This year has brought unexpected changes to how we work and collaborate, which has caused disruption to nearly every industry. Many of us are in uncharted territory and channel partner relationships are no exception. If your business is a channel-first business, you may be looking for ways to prioritize the needs of those partners. Failing to respond appropriately could result in the reduction of customer engagement, the loss of new business and have a negative impact on the future health of your channel; partners could seek to align with a more supportive supplier. It takes time and resources to foster effective channel sales – pulling back will set you back and places at risk the prior investment you’ve made in channel sales.
It’s smart to remember that channel partners are not a homogenous group. Post-crisis, each has been impacted differently and this requires you to craft a strategy that enables them to succeed in an environment of remote selling and virtual engagement. The key is to balance the needs of your business with the demands of your partner community.
To successfully navigate the new normal, you will first need to seek answers to some core questions, assess COVID-19’s impact on each partner and then apply the right tactics.
How will our channel partners be affected by the “next normal?”
Don’t assume that you know what’s impacting your channel partners’ business. While the two most obvious dynamics are revenue decline due to spending cutbacks and operational challenges related to remote working, we recommend asking your partners directly how their businesses are being affected. The type of partner and their size, region and industry will all play major roles in the depth of impact on each partner’s business. They may be experiencing unique productivity and operational issues, supply chain slowdowns, and are likely impacted by the lack of in-person selling.
How can we effectively help our channel partners in the next normal?
Your partners are a direct extension of your brand, therefore it’s essential to provide them with appropriate support. Channel programs have the best chance to weather disruptions when the partnerships are healthy. Your channel team will need to actively engage to ensure that your channel remains productive and that your brand is perceived appropriately during this crisis.
In our two-part series, we’ll elaborate on the three primary influencers that need to be considered for promoting strong channel health: channel sales, channel marketing and channel enablement.
This week’s article will focus on Channel Sales.
How should we focus our channel selling efforts during this crisis?
- Double down on existing opportunities.
- Align strongest talent and partners to highest value opportunities.
- Prioritize strategic customers.
- Reinforce expansion and renewal plans.
- Conduct global sales scenario planning.
- Update your joint selling playbook.
- Sell indirect over direct when possible to support your channel’s topline.
What support systems and tools can we put in place to maintain partner productivity?
- Ensure leadership support is readily available.
- Make full sales cycle support easily accessible.
- Open real-time communication channels.
How do we encourage partner support and outreach internally?
- Authorize direct rep and partner collaboration.
- Initiate activity-driven metrics to ensure regular touchpoints.
What financial and contractual measures can we adjust or develop to better support our channel business?
- Offer payment grace periods and accounts receivable flexibility.
- Expand discounting guidelines where possible.
- Extend or introduce proof of concept, trial periods and pilot programs.
- Increase the number of seats/users for free.
- Review performance-based compensation requirements.
- Ensure prompt and in full commission payment to partners.
The best way to overcome the challenges of today is to first ask the right questions. Next, act quickly and consider how the current environmental is uniquely influencing your different channel partners and apply the right tactics to each situation. Partnership and community are especially critical in long-distance sales relationships. Channel support will be rewarded with loyalty, and long-term partnerships.