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10 Key Best Practices to Master Channel Management

Ready to supercharge your business growth, establish more powerful partnerships to increase your indirect sales revenue, and get your brand in front of your target customers? Mastering channel management is key. Especially for new channel managers, navigating this terrain can be a challenge, though. Our comprehensive guide goes into depth about the top channel management best practices to grow your program and your revenue. Let's get started!

What is channel management?

In essence, channel management is the large-scale process of coordinating your various sales channels. These can be direct sales channels or indirect, through third-party entities like distributors, retailers, or agents, who play a major role in marketing and selling your products or services.

This comprehensive approach is not just about choosing the right mix of direct and indirect channels; it's about nurturing and sustaining relationships with your partners, such as distributors, resellers, and retailers, and consistently fine-tuning your approach. Each channel operates differently and caters to distinct customer segments, which means you'll need a tailored strategy for each.

For instance, a cybersecurity company might sell its software through direct channels like its website and internal sales team to target large enterprises, all the while offering them personalized service and in-depth consultations. At the same time, indirect channels like IT service providers or reseller networks can help this company reach small and medium-sized businesses. Their partners may bundle the cybersecurity software with their own services, offering a comprehensive and value-added package to customers.

Effective channel management is a balancing act, aligning your company's goals with the capabilities and needs of your channel partners, all while keeping a close eye on market dynamics and customer preferences. It's a dynamic and ongoing process, essential for optimizing sales in today's complex and competitive markets.

If you're just getting started, or are ready to grow your program, keep reading for the top channel management examples and best practices!

1. Review the many different channel options

Channel management is powerful because of its flexibility and scalability. Each type of channel, be it direct, indirect, in person or digital, comes with its own set of characteristics and can serve very distinct customer segments.

There are many different types of sales channels. Some of the most common include:

  • Direct sales: In-person sales or direct online sales through your company website, which offers greater control over your customer interactions and brand messaging.
  • Retail partnerships: Collaborating with brick-and-mortar retail stores to sell your product, which can increase your brand’s physical market presence.
  • E-commerce platforms: Utilizing online retail or cloud marketplaces like Amazon or Microsoft to reach a broader audience.
  • Wholesale distribution: Selling in bulk to wholesalers, who then distribute your products to retailers or other end-users.
  • Affiliate marketing: Partnering with individuals or companies who promote your products in exchange for a commission.
  • Value-added partners: Resellers, referral partners, integration specialists, or other companies that add features or services to your product and then resell it as an integrated product.

Which strategies you choose will depend on your business and involves more than just knowing the different channels; it's about recognizing the unique advantages and limitations of each and strategically selecting those that align with your overall business objectives.

🔎 Discover more: This is just the surface of the many types of channel partners that could be part of your ecosystem. Find our full guide to channel partners here!

2. Develop a comprehensive channel management strategy

At its core, your channel strategy must be intricately tied to your broader business objectives, ensuring that every channel contributes towards your goals. It's about creating a cohesive, well-oiled machine where each channel operates in harmony with the others, yet is flexible enough to adapt to changing market conditions and evolving customer preferences.

Get started with these actionable steps:

  • Conduct a comprehensive market analysis: Start by thoroughly analyzing your target market, understanding customer preferences, and identifying the most effective channels for reaching your audience.
  • Select and prioritize channels: Choose the right mix of channels (like direct sales, partners, etc.) that align with your market analysis and prioritize them based on their potential impact on your business goals.
  • Develop clear KPIs for each channel: Set specific, measurable goals for each channel, and define KPIs to track their performance and contribution to business goals.
  • Create a partner engagement plan: If working with channel partners, develop a plan to recruit, onboard, train, and support them, ensuring they are well-equipped and motivated to sell your product or service effectively.
  • Establish a review process: Regularly review the performance of each channel against your KPIs, and be ready to adapt your strategy in response to market changes, customer feedback, and tech advancements.

Ultimately, the key to mastering channel management lies in building a strategy that is as forward-thinking as it is grounded in the current realities of your business landscape.

3. Foster a partner-first culture

Create a partner-first culture at the very beginning to set your intention of valuing and prioritizing your relationships with channel partners.

Your partners are not merely conduits for sales but integral stakeholders in your business success. By fostering an environment where your channel partners' needs are listened to and planned for, you set the stage for shared growth. By fostering an environment that encourages regular feedback from partners, you open the door to valuable insights and ideas that can drive future innovation.

When your partners are confident that their voices are heard and their contributions are appreciated, it cultivates a deeper sense of loyalty and commitment to your brand. This, in turn, can lead to increased enthusiasm and efforts on your behalf, and longer-term retention.

Ultimately, by putting your partners first, you create a virtuous cycle of trust, collaboration, and shared success, where everyone can grow faster, together.

4. Build incredible relationships with your channel partners

How to build a partner-first culture that drives growth? The essence of these relationships is a two-way street, where both parties feel equally valued and understood.

Key practices for fostering stronger partner relationships include:

  • Investing in channel management software and technology at the start to make it easier for your partners to succeed
  • Keeping lines of communication consistently open to discuss successes, challenges, and feedback
  • Sharing relevant information openly to build trust and avoid misunderstandings
  • Ensuring that your objectives and business values resonate with your partners
  • Acknowledging your partners’ efforts and successes to make them feel valued
  • Being receptive to your partners' evolving needs and adapting your approach accordingly

Remember, when your partners prosper, so does your business. We'll continue to look at exact strategies for improving these relationships throughout this post, but a partner-centric approach leads to more engaged, motivated, and successful channel partnerships to grow revenue.

