Rigid requirements, underutilized assets and unused market development funds. If your company suffers from even one of these, then your partner program may be too complicated.
By T.C. Doyle
A new global study reveals that one-quarter of channel partners will not work with a vendor that does not “fully prioritize a seamless, workable partner experience.”
Does that sound like you?
If the question makes you even the least bit uncomfortable, then your channel program may be too complicated. If partners have to hire additional staff just to navigate your program, that’s not a sign of enthusiasm; it’s an indication of a problem in the making.
When partner programs are overly complex, satisfaction suffers and utilization declines. A better way? Simplify to improve partner experiences and focus your own thinking. “Complexity reduction helps companies simplify their strategy, organization, products, processes and information technology,” says management consultant Bain & Co.
Still not certain where you stand? Ask yourself if any of the following seven signs apply to your organization. If your program suffers from even one or two of these conditions, it may be time to streamline your program.
1. Partners sign up but then don’t engage
Ever tried to check out of a retail store only to be bombarded with requests for detailed personal information before you leave? If so, let that lingering experience guide you as you devise your onboarding process. Consider the amount of information you request at the moment of signup. A detailed business plan from a partner that has never completed a single transaction with your organization, not to mention other bits of information, is simply too much. Overwhelming partners with unnecessary questions or setting unrealistic expectations will leave new partners with a bad taste.
Also, onboarding should not take days or weeks. If you cannot capture the excitement of a new partner in the same day they demonstrate it, then you risk losing their enthusiasm.
Finally, match your demands to the value your ideas and innovations offer partners. If your company develops a simple widget that solves a specific problem, don’t expect partners to comply with rigid demands for training and certification.
2. Partners don’t dig any deeper than your portal’s homepage
When partners do not navigate past your homepage, that’s a signal that something is amiss. Likely, the problem is navigation — i.e., channel partners cannot find the materials they need to complete a task or monitor their progress with your channel program. Modern partner portals simplify navigation and make it possible for vendors to customize views for partners. With the right tools, you can create custom dashboards that surface the most relevant information that partners seek, be it information on program compliance, training updates, deal status and more. Partners love it.
Not everything can be surfaced on a homepage, obviously, so navigation to specific assets or landing pages should be unambiguously clear. What is more, resist the temptation to sell partners from within your partner portal. A partner portal is not the place for ads or marketing materials, especially information that is readily available from your public website. Unless materials are specifically devoted to partner needs and interests, do not clog your partner portal with “filler” material.
3. Leads linger in a queue or lapse from inattention
Leads are one of the most frequently requested items from partners when it comes to your partner program. But lead dissemination is not generally a best practice among vendors. To be frank, most vendors are terrible when it comes to sharing leads. Email is a big reason why.
In many instances, email is the common way vendors share leads with channel partners. When an account manager is ready, they send an email to a chosen partner. But email leaves a lot to be desired. Some emails wind up in SPAM folders. Others do not stand out and get lost in partners’ daily deluge. Even emails that get opened and read leave a lot to be desired. With an email system, there’s little way to track activity and receptivity.
In contrast, automated lead systems ask partners to accept or deny leads. Accepted leads are then tracked in an automated fashion. The bottom line is you spend an enormous amount on lead generation. Don’t let that money go to waste because you skimped on a closed-loop tracking system.
4. Partners don’t migrate to higher tiers
A recent study in the U.S. revealed that only 10% of taxpayers could correctly answer, “how many different tax brackets are there in the U.S.?” (The answer is seven.)
With some channel programs, channel partners are similarly unaware. They find tiers confusing, partner classifications inconsistent with conventional wisdom and benefits and requirements baffling. When any of these conditions occur, partners sit tight in a comfortable groove unaware that additional benefits may only be a few deals from their grasp.
If you have stagnation in your program — i.e., partners remain at one level the entire time they are affiliated with your organization — they you may have a communications problem that is bigger than any motivational challenge you face. Engaged partners will pull deals from one vendor and give it to another if there’s a reasonable advantage to be gained. Incentives that cause them to do such things could be a bigger discount, a higher after-sale rebate or better technical and marketing support.
Where possible, provide a visual reminder of where partners are in terms of program advancement. If your airline can show you where you stand within its frequent flyer program, then your partner portal should be able to do so as well.
5. MDF money goes unspent
We could write a book on the amount of money that is wasted on market development funds (MDF) — and probably pay for it its publication with unspent MDF that piles up year-after-year.
MDF programs fail for two primary reasons: complexity and rigidity. Take 2020, for example. When the pandemic disrupted work life as we know it, it was abundantly clear that MDF plans devised six months earlier were not going to help anyone. Money for golf outings in the spring? On-site customer demos with dinner and a ball game afterwards? These ideas and more had to be scrapped. In response, many vendors simply extended time horizons on certain marketing activities. But they did so without considering what the “new normal” in marketing events, campaigns and materials should look like.
If you ask partners, most will tell you that the problem they have with MDF programs is a lack of actionable information. They do not know what funds are available or what they can do with them. Worse, even when they qualify for money, they do not know how they can claim their funds or apply for reimbursements.
6. Your tech support team is inundated with portal questions
How do I reset my password? How do I update my company’s information in your partner locator? Who can help me with a certification question?
You implement a partner portal, in part, to address questions on partner programs. Alas, far too many partner program portals wind up raising more questions than they answer. While many concerns can be addressed with a basic design change or better planning, improving the overall satisfaction with your partner program and reducing complexity requires more. It requires a change in philosophy.
Think about it: your partners are highly capable, independent businesses who tend to take care of themselves. When they encounter partner programs that do not encourage or, worse, allow for self-service, antibodies deep within them surface. So change your philosophy.
Give partners the ability to update information on their own. Doing so spares your team from data entry and gives your partners a sense of control. Also, share information with partners liberally. This includes product roadmaps, competitive analyses and more. Treat them as true partners, in other words.
7. Attrition rates are too high
Lastly, do you monitor the number of partners that drift away from your program each year? Do you even know why once high-performing players ghost you? Chances are it’s not due to a lack of innovation or brand competitiveness. More often than not, it’s because your company is difficult to work with. In fact, studies show that partners will stay with vendors with competitive shortcomings so long as they are easy to deal with.
If you’re wondering where you stand with your partners, ask yourself if you could pass their “Rule of 10” test. To be relevant with a partner, you should aim to either be in a partner’s list of top 10 vendors or account for 10% of their revenue.
Lastly, clean up any messes. If it takes two weeks for a partner to get a price quote, all the benefits in the world will not make your program successful, not at the current velocity of business today. If you have a chronic and/or outsized problem, then pull out all stops to address it immediately.
The German food retailer Aldi is doing what few possible in the U.S.: find a niche that exists between big box stores such as Walmart and Costco, online purveyors including Amazon, and traditional grocers such as Kroger’s and Safeway. Aldi established a foothold in the U.S. with a simple formula: basic staples at fair prices in convenient locations. If you’re looking for 40 varieties of toothpaste, Aldi is not your place. But if you suffer from decision fatigue and want superior experiences, then Aldi might just have what you’re looking for.
Which brings us to your partner program. Everything should as simple as possible, but no simpler, as Albert Einstein used to say. Simplicity for the sake of simplicity isn’t your goal, in other words. Satisfaction is — the kind that is bast achieved with world-class automation that not only addresses the challenges you have today, but already anticipates the ones you will face next.
See for yourself how partner automation can help reduce complexity and elevate satisfaction among your channel partners. Click here for your Impartner demo today.
Your partners will be glad you did.
For more ideas to help improve your channel program, be sure to check out, “Growth Hacks for Pumping Up Indirect Sales.”