Your Partner Strategy: Partner Types, Requirements and Criteria Review

The third installment in the Channel 101 series provides answers to get you moving

By T.C. Doyle

Congratulations on your decision to grow your business with partners. Choosing a leveraged sales model will almost certainly give your business some additional strength. But it requires significant effort to make the most of the leverage that partners can provide.

In the first two installments of the “Channel 101” series, we introduced the concepts of basic channel building in the tech industry. This includes the types of programs you can build, and the best ways to leverage current partners that may have come into your world. Now it’s time to get more serious and start thinking about the ideal partners for you.

In this installment, we examine ways to help you better understand the types of business partners that exist today, the ones that are best suited to your business, and the best ways to attract their interest.

“Determining the right type of partners that make the most sense for your business is a core step in building the ideal partner program,” says Donagh Kiernan, founder and CEO of Tenego Academy, a training and channel team support company that helps tech vendors build effective channel programs.

Understanding Company Types Before You Begin Your Evaluation

If you have a product or service to sell, you’re probably thinking first and foremost about recruiting reselling partners who can introduce you to new business. Building a successful partner program, however, requires more than signing up as many of these types of partners as possible. A better plan is to think in terms of your partner community as an ecosystem that thrives in the right conditions and survives in the most challenging ones.

Where to start? Begin by thinking in terms of the roles that you need third-parties to help with as you go to market. This includes:

  • Lead generation
  • Qualification
  • Sales and deal closing
  • Delivery
  • Support

While many partners provide all of these capabilities, very few are good in all areas. Rather than exhaust significant energy trying to cultivate ties to the ones in your market that excel in each area, you are better off recruiting partners that are best in class in one area or more. This way, you can ensure that you are covering all your end customers’ needs in given market.

There are many pluses to this approach. But it does require that you take the time to identify the company types that participate in your market, and the specific skills your product requires. There may be more that you think, including all the company types from your target customers’ point-of-view:

  • Sales partners (resellers, agents, etc.)
  • Influencers (researchers, media and market consultants)
  • Service providers (training, outsourced services etc.)
  • IT Service providers (systems integrators, managed service providers, etc.)
  • Advisory firms (specialist consultants, accounting firms, business consultants, etc.)
  • Software solution providers (you, your competitors and all the solution areas most relevant to your space and technology platform providers)

Even if you do not choose to work with all of these company types directly, you should at least understand the role and significance they play in your chosen field. Some, for example, generate their own sales leads, while others prefer not to get entangled in the implementation of services, just the closing of transactions. Other partner types are just the opposite.

Key to understanding how each partner works is how value flows in your ecosystem. If you understand how each partner makes money, then it becomes much easier to determine if they might be a fit for your business.

Another consideration: nomenclature. Not every vendor — or partner for that matter — agrees on basic terms and monikers for various partner companies. An integrator in one part of the world or tech market, for example, can be a system house or service provider in another part. For a better understanding, learn what each partner does. This is a better indicator of who they are and what they might be able to do for you.

Also: within each partner category, there may be more than one partner type. In the broad area of “sales partners,” for example, there are referral partners, resellers, affiliates, agents and distributors. This sounds more complicated than it is. Keep an eye on what partners do and how they make their money and you’ll better understand the market dynamics that will likely take shape within your ecosystem.

Selecting Company Types for Evaluation

Once you’ve taken the time to understand your options, then it’s time to make some partner selections. There a dizzying number of ways to go about this. But the best efforts are based in some basic data. Remember: partnering can be personal, but it shouldn’t be emotional. Data and facts will point you toward partners that are best positioned to help you achieve your objectives, not sentiment and gut feelings.

To that end, build a scoresheet for each partner type and match it against your objectives. Your scoresheet should start with a high-level list of criteria for completing a sale — everything from lead generation to implementation to valued-added post-sale services. It should also include a section for scoring additional capabilities that you might need including specialized knowledge and focus, customer influence, ease of doing business, time-to-engagement and deal velocity.

After you have completed with this exercise, you should arrive at the point where you determine who or what fits you “target partner profile.” Having one or more target partner profile galvanizes your sales team, your channel managers and more. It helps everyone connected to partnering within your company understand your mission and objectives. It just makes life easier, Kiernan says.

One tip: don’t create overly short target partner profiles. If your product or service complements Microsoft’s Dynamics software platform, then do not assume that all existing Microsoft Dynamics partners are ideal for your company. There are 10,000 of them, after all! Evaluating whether each one is suited to your company could take months if not years.

A better approach? Develop a target partner profile with specifics based on your sales objectives and technological needs. This way you will quickly be able to exclude those that do not align with your target customer segment, market specialty or even business model.

Armed with more information about which types of partners to choose, it’s now time to focus on one more internal task. This is honing you partner value proposition. While it might feel more intuitive to devise this before your consider any other aspect of building your partner program, experience has shown you cannot do it in a vacuum. Going through the exercise above, as well as the others examined in the Channel 101 series, sets your company up for better success.

Lastly, don’t forget to start thinking about automation. The products and services you provide the market are only a portion of what partners evaluate when considering your value proposition. They also take into account your onboarding, marketing support, training and more. World class experiences demand world-class automation, the kind that Impartner provides. For more insight, sign up for an Impartner demo today.

Coming next in Part Four: Honing Your Partner Proposition

*The Channel 101 series was produced with insight and information provided by Tenego Academy. Tenego Academy is a Cork, Ireland-based company that provides support to companies wanting to grow their organizations with third-party “channel partners” be they dealers, agents, referral partners, distributors, consultants and more.

Tenego Academy’s 12-part “Build Your Partner Program Like a Global Leader” education program helps companies looking to create, grow and/or optimize a partner program regardless of their size or market focus. No matter where your company is in its channel partner program journey, you will benefit from Tenego Academy’s 12-part program, which covers everything from channel strategy to partner recruitment to automation and more.

T.C. Doyle is the Channel Growth Evangelist at Impartner, the leader in channel management and Partner Relationship Management (PRM) technology. A journalist, book author and analyst, Doyle has worked in media for three decades. As channel evangelist, Doyle produces podcasts, case studies, e-books and more for Impartner. Doyle can be reached at

Sign-up for your Impartner demo today.

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