⭐️ Channel management example: Mambu unites partner processes

"It's our partners' one-stop shop. It's everything that they need at their fingertips."

From the start, Mambu prioritized the partner experience, and achieved some incredible results. Watch the following video to learn more!

5. Create effective onboarding and training programs

Set your partners up for success from the start with an automated, hyper-personalized onboarding and training journey as they enter your channel program. What could this look like in practice?

Take, for example, a payments solution company. The onboarding program for new partners could start with a video introduction to the fintech industry, key customer demographics, and a comprehensive overview of the company's history, mission, and values. They'd also get on-demand access to any paperwork or forms they needed to complete.

Following this, partners would get access to on-demand online courses about the product suite, highlighting features, benefits, and the specific needs they address in the market. Each would be tailored to the solutions or markets those partners were serving.

Training doesn't end there, though. To ensure their partners were up-to-date on the latest trends, they'd continue to conduct expert-led webinars or share online courses covering new product features, regulatory changes, or emerging market opportunities. Additionally, they could offer hands-on training through workshops or shadowing experiences, especially for complex or highly technical products.

Why would the fintech company put all of this time into training? In the fast-paced and constantly evolving fintech industry, having partners who are up-to-date and knowledgeable is a significant competitive advantage.

A well-structured partner training program ensures that your partners have all the necessary knowledge and tools they need to effectively market and sell your offerings. A partner who is well-informed about your products and the market landscape is more equipped to engage with customers effectively and represent your brand accurately. It can be a game-changer, no matter your industry.

✅ Level up: Find our 10 steps to setting up your partner onboarding program!

6. Create the right incentives and rewards

Motivating your channel partners through well-designed incentive programs creates a win-win situation, driving performance and fostering a deeper commitment to your brand.

It will vary on your program, but common types of partner incentives include:

  • Performance bonuses
  • Tiered commission structures
  • Exclusive discounts
  • Marketing development funds
  • Additional in-depth training opportunities
  • Bundling discounts
  • Public recognition for top-performing partners
  • Exclusive access to new features, regions, or events

The key is to ensure that these incentives are not static; they should be dynamic and adaptable, reflecting the changing needs of your business and your partners. This approach ensures that your partners are engaged and motivated, and see tangible rewards for their efforts.

🔎 Discover more: Dig into 20 of the top channel incentives, with examples, to power your partnerships!

7. Establish transparent and clear communication channels

In channel management, establishing and maintaining clear and effective partner communications involves more than just transmitting information; it's about creating a two-way dialogue where updates, guidelines, and feedback flow freely and regularly.

This continuous exchange can help in aligning goals, addressing concerns, and fostering a sense of collaboration and trust. You can keep in contact with your partners via a few different channels, including:

By employing a mix of these communication tools, you can cater to different preferences and ensure that your message reaches your channel partners in the most effective way. Remember, the goal is not just to inform but to engage your partners actively, making them feel like a valued part of your business journey.

8. Monitor and manage your channel data

As noted at the beginning, by establishing clear performance metrics, you can more effectively evaluate the performance of your channels and partners. Some of the most common channel partner analytics and metrics to measure include:

A data-driven approach offers insights that can guide strategic adjustments and foster better partner relationships. In a sense, data acts as a compass, guiding your channel management efforts in the right direction.

✅ Level up: Find 20+ channel partner metrics to track to drive success!

9. Be ready to adapt to market changes and trends

Your channel management strategies need to be as dynamic and adaptable as the market itself. The market today is more interconnected and fast-paced than ever before, with new trends and technologies emerging at an unprecedented rate. By being proactive and responsive to these changes, you can anticipate challenges, seize new opportunities, and align your strategies with the current market realities.

For example, a few upcoming changes and trends in channel management include:

  • Hyper-personalized experiences: There’s a growing trend towards personalization in sales and marketing strategies, both to customers and partners.
  • Investing in automation and AI tools: These technologies are revolutionizing channel management by providing deeper insights into behavior and automating routine tasks.
  • Focus on sustainability: There’s a rising demand for sustainable and ethical business practices, within your business and the channel.
  • Shift towards omnichannel strategies: Businesses are increasingly providing a seamless customer experience across various channels, both online and offline.

By keeping an eye on these upcoming trends and being ready to adapt your channel management strategies accordingly, you can ensure that your business stays ahead of the curve.

10. Transform your program with channel management software

In the fast-paced and complex world of channel management, the right technology is a game-changer. Advanced channel management software can streamline your operations, automate routine tasks, drive greater ROI, and ensure efficient communication and collaboration with your partners. These tools not only save your team time but also provide deep insights into the performance of your channels, allowing you to make data-driven decisions.

You can harness the following and more with the right channel management software:

  • Automated workflows: Streamline repetitive tasks such as deal registration, onboarding, and tier programs.
  • Advanced integrations: Seamlessly connect your partner functions with the rest of your tech stack, such as your ERP and CRM.
  • Unified partner portals: Provide partners with essential resources and information in one consolidated space.
  • Performance tracking and analytics: Find robust tools for monitoring channel and partner performance across your org.
  • Marketing automation tools: Drive more leads with less work, with integrated marketing tools.

The goal is to find a solution that not only meets your current requirements but can also grow with your business. By leveraging the right channel management software, you can drive greater success and revenue, long-term.

At the heart of effective channel management is the ability to nurture relationships, leverage technology, and stay agile in an ever-changing market landscape. If you're ready to get started, 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 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 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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