Shoot for the Moon: Improving Your Channel Partner Performance

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
How vendors and partners can work together to align business goals

In the fall of 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave a legendary speech:

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills...

What does this have to do with running a successful channel program? In the early 1960s the United States trailed the Soviet Union in the quest to land a man on the moon.

Kennedy helped the nation overcome the challenge by focusing on just one element: alignment. His approach was designed to get people asking the right questions and making adjustments.

Today we face the same problem of alignment of channel partners. More than half of all high-tech vendors report they are concerned over the lack of alignment, according to a Sales Executive Council study. Fortunately, fixing channel alignment is much easier than a trip to the moon.

Opportunity #1: Expand the Focus
We only have so much time in the day, so it's easy to focus on the well-known channel partners. However, vendors should watch for emerging partners that can provide significant growth. Emerging partners include small and medium-size businesses, as well as your competitors' best partners. We call this combined approach to partners, "retaining the best and engaging the rest."

Opportunity #2: Situation Analysis
How many times have we seen channel research ranking vendors? When looking at the results, you may find out that your competition is rated a nine and you are rated a six. The problem is no one truly understands what it means to be a six or what to do about it. Why not change the way you conduct voice of the partner (VOP) research by asking the prospects what they want from you as a vendor?

You also can extend the research and look at the partners' company culture and customer demographics to make sure partners are a good fit.

Consider this example of one large office equipment manufacturer that asked end-customers to highlight value drivers and competitive positioning, and then shared the results with its partners. The partners then said they needed enhanced training on account targeting and acquisition, strategic selling, and presentation skills. As part of delivering the requested items, the vendor added non-cash incentives for those partner reps completing training and increasing sales. Additionally, the company expanded its partner market development funds (MDF) to include lead generation programs. Client sales increased 9 percent in a market that declined by 14 percent.

Opportunity #3: Improve Communications
The truth is your best partners often aren't completely aware of your programs. One of the primary reasons for this disengagement may be your reps. Make sure your reps have the knowledge and skills to be a true ally to your partners.

Good reps collaborate to develop plans spanning sales and marketing goals and strategies, customer satisfaction benchmarks, attachment rates for hardware and services, and target account/sector planning.

Help emerging partners define and inspire their own success. Communicate by packaging and sharing by segment the best practices that have worked for your best partners.

Opportunity #4: Rewards to Keep Partners on Track
In order to drive real behavioral changes with both best and emerging partners, you need to offer reward and recognition programs that are attainable and meaningful to them. Our experience suggests a tiered rewards system, which provides opportunities for partners at all levels to earn rewards for performance.

A points-based accumulation approach creates a virtual bank account for each partner. It provides the motivation needed to bump channel partners up to the next tier of performance by encouraging them to work a little harder. Of course, growth expectations must be attainable.

Consider allowing points to be redeemable for vendor-sponsored business-building activities. MDF and co-op options could include local reward programs, business planning, technology "road shows" that promote vendor products, sales skills training, and vendor-sponsored conferences.

A Shared Destiny Realized
Vendors and channel partners know they can help each other succeed. When vendors apply these channel strategies and remain committed, they can feel the same satisfaction that many of us still feel today when we hear that familiar quote: "That's one small step..."

About the Author: Michael Spellecy is the vice president and managing consultant, sales effectiveness practice, for Maritz. Contact him at