The Top 10 Signs You Have a Winning Channel Organization
We hear so many questions from people working on partner teams, asking if their program looks solid, if they’re doing everything right, and if their programs have any areas that need polish. While there are many factors that go into a full assessment of a company’s channel program, there are 10 key things that set the best apart from the rest.
We’ve put together this 10-step assessment so you can determine whether you have a winning channel organization, or one that needs some improvement. Give yourself one point for each factor your program has.
Factor 1: Leadership Support
One of the keys to a successful channel program is the full support of your company’s entire leadership team - the CEO, CFO, and others. We’re talking about true support, not just lip service.
Companies with the best channel programs require their leadership to spend time within the channel organization. The executive leadership trusts the channel leadership and minimizes internal reviews, approval processes, etc. A component of their compensation is tied to channel satisfaction surveys.
So, is your leadership team fully supportive of the channel? Ask yourself:
Is your channel organization respected?
Does it have a seat at the table in regard to strategic decisions?
Does your CEO know and regularly meet with key channel partners and the channel press?
Does your leadership allow your channel leadership to test and experiment with new, cutting-edge ideas?
The strongest channel programs have support from executive leadership, the board, the press, and the industry, and understand the power of the force multiplier of your channel.
Factor 2: Diversity
Our personal experience and outside research confirms the power and necessity of diversity in business. This is true in any aspect of your company, including the channel.
Great channel teams are diverse in terms of gender, age, background, culture, etc. Not only does a diverse team provide indisputable positive results, but indicates leadership character.
Diversity exists at all levels in the most powerful channel organizations.
Factor 3: Channel Team Investment
High performing channel teams receive deep investments in initial training and ongoing learning. These programs have Channel Sales Academies that train channel sales professionals on products, solutions, industry trends, channel economics, and profound soft skills.
Before being assigned a set of partners, they must pass difficult testing and live role playing in front of senior leadership.
From there, the top performers are offered external development programs such as those offered at Insead, Harvard, Wharton and Stanford.
Once a channel program has been established, former channel members often hold positions in executive leadership.
Companies with the best channel programs invest adequate resources into the channel organization.
Factor 4: Top Talent is Clamoring to Get Onto the Channel Team
A surefire sign you’ve got a winning channel organization is that the best talent (both internally and externally) are trying to get a spot on the channel team. Management is picky about who they let on, as these positions have a career-enhancing brand.
Time on the channel team is a resume builder and financially attractive. Poor and even mediocre performers are placed in the “up or out” category.
When organizations have a truly powerful channel program, the best of the best work in channels.
Factor 5: Compensation is On Par with Direct Sales
Is your channel team’s compensation on par with the direct team? Is it attractive enough to draw the strongest candidates for job openings? It should be.
Further, compensation plans should be clearly understood on the first day of the fiscal year, with significant rewards for extraordinary performance.
Direct teams; and channel teams’ compensation should be in tune, so as not to benefit deals being taken direct.
The best channel programs have highly tuned compensation to drive the desired results.
Factor 6: Proper Infrastructure in Place
World-class channel organizations have infrastructure in place that guarantees the vast majority of a channel sales professional’s time is partner-customer facing.
Order management, legal support, administrative support, and decision support are in place and continually improved. The service team works in harmony with channel.
The strongest channel organizations understand infrastructure is a competitive weapon.
Factor 7: Best-In-Class Channel Marketing
Truly great channel programs have channel marketing teams that are considered to be best-in-class. A strong channel marketing organization has a team staffed with members of the A-team who are operating in lockstep with the channel sales team.
Channel Marketing should be creating those valuable “Glengary Glen Ross” leads on a regular basis, giving the sales team powerful leverage in the field. Demand signals are systemic and deeply understood. A rapid response culture is ingrained to deal with any shortfall signals.
Channel marketing understands that they own the revenue number every bit as much as the sales team.
Factor 8: Listening Skills and Feedback Loops are In Place
Top channel programs have partner councils in place. Commercial sales, government sales, operations councils, and more have top notch facilitators and decision makers.
Equally important is that partners understand the value, and thus send their top players and senior executives.
The best programs are viewed as empathetic and responsive to recommendations, with channel surveys indicating you are a “listening” organization.
Factor 9: Ecosystem is in Place and Driving Revenue
How do you know if a strong channel ecosystem is in place?
System integrators are deeply ingrained in your program, and you in theirs. SI’s are recommending your products in an overall solution, based on their trust in your products and their trust in your programs.
ISV’s are working with your team in developing vertically focused solutions that extends you in the market. You have a powerful ISV forum and community.
The top criteria? You are the preferred vendor to key SI’s and a stable of powerful software developers.
Factor 10: Channel Conflict is a Non-Issue
Nothing drains energy and kills relationships more than the dreaded “Channel Conflict.” The winningest channel organizations have conflict levels of close to zero because your Go to Market strategy is crystal clear.
Your direct team understands the rules of engagement and knows the consequences of breaking them.
If you work for a top channel organization, the direct and channel teams work synergistically to maximize market penetration and revenue attainment.
How Strong is Your Channel Organization?
So, if you give yourself one point for each factor above, how did your company or supplier score?
If you scored 7 or more:
You are in good shape! But make sure you understand the dynamics to any category you answered “no” to, then mitigate and/or change.
If you scored between 5 and 7:
You have some work to do. Consider outside help to share best practices with world-class change management skills.
If you scored fewer than 5:
You are operating in an environment that lacks an understanding of the power of the channel. It’s time to bring in outside help to reshape your program.
Failure to challenge the status quo will result in sub-par revenue performance. In addition, you’ll face morale and brand issues not just within your channel team, but in the channel itself.