New Channel Partner Manager? Here’s How to Excel in 6 Ways
It’s your first day on the job as a channel partner manager: the world is your oyster!
While there’s something freeing about that, the flip side is feeling overwhelmed.
How do you narrow your focus? What should you really care about?
The answers to these questions may differ slightly based on the type of company you work for. But there are a few things the best partner managers do — regardless of industry — that you can replicate to advance your career in channel management.
Below, we’ll share six attributes of stand-out partner managers and share how to adopt those habits in your new role.
1. Know How Their Business Works
Fantastic channel partner managers know what’s important to the business, why it’s important, and how they plan to contribute.
They know the typical busy seasons for sales, engineering, finance, and marketing. Similarly, they know what a marketing qualified lead (MQL) is — in other words, which leads have the need, budget, and intent to buy. They know how the handoff between partnerships and sales works. And they know what happens after a new customer signs on.
Why is it important to know these things? Because that way, they can better position partnerships as a key component of the go-to-market team.
Great channel partner managers suggest useful changes to current standard operating procedures (SOPs) to make everyone work more efficiently. They know when to ask for help at a time when their peers can actually be helpful. They know when new features are coming out. And they are keenly aware of any politics between departments and how to manage them to push new partnerships forward.
How do you do it?
- Read the SOPs you have access to. SOPs can be long (and, if we’re honest, boring). Walking through them yourself will help you learn and highlight any gaps.
- Pay attention in All Hands meetings. Close your other tabs and listen. What direction is the company going in? Who is working on a project that you could collaborate with? Are there specific goals that a team is looking to hit, and how can you help?
- Ask to sit in on QBRs. Channel teams have to present their progress in Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs), which often reveal problems that you can help solve. If your boss is hesitant about you attending, ask if you could watch a recording.
2. Deeply Understand the Product
Even though channel partner managers aren’t part of the product or solutions engineering team, they still have to know the product inside and out. Potential partners will ask how your product can benefit their customers, and they don’t want a canned, vague answer.
You need to know your product well enough to explain how it solves a particular use case. You need to know it well enough to describe the features you think your partners’ customers will care about most. And in some cases, you’ll need to know how building an integration would create a compelling better-together sales story.
Partner managers also need to be self-aware. When a partner asks a question that’s out of their depth, they don’t guess the answer; they ask the product team directly.
How do you do it?
- Run through the customer onboarding process. Customer teams have likely already put together excellent documentation, demo videos, and interactive demos to help new customers get acquainted with your product. Use those to better understand how your product works in practice.
- Listen to Customer Success or Customer Support calls. These calls help you learn what customers like and what they find confusing about your product. Listen for specific terms customers use. Weaving those into conversations demonstrates that you deeply understand customer problems and know how your product overcomes them.
- *If you’re working in high tech Ask for a sandbox. Play around. Try to do some of the things customers would do. Maybe you’ll even find a bug or think of a new feature. At the very least, you’ll have a more in-depth understanding of what the product can do.
3. Partner Managers Build Internal and External Relationships
A channel partner manager needs to be the ultimate liaison. They:
- Work closely with sales to close partner-referred deals
- Collaborate with marketing to throw partner events and put together best-in-class co-marketing materials
- Share partner-sourced ideas with the product team
- Get input on certifications and training from customer-facing teams
Plus, partner managers converse with partners on a daily basis.
Partner managers need great people skills to work effectively and productively with each of these parties. As you might imagine, that includes active listening and clear communication. Perhaps most importantly, that means keeping their promises.
How do you do it?
- Be helpful. If there’s a way to get your partner in touch with one of your customers they desperately want to win, do it. If you can come to your marketing team with your own ideas, do it. People remember these gestures and will probably return the favor one day.
- Be curious. Asking good questions shows that you genuinely care about the problems your colleagues or partners are trying to solve. And the more information you get, the likelier you’ll be able to help them.
- Show appreciation. If a partner helped you push a deal over the finish line, your marketing counterpart developed solid new content, or a Solutions Engineer gave a great demo to a potential partner, thank them! People always appreciate it when people recognize their hard work.
