Large questions loom about the impact of COVID-19 and honestly, most of what is written now is pure conjecture. Little can truly be predicted as fact or even statistically quantifiable. However, there are things you can pursue now to better prepare for, and to help facilitate, your channel partner’s recovery.
The list of paths to pursue is indeed long, but two themes emerge as important pillars to begin building strategies around.
- Practice empathy (in messaging and approach) to help partners navigate the waters ahead
- Prioritize data acquisition, measurement and analysis
Show Empathy—Understand the Challenges Your Partners Are Facing
First, we need to collectively stop thinking about success of “the channel” and shift our focus to begin thinking about individual partners who each face personal challenges and have unique needs. Success of the channel in whole will only come as a sum if the individual parts are a success. So the first step to empathizing is to truly think like your partners and understand the challenges from their point of view.
According to survey results from 2112, partners are understandably in survival mode right now. More than half (55%) say dealing with the ubiquitous uncertainty of a viral pandemic will remain their biggest challenge for the rest of the year.
Other basic concerns such as managing and maintaining cash flow (33% and 36%, respectively) and hitting sales targets (29%) also take top spots on the partners’ list of pressing concerns. A quarter of partners are concerned with generating new leads and upselling services to existing clients over the next nine months.
What they need? Help. A shift in mindset is required around providing more value TO the channel vs. requesting value FROM the channel. Traditional incentive programs with individual rewards for reaching target growth is an example of extracting value FROM the channel. It’s a constant cycle of give me MORE or we don’t value your contributions. This will need to change in times of resetting and rebuilding partner relationships in a recovering economy.
Inspire Loyalty—What Value Can You Add to the Channel?
This change in value proposition was already shifting prior to the pandemic, but will now be a requirement to gaining the mindshare of partners in the future. Lasting loyalty will be built based on the partner’s perception of what you can do to help them sustain and grow their business. Shift incentives towards reinforcing behaviors that will create new opportunity such as new learning and the usage of the tools and methods.
Now will be a time to look at your individual partners and determine how you can help them. From helping partners be better employers, to being better marketers, better providers of customer support and in general better business people. Consider the investment in tools or resources that can scale across your channel such as employee wellness or mindfulness programs partners can offer their employees. Or services they can utilize to gain a better digital marketing presence.
Find Stability—Be Transparent With Your Strategy
Stability is what everyone is searching for, and this starts with partners hearing your position. Partners want and need to know your commitment and plans.
Leverage your channel programs to share news, encouragement, best practices and assistance offers that could stimulate or sustain your partners business. Equip your channel managers with tools and messages to extend personal outreach to your partners. Make partners aware of your desire to help them and invite them to join the cause with you to get back on track.
This type of business support is a new necessity and should guide channel owners on how to structure their operations to align with new needs and expectations.
Gather Partner Data—Identify Who Is Doing What & When
The winners coming out of this will have spent time prioritizing and developing the right partner measurement systems. Systems that track, and analytics that identify, who is doing what and when. This is as important when things are booming as it is when times are challenging.
Organizations need to know who’s on board, who’s not, who has the potential to and who may likely not sustain. They’ll need to be able to gather quick intel and market feedback on what gaps exist, what’s being done to close them, as well as which efforts are successful and which need to be changed. Companies who have doubled down on data measurement systems that can facilitate these efforts are sure to be better equipped to deliver value to their partners in the short and long term.
Update Customer Insights—Everything About Your Customers & Opportunities Has Changed
New insights into your customers and potential customers will need to be quickly identified.
Businesses will need to create new methods of measurement to identify their current and future best opportunities and where to prioritize efforts to build new relationships.
Create new partner profile collection tools for your direct channel managers. Help your channel partners identify their best prospects and provide them methods of engaging new customers or strengthening the loyalty of existing customers. This could be done in the form of new diagnostic tools or training modules on how to hold new conversations with their customers.
Increase Integrations & Automation—Stop Siloing Data & Use Latest Tech
Your partner program is a great place to strategically build around data. Connect disparate systems to map a complete profile of your partner, and track more than just transactional volume. Consolidate all engagement activities such as who’s utilizing MDF funds, who’s attending your webinars, who’s reached out to their rep, who’s completing training, etc. Then utilize advance machine learning techniques to identify those attributes and behaviors that truly correlate to success.
Once you’ve tackled that, put incentives in place to reinforce wide adoption of the identified best practices.
Your Channel Partner
Things are changing at a rapid rate with channel partners and channel programs. Take ecosystems. A channel partner ecosystem is a new way to think about the go-to-market strategy you already have in place—a new mindset that includes all the partners inside your distribution channel. Confused? Don’t worry, we can help. Download our white paper, Introduction to Channel Partner Ecosystems.