Program Segmentation: Reconsidering Your Ideal Channel Partners

By: ITA Group
analyzing channel partner data on laptop
When you think about identifying your best partners—the ones with an ideal set of characteristics—those selling the most probably come to mind first.
While dollars being brought in will always be a big factor in identification, it’s far from the only way to look at who your best partners are. Focusing solely on this could even encourage flawed thinking.
So let’s tackle finding your best transactional partners first: Who is driving the most sales? How do you find them? How can you get more of them?

Start With the Data You Have on Hand

First, look at the sales history for (at least) the last two years—preferably longer. Get as much context as you have available to you. Information helpful to know includes:
  • Who sold it?
  • To whom did they sell it? (or at least type of customer)
  • How much was sold?
  • What was sold exactly?
  • Did they offer discounts or concessions?
  • How much profit is attributed to your products and services?
  • Are there repeat purchases? Cross-selling or up-selling?
  • Total number of customers
Getting ahold of as much of the transactional information listed above as you can will help you piece together a picture of who your best partners are. You can see who is at the top and then identify what type of partner that is.
For example, imagine a technology company who analyzes only sales data with the general partner types and has some product/service information as well. They could find out that VARs sell the most of their products and it’s usually to mid-sized clients. So they might go out to find more of these types of VARS selling to mid-sized clients.
Or, if you have a manufacturing company whose best partners, based on their analysis of sales data, turns out to be resellers that sell to both business and consumers. So they’d go out to find more of these resellers who target both business and consumer.

CAUTION: This is where the logic can become flawed.

If you base your segmentation solely on sales and partner type or customer type, you’re missing valuable correlations between behavior and activity. Better understanding that you can apply to other partners to push them in that direction of greater success.
You may also be missing key factors that would help you know other specializations or competencies to make their success viable.

Using Only Sales Data Will Lead to Drawbacks

There are some pitfalls you can run across by crafting an ideal partner profile based purely on sales data.  It can give you a false sense of who is performing unless it’s been consistent over the years.
Even with that information, you could be missing key details that paint a picture of where partners are heading in our increasingly digital selling environment. Do you have partners who aren’t keeping up with new products and digital selling techniques? Arguments can be made that partners who historically have been excellent at selling products and services may not be adapting to new products coming onto the market. Or worse, they’re not getting their message out to prospective buyers through digital means and virtual selling.
Possible pitfalls of building ideal partner profiles focusing only on sales:
  • It’s a picture of right now. Today. What about tomorrow?
  • Sales can be a lagging indicator of success, especially if you have a long sales cycle
  • Lead generation and MDF usage could indicate repeatable characteristics to boost other partner’s performance
  • Digital presence of partners and their sales team
  • Competency with products and services
This also doubles as a list of additional data you should collect to really flesh out an ideal partner scorecard. Understanding beyond sales what characteristics make a partner high performing will help you better adjust performance expectations with existing partners.

Firmographic and specialization information can help you craft a partner profile to go out to the market and find others like your best.

It’s an important distinction to make—the difference between an ideal partner scorecard and an ideal partner profile:
Ideal Partner Scorecard: A set of characteristics based on the behaviors your top partners exhibit inside your partner program. These scorecards could vary by product line or ideal buyer type. The key here is identifying things you can replicate with other partners in your program. A little like building a “Choose Your Own Adventure” where you’re using program incentives to push partners down the path most lucrative.
Ideal Partner Profile: A set of firmographic and demographic information on a partner that you could take to the market and use to find others like them. These are the characteristics that are repeatable without knowing sales and engagement history within your own program. It’s a best guess—like judging a book by its cover.

Better Data Leads to Better Segmentation, Which Leads to Better Budget Decisions

We definitely recommend having a broader view than just partner names and sales data to craft an ideal partner profile.
Want to understand which partners are the best at selling your different product and service mixes? Of course you do—this could help make smarter budget choices by narrowing down who to target to sell a specific type of new or enhanced offering.
However, in order to get this level of detail, you need to capture additional data points about the sales being made. Layer in demographic and firmographic information about your partners. This will allow you to apply characteristics like company size, geography, specialization with products, vertical expertise, different routes to market, ideal client profiles, etc.
If you apply the following types of partner data to your analysis, you could uncover sub-segments of ideal partners:
  • Partner demographic information (location, size, type, etc.)
  • Partner customer types (who do they sell to?)
  • Partner selling style (how do they sell?)
  • Partner sales data
  • Specialization and expertise
For example, you may have VARs targeting mid-sized clients as your best partners when it comes to your hardware and maintenance products, but MSPs targeting mid-sized clients have the most success with your security  software. Layering in this information can also tell you that you need to find or grow capabilities around certain competencies and specialization in order to attract or make better partners.

But Wait, There’s More

By focusing only on sales (even with layered in data to define better profiles and scorecards) you’re leaving other ideal partners out of the picture.
What about the partners who are the very best at referring you in? What is it about them that you could find and replicate with others?
What about the partners who are the very best at retaining business? What behaviors and characteristics do they exhibit?
You could also take a complete step back and ask, who are the best partners to drive sales for my products that I may or may not already know about?
This can be solved by understanding the path to purchase for your brand’s products and services. In fact, this is a critical part of incentive design. If you know who is making brand choice at the point of sale, you’ve identified the place you can have the most impact with an incentive program. Without understanding who is making brand choice, you could be in the wrong audience.
When done correctly, understanding segmentation and the insights it provides will allow you to put the right persona down the right path to maximize their brand interactions and drive efficient, incremental returns for your company.
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