Global Channel Management Optimization
Why does global channel management matter?
Well, at a certain point in any B2B technology company’s growth, leaders start to consider the value of scaling their operations overseas.
But there’s an inherent risk to doing this.
Companies in other countries do business differently, and failing to adapt to those cultural norms can cause your expansion strategy to backfire.
The solution? Partnerships. As you may already know, forming alliances with partner companies in the countries you want to target can:
- Get you in front of the right prospects
- Establish your credibility
- Leverage local expertise to master co-marketing
- Expose new segments of your ideal customer profile (ICP) you may not have known about
Of course, these are all potential benefits. They only happen if you continue to put in the work to help your partners succeed.
Understanding Global Channel Management
Global channel management is about enabling, co-selling, and co-marketing with customers in international markets.
The main components of a global channel program aren’t that different from those of a local or regional program. But they require specific dedication and upkeep.
Even after you overcome language barriers, cultural differences, and varying business practices, you need to establish regular communication patterns, update your incentives, and provide useful training to keep your partner program humming along.
As Tony Luzza, a strategic global channels and alliances sales executive, says, “In domestic markets, channel partners augment your direct sales team. But in international markets, they function as your direct sales team. They have boots on the ground, they can navigate language and cultural barriers, and with the right materials and guidance, can serve as your overall driving force for pipeline.”
Trish Rilling, another seasoned channel and alliances professional, warns companies against going into global channel management without an overarching strategy: “So many companies make the mistake of saying ‘we’re going global’ without building out the strategy to do so. You need to continue asking yourself where the potential is, whether your product is even ready for a new market, and whether you can provide value to your partners.”
And Todd DeBell, SVP of Global Channels and Alliances at MixMode, urges everyone thinking about expanding their channel program internationally to carefully consider the differing communication styles, business practices, time orientation, and attitudes toward hierarchy and authority of each new region before they launch.
8 Best Practices for Global Channel Management
Effective global channel management saves you precious time and customer acquisition dollars, all while scaling your reach, increasing your deal close rate, and accelerating your deal cycle. To continue reaping these benefits, you need to:
1. Adequately Prepare For New Market Launches
There are several things to be mindful of as you start to expand your global channel. Before launch, you’ll need to adjust for the following.
As you start to expand your global channel, be mindful of strict privacy and compliance rules, like GDPR, that are a must-have in certain areas. Run through your portal and playbook to ensure that all of your partner communications comply with these rules.
Just because your hardware (or SaaS!) product is certified to sell in the US doesn’t mean you’re certified to sell it elsewhere. Before branching out across the world, ensure that your product is eligible for use in the countries you’re expanding to. Trusted local partners or agencies can guide and notify you of these requirements and help you prepare.
New markets have different currencies, and you may have to adjust your normal pricing sheets or calculators. Rilling says, “Your US price list won’t exactly translate elsewhere. Work with your operations, accounting, and finance teams to make sure you’re running a tight ship. To make things easier on yourself, go through distribution partners — they often handle this on behalf of the vendor.”
Not only is this important for partner and customer communication, it’s also critical for support. Ensuring you can maintain your SLAs overseas is necessary for global partner program effectiveness.
DeBell gives every global partner team member a copy of Kiss, Bow, Or Shake Hands: The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More Than 60 Countries. “I make it mandatory reading before taking an international trip. We do pre-trip role-playing to ensure everyone knows how to behave and dress. All of these nuances are cultural protocols that, if not followed, or worse, misstepped, will not help you accelerate business. You will be viewed as shallow and not interested in anything but your success. And you might even be labeled the ugly American.”
2. Recruit the Right Partners
Recruitment is the most vital piece of the global channel management puzzle. Your partners help inform your go-to-market strategy, so you need to make sure you are attracting ones that have a:
- Proven track record as a trusted software vendor or consulting partner
- Similar customer base
- Product or service that complements yours
- Serve the same industry and/or business model (B2B versus B2C)
Your ideal partner profile (IPP) can be a good starting point. Rilling says, “Your ideal partner profile really shouldn’t change as your program expands into new regions. Partners with a certain size, in a certain vertical, and that gain value from your product will be valuable in any market.”
If you’re not recruiting the types of partners you want to, start thinking about how your must-haves need to change.
- Where do these partners hang out?
- What would they get out of partnering with you?
- How can you reach them?
- How can you automate some of your outreach and partner approval based on prospective partner characteristics?
Look at your competitors or partners with a global channel program and see who they partner with as well. And if you’re really struggling, consider reaching out to the U.S. Commercial Service. This organization works with US-based businesses to contact local embassies that can schedule meetings with potential partners.
