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Channel Matters Blog > May 2014 > 10 Tips for Collaborating with Channel Partners

10 Tips for Collaborating with Channel Partners

by Rich Blakeman
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In recent posts, I’ve been taking you through the stages of developing relationships between channel partners and territory managers (TMs). So far, we’ve covered two stages:
 
How to Sell a Partner to a Territory Manager covered the vital first step of convincing the TM that collaborating with channel partners is a good idea. 
 
Relationship Mapping Explained took a closer look at an important planning tool that can help the TM identify where channel partners add the most value.
 
Both of these posts took a logical approach to collaboration between channel partners and TMs.  But as we all know, there is an art to making these relationships work.

In our channel consulting practice, we’ve helped countless TMs with territory strategies. Here are some tips based on what we’ve seen go wrong – and right – in the field.
 
#1 Take ownership of the relationship – Conflicts are inevitable in any collaborative relationship, especially when the two sides aren’t accustomed to working together. Leaving it up to the CAM to smooth over any problems leaves them in the unfair position of always being the bad guy. And, as we’ll see in the next tip, it removes a prime opportunity for strengthening the relationship.
 
#2 Make it win/win – No channel partner/TM relationship should put either side at a disadvantage. Those that do aren’t very effective and don’t last. Even so, not every transaction needs to be win/win. I’ve seen many situations where the TM has told the channel partner, “I know this a raw deal for you, but do this now, and I’ll make it up to you later.” The key is that the TM has to make good on that promise. When they do, the relationship becomes even stronger because the TM has shown the channel partner that he or she can be trusted.
 
#3 Remember, they don’t work for you – Successful TMs often have aggressive personalities. So do many successful partners. If a TM treats a partner as a subordinate instead of an equal, he may find the partner uncooperative.
 
#4 Establish written rules of engagement – Hopefully, your organization has written rules of engagement (ROE). Working without the ROE in a multi-channel environment is like walking a tightrope without a net. Eventually, you’re going to fall. There may be times when the TM and the channel partner establish their own rules. That’s fine, so long as they are written down and agreed to by both parties.
 
#5 Keep the lines of communication open – And by this, I don’t mean the telephone lines. While channel partners and TMs do need to call, email and text each other, they also need a more formal way to collaborate. Ideally, they need access to the sales system of record, usually the vendor’s CRM system. This allows them to update the accounts they are working on directly – and saves the TM from having to do it. (Let’s be honest. Odds are, that’s not going to happen anyway.) It also saves the TM from having to make a phone call every time they need a funnel update for their manager.
 
#6 Expand but limit connections – This sounds a bit contradictory, but TMs need to do both. The TM needs to have relationships at every level of the channel partner’s organization. While most of their regular activity will be through sales, there are times when they will need support from the executive suite to the admins.
 
That said, TMs also need to limit their connections. The channel partner might have a dozen sales professionals on staff, but the 80/20 rules almost always applies. TMs should focus the bulk of their efforts on the 20 percent or so that account for the majority of their revenues.
 
#7 Develop a rhythm – TMs almost universally dislike funnel reviews with their manager. Not only does it put them on the spot, it takes them out of the field. Yet, for a collaborative relationship to work, TMs must get in the habit of having regular funnel and account reviews with partners. While the CAMs’ funnel reviews might focus on the entire sales funnel, TMs can narrow their focus down to those opportunities and accounts that matter most.
 
#8 Establish KPIs – The channel partner KPIs that the TM cares about will probably be a little more bottom-line oriented than the ones the CAM focuses on. Nevertheless, metrics are the scorecard that tells you whether you’re winning or not. For more on KPIs, see Geoff Wright’s recent post on Setting Channel KPIs.
 
#9 Celebrate the wins – As always, remember to celebrate the wins. Sometimes, a win can be a big opportunity that the partner helped close. Other times, the wins might be subtler, such as an increase in sales in a product line a partner has taken on. No matter what the win, acknowledging the partner’s work and achievements will go a long way in establishing partner satisfaction and loyalty.
 
#10 Have an exit strategy – Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever. When a collaboration agreement with a channel partner starts to fizzle out, it may be time to end the relationship. The key is to do it in a way that doesn’t damage other relationships the partner may have with others in the organization. For example, even though the collaboration no longer makes sense for the TM, the partner may still be very important to the CAM.
 
There is no doubt that creating a win/win relationship with channel partners takes work, but the rewards can be well worth the effort.  If you’ve developed your own tips for collaborating with channel partners, let us know. You can add your comments below or reach out to me at rich.blakeman@channelenablers.com.
 
 
Last modified on 6/10/2014 2:12:13 PM
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