When you communicate with your channel partners, do you talk to them or do you talk at them? Think of the end of the day announcements in grade school, for example, where the principal would come over the intercom and read off a list someone else wrote of upcoming events and information. Chances are you probably remember standing at the door of the classroom chatting with your friends, or being scolded by a teacher to sit down and listen. There’s also a chance that you missed out on some important information (like that picture day is tomorrow!) because you weren’t paying attention.
If engagement with your channel partners is low or declining, take a look at your current communication strategy. Does it look or sound like afternoon school announcements? If that’s the case, you might be talking at your partners. Below are some tips to help change up your communication strategy to encourage your partners to work with you.
Feedback & Collaboration
Your channel partners might not be as engaged with your organization because they’re not getting what they need from you. There are two things you can do to open up communication with your partners so it’s a two-way street: ask for feedback and offer opportunities to collaborate.
Channel partners can be a lot like customers. When they have a poor experience working with you, for example, they might stop working with you just like a customer who has a poor experience will stop buying from you. How do you know when channel partners are struggling, or what they’re struggling with? Not all of them will tell you, and those that do might not until it’s too late.
Instead of conducting a quantitative survey like NPS or a customer effort score (CES) survey, consider going for a survey that asks for qualitative data in the form of short answer questions. When asking short answer questions, keep surveys to two or three questions to avoid survey fatigue. Ask your channel partners what challenges they face when marketing or selling your product, and ask what they think would be helpful from you to meet those challenges.
Conducting a qualitative survey like this will take some time, but the time you do take to listen to your channel partners will be well spent. The HubSpot Service Hub Feedback tool will help you save time by collecting survey responses all in one place and notifying you when a response is submitted (so you’re not constantly having to check yourself!).
Once you know what your partners need to better market and sell your product or service, invite them in on the creation process. Getting your partners in on the process is a way to show you’re interested in meeting their needs, and you want to help make them successful selling your product. As the channel manager, you likely have the brand recognition with your end customers, but your partners have the local market knowledge. When you work together, that means more successful marketing campaigns or even ideas for new products.
One thing to remember when collaborating with channel partners on projects of any kind is to offer them equal credit on any marketing materials. This is an effort to sell more of your product, but your partners are the ones with their feet on the ground doing a lot of the selling. No channel partner wants their logo hiding in the corner when the parent company’s logo is front and center, especially when they helped create the material or strategy being used.
Just like a one-size-fits-all communication strategy doesn’t work for customers, it isn’t effective for your partners, either. Not every partner has the same resources or team available, and accounting for their different needs will help engage them. You personalize your content for the different types of customers you have, so you should be doing the same for your different channel partners.
Segmenting your partners by their size or what position within the organization you’re communicating with (sales reps, managers, technicians) will help get the right information into the right hands (and increase your email open and click-through rates). HubSpot’s Marketing Hub lets you create lists within your contacts, and it allows you to create workflows that enroll users in email campaigns based on their behavior with your other content. HubSpot’s open API software also allows you to create a custom integration with any technology platform you’re currently using (ManoByte can help you set up a custom HubSpot integration, too).
Since not all partners are the same, how can you ensure the marketing materials you send to all channel partners are used effectively? Often times, smaller partners might not have the resources or a dedicated marketing team like larger partners. On the other hand, larger partners could have a marketing strategy that’s not perfectly in line with yours.
Every partner needs to be successful with the materials you provide them; so instead of just providing materials, provide a checklist of what channel partners need to do with those materials. A checklist on top of branding guidelines ensures everyone is on the same page with how marketing materials should be used.
Goals & Incentives
A little competition (even if it’s just against yourself) never hurt anyone. Incentivizing channel partners to collaborate, use your marketing material, or even answer a survey will help get them involved. Setting goals, and offering incentives for reaching those goals, can get channel partners excited.
For example, you might set a sales goal of 10% growth from the prior year, and channel partners who meet that goal receive a co-op reimbursement or discount on ordering your products. Additionally, a promise to share their logo with yours on marketing materials they help create might be a good incentive to collaborate.
Even though you’re the channel manager, your channel partners are exactly that—partners. When you work together, you both will see success.