Enable Channel Partners with a Great Training Strategy

by: Luke Kreitner December 4, 2018

There are many reasons channel partner training is difficult: geographically dispersed distributors, inexperienced channel partners, mismatched priorities, or multiple vendors vying for a single partner’s attention. It’s a reality for many vendors and manufacturers. Are you experiencing it, too? No matter the problem, you can better enable channel partners with a more effective, growth-driven channel partner training strategy. This could help you align distributors to your sales goals. Here’s how:

Structure your channel partner training to teach distributors about your products more effectively.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Creating a training plan that helps you enable channel partners and increase sales won't be an overnight effort. With so many moving nuts, bolts and pulleys working behind just one channel sale, it’s critical to understand where distributor knowledge gaps are first before venturing on to map out a plan.

But don’t just focus on product expertise. While product expertise is essential to enable channel partners, partners with limited sales acumen are basically out to sea without a paddle. Instead, as an ConversionXL article recommends, “empower channel partners in 3 key areas: technical training, building industry expertise, and sales training.” Uncover places where distributors need support with surveys (i.e. Learn and Earn) and dedicated “office hours” for mini Q&A sessions.

Know exactly what your distributors are missing? Good. Here are the next steps your organization should take to improve your channel partner training strategy:

  1. Outline training objectives. Build a framework for your distributor’s go-to-market strategy with clear, measurable goals that are aligned to specific training objectives. Meaning if your company wants X amount of channel sales one quarter, your content and training need to address crucial market and sales intelligence to achieve that goal. Doing so creates clear-cut expectations and accountability, so that each entity in the partnership benefits from the other.
  2. Onboard new channel sales members. On average, it takes two years for channel partners to become fully productive. That’s why tailored training for both new partners and hires within those companies is fundamental to immediately reinforcing your channel management strategy. For newly hired professionals, conform training strategies to their position. As for recent partners, make their needs the focal point of the conversation, and build training around it.
  3. Refresh veteran distributor’s product knowledge frequently. If you’re only in contact with partners when there’s a fire to put out or to conduct annual training, you’re not their priority. You want to be top of mind at all times. Why? If not, partners are probably missing opportunities to sell your goods. Refresh their memory often with inbound marketing techniques that deliver timely content to those that need it most: white papers, case studies, pricing sheets, technical documents, testimonials, customer examples, and call scripts.
  4. Encourage distributors to get vendor-certified. When it comes to a growth-driven channel training programs, having vendor-certified distributors is a lot like icing on the cake – it enhances the experience. A ZiftSolutions’ article sums it up: “certified professionals are the ones who are making an investment in you and have you top of mind.” Maximize the number of dedicated partner professionals in your channel by enabling a vendor certification program.

It’s not a question of what you want your partners to know, more so what they need to know to sell as efficiently as possible. Teach channel partners the features and benefits of your products, so that they can pass that value on to the end-customer. The more they know, the better they can drive growth.

Invest time and resources in your channel partners.

It’s undeniable – your company, as all organizations, prioritize the bottom line. You don’t hesitate to equip in-house salespeople with top-shelf training and coaching, so why not extend similar opportunities to enable channel partners? After all, they contribute significantly to annual revenue, too. Make your channel partners a priority by investing resources to improve the partnership. Here’s how:

Encourage them to go online. With more millennials occupying decision-making positions at B2B companies, it’s crucial that your partners be online. These buyers are more likely research your product and company online before making a sales decision. Whether it’s LinkedIn or Facebook, your distributors needs to be there and be responsive.
Automate, automate, automate. That’s the best – and arguably only – way to structure your B2B training program and the marketing behind it. And this goes for you and your channel partner. Automation lets you engage distributors, influencing them to visit your training portal or respond to your email marketing efforts. Automated engagement also helps distributors look active and insightful online to end-users without sacrificing too much of their resources.
Make training fun for distributors. Training doesn’t have to be boring. Create a B2B training program that sparks your distributor’s interest and keeps it with gamified training that awards points for completion and a rewards mall where they can redeem those points. The best way to do this is to integrate your training platform into a channel incentive program.

Make your channel partner training program mobile-ready.

Now that more people in the world own smartphones than toothbrushes and 40% of them will leave a site if it’s not smartphone-friendly, your training platform needs to ready to take on mobile. Don’t waste all your resources creating a robust channel partner training program that’s visited by only half of the target participant pool.

Put mobile-readiness at the forefront by developing a survey trainees complete during your program’s open enrollment. Ask enrollees about their communication preferences in the form, and deliver content and sales promotion information where they prefer – by text, email, or via phone.

A platform that customizes participant enrollment while capturing channel partner data makes this step more efficient and effective. And channel salespeople will appreciate having information on-the-go. That way channel salespeople, who are often out on the road, can be alerted of new product data or specs in a client’s lobby minutes before a sales meeting.

Incentivize distributors to engage in channel partner training.

Channel partners love incentive programs, and often favor vendors with the most comprehensive offering. But manufacturers, dealers and vendors alike hesitate to beef up their program, believing it will eat through profits. It’s a murky area in some channel partnerships, but it doesn’t have to be. How can you deliver targeted, valuable incentives without breaking the bank?
It’s not by simplifying your incentive offerings. Instead, you should develop a channel management solution that provides capabilities for managing complex and/or high-volume incentive programs. How?

  1. Create tiers for channel partners. The 80-20 rule applies here, but you shouldn’t drop your laggard 20% of distributors. Instead, carve out space for them with targeted marketing messages and rewards specific to their tier. Do the same with your top-tier and mid-tier performers, giving the former the most exclusive rewards.
  2. Make the top and middle tiers “unlockable.” For distributors that consistently exceed sales promotions and stay updated on your products, boost them up a tier. This is important because your mid-tier partners have the most potential to improve, moving up to the top-tier.
  3. >Analyze and report on incentive program success. This is simple when your channel incentive program, on the backend, has a robust data-collection machine that gives you a holistic view of your program’s achievements. Compare incentivized partners against their non-incentivized counterparts, or a before and after snapshot of partner performance. At Incentive Solutions, our online rewards technology platform is powerful enough to make such complex processes easy.

Your channel partners are busy and have many partners in their own funnel, but that doesn’t mean training should be an afterthought. Use an effective, growth-driven channel partner training program to show your distributors that you respect the nature of their business and are there to support their efforts. Jump start your program by investing in your partner’s product education, creating mobile-ready training programs, and incentivizing them to refresh their knowledge.