Time to Refresh Your Stale Channel Enablement Strategy

By: Christina Zurek
channel enablement strategist

Digital disruption, evolving marketing strategies and escalating expectations from customers are changing the way channel sales happen.

As a result, how you enable channel partners needs to change as well.

Treating your reps like individuals and empowering them to sell is the key to building and maintaining a healthy relationship with your partners. Below we’ve put together applicable strategies to revamp your channel partner relationships and position them (and you) for growth.

Ask Questions and Offer Knowledgeable Support

Most channel programs have tiers they put their partners in: Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Professional, Advanced and Guru—you get the idea. If your tiers don’t offer varying levels of support for partners, it’s probably time to review your program structure’s effectiveness. For example, not all channel partners need the same support whether financial, technical or sales/marketing related.

Need help identifying what you should offer? Consider asking your partners directly and involving them in the process of designating tier benefits. Focus groups, interviews and ride-alongs can be valuable ways of discerning partner preferences while also providing you with direct exposure to them, which goes a long way in helping to build your brand.

Influence Behaviors with Rewards

Most channel incentive programs are designed to reward sales above all else. It’s a standard pay-for-performance model. However, in the increasingly competitive channel market, savvy manufacturers are looking to influence behaviors earlier in the relationship continuum. This supports the rise of consultative selling skills but also the trend of bringing in subject matter experts to streamline the sales process. By rewarding for various steps toward closing the sale or involving these other roles, fundamental shifts in incentive program structure are underway.

Provide Ongoing Training

Training and education remains at the core of the vendor-reseller marketing relationship. The more channel partners know about the products they represent, sell, install and service, the better served and more satisfied their own customers will be. To effectively advocate for your brand, channel partners need to demonstrate extensive understanding of the products and solutions they’re selling—and know how to position them effectively for their prospects.

The average salesperson spends 7 hours per week looking for information to prepare for sales calls. Give your channel partners an edge and save them time by providing them with professional training and certification modules, data sheets, support and anything else they need to best position the products they’re tasked to sell.

Not long ago, ITA Group was approached to help a manufacturing client break into new global markets, build loyalty directly with the individuals who had the most influence on product sales and get the bottom-line growth they needed. To ensure their independent sales reps understood our client’s complex products, channel incentive awards were offered for completing specific product training. Not only did we see sales claims grow, but also an 88% year-over-year revenue growth and a 25:1 return on investment.

Create Greater Accountability

While market development funds and co-op models are prevalent, consider upping your expectations for partners to earn these funds.

Dell EMC recently launched a Marketing Campaign Center and Partner Academy, which features tools and resources to help partners develop their own marketing campaigns. It includes content to drive awareness, and helps resellers with content syndication, social assets and campaign playbooks, as well as marketing automation and CRM capabilities. But there’s a catch: partners must submit a proposal to obtain the tools and resources.

By placing greater accountability on channel partners, you can ensure the value back to your brand for supporting their activities.

Explore Immersive Events

Attention grabbing, powerful and persuasive, experiential campaigns are able to cut through the noise and clutter where other marketing channels sometimes can’t. With the capacity to amplify and frame brand messages, experiential marketing can add a dash of pizazz to the channel partnership mix. Not only that, but increasing the rate of positive interactions with channel partners through clever experiential campaigns will increase your brand advocacy scores.

To execute this, consider gathering a broad audience of partners in one convenient space where interactive presentations, demonstrations, workshops and other immersive experiences boost their channel marketing and sales skills while giving you valuable feedback. Or—on a smaller scale—consider a road show that visits key partner locations. Regardless of size, the nature of in-person events are ideal for keeping the valued members of your partner program up-to-date on recent technical advances and initiatives, and on new products and incentives available to them.

Emphasize Partner in Channel Partnership

Connecting with channel partners, collaborating with them, predicting their behavioral patterns and influencing them is pivotal to market products and reach end customers. You might have the best product in the market, but if you’re sticking with stale, outdated engagement practices your product will likely remain low on your channel partner’s list.

Christina Zurek
Christina Zurek

Christina is an experienced leader with a passion for improving the employee experience, employee engagement and workplace culture. Few things excite her as much as an opportunity to try something unfamiliar (be that a project, development opportunity, travel destination, food, drink or otherwise), though digging in to a research project is a close second.