How to Prepare Your Channel Partner Program for Economic Uncertainty

By: ITA Group
person stacking blocks representing channel partner recovery

Is there an economic downturn on the horizon? Perhaps. J.P. Morgan predicts the U.S. could enter a mild recession by the end of 2023 as higher interest rates slow demand for goods, services and the workers to produce them. And while we can’t know the future, today’s channel partner program owners can prepare by building a channel partner program designed to weather any economic storm.

By focusing on the six essential building blocks below, you’ll have a solid foundation to withstand any economic downturn or uncertainty. 
  1. Show Empathy 
  2. Inspire Loyalty
  3. Find Stability
  4. Gather Partner Data
  5. Update Customer Insights
  6. Increase Integrations & Automations

1. Show Empathy: Understand Challenges Channel Partners Are Facing

First, we need to shift our focus from thinking of the collective success of “the channel” toward emphasizing individual partners, each with their unique challenges and needs. A channel’s success is the sum of its individual parts. Practice empathy to truly think like your partners and understand challenges from their point of view.

Part of the required mindset shift is focusing on providing more value to the channel instead of requesting value from the channel. Operating traditional incentive programs with individual rewards for reaching growth targets is an example of extracting value from the channel. It feeds a cycle of asking partners for more (and implying current contributions don’t offer enough value). When resetting and rebuilding partner relationships in a recovering economy, offering value instead and showing empathy create stronger channel partner relationships.

2.  Inspire Loyalty: Add Channel Partner Support to Increase Value

To gain mindshare of partners in the future, it’s essential to build lasting loyalty based on partners’ perception of how the brand can help them sustain and grow their business. Shift incentives toward reinforcing behaviors that create new opportunities, such as incorporating new learnings, tool usage and methods.

Now is a good time to look at your individual partners and determine how to support them. Help partners be better employers, marketers, customer support providers and overall businesspeople. Consider investing in tools or resources that can scale across the channel, such as employee wellness programs that partners can offer employees, or services to gain a larger digital marketing presence.

3. Find Stability: Be Transparent With Channel Partner Strategy

Partners seek stability in times of uncertainty, starting with transparency about the channel’s positions, commitments and plans. According to a study from Techaisle, 41% of channel partners expect their vendor channel leaders to communicate strategy. While it might be tempting to go silent or pull back on channel communications, doing so could damage partner trust.

Leverage channel programs to share news, encouragement, best practices and offers of assistance to stimulate or sustain partners’ business. Equip channel managers with tools and messages to extend personal outreach. Make partners aware of your desire to help, and invite them to join the cause of keeping the channel on track.

Emphasis on business support should guide channel owners as they structure operations to align with changing expectations.

Related: Discover 5 ways to enable channel account managers to extend your partner reach and communicate key messages.

4.  Gather Channel Partner Data: Identify Who Is Doing What (& When)

To come out ahead, spend time prioritizing and developing the right partner measurement systems. The systems should track and identify who is doing what and when. This is as important when things are booming as it is when times are challenging.

Organizations need to know who’s on board, who’s not, who has the potential to be flexible and who may not be able to sustain changes. They’ll need to be able to gather quick intel and market feedback on what gaps exist, what’s being done to close them, which efforts are successful and which need to be changed. Companies who have doubled down on data measurement systems are better equipped to deliver value to partners in the short and long term.

5. Update Customer Insights: Your Customers & Opportunities Are Rapidly Evolving

To keep up with rapidly changing markets, brands need the ability to quickly identify insights about customers’ (and potential customers’) desires. Businesses will need to create new methods of measurement to identify their current and future opportunities, as well as analyze which new relationships to prioritize.

Create new partner profile collection tools for direct channel managers. Help channel partners identify their best prospects and provide methods of engaging new customers and strengthening the loyalty of existing customers. For example, offer partners diagnostic tools or training modules on how to start conversations with their customers.

6. Increase Integrations & Automation: Stop Siloing Data & Use the Latest Tech

Strategically build your partner program around data. Start by connecting disparate systems to map complete profiles of partners, then track more than just transactional volume. Consolidate all engagement activities, such as who’s utilizing market development funds (MDF), who’s attending webinars, who’s reaching out to their rep, who’s completing training, etc.

Once you have the complete picture, utilize advanced machine learning techniques to identify and reward attributes and behaviors that correlate with success. Implement incentives to reinforce wider adoption of the identified best practices across your partner ecosystem.

The Key Is to Be Proactive

Preparing for a potential economic downturn today may reduce the effect on your channel. The longer you wait to react, the greater the potential negative impact. A proactive approach will position your organization for success, whatever the future brings.

Do you have the tools and strategies to build a solid channel partner program that’s ready to withstand any challenge? Let’s talk!

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ITA Group

ITA Group custom-crafts engagement solutions that motivate and inspire your people. ITA Group infuses strategies that fuel advocacy and drive business results for some of the world’s biggest brands.