How to Create Relevance & Personalization in Channel Partner Programs

Ellen Linkenhoker
Ellen Linkenhoker

chalk drawing representing data segmentation

If you could build a channel partner program in a perfect world—one where money was no object, resources were abundant and everyone got what they wanted—personalization would be woven into the very fabric of a program’s creation and purpose.

Every element spanning recruitment and onboarding through enablement and ongoing growth would have a focus on correlating your ultimate goals, to the very distinct needs of the partner at any given point in time.

In this fantasy, each individual’s experience with your program would match the distinctive goal they’re trying to accomplish. They know what to do next because you’ve tailored everything to their characteristics so you’re only ever engaging with the right partners to meet very specific goals—ultimately providing you with the highest engagement and largest returns you’ve ever seen.

But we live in the real world and understand the reality of our situations: channel teams are faced with finite dollars, staff resources are lean and it’s hard enough to get partners to engage in our current state.

How can we start to tackle personalization?

Let’s align the elements of our partner program utopia with the practicality of our real world channel constraints.

(For my TL;DR friends, here is the short list for tackling personalization.)

Ideal State: Tailor everything to their characteristics
Practical Starting Point: Advanced segmentation

Ideal State: Engage with the right person at the right time to meet your goals
Practical Starting Point: Partner journey mapping

Ideal State: Help each person know what to do next 
Practical Starting Point: Holistic engagement strategies

Ideal State: Align the return of an ask to what will motivate and be valuable
Practical Starting Point: Tailored program earning and achievement design

All of these practical starting points have a positive impact throughout a program and you really should tackle all of them. 

However, if you need to focus on one thing to start, I’d recommend going with advanced segmentation—this is the tipping point for finding scalability in personalization. Start today, right now, with data you already have (or that would be relatively easy to get) and better yet invest in a little bit of research.

Why Personalization in Partner Programs?

Personalization will revolutionize partner programs by providing:

  • Customized learning experiences for every partner
  • Appropriate promotions and rewards based on their role
  • Tailored offers, materials and support based on the customers they serve down market

Smart businesses think of partners like customers and use partner data to drive each partner’s experience with the program. (The partner experience is even more important because partners have a lot of choice in who they want to work with.) What partners’ value is quick access to tools, data and content to help create a valuable experience for your shared customers. This is achieved by investing in personalization.

When you create a personalized and seamless experience for partners, you improve the end-customer experience by eliminating the friction that prevents partners from meeting the needs of the end customer.

Happier customers + engaged partners = higher revenue.

Advanced Segmentation for Partner Insights

Until the data collection and technology infrastructure align with proactive recommendations made by artificial intelligence to make individual level personalization a reality, we’re going to have to settle for more sophisticated segmentation to reach our personalization goals.

You can do this by going beyond a typical tiering structure driven by volume and revenue.

Instead focus on the things that will help you increase engagement and what will help your partners sell and retain more business.

Here’s what I mean by focusing on elements you can add to segmentation analysis that would help increase engagement and sales:

Characteristics That Help the VENDOR Sell More and Answer Questions Like:

“How can I best find partners to help me sell X”

“Which area should I build more training and enablement?”

“Where can I get better adoption of my new products/services?”

“I need X growth in this area, where do I target?”

  • Certifications
  • Technical skills
  • Experience/Business with brand
  • Market served
  • Size of partner and staff make-up (employees, revenue, marketing, technical, sales, support, etc.)

Characteristics that Help the PARTNER Sell More and Answer Questions Like:

“How do I find more customers to sell to?”

“How do I solve the specific need of THIS client?”

“How can I grow the business I have?”

“How can I best leverage the resources available to me?”

  • Industry expertise
  • How customers are reached
  • What type of customers are sold to
  • Products/Solutions sold on top of vendor elements
  • Do it for me vs. do it yourself enablement needs (for both sales and marketing)

Can you see the difference between the elements you could start to build segmentation on? Or how—depending on what you’re using today—targeting partners can be enhanced with these other elements to create more effective segmentation?

You could create tiers more effectively based on the customer types partners are serving.

Maybe it’s better to create program elements and enablement based on the size of partner and their staff make up.

For other programs it could be the wrap-around services provided that offers you the best segmentation.

Revenue has been an effective way for the vendor to segment partners in order to identify investment opportunities, but it has its drawbacks. In the age of the partner and customer, providing more value and helping them achieve their end-goals is where long-term success can be found. You can do this by changing the way you segment and tier program elements and in doing so see increased revenue through higher participation and optimized spending.

