When businesses are starting out and still small, they typically have only one sales channel, such as direct to consumers or in-store. But as they grow, they come under pressure to explore new channels, which can lead to new sources of revenue, but also creates relationships that need managing. In the 2018 Dreamforce session “Best Practices for Multi-Channel Sales," Cesar Castro, Salesforce Community Cloud senior director for adoption and engagement, offered some strategies and best practices for partner relationship management (PRM).
Castro started by advising attendees to think of the context of their partner's journey. Partners can feel like they're competing for attention with your other channels or even your internal sales department—many channel partners say that channel conflict is their biggest concern when selling cloud products and services.
When it comes to dealing with channel conflict, Castro offered three recommendations:
- Pay attention to change management.
- Focus on your partners and how they're doing from day to day.
- Have a dedicated sales strategy, whether all your sales go through partner channels or not.
The goal with change management, Castro said, was to encourage the right behaviors in your partners. Doing it properly requires executive engagement, because executive sponsorship shows a commitment to the partnership and helps establish trust. Think about areas where executives can participate in your partner program.
It's also a good idea to appoint a digital partner engagement manager, someone who can own the product and the relationship. Ideally, this would be someone who's already in your current channel sales organization. Having a dedicated manager is especially important as you continue to evolve your partner strategy.
It also helps to establish service level agreements, both internally and externally. They specify the rules of engagement and define objectives, responsibilities and performance metrics. These should be kept simple and direct so everyone understands what's expected of them.
Focus on Partners
You want to align your business strategy to your partner program, said Castro, taking into account your partners' capabilities. Set up an incentive or rewards program to recognize the partners that comply with your program rules and perform well.
One of the most important strategies to avoid and manage partner conflict is to allow deal registration, by which resellers register deals quickly, making them visible in your pipeline and blocking competitors. Design a well-thought out program, and provide tools with which partners are able to register deals themselves.
Develop a channel strategy that is aligned with your overall sales and business strategy, Castro advised. You have two choices when it comes to a channel strategy: Use channels exclusively, without any internal sales department, or implement a channel tiers strategy. Some channel partners may be value-added while others might be simply sell-through. Train your partners and empower them by providing tools, service and ongoing support (especially if you're going channel-only).
Establish key metrics, both leading and lagging. The former are behavior-focused—remember that you're trying to encourage the best behavior in your partners—while the latter are results-driven.
Castro concluded by outlining a four-stage list of best practices across the PRM life cycle:
- Establish a foundation for your channel program. Define its purpose and use cases, the resources necessary, and the personas and customer journeys that will use each channel.
- Set goals for the channel and for your partners and establish key metrics.
- Recruit and onboard partners. Educate them and develop plans for content, adoption and promotions.
- Manage and grow your partner network. Provide market development funds, make sure you have a service and support strategy, and provide tools for deal registration, lead distribution and partner analytics.