Make Your Channel Recession Proof

Updated April 22, 2024
Published in Channel Management, Channel Success

To say that people are stressed about managing their channel in an impending recession is an understatement. And with headlines about layoffs, high inflation, and an unstable hiring market constantly in the news, it’s easy to get caught up in the panic.

Managing channels in a recession

But stressing yourself out isn’t going to move the needle. In these situations, the best thing you can do is to channel that nervous energy toward your partnerships. Investing in your channel may sound counterintuitive, but rock-solid partnerships allow you to ride the wave.

To give you as much tactical advice as possible, we talked to two experts: Stacy Desrosiers, VP of Business Development at Lewis Rhodes Labs, and Raegan Wilson, VP of Channel Ecosystems at The Spur Group. Both are highly experienced, successful leaders who have guided their teams through tough economic times and come out better on the other side.

Below, we share their thoughts on what typically happens during a recession, how that can affect your channel team, and how you can take steps now to preserve your partnerships long-term.

What We Know Happens to Channel in Recessions

We can’t definitively know what economic hardships lie ahead. But there are common behavior patterns during a recession that play to a channel-focused companies’ strengths.

  1. Everyone gets anxious. You, your boss, and your partners are all scared about what the recession will bring.

What this means for partnership teams: People who work in partnerships are often very personable and can use their client-facing skills to show empathy and deepen existing partner relationships — even in a trying time.

  1. Layoffs happen. Sadly, layoffs are a standard consequence of economic downturns. And that means companies are relying on the remaining internal staff to deliver even more value. 

What this means for partnership teams: Companies with a robust partner list can rely on their channel to fill gaps in their teams and come out ahead.

  1. Companies do anything they can to cut costs. As a result, leadership is under pressure to lower expenses wherever possible. That could mean layoffs, but it could also mean decreasing marketing and R&D budgets. Related: PRM cost: What you may be missing

What this means for partnership teams: Reallocating dollars toward your channel during a recession can help you do more with less.

5 Tips for Leading Your Channel Through a Recession

According to Raegan and Stacy, there are six ways to leverage your channel during a recession to quell anxiety, compensate for lost talent, and bulk up your GTM strategy.

1. Know who your partners are and what they care about

Stacy says that at a basic level, “You need to understand who your partners are, why they’re participating in your program, and if you’re incentivizing them enough.”

Without that baseline information, you can’t possibly support your channel in the way they expected you to, whether the economy is in a recession or not. Make sure you know:

  • How the product or service they’re selling complements yours and vice-versa. Without it, they can’t make a compelling business case.
  • Whether they think you’re a valued part of the tech stack. Otherwise, they won’t push your product.
  • The outcomes they’re tracking as part of the partnership. If you don’t know what KPIs you’re aiming for, it’s impossible to hit them.

Keep this information in a place that’s readily available to everyone on the partner team — ideally a well-designed PRM — and refer to it before every partner conversation. Make sure you’re adding value in the right places and that anything you’re asking of partners makes sense given their goals and the market.

Raegan adds, “You need to build things that help your partners, not what you think you should build. You can’t be self-serving. Focus on what partners want.”

Being a considerate, thoughtful vendor to your partners will make you stand out among other vendors, particularly during a downturn. Think carefully about how your partnership can drive partners’ businesses forward and remind them of your unique value.

At the end of the day, your partner program has to benefit the partner as much or more than it benefits the internal organization. Raegan says, “Being thought of as ‘easy to do business with’ has to be so obvious that it’s not even a question.”

2. Take a hard look at your partner list

Not all partners contribute equally, and in a recession, you need to figure out what part of your channel isn’t pulling its weight.

Raegan suggests setting up reports and dashboards to see who is producing the best results, whether boosting your brand awareness or helping you close deals. Stacy uses joint business plans to assess which partners are staying accountable. Regardless of your tracking method, identifying the best partners and directing your time and effort toward them will get you the most bang for your buck.

You should also carve out time to determine what top partners have in common. Do they all belong to a certain vertical? Maybe they serve customers that are roughly the same size. Take note of any gaps as well. For example, you might notice that you lack partners in a specific region or industry.

Doing this analysis will help you refine your ideal partner profile and go after new partners likely to propel your program forward.

3. Communicate the value of partners internally

In a recession, everyone is hypersensitive to cost, which means you need to show your channel’s return on investment.

But to do that, you need to track your partner metrics and consistently make your partner program’s value known. Stacy explains, “If you’re an afterthought within your own company, you won’t be successful.”

She accomplishes this in her organization by sharing the:

  • Monthly channel pipeline
  • Cost of sale with and without partners involved
  • Time to close with and without partners involved
  • Biggest deals partners have brought in every quarter

Each of these metrics reinforces how important partnerships are and the return they can create as a result of consistent investment. Stacy likens a company’s budget to dials or levers: “Because of the metrics I’m tracking, I know that if I turn up the investment in channel, I’ll drive more opportunities at a lower cost of sale. And that’s what matters to leadership.”

4. Go-to-market with partners

In a tough economic climate, you and your partners will struggle to hit your quotas. So why not try to hit them together?

Going to market with partners can turn into what Raegan calls a “1 + 1 = 3 situation.” But to do this well, she cautions, you have to get very specific about the joint proposition you and your partner offer and frame it in a way that demonstrates undeniable value.

Stacy also mentioned that going to market with partners can get you into meetings you may not have been able to do on your own.

“My current company is very dependent on integrations. I invest in those relationships because larger, more established partners help my team get into enterprise accounts. If big-name partners recommend us or hop on a call, we’re far more likely to grab a prospect’s attention.”

Keeping big partners happy and gaining their approval gives you credibility in the market and helps you deliver an even better client experience.

5. Comarket creatively and efficiently

Partner marketing is essential. But if your company and your partners are hit with financial constraints, marketing budgets will be extra tight.

Raegan tells partner leaders to meet partners where they are in their marketing strategy. “Partners aren’t going to take your sales copy and find a way to send it out in ten different emails. You are responsible for finding creative ways to fit your content into their content calendar.”

Have conversations with your partners about their go-to-market strategy. Ask how you can be helpful and be as cooperative as possible with their timing and design requirements.

Stacy agrees, “Make it easy for partners to go to market on your behalf. Give them easily releasable content, like social media posts and webcasts.”

She also encourages partner leaders to embrace automation. Your marketing team is already producing great material, so why not use it in partner email marketing? Some PRMs even let you make that content available for partner cobranding in your partner portal, allowing your partners to amplify your message for you.

Recession-proof Your Channel

Raegan and Stacy’s tips emphasize that you need to be scrappy, agile, and strategic to survive a recession. Taking these pointers to heart and getting a headstart on them now can get and keep you ahead of your competitors when worse comes to worst. As Stacy says, “All these tactics are essential building blocks for a solid partner strategy, and a recession really puts them to the test.”

Do you have the tools to measure, grow, and automate your channel activities? Channeltivity can help you get there. With built-in business planning, dashboarding, and email marketing modules, Channeltivity has you covered — during a recession and beyond. Sign up for a demo today to see for yourself.


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