Luzza says, “They essentially do an RFP for you, matching you up with commercial service centers that meet your requirements. I’ve been impressed by this service and think it’s an affordable option.”
3. Embrace Localization
Thankfully, many international markets have fluent English speakers. They often work with US-based companies and are capable of using training and marketing materials you’ve already developed and loaded into your portal.
In other places, translation and localization is incredibly important. Finding a PRM with built-in multi-language translation can save you effort and money. For instance, Channeltivity supports automatic translation to over 100 languages.
With this functionality, you can be confident users can understand how to get the most out of your portal whenever you expand your global channel management footprint.
Of course, you may still have to tailor the content you upload to your PRM. And because that can be time-consuming and expensive, it’s critical to pick your battles. One country that all but requires localization is Japan.
Luzza says, “Japan is one of those places where you absolutely need to localize your materials. They do business fundamentally differently and your marketing and training needs to be able to support it. I highly suggest finding a business partner there who can guide you and help you figure out what assets to translate first.”
Rilling also encourages folks to leverage the resources they already have at their disposal.
“I know some Spanish, but when I was onboarding a big distribution partner in Mexico City I knew my command of the language wasn’t sufficient. So I worked closely with a bilingual colleague of mine. He acted as my liaison, meeting with partner contacts face to face, and helped me translate what I couldn’t.”
Another way to potentially accelerate adoption as you translate materials is to make use of videos and interactive demos to show partners how something works rather than just telling them.
4. Customize Your Global Channel Management Training
Even after translating your training materials, you might have poor adoption rates. And that’s because everyone learns differently.
Ask trusted new partners what kind of learning content is missing. Pinpoint the gaps you need to fill and create a plan to develop more written content, videos, step-by-step playbooks, sales collateral, one-on-one workshops, or co-branded collateral based on partner feedback.
Rilling emphasized the need for a portal to store all of your training and marketing materials.
“Portals are essential. You don’t want 50 to 100 partners emailing you every day for an updated data sheet or battle card.”
Encourage them to explore the portal and ask them to let you know if they can’t find what they’re looking for. Take that as a sign to create more or different content.
Helpful hint: Certifications can be a boon in international markets. If you don’t have one already, consider implementing a certification program that allows partners to publicize their certifications in their email signatures, on social media, and in their SOWs.
5. Listen to Your Partners
Partnerships are built on generosity and reciprocity. And let’s face it, your partners in new markets have been doing you some big favors.
So, make it a point to ask them about their objectives and how you can help achieve those goals. Do they want:
- To earn referral dollars? Adjust your incentives.
- Brand exposure in North America? Revisit your joint marketing plan and add more in-person events or conference sponsorships.
- Referrals? Ask them for a copy of their latest ideal customer profile and make a plan for referring some business their way.
- Leads? Review your lead distribution methodology to ensure they consistently get a fair number of leads.
- Training? Find ways to make training more accessible and available, potentially through a self-serve partner portal.
To get and keep everyone on the same page, put pen to paper and log joint business plans. Review them regularly to ensure everyone is hitting their marketing and revenue targets (including you).
Rilling highly recommends hosting quarterly business reviews (QBRs) with every partner as part of your global channel management practice:
“QBRs ensure your partners are bought into your program. Use that time to discuss goals and long-term planning and make sure you’re aligned. If partners aren’t meeting the mark, ask what you could do as a company to help them succeed.”
DeBell concurs, noting, “If your partners are getting you in front of the correct customers, and leads aren’t closing or stalling, you need to quickly figure out how to tune the message or what perhaps is the gap in moving the momentum from interest to revenue.”
Good old-fashioned account management goes a long way. Get to know all stakeholders, ask for feedback, and do everything you can to support your partners. And most importantly, honor your commitments to them.
6. Branch Out
Once you’ve mastered expansion in one geography, consider expanding to another — after completing the prep from step 5, of course.
When thinking about where to go first, Luzza says, “Target markets with the lowest barrier to entry first. Think UK or Scandanavian markets where English is predominant. Then, do your research. Analyze where your leads are coming from. If you’re getting a substantial amount from a new country, that could be a signal of potential channel success.”
DeBell agrees with tackling the lowest hanging fruit first, “Due to its proximity and cultural similarity with the US, Canada is a popular destination for US businesses expanding their channel programs. The Canadian market is also relatively small and easy to navigate, making it an excellent starting point for companies looking to expand their reach.”
He also noted that Australia, Singapore, and New Zealand were similar to the US in terms of language, culture, and business practices, making them easy markets to enter. The high standard of living and strong economy in these countries also make them attractive destinations for US-based companies looking to expand their channel programs.
While they may require more translation and localization, Latin American and Middle Eastern countries can be a boon for international expansion because of the growing demand for US products and services.
