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Emily Neier
by Emily Neier
on January 25, 2019

If you’ve lost a channel partner, you know partner churn is like the mean, older sibling of customer churn. Whether they left on their own, or you had to part ways over poor performance, partner churn has a whole host of unique challenges. There’s coordinating the return of unsold product, POS systems, and marketing collateral, as well as tasking IT with removing their information and accounts from your partner portal and PRM platform. And, as the channel manager, you’re faced with the questions of that partner’s customers. Why are they no longer carrying your product? Where can they get it now? Or worse, you could lose those customers altogether.

Navigating partner churn is something no channel manager wants to deal with. Some churn is inevitable, but the best way to handle partner churn in an indirect sales channel is to have a prevention plan.

Partner with the Right Businesses

Choosing who to partner with isn’t an easy process, but striking a deal with anyone who asks may result in more churn as you and your partners realize they weren’t the best fit for your channel. Having criteria for what determines a good fit for a partnership will help sort out well-meaning but more likely to churn partners.

If the criteria for an ideal partner is a few years old, it’s probably time to take a second look. Do your top performing partners resemble that description, or do they have some other things in common that aren’t listed? On the other hand, are there criteria that none of your top performers meet? You may also consider having multiple partner personas depending on your channel and industry.

Additionally, check potential partners’ credibility thoroughly. If they’ve churned from partnerships with multiple similar companies lately, investigate why. Take a look at their website and social channels to evaluate their capacity for a digital strategy. No partner will be completely perfect, but learning what you can ahead of time will help determine how much and what kind of support they might need from you.

Set Partners up for Success

Your onboarding process is crucial to partner success. Whether you stay closely involved with your partners’ selling process or become more hands-off over time, giving them the right training and information at the start is a huge factor in how they’ll be able to sell.

While communicating your brand guidelines and how to use, market, and sell your product is certainly a vital component of onboarding a new partner, there’s more to starting off on the right foot. For example, if your business uses an online partner portal, including a tutorial on how to locate and utilize its features will speed up adoption and encourage partners to use the portal regularly. Consider how you’ll communicate the value of not only your product, but also for the tools you want partners to use and the processes you ask them to follow.

Track Progress and Intervene Early

If you noticed there was a hole in the hull of your boat, would you patch it up or wait for the whole thing to start sinking before addressing the issue? The same goes for your channel partners: spotting trouble as early as possible will reduce the time and energy needed to fix it.

Tracking partners’ performance is easiest with a PRM platform, where the platform can generate these reports for you. This would also make spotting declining sales or engagement faster. If a partner’s sales start to drop unexpectedly, touch base with them to see if you can find out why, and solve the issue before the damage is catastrophic.

Measure Partner Satisfaction

There’s a chance that, even when your channel partners are doing well, there’s some things they wouldn’t mind changing. But they might not just write up an email and tell you the partner portal navigation is clunky, or the order pages take too long to load.

Sending out a regular survey to gauge how your partners are doing on a qualitative level can help you catch where problems are coming up that won’t appear in your reports. Additionally, the survey might also identify patterns where a section of your partners are providing similar feedback. It’s not feasible to fix every tiny thing a partner might come up with, but if a handful have the same idea—it’s worth looking into.

Have a Disaster Plan Ready

Unfortunately, there will still be partners who churn from time to time. Losing a partner will cost time retrieving materials and clearing them from your website and partner portal. Determine ahead of time who is responsible for these tasks and the procedure for carrying them out to minimize lost resources.

Additionally, anticipate what you will do for the end users who were buying from that partner. How much notice will they receive of the end of the partnership, and what options will you provide them? For example, if the churning partner provided support services to customers, who will take on that responsibility after their service has ended? Would you distribute these customers to other partners, connect them with your support team, or offer customers a choice of which they prefer?

Preventing partner churn in an indirect sales channel is a process of identifying the right partners for your product and keeping an ear to the ground for the first signs a partner is having trouble. While some churn is inevitable, planning ahead for those challenges will make the transition smoother for your company, your partners, and your end users.


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