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When I started my career as a systems engineer, one of my first responsibilities was supporting channel partners. My first partner visit was to a calculator reseller, and as the technology advanced, my partners also got more sophisticated.
Over time, the industry has moved from calculators to PCs, laptops, printers, services, software, cloud and total solutions. A channel partner program can offer a small niche device, a complex business transformation and everything in between. That’s why engaging a partner ecosystem is an essential element of any go-to-market strategy.
In Entrepreneur, Renee Yeager, founder and CEO of Yeager Marketing, talks about the value of partnering “[to] increase your sales activity, drive new revenues and customers and more easily capture opportunities you may not have been exposed to.”
In general, it is difficult for companies to reach their entire target market with direct sales people alone. This is because a direct sales person carries a fixed cost envelope, and one single person can reach only so far into the market. Working with partners can extend a company’s reach and coverage at scale.
Partnering can “expand your distribution channels, improve your industry knowledge, support your marketing efforts and increase your lead generation,” TX Zhuo, managing partner at Karlin Ventures, says in Entrepreneur.
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Partners can also add complementary services or products to create a total solution for end customers and provide vertical industry expertise as well as the geographical presence that customers are looking for. This knowledge as well as relationships with the end users build trust and provide a deep level of customer intimacy.
With multiple benefits of partnering, it is important to develop a strategy and program that are highly effective and mutually beneficial. In my career selling to partners, I have learned a few lessons to make sure that your company stands out among your competitors. These are tips we are putting into practice as we further enhance our own Samsung Team of Empowered Partner (STEP) program.
Six Tips for a Channel Partner Program
1. Put yourself in the shoes of a channel representative. Remember they are not only responsible for your product or service, but they represent multiple product lines. They are on the front line with customers, and ultimately responsible for presenting a total solution to their customer. They need to have information readily available, easily consumable and simply presented. How are you helping your channel sales representatives shine in front of their customers?
2. Be the easiest client to do business with. How intuitive is your portal? Is your product information available when needed? Is it easy to find pricing and reach technical support? Is your channel partner program straightforward? One way to answer these questions is to do an objective analysis from your partner’s point of view. Sit with a few channel representatives to see what they need to access, and how they expect to engage with your company and its resources. You can then address areas where you have gaps and identify priorities. Consider reviewing program ratings in CRN’s Partner Program Guide.
3. Make enablement engaging, relevant and valuable. How simple is your certification program to understand? Your partners need to understand your product in order to effectively position it, speak to the value proposition competently and confidently present it in a complete solution context. Next-generation enablement that includes videos, gamification and interactive learning is the new expectation, especially with a millennial audience.
4. Help your partner build demand. Leads are currency. This does not mean a partner has no responsibility for demand generation. However, it does mean that some type of demand — from “Big M Marketing” to joint campaigns to assets and collateral — should be coming from the vendor. What will you do to help your partner create an amazing social campaign? Are you sharing events and messages with your partners so they can amplify your efforts?
5. Understand how your offering helps your partners make money. “Partners no longer rally around the vendor with the best deal; instead they gravitate to those with superior technology and long-term financial rewards,” says TC Doyle on The VAR Guy. So how do your financial rewards stack up? There are a few different audiences to address here: the owner or manager and the sales team.
- Owners and managers are interested in growing top line and improving the bottom line. How do your products and programs help them reach both of these goals? How does your program cut costs for the partner? How are you helping to decrease the cost of sales for the partner?
- For the sales team, the first step is to understand how the sales representatives are paid — on revenue, profit or on other KPIs? Knowing this is critical for you to position your solution in the context of their compensation plan. For example, if every $1 of your product adds $5 in services, that would be important to point out.
6. Make yourself available. Be present to walk the sales floor. There is no substitute for being on-site, where you can strategize with your channel partner’s executive team, talk with each sales person, connect with the marketing team, answer questions that pop up and make yourself available for sales calls. This is a prime example of using the recency effect to your advantage and counteracting the “out of sight, out of mind” alternative.
Business partnerships take time, work and energy. You need to be committed to building trust as the foundation to long-term partner relationships. With strong communication and collaboration, you can establish best practices for working with outside partners — bringing satisfaction to your channel program contacts and mutual customers across the board.
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