“Friends, Romans, resellers, lend me your customer networks!”
Selling your product or service through partners can make a ton of sense, and rapidly expand your ability to reach customers without the overhead that comes with maintaining an enormous direct sales channel. Even when you have a great offering, sales can be a surprisingly (and frustratingly) customized challenge that requires you to tell unique stories to unique audiences. Many companies are able to make great products BECAUSE they don’t spread themselves thin trying to sell to the world. That’s where a great partner selling program can make a huge difference.
My colleague — and prolific blog contributor — Brian Pesin recently recently relaunched our partner program here at Contactually, and he was kind enough to explain a few of the lessons he’s learned, and how he’s baking them into the foundation of our new program. Here’s some of what he shared with me.
1. Focus on the quality of partners, not the quantity.
The first thing many brand new partner initiatives are worried about is, of course, finding willing partners. This often leads companies to assess the quality of their new program by simply counting sign-ups. This is a mistake.
A true partner sales channel isn’t about brand-awareness or promotional marketing. It’s really about making partners successful, and in the process, making your business successful as well. Raw partner numbers won’t do that, and in many cases, you can end up with the overhead and logistics challenge of an enormous program without any real impact to your sales. Qualified, motivated partners aren’t just BETTER; they’re the only ones who can really make your program work. If a smaller, less well-known partner is truly aligned with your objectives, believes in what you do, and is excited to share it with their market, focus on them. They’ll do a lot more for you than a big name who just signs up for everything.
2. Provide effective education for all partners.
When you delegate any part of the sales process to partner businesses, you’re effectively making these people brand ambassadors, whether they know what they’re talking about or not. Partners who truly understand your product and are comfortable talking about it are going to be more eager to meet with prospective customers, and far more likely to be engaging and convincing when they do. Don’t put this on them, though — make simple, high quality education easy, accessible, and required. Once your partner has the basics down, it’s a lot easier for you to trust in their ability to tailor that information into a sales pitch that makes sense to their niche audience.
3. Make the partner experience as easy as possible.
Education is just one example of the kind of groundwork that must be laid in order for partners to succeed. The less of this sort of thing your partners have to figure out for themselves, the better. Signing up, learning specifics about the offering, creating a vendor profile, reporting sales; these are all things that should be easy for partners, and not require them to jump through tons of hoops. Creating an easy partner experience might not seem like a high priority to some people at your company (“Why are we doing this work? Isn’t this why we have partners?”), but every minute your vendors are spending swapping emails with you or trying to deal with some terrible web form is a minute they aren’t spending with customers. Eventually, you’ll pay for these self-created inefficiencies, so get it right the first time.
4. Let partners express themselves.
Every partner is different; that’s what makes them valuable! When you add them to your program, don’t lose track of what makes them special by forcing them into a narrow, generic vendor profile that doesn’t highlight what they’re good at. If you sell a publishing platform, and your partner helps small, local newspapers go online, there’s no value in forcing them to talk about how great your platform is for e-commerce, or social networking. Unless the only thing you need is pure distribution (which does happen sometimes, especially with physical goods), this will only tie your partner’s hands and prevent them from doing what they do best.
5. Don’t be afraid to adapt or reboot.
Lastly, there’s no magic bullet for “how to build a partner program”. It depends on what you need, what your partners are good at, how your product/service works, and a host of other variables. The best thing you can do is start small, see what works, and retool. If you’re constantly working hard to make the program worthwhile, your truly engaged partners won’t just tolerate change. They’ll embrace it!