Magazine Article | June 1, 2018

Enable Partners To Grow Revenue

Source: Software Executive magazine

By Clinton Gatewood, VP Partner and Reseller Development, SaaSMAX

The onboarding process after signing a new reseller – specifically, the first 90 days – is key to building a successful channel program.

I have worked with hundreds of SaaS vendors over the years to help them effectively grow a channel program. A few months after working with them, we typically have the following conversation:

SaaS vendor asks, “Clinton, why aren’t my channel partners selling?”

Clinton responds, “What are you doing to help your channel partners sell?”

SaaS vendor replies, “What do you mean? Aren’t channel partners just suppose to sell? Isn’t that what they do?”

The answer is yes and no. I’m not trying to be cryptic or deflective. In my experience, if a channel partner doesn’t sell within the first 90 days of the relationship, they probably won’t. Activating channel partners and getting them to sell consistently (I call this “Sustainable Partner Revenue”) is dependent on you, the SaaS vendor. In the channel world, activating a partner is called enablement.

In this article, I will briefly cover what a solid enablement program looks like and some of the key components found in world-class channel enablement programs.

To build an enablement program, start by asking yourself, “Why do I want to build a channel program, and why am I recruiting channel partners?” Whatever your answer is, the right answer should be focused around outsourcing a portion of your marketing, sales, setup, installation, and/or customer support. If not, you may want to reevaluate why you are in the channel in the first place.

In the SaaS world, the main reason software companies want to engage with channel partners is to increase reach and sales. Basically, SaaS vendors are outsourcing a portion of marketing, lead generation, and sales. The key point here is, when you sign a channel partner, you are hiring a new salesperson. However, this salesperson is not asking for a salary, a desk, computer, phone, or benefits. So ask yourself:

  • When I hire new salespeople, how do I train them?
  • What will I do with them to help get them their first sale or two?
  • When do I expect them to hit stride and be selling on a consistent basis?
  • What marketing, lead generation, and assistance will they need in the sales process?
"If a channel partner doesn’t sell within the first 90 days of the relationship, they probably won’t."

Take this model, modify it, and replicate it for your channel partners. Once you know the “why” behind recruiting channel partners, you still need to have basics like a Channel Success Manager. Don’t underestimate the importance of having one face out in front of your channel program. This business is very relationship- based, and resellers do business with people they know, like, and are dedicated to helping them succeed. This is an important component to your overall program. The Channel Success Manager is not a part-time job function in an effective reseller program. A good person in this position will be key to your success.

Next, have your engagement steps ready for when that new channel partner signs your agreement. Below are four must-have steps in your enablement program.

  1. Welcome letter
  2. Welcome call and next steps
  3. Technical/sales training
  4. Marketing & sales (driving sales)

Once a new channel partner joins your program, you need to quickly get them onboarded and into your enablement program. As soon as they sign up, welcome them. This can be done with an email and should go out within the first 24 hours (the shorter the time, the better). The welcome letter should include:

  1. Welcome (of course)
  2. Introduce the Channel Success Manager (email should come from the Channel Success Manager)
  3. Introduce anyone else who might be involved in onboarding and enablement
  4. Outline the next steps
  5. Let them know the Channel Success Manager will be in touch very soon
  6. Propose two times the Channel Success Manager can meet with them as soon as that person is available.

Remember the 90-day clock is ticking.

In this phase, the Channel Success Manager will conduct the first meeting. The context and objectives of this meeting will depend on how much technical training is required, if the channel partner is installing or working with demos, the amount of sales trainings required and/or any other topics that need to be covered to effectively get them selling.

During this meeting:

  1. Outline the upcoming trainings and meetings
  2. Send out any relevant materials or downloads the partner needs to review or complete before the next meeting
  3. Get the next meetings scheduled now!

The last point on the welcome call is prescheduling, at a minimum, the next meeting. You have to lock down the parter or moving them forward will simply not happen. The best question any of your sales people should use is, “Do you have your calendar in front of you?” Tick … Tick … Tick ... the 90-day clock is running.

"...No matter how good your reseller enablement program is, it will only be as good as your processes – and whether or not your staff is following those processes."

The list of meetings, installations, trainings, and other important items will fully depend on what is required for the partner to do. Will they be installing, integrating, supporting, or just selling your software?

In many cases, the technical and sales training can be done in concert. Just make sure you put the right steps here and, yes, after each meeting make sure your people are scheduling the next step. Failure to do so will lengthen time to Sustainable Partner Revenue. Plus it will frustrate you and the channel partner.

Tick … Tick … Days are going by. How far are you along?

Once you have completed the above phases, you will now start driving sales with your channel partner. Marketing and sales enablement should be at least a three-month program. The program will consist of joint marketing and sales between you and the channel partner. Your objective is two-fold:

  1. Get the first clients sold and money in the partner’s pocket
  2. Educate the reseller on the sales process, how to overcome objections, and help the reseller become self-sufficient

Break this phase into three months focusing first on low-hanging fruit.

Month One

  • Have a marketing meeting.
  • Provide an email template the reseller can send to current clients letting them know that they now are partnered with you, the benefits of the product/relationship, and how to engage with the partner on the new product.
  • Set an additional activity (for instance, invite current clients to a webinar).
  • Schedule the date.
  • Make sure the channel partner sends out the invite and calls clients to attend (no matter what you’ve heard, phone calls are not dead!).
  • You conduct the webinar
  • Make sure the partner schedules joint sales calls.

Month Two

  • Expand the webinar with your channel partner to include prospects.
  • Here you can also provide a list of known end-user clients in the area.

Month Three

  • Do another sales activity such as another webinar, a local event (depending on your budget), a pizza lunch, a webinar with a pizza sent to each registration, etc. Your channel partner may also have some suggestions.

Designing and implementing the above will give you a good start on having a world-class channel partner enablement program.

Many resourceful ideas exist to get your channel partners activated. However, no matter how good your reseller enablement program is, it will only be as good as your processes — and whether or not your staff is following those processes. Once you lay out all the meetings and timings of those meeting, create a spreadsheet detailing all the meetings, dates, times, and completion date expectations. This way you can track your Channel Success Manager’s progress. You will find the Channel Success Manager who keeps the ball rolling with the new channel partners will be the most successful at converting the reseller into Sustainable Partner Revenue.

The killer way to an SPR strategy is to remember that money talks. The absolute best way to engage a new reseller is to bring them along on an end-client sale. If you sell a few deals directly, then give a deal or two to who you think are some of your hottest new resellers. Bring them along on the sales meetings and let them make commission on the sales. You don’t have to give them the full commission, but get them excited and show you care about their success with your products and services. Put some money in their pocket and they will return the favor.

Tick … Tick … DING … 90 days are up! Did your partner make money? No? Game over! Focus on the next one.

In the end, deciding to start recruiting channel partners or running a channel program is not a light decision to make. It’s not a case where you dip your toes into the water. When it comes to channel partners, either jump in or don’t bother getting your feet wet.

CLINTON GATEWOOD has been working with channel partners for 15+ years. He believes in symbiotic channel/vendor partnership ecosystems where all involved partners enjoy success. As channel chief at SaaSMAX, he works with hundreds of SaaS vendors, enabling him to effectively devise, create, and deliver successful recurring revenue partnerships and programs.