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Rebuilding the Road to Channel Partner Success 2020-2021

By Julian Lee

You could keep on fixing a bad road by just filling in the same old potholes, but at some point it just makes more sense to build a new road. Maybe even find a shorter and faster route to build on!

By now, most Vendors have started to rethink their channel partner ecosystem as they rebuild for the digital-first game. If you are one of the lucky vendors who saw their sales shoot up because of the pandemic, then this is not the time to gloat or sit back. You just don’t know what will be around the corner or who is catching up from behind. For all others, it is time to rethink everything and double down on your digital game.

While you make this transition, don’t forget to keep on helping your current channel partners to survive, thrive and come along the journey with you. Be fully engaged by adopting a “help-first” attitude and avoid the basic human instinct to sell-sell-sell.

Rebuilding a more digitally connected and integrated channel partner community will require an open-minded team with the right skills, determination and management support. You will also need to take some risks and overcome failures quickly as you experiment to find your digital sweet spot.

Three core tips to accelerate the digital transformation of your channel partner community:

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  1. Digital Communications: Implement a consistent way to communicate everything you do to the entire channel through trust-worthy news media sources. Take it seriously. This sort of free publicity is priceless. Do not try to use news media for selling. Use it to deliver solid newsworthy, educational and interesting content that consistently drives your narrative and reinforces your message. Put your best people on the front lines to socialize your message. Get everyone in your company to think digitally. Reach out to eChannelNEWS and the other credible news media brands in the channel (checkout the cool map of channel influencers that Jay McBain from Forrester published). Understand why a proper opt-in and subscriber list of channel partners matter now more than ever. It really does take a long time to build trust and loyalty with any community. We have been at it for 18 years and we still have to keep on earning our viewers’ trust every day!
  2. Virtual Events: Do your own or join third-party virtual events. Otherwise, you will loose significant visibility in the wider channel community. Test various virtual events to figure out what works best for you. Expect some to fail. Adapt your usual KPIs to measure ROI as the rules of engagement in virtual activities are different and opt-in regulations matter. We have been doing online events since the invention of webinars to today’s feeding frenzy with multi-day virtual conferences. We have made many mistakes and had to constantly tweak the experience to better meet the needs of the audience. The key is to never stop innovating! While it seems like we may be finally ahead of the online event curve, we are still testing new ways to improve. For example, we recently added something called “free-style” virtual networking. We also transformed boring webinars into powerful newsworthy pieces of content that generates a much longer and effective shelf-life. Many are feeling “webinar-fatigue”! While we were the first to flip our in-person channel events into virtual events back in April, we are still hoping that we can get back to some new format of in-person events starting in November (we are already baking out the new “social distancing” in-person event format). See ChannelNEXT.
  3. Digital Playbook: Depending on the current condition of your channel partner ecosystem, you will need to either renovate or rebuild from scratch. If you are not sure how you stack up, you should do a proper audit to get a better handle. Having a solid “digital-centric” channel partner game is where things are for the foreseeable future. Don’t bank on a PRM (Partner Relationship Management) portal. So far, the partner relationships were mostly built and maintained by your sales reps. Since they are all grounded, expect current relationships with your partners to erode. The best investment that you can make today is to empower your employees (especially sales) to improve their digital skills and footprint. There is a lot of moving parts in building out in a solid digital channel playbook, but start with a deep review of all digital assets and get your team up to speed in social selling.

Digital-everything is our wheelhouse so if you need some help…