Other sources of partners
Performing a gap analysis can also be helpful. Which countries aren’t being covered enough? Where are your competitors opening new markets through channel?
Another place to look is your own network. Rilling says, “I’ve had a lot of success in my career in EMEA, and part of that is because the companies I worked at had already identified partners as a fast route to revenue. They encouraged me to make connections. And the more I grew my network, the bigger our program became. Those solid relationships helped me attract new partners, grow their business, and retain them over time.”
DeBell takes a similar approach, “Phone a friend or colleague that has worked with you and the regions you are targeting. Have that person mentor you and give you advice. Also, work with your alliance counterparts and ask them for support and direction.”
There’s only so much you can tackle at once, so get specific about where you want to go based on TAM and market interest. Sometimes partners in new countries can be a big effort in terms of localization and other barriers to entry, so prioritize your next global channel management moves based on potential return.
7. Welcome Cultural Differences
It’s important to remember that the way we do business in North America can differ substantially from the way partners work in other geographies.
Trusted partners and your peers can help you prepare for those unexpected differences. Rilling recalls learning this lesson on one of her business trips to the UK.
After a long day of QBRs, she headed back to her hotel. At 2am, she received a call from her CEO.
“He said, ‘You have to come to the pub.’ I was so tired, and I didn’t want to go, but he insisted. Turns out, business in London is always completed in the pub. That’s just what they do. I’m glad he prepped me because now I’ve grown to expect it.”
Every culture is different, and knowing and abiding by its norms can help you get new partnerships and deals across the finish line.
Pay attention to:
- Communication styles: Some cultures are more direct and straightforward in their communication (Germans), while others use more indirect language (Japanese).
- Business practices: Different areas have different negotiation tactics, decision-making processes, and business etiquette. In some cultures, trust is essential before conducting business; in others, it’s more about the bottom line.
- Time orientation: Some cultures are more focused on the past, while others prioritize the future. Know when to highlight the historical success of your product or service can be an effective marketing strategy and when to introduce future benefits and outcomes.
- Attitudes towards hierarchy and authority: In some cultures, there is a strong emphasis on hierarchy and authority versus a focus on equality and collaboration. Maybe you need to communicate with high-level decision-makers in some regions but engage with a wider range of stakeholders in others.
Work with your partners to make sure you’re doing everything you can to adjust to their way of doing business.
And don’t forget to think about this from a partner incentive perspective. DeBell says, “In some countries, there’s a stigma associated with partner incentives — they seem like a bribe.
I’ve found that team incentives for point activities work better in LATAM, EMEA, and APJ. Pool your energy into a shared event that can be a win for everybody. Be careful to tailor your incentive amounts as well.
For example, maybe you offer $500 to $1,000 per activity in North America, but if you offer that in certain parts of the world, that may be more than they expect. Offering too high of incentives without strict guidelines for outcomes will stress out your team — they end up chasing unqualified leads that met the incentive payout threshold.”
8. Focus On Continuous Improvement
Your global partner program today shouldn’t look the same as it was when you launched it. Stellar channel management teams learn from their partners and act on their advice as often as possible.
Continually ask for feedback in meetings, at onsite events, before and after webinars, and any other time you contact partners. Consider sending out partner satisfaction surveys from time to time as well. Even if you’ve been in international channels for a while, there are nuances to doing business that you still may not know, and partners can be your ultimate guides.
You should also examine your data.
DeBell recommends keeping a close eye on:
- Number of new partners recruited and enabled
- Number of new deal registrations
- Number of converted leads into closed sale wins
- Event-sourced leads generated
Identify trends, gaps, and opportunities for improving communication and deal flow. Refining your strategy can lead to more harmonious relationships, presenting a stronger united front to potential customers.
Optimize Your Global Channel Management With a Trusted PRM
Optimizing your global channel management strategy can translate to bigger and better deals. But keeping track of partner deals, MDFs, and resources is a huge challenge if you’re limited to email and spreadsheets.
A self-service PRM like Channeltivity can eliminate that disorganization altogether. With built-in multi-language translation and modules to handle partner enablement, channel marketing, and channel sales, you and your partners have everything you need to succeed.
Channeltivity’s plug-and-play integrations make it easy to track leads in your CRM and drive them to close. Finally, Channeltivity’s focus on GDPR and other privacy and compliance regulations will ensure you’re on good terms with your partners and your customers.
Want to explore Channeltivity? Set up a demo today to see how it could enable your global expansion.
Hungry for more channel and partnership content? Check out:
New Channel Partner Manager? Here’s How to Excel in 6 Ways
Building a Career in Partnerships: Advice From 7 Partner Leaders