Changing buyer needs and customer preferences. Evolving partner business models. Growing competition for partner mindshare. All contribute to a tremendous shift across indirect channel programs.
Leaders need to ensure their program strategy, incentives, processes, engagement efforts and systems are evolving to meet the demands of indirect partner organizations. In turn, program updates also help vendors and brands create an improved customer experience.
To help channel leaders prepare, ITA Group experts have identified five key trends for you to prioritize in 2022.
1. Ease Experience Using Segmentation
Trend: Channel marketers are experimenting with and reinventing several of the core components of the partner experience in order to build a stronger, more engaged community of partners. They are finding new ways to offer agility and flexibility to execute selling (and servicing) programs in highly dynamic markets; and enabling partners with the skills and tools they need to evolve smoothly into the digital age. The trend for channel partners is ease of use through a personalized experience, providing relevance for them and their customers, and clear expectations.
Program Impact: For channel partners to deliver excellent customer experiences, they need to be just as familiar with your brand’s product/service as they are their own business’ unique selling proposition. To ensure your products are top of mind and being properly promoted, identify which partners are engaged and which are not. You can then employ additional tactics to improve engagement and loyalty where it is needed by using segmentation to personalize what is most relevant to them and their relationship with you. Provide them with key benefits, specialization, tiers, certification, etc. to help drive performance.
Also be sure to offer relevant and timely communications that are specific to the actions you want those partners to take, and then recognize/reward that behavior when they do! Take this level of relevance and replicate it in your portal UX. Partners should have clear goals, know what to do next and find it easy to participate.
2. Channel Incentive & Portal Technology Is Embracing Personalization
Trend: Building off the partner experience, embracing personalization inside your program can help enable many things you’re trying to pull together. Channel leaders are investing heavily in expanded training programs and curriculum to drive strategic selling of flagship product lines or new services and providing technical and operational support to increase revenue through retention and upselling. Integrating these investments alongside incentives, enablement tools, marketing resources, and program-level benefits can leave things feeling messy and irrelevant to partners. In order to make these investments consumable for partners, channel programs need to make sure they’re personalizing the asks, offers and tools at the partners’ disposal.
Program Impact: Infusing all these considerations into a single program can leave administrators struggling with highly complex and customized tier-based programs based on size, business potential, role, level of engagement, specialization, partner size, marketing savvy and interest (just to name a few). And that’s ok! This level of complexity can actually help personalize the experience for partners, as long as it’s behind the scenes in order to offer simplicity for partners.
This can take the form of personalized offers, incentives, training, and tools based on partner profiles, activity, or machine-learned “next best actions.”
3. Shift From Selling to Serving
Trend: As customers research solutions for themselves—rather than trust the word of the salesperson throughout the buying process—the role of the salesperson has shifted from representation of features and function to more assurance that the right team of SME’s are brought into the conversation. This is especially true as companies become more solution- and service-oriented. This means more SME roles like solution engineers and other specific areas of expertise have to be brought into the sales process. The salesperson isn’t alone in the selling process and can no longer be the only role recognized and rewarded for a sale.
As companies shift to XaaS or service-based revenue to complement product sales, the traditional role of the salesperson through the lifecycle of the customer relationship has changed. New roles such as customer success managers who are servicing clients along the way are needed to focus on the renewal, consumption and upsell of accounts. For many organizations, this can be a new practice area and one to increase support for in an evolving channel.
Program Impact: Channel programs are going to add new audiences focused on service, satisfaction, retention and growth, not just sales-related incentives. There will also be a shift to rewarding and motivating for non-sales behaviors. Things like training, lead gen, deal registration, pipeline stages, tool usage, satisfaction scores, etc.
Be prepared to add new audiences into your existing program and shift a portion of your incentive budget to activity-based offers that drive the right behaviors.
4. Additional Partner Roles Added to Channel Programs
Trend: There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. The right partnership strategy is the one that works best for your business, your partners and your customers. As partnerships continue to evolve, so do the dotted lines between partnership types, categories and terminology. As Jay McBain, Forrester’s Principal Analyst–Channel Partnership and Alliances, puts it: “B2B channels are in transition—from a tiered, resale and fulfillment function to a more fluid indirect ecosystem of affiliates, advocates, alliances and referral partners.”
Program Impact: Different people do different jobs, and some of those jobs are more aligned to the future of channel programs. If you need to impact with brand influence, you’ll need to work with a marketer and sales; if you need to impact satisfaction levels, you might need to work with technicians or service support; If you need to grow and retain customers, you might have to work with account managers; if you need to work through partners to offer and execute on services, you might need to work with implementation specialists.
Having a program that is flexible and scalable, that allows you to not only add new roles and partner types, but also treat them differently will be so important. You could think of it as stackable programs, or a platform that can accommodate different roles, experiences, offers, enablement, etc. Be relevant and include the right people to meet your objectives. Focusing solely on a salesperson or a partner owner won’t cut it in the long run.
5. Continued Focus on Influencer & Referral Programs
Trend: Utilizing referral partners is a great way to grow your sales efforts because referral partners have already gained the trust of the customer and the probability of conversion is a lot higher. It's important to look at your channel partners as companies you want to share success with, not organizations to exploit for your own benefit. The relationship should be mutual, and there should be responsibilities and objectives to meet on both ends.
Program Impact: Offer and add opportunities for referrals with ancillary or influencer audiences. Consider adding knowledge-only areas or exclusive event access to influencers beyond a referral program.
Be Prepared for Disruption in Any Form
The current state of our lives, businesses and industries is a bit like an Etch A Sketch in that every time a clear picture starts to take hold, something shakes it up and leaves a blank slate. While the next year is anything but certain, take a look and find some suggestions for how to respond to an assortment of disruptions.