What You Need to Launch a Channel Program

Updated December 21, 2023
Published in Channel Management

A revenue leader at your company is convinced that launching a channel program will take your go-to-market to the next level. And they’ve hired you to make it happen — fast.

Here’s the problem: You can’t set up a partner program overnight.

You need to think through team structure, partner recruitment, training, and technology. You need to work cross-functionally to develop a sound sales handoff process, craft a smart co-marketing strategy, and create partner training.

Putting in the extra effort upfront will have significant payoffs in partner retention, partner engagement, and revenue later. But what, exactly, do you need to do?

Below, we’ll walk through six things you need to solidify now to ensure a successful launch in the future.

Already launched a channel program? Go through our partner audit to identify areas for improvement. 

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6 Essential Components of a Channel Program

Here’s the truth: You don’t need everything figured out by the time you launch your channel program — you can always add over time. But launching without anything figured out is a recipe for disaster.

A good happy medium? Nailing down six fundamental elements of your program. They are:

1. Clear Channel Program Objectives and KPIs

Partnership teams notoriously struggle to get executive buy-in. Why? Because they aren’t able to show how partnerships fit into their company’s overall business strategy.

So, pull up your company’s goals or OKRs and ask yourself:

  • How can partners support marketing’s qualified lead goals? (This can serve as your jumping-off point for your MDF budget)
  • How can partners support sales quotas? (A great conversation starter for smooth sales handoffs)
  • How can partners support product goals? (A springboard for developing integration documentation)
  • How can partners support customer success? (A gateway to creating partner training materials that can take implementation activities off their plate)

Next, put some numbers around that support.

  • How many partner-sourced leads do you hope to get per quarter?
  • What size of deals are you expecting?
  • How are you planning to measure partner education, engagement, and success? 
  • How many partners do you need to get this engine going?

Coming to leadership with distinct objectives (and KPIs to match) makes it much harder for them to deny the potential value of partnerships. And as you continue to build out your channel program after launch, you’ll be tracking specific metrics to back it up.

2. A Solid Channel Program Compensation Structure

Channel partners won’t participate in your program if you don’t offer competitive incentives. While trusty flat-rate commissions may do the trick, don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

Maybe you could separate channel partners into different tiers and up the commission rate the further they advance in your program.

Perhaps you could introduce bonuses tied to sales performance or time-based milestones. Or you could offer them exclusive promotions, discounts, and early access to new products. They may want extra publicity on your website or in your newsletter. You could even offer to cover the bulk of the engineering workload when developing a new integration.

Regardless of how you compensate channel partners, make sure it’s clearly documented. Even better, build them into your partner relationship management system — that way, they only gain access to specific rewards and content once they reach a certain level.

3. An Ideal Partner Profile

Now that you know the type of partnerships you’re offering, it’s time to start recruitment. And the first step is to figure out the kinds of partners you want to attract for your channel program launch and beyond.

What would ideal partners have in common?

  • Are they all B2B SaaS, or do they have a different operating model?
  • What’s their ARR?
  • Are they all domestic, or do they serve a regional or international audience?
  • How much do they know about your product or service?

If you’re struggling with this exercise, take a look at your competitors’ partner programs. Trying to convince those partners to switch to your program may be tough, but it will at least spark some ideas of the characteristics you’re looking for.

Once you’ve nailed down your ideal partner profile (IPP), build a target list and begin your outreach. But before you do, spend some time thinking about what’s in it for them. Position your program as a way to gain exposure to new leads or get compensation for the promotion they’re already doing — and be sure to personalize your message.

For example, say there’s a software company on your list that’s in the growth stage of their business, and you happen to know that multiple customers have asked your product team to build an integration. Well, guess what? That’s a win-win.

Making the new integration available will help your customers who already use that software and get their name in front of a whole bunch of new prospects (your other customers).

So when you reach out, let them know how much demand there is for the integration, that your team is ready to prioritize it, and that they could be receiving X% commission off of any lead they send your way.

4. A Baseline Partner Agreement for Your Channel Program Launch

It’s tempting to launch your channel program and onboard partners as quickly as possible, but don’t overlook your partner agreements. The benefits of a solid legal framework in place are two-fold: (1) It ensures your partners know exactly how your incentives work, and (2) it prevents any surprises down the line.

As such, your agreement should outline:

  • Partner eligibility requirements
  • Lead qualification
  • MDF rules and requirements
  • Referral or deal registration expiration
  • Commission structure and amount
  • Tax information
  • Use of company logos
  • Confidentiality
  • Intellectual property

To make sure nothing’s been overlooked, run through a typical channel partner’s workflow with your legal team before you launch your program. They may realize they need to add in a few more clauses to make sure all bases are covered.

While you’re at it, establish a process for redlining. The easier it is for your legal team to review changes, the quicker your partners will be able to add value. You may even want to find a partner relationship management tool with a partner agreement module built-in, collecting signatures and sending reminders automatically.

5. A Partner Onboarding Plan

You’ll have built up a lot of momentum talking to potential partners and convincing them to join your program. Don’t let that go once they’ve signed!

Keep the excitement going by engaging them right away. Schedule a kickoff call to run through the program requirements and incentives again to ensure everyone is on the same page. Point them toward useful resources and templates. Do an account mapping exercise. Take it a step further and lay out a business plan for the quarter or year ahead. 

Having a step-by-step playbook makes the partner onboarding experience more consistent and makes it easy to make adjustments over time. Include a short survey at the end of the onboarding process to gather their feedback so you can iterate and improve it over time.

6. Foundational Partner Training

Educating your partners is crucial to their efficacy. If they don’t know your product or services inside and out, they won’t be able to sell them effectively.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Creating training material can be time-consuming, and often, the people who are best equipped to do it are the ones most strapped for time — product and engineering teams.

The good news is you may not have to start from scratch. Chances are, your sales enablement, product, and customer success teams already have content they use to train new employees. With a few tweaks, these videos, quizzes, and slides can be tailored to a partner audience. Your marketing team may have sales collateral you can modify as well.

Remember, partner training isn’t necessarily static — your product’s features and service offerings may change over time. So, while you’re in the planning phase, put together a loose process for keeping your training and certifications up to date. A logical cadence would be making updates with every product release cycle.

Another way to encourage partner learning is to activate a community forum in a partner portal. When partners pose a question, their peers can offer advice and share how they overcame the same challenges. This will not only alleviate the pressure on your partner ops team, it’ll also provide insight into the obstacles partners are facing — obstacles you may able to help them overcome.

Last But Not Least: You Need a PRM

It’s possible to formalize these six principles of your channel program in various documents and spreadsheets — but it makes sticking to them much harder.

A cloud-based partner relationship management solution helps you launch your channel, enforce rules and monitor your program as you scale. With built-in partner recruitment, partner enablement, channel marketing, and channel sales modules, you can refine your partner recruitment process, centralize partner agreements, onboarding and training materials, and business plans, and report on partner success.

If you’re ready to learn more about Channeltivity’s range of features, book a demo with one of our experts to witness the power of a self-service PRM firsthand.


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