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Channel Matters Blog > July 2013 > Rules of Engagement – 3 Critical Components

Rules of Engagement – 3 Critical Components

by Geoff Wright
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In our last post, Why Can’t My Channel Managers Get Their Partners to Sell, Rich Blakeman touched on the importance of the Rules of Engagement (ROE).  This document can make or break your channel sales efforts so I thought an example might help.

3 Critical Components

There are three critical components to a well-written ROE. I will outline them here, then provide you with an example so you can see how they fit together.

The rules – This is the meat of the ROE and covers common conflicts that might arise. However, a well-written rule can also guide decision-making in unforeseen situations.

Program and process –Think of this as the “Rosetta Stone” for your ROE. A channel partner may work with a variety of vendors and use a slightly different sales language or process. The program and process detail puts everyone on the same page so there are no misunderstandings. When it comes to avoiding channel conflict, this detail is as important as the rule itself.

Programs and processes can be covered in a special section of the Rules of Engagement, in a separate partner program document and referenced in the ROE, or covered within the Rules themselves. All of these approaches work as long as the details are thoroughly documented, clear and accessible to all parties.

The consequences – What happens when the rules are violated? Is it grounds for dismissal? Can a partner’s authorization be revoked? Consequences should be tailored to the level of infraction, but no one has immunity – not VP of sales, not star salesperson, not partner of the year. One of the most common complaints I hear from channel partners is that their vendor doesn’t enforce their own rules.

Real World Rules

Here’s the example I promised. Along with the rule, I’m including the purpose of the rule, comments on the program and process details, and the potential consequences for breaking the rule. While this rule is fairly specific, I think you’ll see how it can cover a number of individual conflicts that might arise.

Rule: The first partner to register a qualified opportunity will be the only partner with which we engage on that opportunity.

Purpose: The primary purpose of this rule will be fairly obvious to anyone who has ever worked with the channel. You want to avoid having your Channel Managers caught in a tug of war between two or more partners.

However, the way it is written provides the vendor with a couple of secondary benefits as well. First, it gets partners thinking about the difference between a qualified and unqualified opportunity. If they aren’t familiar with the terms, the Channel Managers have the perfect opening for a little sales process education.

The second benefit is that it gives CAMs and sales management better visibility into the sales funnel by requiring partners to register their leads. How you get them to keep opportunity information up to date is a different problem, but getting opportunities entered into the funnel is at least a start. Of all the methods I’ve seen sales organizations try, this “carrot and stick” approach to registering leads seems to work far better than anything else.

Program and process: In this situation, it’s important to define what you mean by a “qualified opportunity.” Otherwise, you could have channel partners submitting names of barely qualified opportunities and then sitting on them. You might also outline the processes for registering an opportunity and requesting sales engagement. You might even want to define “engagement” if you think there could be some confusion.

Consequences: This rule is most often broken by the channel manager who plays favorites. They may defend their behavior by claiming that the partner they assisted stood a better chance of closing the opportunity - and they may have a point. When times are tough, it’s difficult to fault them for their actions. However, break this rule and your credibility as a channel organization can suffer irreparable damage.  

Sales leaders need to decide ahead of time what to do about infractions. Is it grounds for dismissal, or does the channel manager get a certain number of strikes? What about the sales manager who encourages breaking the rule? The consequences to internal employees may or may not be included in the ROE document shared with partners, but the sales force needs to understand that the rules will be enforced.  An ROE is a two-way street, designed to govern the vendor’s behavior as well as that of the partner.

What sorts of rules have you established for channel engagement? Have there been bumps in the road to enforcement? How has your channel responded?

Last modified on 4/30/2014 12:13:39 PM
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