How to Engage Your Partners: The Critical Step Between Recruiting & Revenue

How to Engage Your Partners: The Critical Step Between Recruiting & Revenue

Gwyn Edwards 8 min

Business leaders new to the partner channel are often perplexed when they sign up partners and revenue doesn’t automatically flow. They’re under the mistaken impression that it’s like turning on a spigot.

Signing up partners for your channel program is only part of the battle. You’ve also got to engage them and get them to close business.

At the end of the day, your channel exists to make your business money. 

If what you’re doing is not turning into revenue, you are either not working with the right partners or need to rethink your engagement plan.

So, what should you be doing to engage partners?

It depends.

That’s unlikely to be the answer you’re looking for, but there’s no silver bullet. That’s because what works depends on the partner–not only the organization but the individual working inside the partner organization.

Let me break it down for you.

Why do you need partners in the first place?

Aside from the obvious goal of increasing your revenue, here are some common reasons you might enlist partners:

  • Increase your salesforce: Partners are essentially an extension of your salesforce, doubling or tripling feet on the street.
  • Leverage partner expertise: Partners have diverse skill sets, like engineering or installation, that you can take advantage of rather than trying to accommodate every skill internally.
  • Extend your geographic reach: Collaborating with partners to reach your customers is far easier than handling it on your own.
  • Cover more verticals, industries, or specializations: Partners have experience, complementary products, services, or relationships that can give you access to new vertical industries or horizontal domains like HR.

What do you want partners to do?

Next, you need to be clear on want your partners to do. Typically, that’s two key things:

  • Sell your solutions: For your partners to sell your product effectively, you need to familiarize them with your pricing and sales tools. The best partners know your solutions well, so they can recommend them to customers when they’re a good fit.
  • Market your solutions: Your partners can also be an extension of your marketing team by creating awareness and educating customers about your products and services with marketing collateral, email campaigns, events, and more.

What are the best tactics for engaging partners?

Understanding what you want partners to do is critical to understanding what engagement tactics to use, and there are many, including:

  • Training: At the minimum, you want to train your partners on your product and how to sell it. You also may offer technical training to sales or solutions engineers. Certification to test for competency also may be required, especially for the technical curriculums. Boot camps also are an excellent way for partners to learn information quickly or to get updates on new feature releases.
  • PRM Training: You must also train your partners on using your tools, such as your Partner Relationship Management (PRM) system. The PRM should include a learning management system (LMS), co-branding marketing campaigns and collateral, syndicated website content, through-partner marketing tools, market development fund (MDF) management, and more. The more partners understand and work with your PRM, the better they can market and sell your solutions.
  • Communications: Periodic newsletters, webinars, and emails all help get you in front of your partners on a consistent basis. The more they see you, the more mindshare you’ll earn. Touch base with partners frequently and update them on solutions and strategies to help them grow their businesses.

How do you incentivize partners to engage with you?

Knowing how to engage your partners is step one.

Step two is getting them to want to engage with you. Incentives are vital. Here are some ways you can incent partners:

  • Money: Frankly, nothing talks like money. Discounts, margins, gift cards, rebates, SPIFFs, and bonuses are all effective methods of grabbing your partners’ attention.
  • Leads: Another effective incentive is warm or qualified leads. For the right partner, supporting them with a Business Development Representative (BDR) also can move the needle.
  • Co-marketing and co-selling: Similarly, you can get mindshare by offering partners proactive support with marketing and sales over and above the enablement tools you provide.
  • Tiers: Some businesses like to incorporate tiered rewards such as the “bronze, silver, gold” metal system. Offering some way for partners to earn more rewards or points for completing behaviors can make a huge difference in partner engagement.
  • Awards: Awards like Partner of the Year or President’s Club can be powerful incentives for partners motivated by the achievement or associated status.
  • Contests: Similarly, gamification through contests or sales leaderboards also can drive results by tapping into partners’ competitive spirits.
  • Badging: Like awards, acknowledging achievements, such as certifications or tier levels, with badging also can motivate partners who want to boost their credentials to compete or sway customer accounts.

What are the best practices for engaging partner organizations?

Now that you have a baseline understanding of engagement and incentive strategies, let’s get to the heart of the matter. Your engagement strategy must be custom-tailored to each partner organization.

Depending on their business models, partners are motivated by different incentives. Consider the different transaction channels and examples of how they respond differently to various incentives:

  • Agents: Agents represent a lot of vendors, so you have to work a lot harder to get their mindshare. Bonuses for organizational performance can get attention and drive activity. SPIFFs also can drive sales. However, work with agency owners when offering SPIFF to their salespeople directly, as they may prefer to control the incentives.
  • Distributors: Distributors work on razor-thin margins, so most are incentivized by saving money. For example, many distributors depend on you to provide SPIFFs to their salespeople. Similarly, nearly everything you can do to engage a distributor’s partner network is pay-to-play. Distributors have extensive marketing programs, with emails, webinars, events, etc., that are great for engaging partners, but you must be a paid sponsor to take advantage of these opportunities.
  • Value Added Resellers (VARs): VARs’ motivations depend on the way they add value to their customers. A large direct market reseller (DMR) that relies on volume hardware sales may prefer pay-to-play engagement models. A solutions-oriented VAR, on the other hand, may prefer leads or vendor involvement and support in the sales process.
  • Managed Services Providers (MSPs): MSPs are service organizations, which means their biggest motivation is finding a vendor that’s the right fit for their service delivery platform. They are far more motivated by training, resources, and support than are other partner businesses.

What are the best practices for individuals within partner organizations?

Customizing your incentive program doesn’t stop with the organization. You also may need to personalize your engagement strategies to the individual roles within the partner organizations. Here are some general rules of thumb, but don’t hesitate to ask your partners what will drive results.

  • Sales professionals: Sales staff respond to money and accolades. Anything that can make them look good or give them an edge against the competition—President’s Clubs, Top Performer awards, etc.—will grab their attention and inspire action.
  • Technical professionals: Technical staff crave knowledge. They value understanding and mastering your solutions, so they can talk about them expertly to customers and, ultimately, deploy them successfully. Training, certifications, and badging are ways to engage these team members.
  • Executives: Company leaders care most about long-term revenue, so you need to convince them that you are a good fit. So, if your sales numbers are good, undoubtedly executives will be interested in you. Additionally, executives care about good reviews, good press, and good products—anything indicating that investing in you is profitable and safe. Anytime your business achieves something noteworthy, make sure your partners know. Like sales staff, executives love awards and commendations that elevate their business. The more clout you give them, the more money they can earn, and the more they will sell your solutions.

What are the next steps for engaging partners?

Once you understand the tactics and incentives best suited to your partners, the next steps are to implement sustainable programs. Keep in mind that partner engagement is not a one-and-done activity—you need to consistently nurture your partner relationships.

Customize and personalize your engagement strategies as your partner organizations change and evolve. If you don’t, your partner may outgrow you and move on to vendors who pay closer attention to their needs.

Make the engagement process easier for your team with the right tools. A PRM, for example, can help you automate many of these engagement activities, including marketing and training. Most importantly, it can help you to measure and analyze your results.

Without metrics, you won’t know the true impact of your partner engagement strategies and which ones work the best for which partner organization’s models and individual partner types.

Gwyn Edwards 8 min

How to Engage Your Partners: The Critical Step Between Recruiting & Revenue

Signing up partners for your channel program is only part of the battle. You’ve also got to engage them and get them to close business.

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