Building and managing a successful IT channel is hard. What worked in the past is no guarantee of success in the future. As solution providers drive more cloud engagements with customers, it will only bring to light the shortcomings of programs and execution. Adhering to fundamentals is important and, to help highlight them, I've put together a list of the top priorities that make a successful channel. Partners can use this to determine a vendor's commitment, and suppliers can use it to assess their own programs.
1. Compensation is paramount. It trumps all other efforts and must cut across the organization and support channel engagement. If one part of a company's comp plan allows or encourages it to do things that harm its channel, devastation can result. Everyone's comp must ultimately drive behavior to the same objectives. It's best to have one sales organization, but if there is direct and indirect sales, then sales management must be responsible for both.
2. CEO and top lieutenant's support is critical. Is the company channel led from the top? Ultimately, if the boss isn't behind the indirect model, then others question if the channel is strategic and top channel talent will leave.
3. Put business planning, co-op and MDF programs in place that truly drive demand and push partners to build specific outcomes. These are powerful tools that often are not well-designed or measured. I could write a book on this issue and its conflict. Vendors want to sell product and the best partners want to sell solutions. There needs to be a balance and it's why the business planning portion of this lineup is the most important.
4. Hire the best field channel reps you can find. These soldiers are carrying the ball and have the closest relationship with the partners. If they are not seen as critical to the supplier organization and compensated as such, then the engagement will lack.
5. Don't let other parts of the organization sabotage the channel. Every part of the business, including product groups and direct sales, needs to understand channels and be aware of how what they do will impact them. The most successful product launches are those that have channel plans from the early stages.
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6. Listen to partners and advisory panels, but understand they don't always understand what they really need. I've never met a partner that doesn't want more sales leads, and I've never met one that doesn't say the leads vendors provide stink. It's also important to get feedback from partners that stopped selling your product or are cutting back.
7. Marketing and communications are key components. A channel advertising, marketing and communications plan is critical, and central marketing should be responsible for channel awareness of products and programs or there is a danger the channel program will be underfunded or have no message at all. And just because the marketing department gets bored with its own message, doesn't mean the channel has heard it.
8. Be clear about rules of engagement for direct sales. Partners can deal with channel conflict as long as they know the ground rules. Make the rules clear, indisputable and communicate them.
9. Be honest when something goes wrong. Vendors that admit and commit to fixing an issue build strong relations fast. It's a rare trait in business, but it builds trust.
10. Finally, make sure you are measuring what's happening. Just because you believe a program will drive a behavior, doesn't mean it will. And constantly measure partner performance. It's the best way to spot problems, because key partners won't call you and tell you they're de-emphasizing your products.
BackTalk: Make something happen. Robert Faletra is CEO of The Channel Company. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.