Channel readiness has humble beginnings in most organizations. At first it is an idea, then an initiative, then a strategy. Becoming channel-centric has far reaching implications in your business, and getting your business ready for the channel can be a confusing time in any organization.
True readiness comes from all aspects of your organization and directly effects your channel competitiveness. Every level in every department will own a piece of this readiness, and will need to be in alignment with the strategy for this to work well. How do you get “ready”? Before you go out with a channel strategy, here are some considerations to take to get you off the starting block and headed in the right direction the first time:
Adopt a “Channel First Mentality”
Even if you are just starting with partners, considering the needs of indirect partners ahead of your direct sales needs actually makes supporting partners easier. “Channel First” means that you are building everything in your company with the idea that you will also need to enable, support, train, market and transact business with a third party. It is a pervasive spirit in your organization so that all your systems and processes are partner-friendly, and designed with that end goal in mind.
It may be counterintuitive to serve the channel first, but consider this example. When building training materials on the functionality of your product, you can quite easily create them for partners, and then take a sub-set of those materials and share them with your direct organization and end users. It is infinitely harder to retrofit materials created for direct end users and use them for the channel. Starting with “Channel First” saves time and resources in the long run.
Expect Executive Support Across the Board
This is probably one of the more critical considerations – even one leader in your organization not in alignment with this strategy will upset the entire initiative. A channel-ready organization is one where the top leaderships is all 100% behind this, and prioritizes it in their daily management of the company.
I learned this lesson the hard way. A company I was working with had an executive who ran product management for a particular offering. This executive could not understand why he should be concerned about partners, and generally scoffed at any request to support partners. So when a very large, very strategic Technology Alliance Partner requested his time, well, let’s just say the meeting didn’t go very well, and that partner took the business elsewhere. One year later and that partner was doing substantial business with a competitor, and the business with the stubborn product leader is no longer the market leader.
Invest in Channel Resources
Just as you would invest in direct resources, the channel needs resources as well. Often they are similar to your direct team, but they need to be geared for the channel. Resources include everything and everyone your direct organization engages with – from people to processes. You will need to have parallel resources to support both direct and indirect channels.
Take for example, your CRM. Your direct team will use your CRM daily to interact with partners and different pieces of your business. Your partners should, too. There are some really great PRM (Partner Relationship Management) solutions out there. Investing in tools like this help your partners connect with your processes and access resources, saving your sales team from unnecessary concierge services and allowing you to realize operational scale.
Craft Your Channel Value Proposition
Your Channel Value Proposition goes beyond a product pitch. You will need to think about the needs of a partner, their clients and how this partnership helps them compete in the market. One of the key ingredients in Channel Value Propositions is support, and that generally means a Channel Account Manager (CAM) role.
It takes a special skill set to be a great CAM and you should build your teams with not only aptitude, but also attitude with regard to the challenge at hand. I’ve seen people “re-purposed” into CAM roles with little experience and it rarely ends well. Creating a channel sales organization is just like creating a direct sales organization with the added complexity of partner management.
This concept of “Channel Readiness” actually never ends; it is a constant beat in the rhythm of your business and woven into the fabric of your success. If you take these four principles and apply them to your readiness strategy, you can start the drum beating in perfect timing with the rest of your organization.
Looking for information on spinning up a channel sales program? Be sure to check out the Ultimate Field Guide to Building a Channel here.
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