Inheriting a Partner Program: Advice From 7 Experts
At some point in your partnerships career, you’re bound to inherit an existing partner program. And everyone will be counting on you to take the program to new heights. That’s a lot of pressure.
- Where do you even start your analysis?
- How do you convince internal teams that you’re moving the program in the right direction?
- How do you design new initiatives that will impact the business’s bottom line?
To answer these tough questions, we solicited the help of six seasoned experts who’ve been in those shoes before.
Keep reading to learn how to nail the first few months on the job and lay the foundation for program transformation.
Phase 1 of Inheriting a Partner Program
Get the Lay of the Land
When you start a new role, it can feel like drinking from a firehose. Your new company may use a totally different tiering process, completely different incentives, and even a different PRM.
Your new company may use a totally different tiering process, lack resources to support the program scaling, offer completely different incentives, and need recommendations for PRMs to support program growth.
Keri Bolding, SVP of Global Channel Sales & Distribution for Inseego, recommends interviewing department heads first, “This helps me understand what their objectives are. From there, I can determine how the ecosystem of channel partners can help us achieve those goals. If the overarching priorities of the organization aren’t aligned with the go-to-market strategy, that’s a sign adjustments need to be made.”
It’s a lot to take in, so give yourself some time to digest it and come up with a plan.
Trish Rilling, Founder of Grititude, comes up with a 30, 60, 90-day plan. “Getting a good understanding of a partner program takes time, so I give myself the full 90 days to get the lay of the land before presenting my suggested changes.”
Grasping the full scope of a partner program can be a daunting task, so consider splitting it up into several core sections:
- Broader company priorities
- Internal sentiment around the program
- Partner feedback on what’s working well, and what isn’t
- Vision and strategy for the channel
- Program requirements
- Partner resources, tiers, and incentives
- Program performance
You should also explore your partner set. How many of your partners are actually bringing in revenue? Participating in comarketing? Getting certified?
Identify Your Champions
Great partners separate themselves from the pack. Figure out who the top partners are and what they have in common — this is your program’s current ideal partner profile. Identify how to grow these champions to do more and how to replicate their success with other partners. Look at your core partners through the lens of industry, vertical, region, and size.
Don’t stop there. There’s some behind-the-scenes information you need to round out your understanding. Grab time with your team members one on one to hear their take on the history of the program, whether staffing has changed, today’s market conditions, and how much the executive team supports the program and understands the value of partnerships.
And remember to reserve judgment during this process. Some things may strike you as unnecessary at first, but there’s often a reason the program is set up the way it is. Seek to understand and help the program become more efficient and successful.
Tom Williams, Managing Director at Edge Partner Consulting, advises: “If you are like me, you will have an impulse to start making changes right away to the partner program you inherit, but I would suggest you give the prior administration the benefit of the doubt. Most people don’t start their days trying to do a bad job.”
Talk to Your Partners (and Listen to What They Say)
By now, you’ve probably got a handle on how the partner program you’ve inherited works, what’s going well and what’s not, and some opportunities you have to revamp it.
But there’s one missing puzzle piece: partner input.
Partners are essentially your customers — your job is to engage them, educate them, and market with them. And if you don’t know how they feel, what their level of product knowledge is, or what their objectives are, it’s virtually impossible to design a partner program that fits their needs.
So talk to them.
Krish Ramachandran, Co-founder of Synrgy24, suggests using the start, stop, continue framework as a backbone for your conversations. Take note of things you think you’d be able to change in the next quarter or year — those will be the driving force behind your adjustments to the program.
Putting time and effort into these conversations can also be a fantastic preventative measure, helping you elevate and direct your program in ways that will truly move the needle.
Antonio Caridad, Senior Channel Program Director at Megaport, reiterates, “Really listening to your partners helps you avoid making mistakes that might have been already made or building/changing something that won’t work.”
He continues, “If you don’t have a partner advisory board, create one and involve your strategic partners in some of the decision-making and ideation. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll learn.”
Build New Relationships
Keep in mind that these calls can be a valuable way to learn about your key partners and start building relationships in your inherited partner program. Knowing what they do and what they care about allows you to be a better advocate for their success moving forward.
Kathleen Clarke, Director of Partner Management and Development at Inseego, says, “I’m a partner advocate first and foremost. I listen intently to their needs and develop and recommend the resources that will best promote their success. I also strive to be able to understand and effectively convey their value proposition.”
Trish echoed this sentiment, “Show partners they have someone in their corner. That may mean listening to them trashing your program. Show that they can vent to you and that you listen and are coming up with a plan to make things better.”
To round out this exercise, review any existing partner feedback you have.
Maria Glendinning, Inside Sales & Channel Marketing Manager at Fidelis Cybersecurity, says, “Existing partner feedback is an excellent indicator of an inherited partner program’s value. Look over survey responses, interviews, and discussions that may identify any other program pain points, challenges, or areas for improvement that may not have come up in your conversations.”
