What Is Channel Enablement and Why It’s Important?

Sagar Joshi
min read
October 11, 2023

Channel partners are your portal guns. Point them toward your target market, and you’ll reach your customers no matter where they are!  

The key to get to your target market is to have the right channel enablement strategy. It is the portal fuel that powers the gun. In tech, 64% of every dollar changes hands through partners. 

Let’s examine it and explore how to start a fresh partnership program in your organization. 

What is Channel Enablement? 

Channel enablement empowers channel partners with the proper tools and information, helping them sell a product or service more effectively and efficiently. It gives them product and market knowledge while providing actionable insights through several tools indispensable in achieving high-velocity sales.

Think of sales enablement. It brings sales and marketing together to make a more significant impact than what the teams would have made individually. Channel enablement is similar. Instead of internal salespeople, you work with channel partners.

Identifying The Right Partners 

A lot could go wrong if you hire the wrong people. Accenture says, “Only 7% of channel partners hit 65% of their target sales revenue.” Suppose your channel partners work on a commission basis. So what if they don’t achieve targets? You aren’t losing money. 

This is a myth. 

You’re losing opportunities. 

You don't get many second chances if the wrong people pitch your brand to prospects and they lose interest in doing business with you. It’s pretty much one and done! 

Here are the three pointers you need to look for:

1. Look Beyond Resume

In addition to tracking potential partner’s records, try analyzing their business ethics, mission, and reviews they received from their previous clients. You can schedule face-to-face meetings to understand their demeanor and whether you can have a harmonious relationship.

Pro tip: You can use online platforms and directories that connect software resellers to vendors. PartnerStack and ChannelAdvisor are some popular ones. Or, you can research on general platforms like LinkedIn, AngelList, or Crunchbase. 

Establish a clear idea of your ideal channel partner profile. Write it down. Include criteria such as industry, target market, size, location, capabilities, value proposition, and work ethics. 

Is there a partner too small?
It depends on your strategy. You can have an effective operation with a one or two-person team if they’re well-versed with your brand, its unique selling point (USP), and market and are self-sufficient.

2. Define The Ideal Partner Profile

Take a step back and review your channel strategy. The partner’s profile will stem from it. Ask these questions to yourself and your channel program stakeholders.

  • Does the program focus more on exposure or annual recurring revenue (ARR)? 
  • What are the traits of current partners pushing you toward the goal?
  • Is your focus B2B or B2C?
  • Who are the current partners that have given the most lucrative referrals? Which other companies do they partner with? What’s their job function?
  • How do we plan to train partners about your product or services? What resources would we provide them?
  • Is there a clear definition of your target market?
  • Are we planning to work with referral partners or affiliates?
  • Are we going to co-sell or let the partner take the lead?

Precise answers would clarify your ideal partner profile (IPP). Paul Bird, Channel Maven at Magentrix, advises, “More companies should look for the stability of channel partners, both finance and headcount-wise. The last thing you want to do is invest a lot of time and money to find out they’re on an economic rocky footing.” 

3. Look for alignment

Ask your customers who they buy from. Ensure the channel partners you work with align with channels where your customers are already present. Next, look for logos on the potential channel partner’s website. Assess if the brands these potential partners sell complement the accounts you’re after.

Pro tip: Give more priority to channel partners already selling to a brand. If not, prioritize those who operate in the same niche and market.

How to Build a Channel Partnership Program 

In this resource-starved business ecosystem, investing in the right partners is crucial. These partners can help develop a moat for your businesses, provided you have an extremely well-designed channel partner strategy. 

When you think long-term, your channel partner strategy becomes a moat for businesses. 

Here are the five steps to build a channel partnership program:

1. Select Channel Partnership Model

You can choose an affiliate, referral, or reseller program depending on what you feel is most suitable for your products. Think about how you can balance offerings and rewards to turn profits.

Affiliate Program

Think of affiliate partners as independent marketers. They generate the buzz around your product through their influence. You pay them only when their audience purchases the product. 

Upside. You don’t need much hand holding, and they’re pretty self-sufficient. You pay only for sales you get through them. 

Downside. Since they charge you for sales, commissions are often steep.

Referral Program

Similar to affiliates, referral partners supply higher-quality leads. They can put you in front of the right people. 

Upside. Referral partners have more personal relationships with your potential customers and precisely understand what they want.

Downside. Referral partners have a limited pool of people. They generally draw your new customer from their closer circles.

Reseller Program

Resellers act as an extension of your own sales team. They help scale operations without heavily investing in hiring or expanding office space.

