How to Manage a Startup Sales Channel

This is always a key question: How I can manage my channel sales so I can maximize the benefits both for my startup and my channel partners. The answer is simple. Focus on building win-win relationships.

One of the key focuses of channel sales management must be to build a healthy two way relationship with your channel partners in a way that it is win-win situation for everybody. Unfortunately, I have seen vendors that the culture of the sales channel from vendor side is to burn their partners and back stab them just because of short term benefits.

These vendors have put beautiful messages and shiny marketing materials on their website and always focus on their channel partners when it comes to big meetings and channel events. However, things will change pretty quickly in smaller meetings and because of few thousands of dollars of commission, they do the horrible things to their partners. They over maneuver them and will go direct to the end user.

Remember; channel sales is a mindset. If you want to benefit from the luxury of someone else resources, you should be respectful of their time and their business. By burning you channel sales partners, you only damage your image as a business leader and you make it harder and harder for yourself to remain the job market.

Let's not forget that your personal brand will be affected when it comes to doing the right or wrong thing. By doing the wrong things consistently you are putting yourself in a situation that people start not to trust you in bigger opportunities. On the other side of spectrum, when you start doing the right thing for your partners, people start not only trust you, but believe in you.

Here are some of the best practices when it comes to managing a healthy channel sales partners for startups:

Identify high performing partners to optimize growth and customer reach

There is no doubt that without committed partners, you do not have a proper channel. There will be partners that start the conversation with you and may do some small deals as well. However, you need to make sure that you are investing your resources on those partners that are bringing more value to you. Make sure that early on in the relationship you are helping them by giving them leads and opportunities. This way, you are building a strong partnership and make it easier for them to justify investment on your startup.

Remember, you are not the only startup or vendor who reach out to the channel sales partners and ask for commitment. It is everybody who are seeking committed partners. So, you need to provide different and unique value for your partners, and then enjoy winning partnership.

Align your long term sales strategies with your channel partners

I already touched based on this point early on the blog. However, this is such an important and key topic. Do not think of short term benefit. Few thousands of dollars does not worth damaging a relationship that you have work on for few years. Only one mistake from your side can cause damage and hurting a profitable relationship.

Be careful of your clients as well. Some of them might reach out to you directly and ask for your business. Simply, explain them that how your sales and business strategy works and what value this joint approach will bring to your customers. If there is a price discussion, make sure that your solution matches your customer budget requirement. There should be no reason for you to go direct unless there is a very special conditions.

Develop strategic and tactical initiatives to achieve your indirect sales goals

You need to have a proper strategic business plan with your top partners. Make sure that you spend time and energy on defining what success means for your joint business model and how you want to achieve that.

What are the marketing activities and sales promotions that are going to support your goals. Be up front about your budget and be realistic. You do not have to show off and talk about things that you cannot do or promise something you cannot deliver.

Instead, talk positively about what you can do and what you want to achieve.

Gain commitment from partners for revenue goals and sales objectives

This is an extension to previous strategy. Make sure that you define clear and realistic revenue targets based on last year performance and future pipeline. Do not through the numbers that you love to see. Pin down the numbers that you can achieve.

Try to understand what your partner's business is and how it works. Understand their business strategy and how you can build a joint force to go to market.

Provide channel partners the tools and support they need to achieve their revenue targets

Invest on tools and resources that make your partners self sufficient. Bring them transparency into your business so they can see where each opportunity is and what they need to do as next steps. Always have panning sessions and QBRs (Quarterly Business Reviews) to monitor your effort.

Invest on partner portal as single source of truth and make sure you provide reach feature world class partner portal channel for your partners.

Minimize competitive vulnerabilities

Each vendor has it's own unique value proposition and vulnerabilities. This is Ok as long as you make this clear for your channel partners. As a startup, nobody expect you to be perfect. No one is. Be transparent about who you can serve as customers and who you cannot serve.

Make sure you communicate your weak point with your partners before your competition does.

Build partner loyalty

Invest on programs that bring partner loyalty and you become their vendor of choice. Encourage high performing partners with incentives and more margin. This is a golden key to expand your footprint into the partner's business.

Incentive the high performing sales reps with sales accelerators and make sure you are investing on WOW your partners every other month. Do something unusual not in a way that put them off. But give them a bit of unusual touch when it comes to partner relationship.

Increase your channel ROI

Invest and test on new marketing activities. Test and learn constantly. Repeat what works for you and change things that are not working. Do not fall into the trap of "this has not worked in the past for us" or "it does not work". It may work this time. Always test.

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© 2020 by Houman Asefi