Effectively Recruiting Channel Sales Partners

April 12, 2009 by  Filed under: Sales 

What’s in it for Me?

Many vendors now throw together a few deliverables that are cheap and easy to deliver and dress them with a logo and a brand name. This was fine in the days when the market was less crowded, less competitive and when vendors could differentiate themselves through their unique technology. But in the age of technology commoditization and convergence, most lack the means to compel their channel partners to work with them simply because their product was the best or the only available.

Today, partner programs themselves have to be the differentiators and through them, a vendor needs to convey actions as well as words that motivate channel partners to work with them rather than their competitors. But what do channel partners want to hear? In essence:

  • You will develop technology that is superior to your competitors
  • You will create a desire within your mutual customers to buy new technology or upgrade from existing technologies
  • You will invest in demand generation
  • You will make customers receptive to buying your products and your brand
  • You will direct customers to your channel partners
  • You will direct your channel partners to potential customers
  • You will minimize channel conflict
  • You will provide the necessary information, education, tools and resources to assist your channel partners in marketing, selling and if necessary supporting your products
  • You will ensure that the sale of your products will prove to a be a profitable enterprise
  • You will make it easy for channel partners to augment your product offering with complementary products and value added services
  • Your will ensure that your products deliver on their promise, that they are reliable and encourage repeat purchases
  • You will, throughout be easy to do business with and treat your channel partners with integrity and respect

Many of these expectations depend on having great products but if you get the other elements right and implement them better than your competitors, it is entirely possible to have inferior products but a far more dedicated and motivated channel than they do.

We will discuss best practice in partner program deliverables later in the series but at this point, there are two important principles to remember:

1. The best recruitment campaign in the world will fail if your partner program is not compelling

2. The notion of ‘build it and they will come’ – having the best program but failing to market it and proactively and systematically drive recruitment will also fail

The Recruitment Campaign

You would not set out to recruit a sales person or marketer without first documenting the following:

  • For what purpose is the role being created?
  • What is the context for the appointment?
  • What are the goals, fiscal or otherwise of the individual to be hired?
  • What resources will be made available to the individual to assist them in achieving their goals?
  • Which markets or customer segments should they be targeted upon?
  • To whom do they report?
  • How will their performance be monitored and reviewed?
  • How will good performance be rewarded and poor performance be punished?
  • What compensation and benefits will be given?
  • By what contractual obligations will employer and employee be bound?
  • Why should the candidate join you instead of another company?

You would also establish a candidate profile and a brief to the recruiter.

Similarly, you should not embark on a partner recruitment campaign without ensuring that you are crystal clear on all of these points:

  • Why are you looking to recruit new partners?
  • What does it mean for the partners you already have?
  • What is the context for the campaign?
  • What do you want your new partners to do for you?
  • What targets will be set, if any?
  • How will you establish joint business plans and ensure they are implemented?
  • What resources will be made available to new partners to assist them in achieving your shared goals?
  • Which markets or customer segments should they be targeted upon?
  • How will the partner make profit from the relationship and how much?
  • What other benefits are on offer?
  • Who will be responsible for managing the relationship? Who or what will be their point of contact?
  • How will their performance be monitored and reviewed?
  • How will good performance be rewarded and poor performance be punished?
  • By what contractual obligations will vendor and partner be bound?
  • What makes your package of offerings better than any other vendor with whom you are competing for the partner’s attention?

Ultimately, your aim is the same – to recruit the best channel partner organizations, sales people and marketers to work, albeit indirectly for you to help you to take your products to market at the expense and exclusion of your competition. If you think of it this way, your recruitment campaign will proceed with greater vigor and purpose and both you and your potential ‘candidates’ will have a much clearer understanding of your objectives.

Recruitment Process

Whether you adopt the ‘big bang’ approach of launching a new partner program with accompanying PR campaign or the more low-key approach of augmenting your existing partner-base as part of your existing program, it is important to preface any communications with messages reinforcing the points above. You must set the context of the recruitment, why you are doing it, what it will mean for you, what it will mean for existing partners and most importantly what it will mean for and how it will benefit your target partners.

Putting the actual marketing communications activities to one side; we will deal with them in later section, let’s turn our attention to creating a low cost and efficient means of inviting partners to join you and processing their applications.

Email is now the de-facto standard communication medium but it is also statistically weak in generating responses. Spam filters and security software have exacerbated the problem. You must also remember that in order to have whole companies to partner with you, you must start by recruiting individuals – company’s don’t form relationships with other companies – people do that!

It is essential therefore that you gather accurate contact information; names, job roles email etc of you are to target the right people with the right message. We discussed this in earlier sections of this document but here it is critical. Sales people will have different motivations to join your program to those of a marketer or support person. You must play to these motivations effectively in your communications if you are to succeed in making your campaign above average in terms of response. This means that you will need to engage in targeted and personalized campaigns segmented by organization type, market focus type, job role type and so on – communicating multiple value propositions to each. This takes time and effort but the results will be worthwhile.

The email or other contact should direct the individual ideally to an online registration point within which you can gather more information about them and populate and enrich your database whilst ascertaining if your judgment in inviting them to join you was correct. The same registration point must be available via your corporate website to catch stray applicants that you may not have invited or who missed your recruitment campaign first time around.

Since by now you will have devised your partner selection and segmentation criteria, you may now begin the process of mapping applicants against them and either approving or rejecting their application. This can be an arduous and time consuming task best automated especially if your campaign has been broad. Needless to say, ensure you have the necessary systems and/or business processes in place before you begin.

Finally, make sure that your response to applicants is immediate or at the very least prompt, that they are enrolled as soon as possible and that you begin to communicate with them straight away reinforcing the program value propositions and backing them up with a ‘quick-start plan’ to move your new partners on to the next stage…

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