How To Grow Channel Partner Engagement, Motivation & Mindshare

By: Ellen Linkenhoker
putting puzzle pieces together to symbolize channel partner engagement

Partner mindshare and motivation can be fickle—partners have a lot on their minds and many vendor programs to juggle on a weekly basis. Channel program owners’ initiatives must stand out from the crowd to capture partner attention.

In recently commissioned research from Forrester, partner owners and their reps said one of their biggest deterrents for joining a vendor program is how confusing (or nonexistent) tracking of goals and promotions can be.

graphic showing what would deter channel partners from participating in vendor programs

As part of the the channel team, your entire job is related to managing and supporting partners.

For partners, however, your program and brand are just a small portion of what they do day in and day out. Their highest priority is bringing value to customers—which involves more than just a single vendor. Their attention is being pulled in a lot of directions.

At ITA group, we’re often asked about how to increase channel partner engagement. Two common questions are “How can we increase engagement in partners who already work with us?” and “How can we get disengaged partners to work with us?”

Each question has a different answer. For the first question, the answer is to find ways to increase engaged partners’ motivation so they do more for your brand and program. For the second, you need to gain mindshare with disengaged partners who aren’t paying attention to your brand and program in the first place (and work on motivation later).

We can help you improve both motivation and mindshare for each type of partner with the following solutions.

Increase Motivation in Engaged Channel Partners

Your goal for engaged partners who already interact with the program frequently is to increase their efforts. Begin by asking yourself, “What do I want my partners to do?”

If the answer is “sell more,” then dig a little deeper. Increased sales are an outcome, not a behavior, and you’re seeking behaviors.

Changed behaviors create outcomes. So what behaviors lead to the outcomes you’re looking for?

Behavior is just part of the answer to the question of how to increase partner engagement. The rest of the answer relies on viewing things from the partner’s perspective. You already identified what you’d like them to do. What will motivate them to actually do those things?

Your first thought might be to think of a tried-and-true incentive, build it into your channel program and run a communications campaign around it. This is a good plan of action, but to add an incentive successfully, you first have to ask more questions. (Tired of all these questions yet?)

  • “What will actually motivate my partners?”
    • If you aren’t sure, ask. Run a survey to get some feedback.
  • “Do I have the right people from the partner’s organization involved in my program?”
    • The right people are the ones who can (and will) act on the behaviors you identified. If you don’t have these people, find ways to add them.
  • “Are all my partners motivated in the same way?”
    • The answer to this is probably no. Find ways to reach your different partner segments in meaningful ways.

In the same research from Forrester, we asked different-size partner organizations in different industries how their needs have changed since the pandemic. Their responses give a glimpse into what will motivate them to work with your brand and program. If you can provide help with these needs, you’ll grab their attention. The research also indicates that you can’t create one set of motivational tactics for every partner in your program.

how vendor needs have changed since the pandemic
how vendor needs have changed since the pandemic by audience

The answer to the question of how to increase partner motivation is to ask for the right behavior, from the right people and in exchange for something that benefits (or is meaningful to) them.

The last intensely important part of increasing motivation is communicating to partners both what you need and why it’s valuable to them and/or their customers. Keep the WIIFM (or “What’s in It for Me”) element front and center and make sure it’s stated from the partner’s perspective.

Improve Mindshare in Disengaged Channel Partners

Disengaged partners are trickier to gain mindshare with because you must convince them to talk to you first. We have strategies to help engage them.

Personalize Communications

Start by looking at how you communicate. If you’ve been sending the same newsletter—with all the promotions and engagement opportunities listed out—to all partners, you’ve probably alienated some partners and been ignored by others. Instead of engaging with your brand, you’ve made it easy for partners to hit delete or filter the newsletter as spam.

Instead, bring relevance and collaboration to communications by adding personalization. Create segments, sometimes called partner types or personas, and tailor each communication to each segment’s needs, concerns and desired outcomes.

Of course, if you want to create a fresh start with disengaged partners, it’s probably best to do so outside of email since inboxes are often bursting with emails vying for partners’ attention…and they’re already ignoring yours.

Related: To increase program engagement, a successful communications strategy is a must. Check out our insider advice for building a strategy that attracts, activates and accelerates your program partners.

Reach Out to Partners Where They Are

Launch a re-recruitment effort for disengaged partners you connected with in the past. Make sure you have a well-crafted, personalized win-back message, then use your field teams to reach partners . Equip internal teams with all the materials they’ll need to have conversations and effectively share brand/program messaging.

Consider a fast-start promotion to encourage disengaged partners. A fast-start promo is an incentive to encourage taking the first step(s) with a channel program; it’s often available for a limited time or in a limited quantity (or another metric). If you’re rolling out a fast-start promotion, focus on the behaviors you’d like them to take, not just outcomes (similar to approaching engaged partners).

Keep in mind, if you focus on outcomes (e.g., more sales), you’re asking disengaged partners to shift their opportunities, prospects and deals—which they’ve been diligently working on—in favor of your priorities. Why would they do that? If you decide on this approach, the incentives you offer have to be well worth the effort of changing course.  

Running a survey specifically for disengaged or dormant partners is the next best thing you can do. For best results, choose a diverse sampling of partner type, organization size and time away from your program. The responses can be a treasure trove of insights into how to reengage these partners. Even the act of taking the survey is a first step toward becoming an engaged, motivated partner again.

These are just a few ways to reignite the interest of disengaged partners and capture their mindshare. There are many others though, including events, engagement kits and referrals. Let us help you figure out the right approach for your specific brand and program to capture motivation and mindshare.

Engage Partners to Meet Channel Goals

Every partner in your channel ecosystem wants relevant messaging, clear communication and easy-to-understand earning opportunities. If you can achieve all three, you’ll gain all the mindshare, motivation and partner engagement you need to hit channel business goals.

After capturing mindshare, you’ll need to onboard partners into your channel program. Learn how to use what we call the three A’s—Attract, Activate and Accelerate—to successfully engage and lead partners through the beginning of the partner journey.

Ellen Linkenhoker
Ellen Linkenhoker

Ellen Linkenhoker is the Channel Partner Solutions Lead for ITA Group. She drives the insights, strategy and evolution of the organization’s channel solution while offering advisement for client engagement and incentive programs. She’s worked as a practitioner in technology, software and service companies as part of the channel and as a vendor. She is an award-winning marketer and navigates all things channel, marketing, incentives and engagement, including pioneering thought leadership on channel partner ecosystems and the partner experience.