The Importance of Success Planning in the Channel

It was Ben Franklin who said that “a failure to plan is a plan to fail” – and he was absolutely right. Many senior executives at IT manufacturers and ISVs have abandoned their channel efforts claiming lack of results. But the underlying reason behind a lack of results is often a lack of cogent planning.

In an earlier article, we focused on what happens when you focus on the last word in “Channel Account Manager” (CAM): manager. The best CAMs (or PAMs if you prefer) adopt this attitude, helping their partners manage their businesses. Other CAMs are driven to become nothing more than the “pipeline police.” This provides little value to the partners and can be a sure path to channel failure.

Success Planning

In the channel, success is shared. That’s the whole point. You want to see each and every partner succeed. Your CAM succeeds when the aggregate of their partners succeed. Your regional directors aggregate the success of their CAMs, and your channel chief shares in your success which is the aggregate of everyone’s success.

The success planning process, then, begins with establishing your company goals for revenue and profit. As with all big goals, you then break yours down into smaller pieces and assign each piece to your sales regions. The regional directors, in turn, break theirs down into an assigned quota for each CAM. The CAM must then find enough partners with enough opportunity to exceed their quota. This requires exploring opportunities with each partner but offers a far more meaningful and proactive exploration.

Here’s where your CAM filling the role of consulting or advisory manager comes in.

Each channel partner is going to continue your process of breaking down their goals into smaller pieces. In their case, each piece will be assigned to a salesperson. The salesperson then has three strategies available to them:

  1. Find sales opportunities among their existing customer base.
  2. Create new customers with identified opportunities.
  3. Drive new opportunities with new and existing customers by proactively marketing new solutions to targeted subgroups of them.

Smart CAMs pursue all three, acknowledging that the toughest is number two. Creating new customers can be a long-term pursuit. Number 3 – driving solution initiatives – is speculative and may be hard to predict. Partners will expect you to help fund those to share the risk.

CAMs should begin the planning process with each partner where you began yours, by setting reasonable, understandable, meaningful, believable, and achievable goals. For those of you who are also acronym lovers, the mnemonic for that is RUMBA goals.

Armed with these goals, it’s best to make sure each partner’s salespeople start their planning process by reaching out to customers and planning the coming year with them. Ask what initiatives they see themselves undertaking in the near future. This will provide the foundation for their plan. It will need to be developed by describing the strategy they will execute to pursue each opportunity.

The gap between the value of the opportunities they find among existing customers and their goal must be filled with new customers and other new initiatives. See our recent article on pipeline math for more insight into how to use the pipeline to manage sales activities for success.

Sounds Like a Lot of Work?

You always have the option of recruiting partners and just setting them loose, and you may be fortunate to select really aggressive, ambitious partners. Even the most ambitious partners have a finite amount of bandwidth, and you are competing with every other vendor they partner with. Your stakeholders may have a real issue with not knowing where your business is coming from.

That said, here are five driving reasons you should adopt and utilize a formalized success planning program:

1) Keep Your Program and Your Partners on the Same Page

Another famous business axiom reminds us we must inspect what we expect.

Part of the magic here comes from “Heidelberg’s Uncertainty Principle” which says that the act of observing something affects that thing being observed. In other words, if partners know you’re watching what they’re doing, and they value their relationship with you, they will likely step up their efforts!

This is where CAMs must be careful not to simply become the pipeline police.

Instead of coming in and just asking for “the numbers,” do a full review of all existing opportunities. This includes a review of what was done most recently, what that resulted in, and what steps are next. This gives the CAM an opportunity to add value through suggestions and guidance as to how to achieve better results on the next steps.

Conclude the review by translating it into a ratio of goals vs. deals that have closed vs. deals still open vs. deals lost. Putting that performance ratio into the context of the other members of the sales team sponsors more competition. While you’re reviewing tactics it’s a good time to go back to your partner program with them to see if there are any other program resources they could take advantage of to accelerate their sales motion.

2) Gain a Holistic Approach to Partner Management

Bring some ritual and ceremony to the planning process by formally scheduling and inviting team members to each review session. When you casually drop in, you may catch everyone unprepared to have a meaningful dialog with you.

