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10 Tips for Building the Best Channel Activation Strategy

In today's competitive business landscape, indirect sales are one of the most efficient and powerful ways to go to market. Channel partnerships can drive incredible ROI for your business, but having a well-crafted channel activation strategy is essential.  

This comprehensive guide will walk you through the key elements of channel activation, from understanding its importance to overcoming common challenges and preparing your strategy. Let's dive in! 

👉 Keep reading to learn more about: 

What is channel activation?  

If you have business partners that help sell or support your products, channel activation is a huge and important topic. It refers to the process of engaging and empowering your channel partners to support your mutual success. It's similar to, but more encompassing than, sales enablement or marketing support. Instead, it's a holistic approach with the goal of maximizing partner experience, driving more sales, and enhancing the effectiveness of your full channel ecosystem.  

Channel activation activities can include partner onboarding, training, certification, access to marketing collateral, sales playbooks, technical documentation, joint business planning meetings, performance tracking, deal registration setup, incentive programs, and much more. It can impact your relationships with distributors, resellers, affiliate partners, and the other many types of partners that can make up an ecosystem.  

In a broader marketing context, activation refers to using customer data in combination with personalized content to create engaging customer experiences across all channels and touchpoints. This approach is echoed with channel activation, aimed at increasing the activities of your partners as they interact with your brand. 

Why is channel activation important? 

With your channel partners, your company can tap into new markets and customer segments you may not have been able to reach through direct sales efforts alone. This extended reach can significantly boost your sales and brand exposure. It also allows you to offer services and support you may not be able to provide in-house, like custom technology solutions, implementation support, ongoing service, and more.  

Channel partners also have existing infrastructure, customer bases, and expertise in their respective markets. Leveraging their resources can be a cost-effective way to expand your market presence without the need for significant upfront investments. 

These partners also possess in-depth knowledge of their local markets or industries, customer preferences, and cultural nuances. This expertise can help tailor your products or services to meet each market's needs.  

Finally, as your business grows, channel partners can scale their efforts alongside you, allowing for flexible and rapid market expansion without straining your internal resources. 

True activation makes all of these benefits possible. Once you build an ecosystem of partners, you'll want them to be engaged and empowered members, working together to help your businesses all grow faster, together.  

Common challenges in channel activation 

While channel activation holds great potential, it can come with its share of challenges that you must be prepared to navigate. As we move into putting together a channel activation strategy, we'll discuss many ways to overcome these.  

The most common issue is low partner engagement rates. This challenge could manifest as partners not actively promoting your products or services, or engaging with the collateral you create. Inadequate training and support for partners can also result in underperformance and missed opportunities. Without the necessary knowledge and resources, partners may struggle to effectively represent your products.  

Further, misaligned objectives between your organization and your channel partners can hinder progress. In some cases, partners may prioritize their individual goals, leading to reduced collaboration and effectiveness. Addressing this challenge requires clear, transparent, and ongoing communication. 

Finally, conflicts may arise within the channel, particularly if multiple partners or internal teams are vying for the same customer base or territory. Channel conflict can result in inefficiencies, customer confusion, and damaged partner relationships.  

By proactively identifying and acknowledging these common hurdles, you can take steps to mitigate their impact, ultimately fostering stronger partner relationships and realizing the full potential of your channel activation efforts. 

Planning for a channel activation reset 

A channel activation strategy is a structured approach that organizations can use to better engage and empower their channel partners. It involves setting key metrics you'll track, identifying target audiences, selecting suitable partners, and allocating resources to achieve your specific business goals. In essence, it's a roadmap that will guide your efforts to improve your channel activation.  

But before you get started, you have to lay the groundwork for success. Setting clear objectives, understanding your target audience, selecting the right partners, and managing your budget effectively are pivotal steps in ensuring the success of your future channel activation efforts. 

1. Set your goals  

A successful channel activation strategy hinges on well-defined objectives and goals. What do you want to achieve through channel activation? For example, a goal could be to increase revenue by 20% within the next fiscal year through channel partners, or to increase asset usage by 50%. 

Whether it's increasing revenue, expanding into new markets, or improving brand visibility, setting measurable goals is crucial. Objectives provide the strategic direction, while goals serve as the specific, quantifiable targets you aim to reach. 

2. Identify your channel audiences  

Who are your ideal customers that you find through partners? What are their needs, preferences, and pain points? Tailoring your channel activation strategy to resonate with your audience will yield better results.  

Conduct thorough market research and create detailed buyer personas that represent your target audience segments. These personas should encompass demographic information, challenges, goals, and buying behaviors. 

3. Select the right channel partners 

Not all channel partners are created equal. Choosing the right partners whose strengths align with your objectives is a critical next step. Conduct due diligence to evaluate their reputation, reach, and capabilities.  

You can also develop a partner profiling framework to assess potential partners. This framework should include criteria such as industry experience, geographic reach, customer base, and alignment with your brand values. 