Upside. The right reseller can help you sell in new markets and geographies beyond the reach of your current marketing. Think of selling in a country that doesn’t speak English or follow standard regulations.

Downside. Such programs need more resources from you, incurring more costs, for example, translating marketing collateral into the local language. 

2. Set a criteria to onboard partners

Most companies rely on the 80-20 principle, where 80% of value comes from 20% partners. Onboarding partners using the traditional spray-and-pray approach may not contribute to a successful channel partnership program. Define a criteria and add only those partners that fit your IPP. 

Look for partners that wrap around your target potential market or segment. Dive deeper always. Jay McBain, Chief Analyst of Channels, Partnerships & Ecosystems at Canalys, says, “As you move from state to state, province to province, things change rapidly, and so do partnerships.”

McBain adds, “If you’re targeting SMBs, there are six types of SMBs. There are 250 different product areas. The partnerships that wrap around them are different, too.” 

In essence, only onboard partners who speak to a particular niche and complement its nitty gritty.

3. Focus on Channel Enablement

Channel enablement goes beyond sharing brochures, one-pagers, marketing decks, and pricing options. To be precise, you need to enable your channel partners in five areas. They’re management, sales, tech, marketing, and Biz Ops. 

Management sits at the foundation. This is about ensuring channel partners understand your value proposition clearly and want to invest in you rather than any other vendor. 

Below are notable details on what the other four areas focus on: 

  • Sales. Pre-sales training and product demos
  • Tech. Tools and technical knowledge needed to sell the product. This covers technical FAQs, communication and collaboration tools, interactive demo software, etc. 
  • Marketing. One pagers, decks, case studies, research reports, and offers.
  • Biz Ops. Payment terms, access to a portal to place orders, payment return policy, etc. 

Focusing on the above areas would get your partners up to speed.

4. Track and Measure Success

Avoid overcomplicating how you would track and measure success. First, establish a common ground on what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you would track. Decide how you will measure success. Would you count it on a channel level or individual channel partner level?

Autum Grimm advises, “Small companies should measure it at a channel level. On the other hand, larger organizations should measure the success of individual channel partners.” Maintain a cadence to review these metrics weekly or as needed. 

Your partner might not always succeed in achieving their quota. Be transparent. Appreciate them for success and provide feedback for slipaways. 

5. Build Strong Relationships With Channel Partners

Relationships matter. Autum Grimm, CRO of PartnerTap, says, “When you think about your most transcendent partnerships that you've either built in your current role or ones that you've built in the past, the ones that were the most prosperous were the ones where you had the best relationships."

Take time to build and nurture relationships with your partners. In such connectedness, things grow. Below are some ways you can do it. 

  • Protect your partner’s customers as your own. Trust is something you can earn quickly and can lose even faster. If your partner’s customer base is in trouble, fight for them and ensure they don’t sway away. 
  • Don’t promise them the world. Eventually, someone would come up short. Educate them about who you are as a company, who you want to serve, and where you fit the best. It keeps you in a particular direction while avoiding overpromising things. 
  • Help them win. No matter how positive your relationship is with the partners, there will be some challenges when they shy away from targets. Be there to help them out. Share any insights and data that they can use. Winning with your partners helps you earn their trust.

Not every partnership is for eternity. If and when they end, ensure you do it properly. Acknowledge the end before it comes. Let them know when things are not working out as you expected. Give them space and time to find other clients while taking them through an offboarding process.

3 Tools to Tech-Enable Channel Partnerships

Although various tools are available on the market, you should pick those that best address your needs. Check out the tools below, which could be beneficial for channel enablement. 

  1. Storylane is a demo automation platform. It helps channel partners and sales engineers customize interactive product demos based on target audience needs and use cases. You can set the demo flow according to users’ needs. The team offers a free plan for solo users.
  2. Seismic is a sales enablement platform. It acts as a repository for the most up-to-date promotional and marketing material. You can save product training and onboarding sessions to get channel partners quickly ramp up. The company offers custom pricing based on users’ needs.
  3. Canva is a design software. It helps channel partners to create or customize sales decks, brochures, and marketing material for their target customers. The company offers a free plan for users to experience the product.

Toward Fruitful Partnerships

Channel partners have a direct influence on a company’s bottom line. Channels drive revenue and, most importantly, open up new markets for you. Use the strategy shared in this article to create a partnership program in your organization and increase your market share in the geographies you have always wanted to enter. 

Learn more about the top five channel enablement tools and how they drive revenue expansion.

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