measures can you put in place (particularly in the onboarding and disengagement phases) to make sure we are attentive to partner needs as they're starting and working their way through the journey.
It can be early milestones that trigger a dimensional recognition item that acts as a reminder of the program, or a simple recognition from a CAM thanking them for their actions.
Ongoing milestones could manifest into a personalized email showing the progress to go or gap to where they could be for that period of time, or against their peers.
For the disengaged or often away from their desk, we can even trigger text to encourage behavior if they haven't reached a milestone within a period of time. Ideally measured by a mapped journey.
There are a lots of different triggers, and it's about putting a plan in place to activate them at purposeful points of time within the partner journey. Make it match the individuals versus, you know, on May 1 of the program everybody getting the same message. A mixture is better than generic, and personalized is the best of it all.
One last piece of advice to accelerate engagement in your program, in onboarding and beyond, is to care for those who enrolled late and want to break out of dormancy. Consider designing catch-up mechanics into promotions (similar to fast-starts) to help them catch up in program earnings and ultimately help you increase sales or your goals.

6. Don’t Over-Engineer Partner Journeys

I don’t think we have to boil the ocean or worry too much about how much data we have. Something will always be better than nothing. There simply needs to be a plan in place designed to engage participants across the three A’s (Attract, Activate, Accelerate) where they’re at, in their own time, within the journey.
Recognizing participant uniqueness (different roles inside a partner organization) should inform your design process to ensure that you put these phases on a self-paced timeline prompting these different roles with personalized behaviors.
That’s 100% improvement over, not doing anything—and it's more personal. It doesn't take a lot of data to do that just strong personas and journey mapping.

Personalization Enhances the Channel Partner Experience

When you can incorporate individual personalization it's going to make that partner engagement last a lot longer and even create a better partner experience. And if you're not doing it then somebody else is probably going to start and attract their attention.
Download our ebook to learn how to get your partners engagement once you’ve got their attention.
Brian Steele
Brian Steele

Brian has twenty-five years’ experience helping organizations develop and navigate road maps to reaching their "people" goals. During that time, he’s led and supported many complex incentive, employee recognition and customer loyalty programs from roles ranging through operational support, IT development, data insights and analytics, sales and CRM, and solution design. These roles helped him build a broad understanding of the many considerations needed to effectively bring a solution to life.