When a vendor channel is in the early stages of development, their requirements for channel partners are usually only that they have a pulse. Fast forward 12 to 18 months and the channel is 5% partners who are actively engaged and 95% who sold once on a customer's request and then disengaged.
As an early stage channel program I'm not suggesting that you turn partners away, but there are a few easy ways to assess the level of involvement they may have in your program. For all the others, set up a referral program. This allows partners following customer instructions to still make the sale but not take up valuable administrative time from the vendor's channel team.
So how does a channel team assess if a partner is recruitment material? Below are some suggestions, I'd love to hear others:
1. Analyze the overall partner fit. A partner application should include a question around their annual revenue. If a partner did $250K last year and your product costs $250K, chances are they are not tapped into the right customers to sell your product or they may not have the resources to provide the support your joint customers may require.
2. Does your product fit the partners business model? If a partner focuses on projectors, laptops and phone systems they most likely aren't familiar with, or capable of, selling a vendor's enterprise storage array. This is probably a one-time request and the vendor would be better served to assist this partner or set them up with another partner who could offer a referral fee. If the partner, on the other hand, sells a competitor (NetApp to Dell EqualLogic) then the partner is very familiar with the product type and is probably looking to expand their offerings.
3. Is the partner willing to put skin in the game? If a partner is willing to attend training or has a lot of questions around how to better sell/market a product they are willing to put as much into the relationship as they hope to get out. If they immediately ask for leads before they know how to sell or market the vendor product chances are good they aren't going to add a lot of value. How can you distinguish between the two? Put requirements in place that easily measure this such as a 30-minute introductory webinar that walks partners through the facets of the partner program and product value proposition with a few (literally no more than 10) questions about what they've learned. If the partner can't attend a 30-minute webinar or podcast you certainly are not going to get them to attend a 2-day training.
4. Set a probation period for inactive partners. Maybe they've already been recruited and did a deal here or a deal there but for the past 12-months nothing is really happening. It's time to clean house. Set up a renewal certification, business plan requirement, or sales certification update and be clear that if this requirement is not completed in 3-6 months their partnership will not be renewed. This is not to say that partners who aren't currently selling your products are not worth working with, but they need to ensure you that they are still engaged.
These are just a few thoughts for getting the right partners with the right customers into a channel program. I'd love to hear what other tactics vendors are using to improve their recruitment accuracy.
Tune in later this week for the recruitment suggestions from a partner's perspective.