Phase 2 of Inheriting a Partner Program
Conduct and Present a Full Audit of the Partner Program You’ve Inherited
At this point, it’s time to align the needs of the partners and the needs of the organization. If you can, try to make the relationship synergistic.
As an example, Keri suggests, “If reoccurring revenue is a priority for the organization and the channel says they need additional margins to manage, maybe you give additional backend dollars to channel partners who close a high percentage of their renewable business. That’s a win-win for both parties.”
To make it easier to find those mutually advantageous opportunities, try breaking your audit down into several categories and answering the following questions.
- Is your team getting in touch with your partners regularly? If not, what should the meeting cadence be?
- Are you forming and reviewing business plans or hosting QBRs?
- Are your incentives meeting partner expectations? If not, what other SPIFFs, co-marketing funds, or other rewards can you add to the program?
- Are you recruiting the right partners and prioritizing the ones that contribute the most value to your program?
- Do you have the right tiering in place? Do you even need tiering?
- Are you informing your partners of product updates, company news, and program enhancements?
- Do partners feel confident in their product knowledge?
- Are partners getting certified? If not, how can you promote certifications?
- Can partners easily access marketing and sales collateral? (battle cards, case studies, slides, etc.)
- Are those channel marketing and channel sales materials comprehensive enough for a solid partner sales motion?
- Is your PRM working for your team and your partners?
- Do prospects know you and your partners?
- Are you encouraging co-marketing with marketing development funds or jointly funded events?
- Are you creating co-branded collateral or other joint marketing materials?
- Are they up to date and are you marketing them on the right channels?
- Which partners are bringing in the most revenue, and are you paying them enough attention?
- Are there specific industries or regions performing particularly well?
- Do you have a smooth handoff process to internal sales teams?
- Do internal sales teams understand the value of partnerships?
- Are partner-sourced or influenced deals being attributed correctly in your CRM?
- Do you have designated dashboards to track partner program KPIs and top-performing partners?
- Do you have a process for reviewing these metrics and reporting them to upper management?
Present Your Case
It’s finally time to compile all of your findings and narrow down your list of suggestions. Once you feel it’s polished and comprehensive, find time to discuss it with higher-ups.
Executive buy-in is key to getting the resources and support you need to make your program dreams a reality. But how?
In Keri’s opinion, the best course of action is to answer the “why.” “If you can back your proposed changes with solid reasoning and estimated financial gains, the story you tell will be much more compelling. And if you’re including a path to achieve the overarching organizational objectives, you will be better positioned to get approval from the entire organization.”
So show that you’ve done the research and have thought through the impact your proposed changes will have on the program and the company at large.
Trish says, “Once I complete my audit, I sit with the executive team, show them my findings, and share my multi-pronged plan of attack. I say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do to enhance our relationships with top-performing partners, manage underperforming partners, recruit the best new partners, and enable our partners and internal staff.’”
Explain how you’re taking steps to:
- Enable and train your team
- Enable and train your partners
- Build partner relationships
- Ensure value in terms of brand awareness and revenue generation
- Leverage partners to reach new markets and verticals
And most importantly, tie these changes to the company’s overall strategy and goals in language executives understand.
Kathleen says, “I recently proposed a complete rip and replacement of the traditional, industry-standardized partner program. This was a big deal, but I framed it in a way that executives could understand: it simply no longer met the company’s GTM strategy and go-forward business plans.”
Measure Your Success and Strive For Continuous Improvement
Last but certainly not least, you’ll need to measure your impact on the inherited partner program.
Not only will this demonstrate the value of your work, it will also demonstrate the ROI of your efforts on the business and give you ideas for ways to continue improving the partner program you’ve inherited over time.
Keri tells us, “Deal Registrations and closure rates are certainly the easiest way to ensure a partner is on the right track for generating revenue. If they aren’t out there hunting for new opportunities and closing deals, their performance will suffer.”
Here are some KPIs to track in addition to deal registration:
- # of net new partners
- # newly certified partners
- Average monthly partner portal logins
- Average size of closed-won partner-sourced deals
- Partner retention
- Partner NPS scores
And don’t forget these hints from Maria: “Make sure the metrics you choose not only highlight program success and performance but also reflect alignment with the organization’s goals and objectives.
Keep asking your trusted partners for feedback as well to refine your engagement and enablement strategy and ensure ongoing alignment between your organization and partners.”
Technology Can Take the Partner Program You Inherit to the Next Level
Following this advice will set you off on the right foot, expanding your program in ways that partners appreciate and will ultimately yield more revenue.
But you can’t provide a seamless, integrated partner experience without a premier PRM like Channeltivity.
Channeltivity’s partner portal makes it easy to teach, certify, comarket, and cosell with your partners — its intuitive modules allow partners to learn and participate on their own time. Channeltivity’s native integrations with Salesforce and Hubspot make for quick and simple handoffs to internal sales teams, and its open API enables connections to virtually any other platform.
The best part? You can set it up without the help of IT.
Explore what Channeltivity can do for your program by setting up a demo today.
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