The goal is to form partnerships that complement your strengths and extend your market presence. 

🔎 Dig deeper: From first search to final handshake, learn how to find channel partners that are a perfect match for your company in our comprehensive guide. 

4. Consider your budget 

Finally, allocate a budget for your channel activation strategies. Consider the costs associated with onboarding partners, investing in technology, creating marketing collateral, providing ongoing support, and offering valuable incentives.  

You'll want to continuously evaluate the ROI of your channel activation efforts. Adjust your budget allocation based on the performance of different channels, partners, and campaigns to optimize your strategy. 

How to develop your channel activation strategy 

By thoroughly addressing your planning components, you've established a strong foundation for your ongoing channel activation strategy. We're covering actionable tips for improving your channel activation, with in-depth insights, examples, guidance, and links to further resources.  

Ready to get started? 

1. Build strong and enduring relationships with your partners 

Building strong and enduring relationships with your channel partners serves as the bedrock of a successful channel activation strategy. It's not just about transactions; it's about fostering trust, open communication, and a sense of collaboration.  

Communicate openly, provide regular updates, and actively involve them in decision-making. Transparency and collaboration build trust and foster a sense of ownership. By maintaining regular contact, sharing insights, and addressing their needs, you can nurture these relationships to create mutually beneficial partnerships. 

⭐️ Channel activation example: Lookout empowers partners with a go-to platform 

"Our partners are our extended salesforce, and our partners’ success is our success. We wanted to provide the best partner experience and have everything in one place for them to navigate." 

Learn how Lookout achieved a 240% increase in logins into their partner portal in just 90 days with a partner-first approach. 

Read case study 

2. Create highly-personalized journeys for each type of partner  

A one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work when you have a partner ecosystem full of many different types of partners. You must craft hyper-personalized journeys, from first sign-on to ongoing certifications.  

Consider this example: a legal technology company with an ecosystem of resellers, referral partners, and implementation partners would have different approaches for each. Their resellers, primarily interested in product features and sales strategies, would benefit from in-depth product training and sales enablement resources. Referral partners, focused on generating leads, might receive training on identifying potential clients and understanding the company's value proposition. Implementation partners, responsible for integrating the technology into clients' systems, would require more extensive technical training and ongoing support to ensure seamless integration.  

Tailor your approach to each partner's unique preferences, expectations, and goals, ensuring that your channel activation efforts resonate with each partner group. Lay out each journey and the collateral you'll need to support it prior to the next step. (However, know that this will be an ongoing and iterative process that will develop over time and with industry advancements.)  

3. Develop the collateral you'll need  

Effective training, marketing, and sales collateral are essential elements of your channel activation strategy. In-depth, well-structured training programs empower your partners with the knowledge and skills they'll need to effectively represent your brand. You'll want to offer ongoing training sessions and resources to keep partners updated on product updates, industry trends, and sales techniques. 

Simultaneously, creating comprehensive and customizable marketing/sales collateral ensures that your partners have the right tools to engage your potential customers. Provide partners with collateral that can be easily customized to fit their specific audiences and branding, empowering them to deliver brand-consistent messaging. 

For a SaaS company, a partial list of channel activation collateral may include:  

  • Welcome kits with partner guidelines 
  • Onboarding checklists and timelines 
  • Online courses and certification programs 
  • Product documentation and user manuals 
  • Webinar recordings and a schedule of live training sessions 
  • Quizzes and assessments for knowledge evaluation 
  • Skill-building exercises and simulations 
  • Sales playbooks with objection handling 
  • Competitive analysis reports 
  • Pricing and discount guidelines 
  • Sales scripts and call scripts 
  • Customer persona profiles and targeting tips 
  • Co-branded product brochures and one-pagers 
  • Case studies and success stories 
  • Marketing videos  
  • Infographics explaining key product features 
  • Video tutorials showcasing product usage 
  • Social, ads, and email templates for outreach 

Again, this process will be ongoing, but think ahead to the many different types of collateral that would most benefit your partners now and in the future.  

4. Decide on the best ways to reach out to partners  

Engaging your partners effectively means leveraging a variety of communication channels. Consider using a mix of channels that partners are already on and using.  

This may include email, social messages, portal push notifications, voice messages, videos, WhatsApp notifications, SMS, and more. Coordinating these channels ensures that your activation efforts are both effective and efficient. 

As always, tailor your communication to partner segments based on their preferences and responsiveness to specific channels. For instance, you could use portal push notifications for tech-savvy partners and email for those who prefer a more formal approach. 

Experiment with different communication channels and message formats to determine which combinations yield the best response rates. Continue to analyze the data to refine your approach. 

⭐️ Channel activation example: Siemens achieves immediate results by changing their outreach approach 

"We needed to deliver the right message, to the right partners, at the right time.” 

Siemens managed a global ecosystem of partners but had low engagement rates. With the straightforward approach of localizing their partner newsletters for non-native English speakers, they immediately saw up to 50-70% unique open rates and greater engagement.  