Practical tip: Don’t lose sight of the balance of partner investment against performance, but also don’t make it a primary driving factor for how you start to re-create the way people engage in your program. How could adding even one or two other characteristics to your segmentation analysis provide for improved personalization (and a better partner experience)?

The trickle-down effect of segmentation can help you further optimize or establish:

  • Recruitment messaging
  • Onboarding touchpoints
  • Full partner journey mapping
  • Enablement
  • Training
  • Rewards and incentives

Related: Learn how using different types of data in your program can lead to an improved partner experience and inspire loyalty.

A Blueprint for Applying Segmentation

Partner Journey Mapping

The next step is mapping what the partner journey looks like for your identified segments. When do specific interactions and milestones happen with those partners?

If you have experience working with the customer journey, partner journey mapping is very similar. It can even be beneficial to stack the two journeys together to ensure alignment between the customers you and your partners are trying to reach and the partner’s journey with your vendor program.

You can use a best guess or we also recommend doing some research. This will help you identify areas that are good, bad and worthy of addition.

It can be mapped along something like this, and you should have one for each segment you identified.

sample channel partner journey

The goal of working through a partner journey map for your prioritized segments is to identify current state and ideal state for the experience you want partners to have when working with you.

This could include elements like:

  • How you want to onboard them (CAM engagement, communications, offers, training, etc.)
  • Do you offer a fast start? When? Where? What?
  • What enablement should be shown to them? Does this change based on tenure with the program?
  • Are you pushing certification? Specific learning courses?
  • Which incentives are they eligible for? Do they get access to different rewards?
  • This partner also implements; what do I need to support them with? When? Who?

You may even find you need role-based journeys inside your segments. This can most effectively be scaled with content viewing permissions.

Practical Tip: Start with your highest-performing segment or the ones that offer you the most opportunity. Don’t do it all at once; pick one or two to start and continue to add as you can.

Holistic Engagement Strategies

Where the journey mapping stops is where an engagement strategy picks up. Whether you’re focused on a specific stage like onboarding, implementation, ongoing enablement or the entire journey—it all comes to life with a holistic engagement strategy.

This is your opportunity to improve the partner experience.

Doing this well can lead to revenue growth by:

  • Creating program differentiation
  • Building brand preference
  • Increasing participation

It’s one thing to know the journey and the experience you want partners to have—it’s an entirely other thing to ensure they engage to make it a reality and that’s what an engagement strategy does. We’re talking communication, triggers, incentives and motivation tactics for each segment in your program in the areas you deemed worthy of focus.

The elements below are all tactics that can be used to drive the participation you’re looking for. You can start with one or all of the following as part of your full engagement strategy.

  • Interactive Dashboards & Data Visualization: Infuse clear goals and data visualization elements into your program portals to make it easy for partner owners and their participating staff to know what they need to do next to earn and achieve.
  • Program Branding: An effective brand strategy tells a story that connects through every interaction. Your core value proposition to each segment of your partners should resonate and hold relevance.
  • To-Partner Marketing: Attract, activate and accelerate your partners with ongoing communications and campaigns to drive engagement and participation.

Practical Tip: As you build engagement strategies, harken back to the original goal, “help each person know what to do next”. Are your efforts making it clearer, easier, and simpler to participate for the person engaging in your program?

Next Steps Toward Partner Program Personalization

Daunted by a promotion consolidation project? Not sure what elements of your existing program strategies to keep? Need a foundational base program while still maintaining various product, service and business unit promotions? Get help answering these questions, putting pen to paper and developing the strategies that activate new and existing partners and drive more sales.

Want to hear more about personalization in channel programs? Shoot me an email—let’s chat.

Ellen Linkenhoker

Ellen Linkenhoker

Ellen is a life-long learner who finds joy in exploring new ideas and thrives on disruption in all forms. She is an award-winning marketer and navigates all things channel, incentives, and tech. In her role as an Insights & Strategy Leader at ITA Group she keeps a pulse on the changes in the market to direct the vision, position, and evolution of their incentives portfolio. Her position as a leader on the American Marketing Association board keeps her immersed in the latest trends and advances in the marketing field. When she’s not working or volunteering you can find her competing on the volleyball court or working on home renovation projects with her husband.