Remember that you can’t lead a team unless you’re part of that team. Familiarize yourself with what’s been going on recently before you sit down to meet with the partner. What larger deals have been won recently. Any new awards? Media appearances? The more you celebrate them, the more enthusiasm and camaraderie you build.

Draw attention to issues like the completion of required training to sell and support the product, entry into your company’s various contests, new civic alignments. Help your channel partners celebrate themselves as you review and recognize their performance with them.

3) Develop a Deeper Understanding of Your Data

You set out on your planning journey by first establishing admirable goals. How far have you progressed toward those goals? Express that as a percentage, then examine how far you are into the period. If you’re measuring quarterly and you’re at the halfway mark of the quarter your sales should already be past 50% of goal. This is just one of the ratios that can really help you.

If you began your plan by committing to a specific number of cold-calls, or a specific number of appointments, compare the number actually completed to those projected and compare that to where you are in the period. 1,000 calls? If you’re at the midpoint of the period you’d better be able to show at least 500 calls completed so far.

Don’t characterize this as cold hard facts. Instead, position it all as the empirical, quantifiable reality as compared to the original intention. Having the data is great. Putting it to work in useful ratios is far better.

Other ratios help you plan: Which of your partners is selling the most is useful so you know who to congratulate. Which one has the fastest growing sales tells you which one to help most. Which one is closing more of the deals they pursue tells you who to help find more deals. Who opens the most opportunities but doesn’t close enough of them needs more training and coaching on closing strategies.

Your marketing automation, CRM, and order processing systems collect a wealth of valuable data. Put it all to use by figuring out what to compare with what.

4) Accelerate Revenue

Why do vendors create partner councils?

If you ask, many will tell you they want to know what partners need from them and to include partners in their planning processes. They also want to show them roadmaps of upcoming products and give them a jump on preparing to sell them. That’s all good.

Insightful vendors have realized that the partners to make the largest investment in are those who are willing to participate. They’re the ones interested in contributing their time and knowledge to help their colleagues enjoy greater advantage coming from the vendors.

What Do They Fight For?

Perhaps it’s better to ask what partners campaign for. When they corner your channel chief at an industry show, what do they ask for? What do they talk about?

If they’re lobbying for higher margins, their thinking doesn’t go further than an individual sale. They’re totally transactional and will likely offer little or no strategic input. In short, they’re in it for the money. And that’s fine! If they make the money you’ll make money too, so more power to them. Smart partners know there’s little or no margin in most products due to discounting from their competitors. They’re better off focusing on how to wrap more services around your products and drive more demand.

But if you’re looking to build a resilient, long-lasting, highly productive channel, you need to take note of those who challenge your channel chief for better ideas. Perhaps they’re advising on how the products, the programs, or some other facet of your offerings could be made better. They’re advocating for their customers, but they’re also working to help you grow and improve.

5) Achieve Channel Transparency

Let’s focus on that overused but important word: partner.

If someone’s your partner, you’re interested in what’s going on in their business and their lives. The relationship has a very personal component. You want to hear from them as to how you can help them, because you know that help will inevitably come full circle to help you.

Channel partners are not numbers. Not account numbers. Not pipeline numbers. Not sales volume numbers. They are companies composed of people who are interested in helping you achieve your goals if you’ll only help them achieve theirs.

Yes, successful vendor executives have digital dashboards showing them the current condition of their channel pipeline. All their field people constantly input into that system so they can know, at a moment’s notice, what the condition of their channel is. But the best of them don’t rest on those dashboards. They pick up the phone. They regularly talk to highly active partners, and those showing real promise. They greet them at channel conferences by first name and ask about their families by name.

When something isn’t working the way it should, smart vendors know which partners to speak to. They know who’s paying attention, and who’s enthusiastic about helping.

Yes, it is important to be a data-driven channel chief, but it’s just as important to remember that you’re doing business with, and partnering with people. People with goals and stakeholders, just like you. Make sure that, as much as your program is about keeping track of the numbers, it’s also about keeping touch with people. If you’re going to call them partners, give that word real meaning. Plan together. Go to market together. Succeed together. Celebrate together.

© Authory 2022. All rights reserved.