Maximizing Channel Relationships: Important Lessons for Partner Business Planning

Jessica Baker by

I have long been a proponent of business planning with Partners. Largely because it was the natural path to adding value and having a deeper understanding of a partner’s business. If we could only understand what a partner’s goals were, surely we could align our program, resources, initiatives and expertise to them, and help them build their business. Or so I thought.

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And while I certainly didn’t want to add to any CAM’s burden, I did need the insight into our partner’s business, and accountability in our actions. All good intentions. It is a hard balance between information needed for the business, CAM’s workload, and adding value to the partner.

In a perfect world, all parties would welcome business plans. Partners would want to have these conversations so their CAMs could understand them more. CAMs would enjoy collecting this information and putting it into their CRM/PRM. Channel Chiefs would reap the benefits of deep insight into what programs were working, identify diamonds in the rough, and invest money where it had the most impact. All good intensions.

Alas, we don’t live in a perfect world, we live in 2016 in the real one. So let’s take a look at some of the lessons I’ve learned, and hope they can help you as you roll out a business planning initiative, or rehab an existing one.

Lesson 1: Set Correct Expectations

When rolling out this initiative it is important that all parties involved understand exactly what this is all about. You’ll be talking about business plans with everyone for a long time, in multiple formats. But it is needed. People don’t remember everything the first time you tell them (that’s another lesson learned!) so don’t be afraid to repeat yourself.

Be sure to let everyone know that this is not a legal contract. Some partners are hesitant to “plan” because they don’t want to “commit”. Disclosures help, but some will just hold back, especially when it comes to setting revenue goals. The biggest point of this exercise is to understand activity and revenue attained, not projected. Try to steer clear of heavy revenue projections and focus on value-based activities.

Business plans are fluid documents. Goals change, new things are added, initiatives are scrapped or born. The point is, a plan may be good for 1 year. It may be good for 5. It depends on your business. But having regular check-ins on the plan to keep it relative is required.

Lesson 2: Control the Scope

It is easy to want to build the entire Roman Empire into your business plans. But believe me, less is more. The less you have to ask, or have the CAM input into your system of record, the better. This can’t be everything to everyone, so be sure to control your scope to exactly what is needed to bring value, and remove the rest. Resist the urge to add that “one more field”…trust me, you give them an inch, they will take a mile. Just say no.

Make sure your input matches the output. There is nothing more frustrating for a CAM than to spend time inputting data, only to have it not be used, or have some random piece of data show up and have no idea where it came from. Be very clear about where all the data is coming from – especially the data that is not directly input by the CAM.

Lesson 3: Keep it Simple

Pay close attention to the system of record where your business plan lives. Make sure the interface is clear, intuitive, easy to navigate. And make sure the input on the screen matches the output of the plan. If possible, integrate with other data sources so you can reduce the data entry needed.

When designing the plan, think in terms of components that can be required vs. optional. Having some flexibility will allow the CAM to make sure the plan fits exactly with the partner, not the other way around.

Lesson 4: Document and Train

I can’t stress this one enough – the training and documentation you provide should be excellent. In fact, if you got lesson #3 right, your documentation should be very simple and easy for a busy type A personality CAM to easily understand. But if some things are tricky, providing hints in the business planning page will help adoption of this tool. If your system requires 42 pages of detailed diagrams, it’s time to revisit #3.

Lesson 5: Share the Information

It is very helpful for all parties involved to understand exactly who gets what information, why and what value it brings to the business, to the CAM and to the partner. Use case examples and value-based reporting will help everyone involved understand why this initiative is important. The information you get will help you do a number of things. Consider all the different reporting and metrics you can provide based on this initiative: Region Performance; Which Partners Are Lagging; How Many New Partners Do I Have; How Many Are Trained; How Many Plans Completed; What Is Missing; Activity Generated Leads; or Correlate Partner Activities With Revenue Performance (to name a few!).

With some careful planning, and keen attention to end-user value, you can add business planning to your program with great return. Hopefully you now can avoid some pitfalls that might otherwise take your success off track. Good luck with your Business Plans!

Chief Consultant and Strategist