No matter of you are a mature startup in tech space or you are establishing your sales methodology and experimenting with different sales revenue models, channel sales is a key vehicle to scale your startup and take it to the next level.
The difference in having a successful channel strategy and a failure in establishing your partnerships is actually in setting the foundations right. Meaning, in order to have a successful channel sales strategy for your startup, you do not have to make things complicated. All you need to do is to stick to the basics and get the foundations right.
If you try to do anything else or doing things in different order, there is a high chance your channel strategy will not work.
Here are the 8 elements of starting and running a strong channel sales strategy:
This is no brainer. Common sense. I have seen lot of situations that vendors and startups are wasting their time on partners who are not even remotely interested in doing business with you. Despite the fact that this is one of the key components of channel sales, you will find yourself in situations to make hard decisions. Yes, you may have a rich history of success with these partners in the past or in previous businesses, but that does not mean that you can have the same dynamics in the new setup. You need to always evaluate your relationship with your partners (on a quarterly basis) and see if partner is showing growth (not necessarily hitting targets) and if not, what is actually stopping them.
Training should be an integral part of your channel strategy. This is an ongoing practice that needs to be done every 3 months with proper incentives for people who are dedicating their time to participate in your training. I have seen many vendors that are running a training session and then forget about the partner for 3 years! Expecting a partner to perform at high peak with only half an hour training is day dreaming. You need to incentives partners to sit down in your training (T-shirts, gift vouchers, movie tickets, family entertainment, box of wine etc.). Unless you are Cisco, Juniper, Oracle or Amazon type of vendor, you need to invest dollars to attract people to sit down in your training.
This is normally a big gap in newly established startups. The content is normally too technical and it does not make any sense for business people. Detailed technical documents will not help your partners to sell your services. Do not take me wrong. These types of documents are absolutely necessary to brief architects and technical personas from buyer side. However, you need to have lots of high level content based on your customers buying process (top of the funnel, middle of funnel and buttom of funnel) to be able to move buyer through out buying process. In addition to that, you need to have same documents aimed to partners so they can share them to their end user based (either white labeled or raw materials directly from vendor).
Spending money on content, is an investment. It is always room for improvement.
Services almost always underrated. You need to start thinking about having specialized services partners who are capable of execution on projects and implement your solution due to best practices. You need partners who has strong project management and service delivery skills as their core competency and have qualified specialized engineers who can actually do the job on your behalf.
The best way of having a strong services partner is to find a partner who can bundle your services into complementary products and vendors so that they have full blown solution for end users.
Think of having attracting margin levels for your services partners.
Pre Sales support
Nothing beats having an army of trusted advisors ready to help your partners and customers to understand how they should use your services. Your Pre Sales team should start building string relationship with their partner counterparts. Having tech nights, hackatoons, lunch and learns, pizza nights, tech Fridays and so on can help your partners to build up both tech and sales skills to position your services to their end users.
Marketing and lead generation support
This is literally the difference between success and failure. One of the most strongest tool at your channel strategy is the ability to generate leads and pass it on to your channel sales partners!
Yes, you heared me right.
I know many of you as startup founders expect that the partner should bring you net new business. However, let's not forget that this is a two way relationship. For start and to be able to get partners attention, you can start sending your focused partners some warm leads, opportunities and even closed deals for them. There is absolutely no harm in that. Giving away 10% or 15% on your margin to start and build a long term relationship to have a profitable business totally worth that.
Deal registration and partner support
As a channel sales based startup, you need to have different mechanisms to support your partners in larger deals. There will be other vendors competing in certain opportunities and you need to utilize your partners relationship to win those deals. Deal registration can help you a lot to know what is going to happen in the field, who is your end user, what is their environment look like etc. Plus, you can apply additional discount to support your partner.
Joint business plan
This another crucial part of your channel strategy. Make sure you have a joint business plan with your key partners. Have proper achievable targets, marketing plan, branding activities and joint go-to-market strategy so that your customers know that you have focused partners.
There are still lots of other elements to have a proper channel sales strategy for your startup. But this is a good start for you to think of scaling your business to the nest level.