- Get to know people. Join an employee resource group or proactively ask someone on another team to grab an in-person or virtual coffee. If you are going to a conference or event, try meeting with partners for a meal or drinks to get to know them more casually.
4. A First-Class Channel Manager Keeps Up With Their Partners
Just like you need to know your product inside and out, you need to know your partners’ goals by heart. Take time to learn your partners’:
- Ideal customer profile
- Fiscal year
- Typical busy and off-seasons
- Marketing objectives
- Biggest sales challenges
- Product features and use cases (or what sets apart their services)
Keep in mind that this isn’t a one-time activity. You should always be trying to learn new things about your partners to go above and beyond expectations, using the information you have to refer or distribute the right leads, suggest the right marketing activities, and develop the right joint GTM plan. In times of struggle, your partners may have resource or budget constraints that you need to work around.
How do you do it?
- Set up a regular touchpoint. You should be chatting with your top-tier partners on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. On those calls, listen for key updates and think about what you can do to make your partners’ lives easier.
- Find other ways to follow your partners. Set Google alerts for their company names and subscribe to partner newsletters to learn about new fundraising, product releases, or campaigns.
5. An Outstanding Partner Manager Embraces Project Management
The scope of a channel partner manager’s role is extensive. Actively learn about the business and the product you sell takes time. Building relationships takes effort. And that doesn’t even count day-to-day work like setting up meetings, reaching out to partners, recruiting new partners, vetting potential partners, updating the partner portal, and reporting your progress to higher-ups.
To hit your KPIs and build trust with your internal and external stakeholders, you need to get good at prioritizing the tasks that matter.
How do you do it?
- Take a course. There are so many free project management resources on YouTube and LinkedIn; you could also use some learning and development funds to take a PMP course.
- Find and use a project management tool. It can be anything — your Google Calendar, Salesforce tasks, or a kanban board in Trello, Asana, Notion, or whatever tool your company already uses.
- Keep yourself accountable. This can be hard if you have somewhat arbitrary deadlines. Consider putting a little extra pressure on yourself by sharing your project management system in your 1:1s and standups.
6. A Stand-Out Channel Manager Refines Their Sales Skills Over Time
Even though partnerships isn’t a direct sales channel, it’s still sales-related. As a channel partner manager, you must be able to convince new partners to join their channel program, co-sell, and hit their agreed-upon deal numbers each quarter. Partner managers also have to convey the value and benefits of their company’s product to their partners in a way that entices partners to make intros to their customers.
As with any sales position, deal or lead problems will arise. And partner managers have to be adept at solving them to preserve their relationships. Knowing your partners’ goals, their customers’ goals, and staying flexible and solutions-oriented will serve you well.
How do you do it?
- Observe your leadership. What do they do on partner calls? How do they solve problems? Consider watching or sitting in on some of the best Account Executives’ calls as well. List your observations and challenge yourself to put a few into practice every quarter.
- Practice giving a demo. This will help you polish your presentation skills, force you to hone your product knowledge and practice answering questions eloquently on the fly.
- Create ideal partner profiles. It’s much easier to convince partners to come on board if other partners of similar size and in a similar industry have had success with your program. Find out what the best partners have in common and go after others with similar attributes.
- Focus on the engaged partners. Identify the top-notch partners who can give you the highest return on your time and effort. Establishing a good rapport with them will help you craft a stronger joint go-to-market sales motion.
The Best Partner Managers Leverage a PRM
Keeping track of your channel activity is no small feat. And as your program and your own sophistication as a partner manager grows, you’ll need more than disjointed spreadsheets for data analysis.
That’s why superb partner managers turns to channel management software like Channeltivity. Channeltivity has prebuilt reporting for virtually anything you’d want to monitor: referrals, leads, MDFs, and training progress. It even has a module for joint business planning you can refer back to in partner meetings. And, perhaps most importantly, it automatically syncs to CRMs like HubSpot and Salesforce.
Curious about what else Channeltivity can do to manage your partners? Check out these resources:
- What Is a Self-Service PRM?
- Get The Most Out of Your Channel Partner Training
- How do I get Partners to use the Partner Portal?
- Easily Integrate PRM With Your CRM With This Checklist
Or, set up a demo with one of our channel experts. Best of luck on your channel partner journey!
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