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How to Plan, Manage, and Measure Strong Channel Business Partnerships

How to Plan, Manage, and Measure Strong Channel Business Partnerships

I have been looking for inspiration on the “how-to” process for building deeper channel partnerships. Specifically, I am looking for what producers (i.e., manufacturers, software companies, etc.) can do to build stronger and more committed partnerships for their channel. I decided to look at what great thinkers from today and before having had to say about how to build lasting collaborations.  Each of the influential people selected for this article were chosen because of how they have made connections and built deep and lasting alliances in their areas of expertise.

Joint business planning, scorecarding, and quarterly business review (QBR) management is the most tangible expression of how channel partnerships are built, managed, and measured today.  Those avid readers of my blogs recognize that I am a fan of defining constructs and coupling them with how to pragmatically apply them to your day-to-day activities.  The thesis of this article is that there are a set of universal characteristics to build deeper and longer-lasting channel business partnerships that can identified and codified.  This blog attempts to take that one step further by defining how to apply these commitment development practices to your channel strategy and program.  And, how more committed partnerships generate greater levels of revenue contribution from your channel.

Below are a series of collaboration-related quotes from a range of luminaries and an interpretation of how to apply each premise to help you build a stronger channel strategy.

Be Responsive

Charles Darwin, the most famous naturalist of the last 200 years, observed that responsiveness is one of the most critical characteristics of a species relationship with its environment.  The simple concept that change is constant and the ability to respond to these changes in conditions is more important than any other characteristic.  Or said differently, adaptability is the single most important factor for preserving a species’ long-term relationship with its habitat.Darwin Responsive

Just like the natural world, business environments are also in a constant state of change.  As a result, relationships with your channel partners need to be actively managed and updated based on the latest conditions.  An “Unmanaged Partner Strategy” is a formula for failure because these partnerships will progressively become further and further away from the needs of both parties.  Strong and lasting partnerships respond to inevitable changes through thoughtful business plans, scorecards and QBRs that monitor and measure goal progress and identify needed changes.  Completing this process with discipline and scale is critical to maintaining a vibrant and revenue-producing indirect sales channel.

Charles Wilson Quote

Charles Wilson was the president of General Motors during a period of explosive growth for the company during World War 2.  His mantra for inspiring workers was based on importance of hard and difficult work.  Success, he said, was highly correlated with effort and is not achievable unless individuals were willing to put in the hard work necessary to triumph.  Competitors that are not willing to put in the effort are vulnerable to a range of influences and will not achieve their full potential.

Wilson Quote

The days of “plug-and-play” partnerships with products / solutions that sell themselves are long gone.  In the early days of channel partnering with strong product differentiation and little competition, very little effort was needed to motivate and manage channel partnerships.  But with the proliferation of products, solutions, competitors, and markets, the balance of power has shifted dramatically to the partner-side of the equation.  Partners today are, by in large, sophisticated businesses with unique areas of expertise and complex needs. They are not looking for another solution to sell. They are looking for a business proposition that will enhance their specialty today.  As a result, producers need to work much harder to deliver a unique value proposition for each partnership relationship.  There is no escaping the need for hard work to build committed and revenue-producing partnerships one-at-a-time.  Only the partnerships where extra effort is expended are the ones that will generate sustainable long-term revenue growth.

Gain Perspective

If you have seen any of the blockbuster Disney animated films, you have heard Alan Menken’s Oscar-winning scores. The writer, director, composer, and producer delivered the music for The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast, and these are just a small sampling of his award-winning work.  Menken attributes a large degree of his success to active collaboration with many different parties.  This collaboration was always based on an inherent openness to hear other’s ideas and willingness to incorporate other’s input actively. The whole is much greater than the sum-of-the-parts when collaboration is at the center of the work process.

Menken Quote

The model for successful channel partnerships has changed.  No longer will a standard precious metal (e.g., silver, gold, & platinum level) partner program motivate and build deep and lasting partnerships.  Active collaboration and adaptation to the individual needs of a partner’s business is the new standard for partnering.  Building a channel program one-partner-at-a-time based on goals from a joint business plan is the method to achieve deeper and higher revenue partnerships.  This requires the use of more sophisticated partner business planning systems that are integrated into your other channel technologies (e.g., PRM, CRM, ERM, LMS, etc.) to enable your organization to implement this mass customization model at scale in a fraction of the time.

Oliver Wendell

Oliver Wendall Holmes Jr. is best known as a 30-year Supreme Court Justice who was appointed by President Teddy Roosevelt and had a reputation for pithy and concise opinions. His observation was that that when ideas are shared with others in a collaborative way, often they develop even further then they would have if never shared.  This is because new perspectives can take original ideas to even greater heights.

