2023 Trends the Best Channel Partner Programs Are Adopting

By: Ellen Linkenhoker
network of channel partners next to the words 2023 trends

Between inflation, supply chain issues, crypto crashes and global conflict, the economic uncertainty in 2022 made it an interesting year for businesses and their respective indirect channels. Channel partner programs have been rapidly evolving as a result. While the past twelve months have been turbulent, I’m optimistic about the future of channel. I see a lot of opportunities in the latest trends—especially in partner motivation and enablement. 

Let's cover the underlying changes driving all this channel partner program evolution. Then we’ll dive into 6 key focus areas for improving your partner program.

How Economic Conditions Are Impacting Channel Partner Programs

Market Uncertainties Are Limiting Resources

Current market conditions reflect the uncertainty of the times, but those conditions haven’t stopped organizations from pushing their channel teams to hit bigger and bigger goals. And to hit those goals while working with limited resources. Simply put, channel partners are being asked to do more with less.

Global Markets Are Changing Channel Partner Ecosystems

Shifting global power dynamics are opening new markets while simultaneously closing others. Global reach is more important than ever for channels to successfully adapt to market changes as they come. Channel leaders are looking to improve alignment between regional and global teams.  This will help partners (and programs) pivot as necessary to meet changing expectations.

Political Volatility Is Adding to Economic Uncertainty

Organizations are feeling the repercussions of growing national and global political tensions. The volatility has left business leaders unclear about future changes to tax, monetary, credit and political policies. 

How Operational Changes Are Driving Channel Trends

Service-Related Revenue Is Forcing Prioritization of the Customer Experience

As more and more industries focus on service-related revenue, improving the customer experience is increasingly important. This has led organizations to prioritize the hallmarks of outstanding customer experiences: retaining clients, creating growth in existing accounts and providing exceptional service levels. Vendors are working out the role partners play in building these customer experiences and how to best support them.

The Need for Skills Development Is Fueling Channel Partner Enablement

With the change in revenue sources and emphasis on improving the customer experience, skills development for partners (e.g., learning, training and upskilling) is now taking center stage in channel partner programs. Enablement is the key to tackling those efforts. It plays a role in early buying stages like build, influence and sell (i.e., pipeline, revenue and renewal) and later buying stages like service and support (i.e., customer satisfaction score and customer retention).

Influencers Are Changing the Channel Ecosystem

Use of B2B influencers has proven to be a recession-proof marketing tactic. In the 2022 B2B Influencer Marketing Research Report, over 73% of marketers reported an increased interest in influencer marketing over the past year. Moreover, 80% say they expect interest will continue to grow in 2023. Non-transacting partners, such as influencers, advocates and allies, will play a bigger role in building brand awareness.  

Vendors Are Adjusting Go-to-Market Strategies

Vendors are now examining how marketplaces fit into their go-to-market strategy (versus exploration). This shift in market strategy has impacted how “indirect” revenue flows through the channel and how the relevance of distributor and reseller roles is perceived.

6 Key Focus Areas to Evolve Your Channel Partner Program in 2023 

Now that we’ve covered the conditions and trends impacting channel programs, let’s tackle key areas for channel leaders to evolve their programs. 

1. Optimizing Investments

Figuring out where to spend your resources will be the key to success. We anticipate pressure to validate channel investments and performance outcomes. Incentive programs will continue to be the easiest funding choice because they’re flexible and easy to measure. There’s an opportunity to explore a broader range of incentive types to achieve your goals. 


2. Leveraging Data

Technology vendors and partners are making data more accessible and actionable. The channel trend toward better systems will give way to services that manage and analyze data on behalf of businesses. Use data to make better decisions about your program, including your efforts to increase profitability and enhance the partner experience. Specifically, focus and grow your data practices around partner data collection and insights, as well as gathering data through research, surveys, pulse surveys and third-party enrichment.  


3. Enabling Channel Partner Success

Create a channel partner enablement strategy. If you include elements such as education, messaging, content, demand generation, to-partner marketing and funding, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to support growing partner types. As you develop the strategy, consider which partners participate in each buying stage and where you need the most support.


4. Building Up Channel Partner Referral Programs

With the advent of new partner types and the growing relevance of marketplaces, referral programs will become a commonplace feature of channel programs. If you haven’t already, consider learning more on how to run a successful referral program and invest in technology to help you manage the intake, workflows and incentives surrounding it. If you have a referral program, investigate ways you can improve it to address shifting market conditions.


5. Creating a Better Partner Experience

Partner experience has become a competitive differentiator across partner ecosystems and often leads to higher engagement inside programs. Technology will be an important investment for improving the partner experience. Personalize the experience, motivation and rewards based on factors like industry, route to market and role to make an experience that’s relevant to each partner. We’ve found in our research on channel programs that personalization increases the number of products and services partners sell and the amount of influence from vendors. 


6. Aligning Field Teams

Forrester reports aligning field teams with program objectives is one of the biggest opportunities for channel programs—and we agree! We’ve seen amazing results inside programs that have alignment between their field teams, partner owners, partner employees and program administrators. If you’re trying to change specific KPIs, getting people on the same page will help you make giant leaps toward your goal. One of the best ways to start engaging field teams is to include them in your partner platforms, especially in the incentive and recognition portions. 


These are the biggest conditions, trends and areas of opportunity I see coming to the channel partner world in the near future. And while this may seem overwhelming, these conditions and trends will undoubtedly help vendors create more efficient and effective programs. 

Curious about our predictions from last year? Find out how accurate our team’s predictions from 2022 ended up. 

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.