Engagement in the Channel: Partner Relationship Management Best Practices

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Like all great buzzwords, “engagement” is a term that perpetuates sloppy thinking. In channel management, engagement gets set up as a goal with the assumption that if partners are engaged then they’re selling. But really, engagement is only a symptom of the kind of relationship you want with your partners.

This list of PRM best practices is inspired by the idea that if a partner’s relationship with your company and product is serving them, you don’t need to goose the system to get them engaged.

Focus on Measures that Matter

Measures should shed light on whether your program is satisfying the ultimate goal of the channel: selling more product. Instead of tracking engagement, collect data to figure out:

  • Is this partner selling a lot of your product?
  • Are you helping partners improve their business?
  • Are you a good business partner?

People naturally engage with people who create progress for them.

To measure those things, you need a portal and a deal registration process that allows you to collect the right information from partners without making them jump through any more hoops than absolutely necessary.

Deal Registration: Eliminate Friction from Your Process

If it’s hard for partners to register deals, you have already inserted too many hoops in the process, and that friction is a big deterrent to people following it. If you’re not getting the throughput you want, the first questions to consider are, “Have we given them good reason to register the deal?” and “How can we make this task of registering deals go more easily for partners?”

Incentives: Determine the Value of Visibility

Incentives are critical. You want deal registration because you need visibility into the sales pipeline. So think about what value you place on visibility. Without it, you don’t know what your revenues are, and you have no warning on whether you’re going to make or break your quarter.

That information has value: The better you can see what’s in your pipeline, the better you can forecast, the more productive your channel will be. So you’re basically buying this valuable visibility from partners. The question is: how will you compensate them?

Design Your Portal as a Business Application

A portal is a business application, not a website. You build it not to market to partners, but to make it easier for them to sell.

Your website is about getting your market’s attention. The partner portal is about facilitating the process of selling. Partners go there not to be marketed to but to find information or accomplish a sales errand quickly. From a marketing perspective, there’s no need to get their attention; they’re a partner and you already have it.

Too many companies design the portal to grab attention, and load it down with graphic bells and whistles, along with page after page of content. This results in badly invested resources (creating all those graphics and content that partners are ignoring), or worse, it results in a portal partners don’t bother visiting because it’s too cluttered, making it difficult to complete their task.

Create Simple Landing Pages 

Channeltivity’s user data has shown over and over again that simple, instructive landing pages best support partner engagement.

So when partners arrive, you want them to see immediately an easy route to their goal: Who’s my partner manager? Where are the most current documents? What are the most pertinent announcements? Give partners a big button that says “Register a deal,” ”Register MDF,” or “Get my leads.” Provide simple navigation and simple feedback tools to make it easy for partners to get to where they want to be in your portal quickly.

Have Resources Available to Guide New Partners Through the Portal

Instead of burying new partners in materials and leaving them to find their way, up the attention 200% immediately after your sign them. As part of your process for on-boarding, spend time familiarizing them with the partner portal. Show them how easy it is for them to track deals and access critical documents. Make sure the portal makes it clear how they update information—and makes it simple to do so.

Your Primary Goal Should Be to Support Good Vendor-Partner Relationships

Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, said that at any given time you know a max of one hundred people who will actually do you a favor. You do things that create progress for these people, they remember you, and do something in return. He called it the “theory of small gifts.” That’s engagement. That’s how relationships are formed.

And so it goes with your portal: it’s not about blinking lights or how pretty the content is – no amount of these things in a portal will make it engaging.

The portal – and PRM in general – should be about creating progress for your partners. The question they’re always asking themselves is, “Am I making money here?” If they’re not, they’ll get back to a place where they are.

So rather than focus on engagement, help create mutually beneficial relationships with partners; Engagement is only a symptom of that and not the most productive goal. Winning business is what you really want – and so do your partners. Focus on that, on how you can make that easier for your partners, and the other desired behaviors will fall into place.

by Zach Smith of Channeltivity, a provider of integration with Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

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