Holmes Quote

Partnership business planning should be designed to share as many new growth opportunities and ideas as possible. Producers need to bring new market, services, and opportunities to their partners so they can extend ideas further for achieving new growth. Take advantage of your network of strong partnerships to build more opportunities to grow your channel.

African Proverb

Business leaders, politicians, actors and activists use his quote often to inspire collaboration among their audience. There is, however, a lot of skepticism on the actual source of the quote but that does not change the meaning.  Collaboration is fundamental to achieving success in virtually every part of life.

Go Further

There is a new model for channel partnerships emerging in 2020.  One that starts with the partner, their expertise, and their strategy. This is a fundamental switch from producer-push to partner-pull.  Partners are focused not on how they can sell more of your solution; they are interested in meeting their target customer’s needs with solutions that they can deliver supported by your product. A partner scorecard process can help you identify the best fit partners based on their areas of expertise and unique points of difference. You can then match these scorecarded partner strengths with strategies you can offer to help build a strong joint value proposition.  This process has been called “solution prototyping” where your brand’s product management team designs strategies that combine both your products, along with enhanced partner-delivered services to create new targeted joint solutions for the market.  This approach has been very well received by partners because is provides a way to meet their customer’s needs with the support of your brand’s products or services.

TY Segall

Ty Segall was the adopted son of a Laguna Beach-based family where surfing and music served as early influences. Ty is a musician who collaborated with many different bands and musical genres to write and perform rock, grunge, glam rock, country rock, hardcore punk, and indie music compositions. His unique ability to cooperate in the writing and producing process made him an incredibly versatile and prolific recording artist. In interviews he described his creative process as “collaborate and yield.”

Collaboration and Leads

Your channel strategy may not go to the same place you thought it would when you got started.  If a producer organization is deeply committed to growing its channel business, your channel team needs to be open to a program that can be influenced by your channel partner’s ideas and priorities.  This may take your channel strategy down a slightly different path then you originally anticipated, but the result will be stronger partner commitment and growth potential for your brand

Simon Mainwaring

Simon was a long-time creative director at some of the largest and most successful advertising agencies before he wrote his best-selling book entitled “We First: How Brands and Consumers Use Social Media to Build a Better World.” Simon observed that partnerships and collaborations take public and private organizations and enterprises so much further than they can on their own. That the new paradigm for successfully growing any enterprise is through a series of carefully planned and nurtured partnerships.

Mainwaring quote

The channel has now become the most fundamental success factor for your business.  That means that your organization will be less competitive, have a weaker point-of-difference, be less able to react to change without a strong channel.  Your partnerships are the key go-to-market path to secure long-term growth and success. The development of your channel strategy and program must be resourced and supported to reflect its full potential for your business.

Sarah Maclean

I love this quote from famous and very popular romance novelist Sarah Maclean whose full-time occupation is writing about successful partnerships.  Sarah describes how strong partners share more than just a goal but a deeper set of values including equality, desire and passion.  In her many popular novels, she develops her character’s partnerships on all these levels to build deep relationships that her reader’s treasure.

MacLEan Quote

Business relationships that capture the desire and imagination of your channel partners will allow a producer to gain a disproportionate amount of their partner’s time and attention.  Fostering passion in your business partnerships through joint planning, scorecarding, and QBR management will keep your brand top-of-mind and build excitement among your partners.

Stephen Kinzer

Stephen Kinzer is a very well-known professor, reporter for the New York Times and Boston Globe, and writer that covered revolutions and social upheaval in Central America and Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East for over 30 years.  During that time, he studied organizations and governments and concluded the importance of collaborations and partnerships for creating stable alliances. These partnerships need to reflect the interests of all parties to deliver a lasting and trust-based relationships.

Kinzer quote

In a partner joint business planning process, it is critical to start with a SWOT-like (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis to identify the key success factors for any joint alliance plan.  Defining the realities and interests of both parties will serve as the basis of a plan that both parties can get behind.

Bary Gordy

Berry Gordy was the founder of Motown Records and developed some of the greatest artists of his day including Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and the Jackson Five.  He recognized that finding the right, often hidden talent, was the key to success in the recording industry.

Bary Quote

Your channel is one of your greatest sources of talent for your business. Your talent does not need to be within your organization to leverage it for your business. The key for identifying and activating additional talent for your organization is finding capable partners and individuals in their organization to build your reach, expertise and reputation in the market. Scorecards are excellent tools to profile and assess partners based on their expertise, experience, and fit with your channel strategy.

The luminaries selected for this article were not chosen because of their expertise in the indirect channel. They were chosen because of their know-how of alliance and partnership building. Each brings a nuanced understanding of how to deepen relationships and alliances for creating more successful collaborations.  Producers with channel programs must incorporate the lessons from these leaders to strengthen their channel.  The latest and most successful partnering model borrows from a wide range of concepts purported from these experts to generate lasting and committed relationships.

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