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Developing an indirect channel program to help your company expand its sales footprint, increase service and delivery capabilities, and improve customer engagement has provided measurable results for many. Whether you are an established company wanting to enhance current relationships or a startup looking to recruit a handful of partners, working with third-party channel partners has its value and place within a comprehensive go-to-market strategy.

However, as the market continues to move quickly toward new business models, and technology advancements push sales and marketing executives outside their comfort zone, working with the right partners is all the more critical. Before you begin to make any partnering decisions, remember this key point: No two partners are the same — and finding the right match is key. Otherwise, you risk wasting precious time and resources. Here, I’ll share a few suggestions to help you identify an ideal partner and improve the likelihood of success.

Find the gaps.

First, it’s important to identify the ideal partner type for your needs and the relevant opportunity associated for increased scale, sales, service coverage, and more. You can’t choose your partner until you know your end goal. Here are a few examples of the type of partners out there that may help you meet your individual needs.

  • Partners for sales reach: The right partner may be one that offers additional sales reach. You may not have enough salespeople in a particular market or a segment, or you may want to break into a new vertical or industry. In this case, you need access to those companies and relationships a partner may hold. For example, it could be that you’ve never sold into healthcare, so you want to find the best partners that have strong relationships with healthcare providers.
  • Partners for delivery and implementation: In this case, you may anticipate an accelerated growth spurt or increase in pipeline volume or demand. But with all the new business comes additional engineering or production requirements, and your technical bench may not be able to scale fast enough. Indirect channels are a great way to augment technical staffing limitations by working with implementation and consulting partners. Of course, the challenge there is that you still have to get the partners recruited, trained, and certified. It doesn’t happen overnight. However, if you recruiting talent for your own company and partners for technical capabilities at the same time, there’s some good news. As they both come online, one plus one hopefully equals three, with the support you need to meet those deployment requirements.
  • Partners for solutions, support, and maintenance: Perhaps your product may do A and B, but the customer actually needs the solution to do A, B, and C. The best way to round out your portfolio would be to partner with another company that can actually deliver that third customer requirement. Then you can create preintegrated bundles or solutions that will allow customers to have a seamless implementation as well as faster time to market. This can also extend to support and maintenance for ongoing support of your product or service.

Choose your partner wisely.

Once you’ve determined the partner type, take a wide lens to see whom you should recruit. Take sales reach as an example. Of course, the natural reaction when recruiting new partners is to look for those top partners in healthcare, financial services, retail, banking, or whatever industry you are interested and who have the largest sales force or top-line revenue. But don’t get distracted by the size of the company. Make sure you pick the right partner for your business based on capabilities, culture, and willingness to engage. You can develop a  short list of prospective partners by industry, geography, technical capabilities, and other partnerships they may have which compliment your portfolio. Just have a reason besides “They are the largest.”

Don’t overcommit.

One of the biggest mistakes in a partner recruitment strategy is being too aggressive on your goals. This could bury you, especially if you are constrained by the number of resources and investment dollars allocated to this effort. It’s one thing to say, “I’m going to recruit 10, 20, or a hundred partners, onboard them, train them, and go out on sales calls.” But this takes time — ranging anywhere from 30 days to six months, depending on how complex your solution is and how rigorous your certification and training curriculum is.

Always remain cognizant of the fact that partners have to learn your product, technology, or service. They can’t just walk out the door and go sell for you. You need to be able to provide the training and support to make it happen. It’s incredibly important to create a target list built upon realistic expectations, and to approach partners for all the right reasons to ensure you don’t waste time on those who were never really committed to the partnership.

Know when to walk away.

Too often companies expect the same kind of a return from the channel sales as they do their own internal teams. You simply don’t have that control. And if a company isn’t seeing the results fast enough, they may decide to pull the plug too soon — and start all over again. But you then lose months of training and investment when it was only a matter of time before the return began to materialize.

In these cases, think of another option: See if there’s a way to help your partners accelerate their onboarding efforts with more training, shared business planning sessions, or lead sharing. Having very defined and clear KPIs will help you identify and benchmark those partners that may (or may not) work out in the long run.

Before you begin to make any partnering decisions, remember this key point: No two partners are the same — and finding the right match is key.”

Tiffani Bova | Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist, Salesforce

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