Three Keys to a Successful Channel Partner Program

Three Keys to a Successful Channel Partner Program
July 2, 2010

At the recent IQPC Channel Conference in San Jose, CA, I had a number of conversations with channel executives about their reseller programs.  One prominent topic was "What makes a successful partner program".  Diane Krakora, CEO of Amazon Consulting, responded to the question early the first day and the discussion continued throughout the conference with a key take away - channel partners will work with vendors that can check the box on three key tenets: 

  1. Have a product that works and is differentiated

  2. Have a way for the partner to make money

  3. Build a partner program that is easy to understand and well communicated

The conclusion: The combination of these three tenets builds consistency, trust and loyalty in your partners and helps them know what to expect and what is expected of them.

#1 - Have a product that works and is differentiated.  This one sounds obvious - of course the product must work AND provide understandable value.  Solution providers or VARs won't risk their reputation on a product that is full of bugs or doesn't do what it is supposed to.  Your partners' build businesses on their reputation as their customers' trusted advisor, whether for product selection, implementation or support.  However, the problem may not lie with the product itself, but instead on how it was represented to the partner (and customer).  Are the proper expectations being set with your partners on functionality, upgrades, etc.?  Are your partners trained to position your products and their value properly with their customers? Providing partners with an easy way to get up-to-date product information and making sure they are effectively trained are critical factors in ensuring your products "work" as expected. 

#2 - Have a way for the partner to make money. This is a little more complex because not all partners are created "equal" in the way they make their money.   Some resellers are strictly product pushers and provide extremely limited services - although this group is becoming the extreme minority.  More commonly VARs lead with products and provide services to support the product sale, while others are service providers, including MSPs, make the majority of their revenue from services.

Providing partners with a way to make money may depend on which bucket they fall into.  For partners that are making money from the sale of your products, you should give them a way to make margin and help them keep the playing field "fair" against other partners.  This is continually tougher as technology commoditization continues to drive down prices - so promotions and additional margin programs for partner activities that help you, like deal registration, certification and "new" customers, can provide big incentive for VARs to promote your products over competitors.  For services providers, make sure you give them a way to sell their services.  Again, effective partner communications is critical to keeping them in the know on your programs and showing them how they can make money with you.

#3 - Make sure your program is easy to understand, and is well communicated.  Be very clear on what you expect of your partners and what your program provides to them - they appreciate knowing, want to do their part, and can't afford to waste time trying to figuring it out.  Remember, they're busy running their business , so effective communications and program clarity will build trust and help them be better, more loyal partners. 

This last tenet continued to resonate throughout the two-day conference with some important advice.  First, make sure you build program consensus across YOUR company first and get rid of any lack of continuity between executive management and channel strategy.  Inconsistency will become very apparent to partners and damage your relationship.  Next, don't keep changing the rules - make your program easy to understand. Consistency will show them a clear path to profitable business that they can count on and help forge a relationship of trust and growth. And finally, communicate with your partners in an on-going and consistent manner that helps them stay familiar with how you can ensure the success of the first two tenets.

Brainshark provides an on-demand multimedia communications platform that enables any business person to easily create, manage, deliver and track impactful channel partner-ready communications.  We help companies effectively communicate, train and drive demand with their channel partners. Simply upload any form of digital media, add voice enriched commentary, and instantly create online multimedia content available to nearly any device, including mobile smart phones, from blogs, websites, portals, tweets, discussion groups and yes - email. Our reporting and tracking capabilities ensure that customers and their channel partners know exactly how content is being received, accepted and consumed.

Let me know your throughts on what makes a successful partner program.