Read case study 

5. Find the right channel activation software  

Selecting the appropriate channel activation software from the start allows you to streamline and optimize your tasks, so you can do more with less hands-on work. Any channel activation software should facilitate seamless partner engagement, automated workflows, performance tracking, and data-driven decision-making.  

Conduct a thorough needs assessment within your organization and among your partners to understand the specific functionalities and features you'll need. Look for channel partner software that can scale with your business as it grows, accommodating your future needs without requiring frequent changes or major price increases. 

🔎 Dig deeper: How can you find the best partner management platform for your channel activation efforts? From user reviews to top features to hidden costs, our full guide covers how to navigate your choice confidently

6. Find areas to automate key processes for you and your partners 

Automation will play a crucial role in enhancing the efficiency of your channel activation efforts. It allows you to do more, with less. Identify key processes that can be automated, both for your internal operations and your partners' tasks. Automation not only reduces manual workloads but also minimizes errors and ensures consistency in your overall approach. 

With the right channel activation software, you'll be able to ditch the spreadsheets and manual emails, and automate tasks related to:  

7. Develop a clear roadmap for implementing your strategy 

Implementing a channel activation strategy, especially when incorporating new channel activation software, demands a well-structured roadmap. This roadmap will ensure the successful execution of your strategy, from inception to realization. In general, it will follow these steps:  

  • Define clear milestones and goals 
  • Assign responsibilities and roles across teams  
  • Establish realistic timelines  
  • Engage your key decision makers and stakeholders 
  • Be proactive about common challenges and risks  

🔎 Dig deeper: With Spur Reply, we created a full guide to implementing new partner software. Learn what you can expect!  

8. Communicate your plans with partners 

One of the most critical aspects of developing a successful roadmap is involving key stakeholders in the planning process. This includes not only internal teams but also external partners who will be collaborating closely with your organization.  

Transparency and open communication are fundamental when introducing a new strategy to your partners. Clearly articulate your plans, objectives, new tools and technology, and the expected benefits for partners. Encourage feedback and address any concerns promptly to maintain trust and collaboration. 

Conduct onboarding webinars or workshops to introduce partners to the new software when it's in place. Provide them with an opportunity to ask questions and receive clarification. 

By seeking their input and considering their needs, you can roll out a strategy that is more holistic, oriented to be partner-first, and aligned with the current realities of your channel ecosystem. 

9. Establish KPIs and feedback mechanisms to track success 

To gauge the effectiveness of your channel activation strategy, establish key performance indicators (KPIs) and feedback mechanisms from the start. These metrics should align with the goals you set at the very beginning, and allow you to monitor partner performance, engagement, and overall strategy success.  

Conduct regular performance reviews with your team and your partners, discussing KPIs, objectives, and areas for improvement. Collaborate with them to set achievable targets. 

Then, periodically collect feedback from partners regarding their experience with your channel activation efforts. Use this feedback to identify pain points and areas for enhancement. 

🔎 Dig deeper: Not sure where to start? Find the most important metrics to measure your channel ecosystem, and best practices to unlock the power of data-driven growth in our full guide

10. Adjust your strategies based on data  

Finally, use the data you collected throughout your efforts to adjust your strategies dynamically and continuously over time.  

Schedule regular strategy meetings and use this time to analyze results, review feedback, identify trends, and make informed decisions on adjustments. Identify areas where you need to make iterative improvements, and be prepared to pivot when necessary. 

Embrace an iterative approach to strategy. Continuously seek ways to enhance your channel activation efforts based on real-world data and partner feedback. 

By implementing these steps, you'll be well-equipped to develop and execute a successful channel activation strategy that engages your partners effectively and drives sustainable growth for your business. 

Better channel activation starts here 

Indirect sales are one of the most efficient and powerful ways to go to market. A robust channel activation strategy is essential to achieve ongoing and sustainable growth. By planning your strategy, you can effectively engage and empower your channel partners over the full partner lifecycle. 

If you're ready to build your channel activation strategy, Impartner can help. 

Today, millions of partners in nearly every industry across the globe access Impartner. Impartner is the most award-winning channel management solution provider on the market. Our partner relationship management and partner marketing automation solutions help companies accelerate revenue and profitability through their indirect sales channels at every partner lifecycle touchpoint. 

From partner training and onboarding to pipeline management and performance tracking, Impartner handles it all and more with best practices and automation built-in.  

Need to accelerate your channel partnerships? We’re ready when you are. 

About the Author

Impartner is the fastest-growing, most award-winning provider of partner management and partner marketing automation solutions. We've been around for decades, and were the first to coin the term "PRM". Today, over 40,000 users leverage Impartner to manage millions of partners within their ecosystem of distributors, resellers, and more. We draw on decades of experience with best practices in the channel to create content that helps partnership leaders grow their careers and scale their programs.

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