Leveraging trusted relationships through channel partnerships is one of the easiest ways to break through to buyers who are being bombarded with information from social, digital, and traditional media. 

“Channel partnerships have become more important than ever,” says Agnes O’Connell, Director of Sales Operations & Demand Generation at HMI Performance Incentives. It’s easy to say, but harder to do, and every company needs a range of channel partners.

Agnes categorizes partners into two basic types: “through” partners and “with” partners. 

  • “With” partners go to market as collaborators; they
    • Help create more brand awareness for one another
    • Speak to the other partner’s capabilities
    • Find the right opportunities to bridge deals together or to help close deals
  • “Through” partners can fully sell your solutions or technology, meaning:  
    • Their name is on the deal and they take ownership and leadership on deals 
    • They become an extension of your sales team 

To leverage both types of channel partnerships, companies must develop a comprehensive strategy for recruiting partners and then a maturity model for enabling these partners. I met with Agnes recently to hear more about her approach.

Finding Channel Partnerships 🙌🏽

Agnes acknowledges that finding and nurturing these types of relationships can be challenging. “It takes a certain kind of grit mentality to start from the ground up with partners.” 

Starting with strong selection criteria helps bring focus. She suggests thinking about: 

  • Cultural alignment: Ensure that the partners can effectively communicate your company’s values and mission to potential customers. 
  • Complementary capabilities: Channel partners should serve as connectors or bridges between the company’s messaging and the needs of the market. 
  • Value alignment: Partners should be dedicated to addressing the same customer challenges and providing solutions that align with your company’s offerings.

With those selection criteria in place, Agnes offers a couple of ways to find good channel partners.  

Specifically, Agnes proposes asking both prospects and existing customers who they see as strategic partners or well-aligned vendors. This can give you a short list of folks to start researching to determine if you could work with them. 

For an organization that has a field marketing presence, she suggests using association or customer shows to conduct your partner research. “Do a big loop and observe how other companies are communicating and highlighting their characteristics with individuals on the floor. This will help you establish potential opportunities for future conversations.”

Tipping Point for Channel Enablement ⚖️

Until your sales team is fluent in communicating your message and your customer stories,” Agnes continues, “you’re probably not ready to work with channels.”

It’s crucial to ensure that your sales team is fully equipped to articulate the company’s message and effectively communicate customer stories. This means having a sales team structure and motion that is geared towards selling more effectively and packaging the company’s offerings in an attractive and compelling manner. Without a well-enabled sales team, it may be challenging to achieve success when working with channel partners.

“You want to work towards your channel partners being looped into your sales and marketing motions at all times,” Agnes explains. “We need to be thinking about the monthly or quarterly rhythm of channel cultivation.” 

“So the sales team is probably your best litmus test of your channel readiness,” Agnes explains. “Are you ready to go get some partners in the market singing your tune?”

Channel Maturity Model🧑🏿‍🤝‍🧑🏽

Agnes’ channel maturity model outlines the progressive involvement of channel partners in your company’s sales and marketing processes.

This model entails regular check-ins and collaboration with partners to ensure alignment with your company’s messaging and goals. It also involves empowering partners to independently drive deals forward, incorporating their input into marketing and packaging decisions, and cultivating a strong and mutually beneficial relationship. Establishing a monthly or quarterly rhythm of channel cultivation can help maintain cohesive and effective collaboration.

Agnes distinguishes between “with” and “through” channel maturity and enablement strategies. 

For “With” channel partners, she recommends:

  • Spot check your with partners regularly: do they sound like you?
  • Can they naturally start to make deals happen?
  • Are your partners taking the deal and running with it?
    • They leverage your sales and marketing collateral
    • They lead and you support
  • It should be a cohesive messaging motion that feels like a good fit

For “Through” channel partners, she suggests:

  • Creating strategies to move the needle with mindshare
  • Developing systems and processes to allow them to efficiently manage deals, such as 
    • Deal claim submission portal
    • Established pricing models
    • Sophisticated marketing and sales packaging

The structure and strategies for developing and nurturing channel partnerships will vary across industries. However, as Agnes’ strategies and model demonstrate, there are some patterns for finding channel partners, recruiting, and maturity models that any company can leverage.