A company that’s able to attract loyal, returning customers enjoys higher profits, longer customer lifecycles and can easily spread brand awareness through more authentic recommendations. However, a brand’s ability to provide this high-level experience for its customers relies on numerous elements—not the least of which is channel engagement.
One of the most important elements in channel engagement is continuous nurturing. These engagement programs are not set-it-and-leave-it initiatives—they require ongoing effort to ensure deep engagement and collaboration among you and your channel partners.
Take a look at five key strategies to enabling and supporting this level of continuous nurturing, and the benefits that this approach can bring.
1. Communicate Regularly to Ensure Channel Partners Understand Their Role
Consistent communication is a critical factor in any kind of partner relationship. You and your stakeholders must be sure that you’re continually checking in and following up with your vendors, distributors and/or advisers. These efforts should begin with an in-depth discussion of how partners’ work fits into the overarching goals of your business strategy.
Ensuring that partners understand their roles, and the ways in which they contribute to success, demonstrates that you value their efforts and recognize their work. Program leaders should be involved in continual communication with partners, covering both wins as well as areas of improvement. Only reaching out to partners when new marketing collateral is available, or when an issue emerges, won’t do much to foster engagement and may actually stand in the way of building the relationship.
It’s important to identify and make efforts to recognize positive activity and partner wins as well. Even small efforts to reach out and foster bonds are incredibly important. For example, making the effort to praise partners in front of other colleagues, or send a short thank-you note to recognize a job well done can be very impactful. In addition, keeping partners in the loop with new product news and other announcements reinforces the importance of their role in the business strategy, and will help better support their active involvement.
2. Create a Funnel for Training & Channel Partner Education
Education to support channel partner enablement is critical. After all, it’s unreasonable to expect partners to carry their share of the load if you don’t enable them with the right educational materials and training to do so.
Think of it this way: in order to support a conversion, you provide customers with more basic information and collateral to start, and build out from there with increasingly advanced and in-depth materials. You can use a similar strategy in your channel engagement, and continually nurture partners’ education through a funnel of materials and training opportunities.
Making these assets accessible through a partner portal allows them to get the information they need (when and how they need it) and helps to demonstrate your dedication to your partners’ knowledge about your product or service and the overarching campaign strategy. This is a much better approach than simply throwing out spec sheets or one-pagers to partners as they become available.
3. Segment & Tailor Channel Partner Materials
A key best practice to incorporate into the partner portal is to segment the resources based on individual partner needs and provide them with relevant content accordingly. As noted above, simply handing out one-pagers or training documents is the equivalent of throwing spaghetti at the wall: sometimes things stick, sometimes they don’t. Either way, you end up with a bit of a mess.
For instance, education that focuses around sales efforts won’t be too helpful for partners that are only involved in distribution.
You should also keep in mind your partner funnel, too. Provide applicable assets based on where partners are in their business lifecycle and in their relationship with your company. In this way, you can continually nurture education and training with increasingly in-depth and advanced materials.
4. Support Channel Partner Marketing Efforts & Listen to Their Insights
Besides providing educational materials and training, it’s also key that you enable your partners’ marketing efforts. Many partners today are working to establish their own unique brands, and traditional spray-and-pray marketing isn’t an effective approach to connect with customers anymore. Partners need access to branded materials and other assets to support their marketing efforts. Supplying marketing tools not only provides great value to channel partners but ensures messaging is cohesive and matches what customers receive from the manufacturer.
When creating and providing this marketing collateral, it’s imperative that you and your stakeholders keep in mind your different partner segments and their role in your strategy. Listen to your partners’ insights, as they are best informed to highlight the most successful marketing practices for their sector.
5. Recognize & Reward Channel Partner Engagement
Great nurturing is built upon ongoing, constructive communication, funnel-style education, and relevant collateral and materials. It’s also important that when partners do engage with these assets and processes, their efforts are recognized.
A reward system can be highly effective. In fact, research from the Incentive Research Foundation shows that channel partners who engage with their rewards program are more successful than those without one.
“[P]rofessional sales staff tend to respond to measurable rewards and recognition much like other employees, so it’s not surprising to find that companies using such programs post better sales results,” according to IRF chief research officer, Rodger Stotz.
Overall, continuous nurturing is very important for channel partner relationships. There are a number of ways to support these efforts and encourage strong bonds between you and your partners. Strategies like regular communication, training and education, support for marketing efforts and recognition for engagement have proven very positive for today’s channel partners.
To learn more about continual nurturing and its importance in channel engagement, check out our ebook, Is Your Channel Strategy On Autopilot?