COVID-19 has forced us into deeply unchartered territory, and channel partner relationships are no exception. If you are not a channel first business, you may feel that deprioritizing partners makes sense given the current environment; Insight cautions against this. Not responding appropriately could result in loss of new business, a downgrade in customer engagement, and have a detrimental impact on the future health of your channel since partners may choose to align with more supportive partner teams. It takes a long time and focused resources to build effective channel sales – pulling back will set you back and waste the prior investment you've made in channel sales.
It's never good business to treat channel partners as a homogenous group. Post-crisis, each has been impacted differently and this requires you to craft a strategy that enables them to succeed in an environment of remote selling and virtual engagement. The key is to balance the needs of your business with the demands of your partner community. To successfully navigate the new normal, you will first need to ask some core questions, assess COVID-19's impact on each type of partner, and then apply the right tactics.
After reading below, be sure to download Insight Partners' COVID-19 Channel Partner Manual for additional tactics, tips, and important detail on growing through the economic downturn.
How will my channel partners be impacted by the next normal?
Don't assume that you know what's impacting your channel partners' busineses. Though the two most obvious reasons are revenue decline due to spending cutbacks and operational challenges related to the remote work, we recommend asking your partners directly how their businesses are being affected. Type of partner, size, region, and industry will all play major roles in the depth of effect on each partner’s business. Partners will not only be impacted by the lack of face-to-face selling and employee morale challenges, but they may also experience unique business productivity and operational issues (e.g., large offshore employees in less developed markets exposed to broadband outages), and regional supply chain slowdown.
Insight's manual at the bottom of this article delves into how each primary type of channel partner – across the SI, MSP, VAR, and OEM ecosystem – will be impacted, to ensure you are responsive to each situation. Ask questions to clarify what you don’t know.
How can I best support my channel partners in the next normal?
Partners are a direct extension of your brand and it's critical to provide them with appropriate support. Channel programs that best weather disruptions depend on, well, being good partners. Your channel team will need to act to ensure that your channel remains productive and that your brand is perceived appropriately during this crisis.
The three primary levers for effective channel growth, namely (1) Channel Sales, (2) Channel Marketing and 3) Channel Enablement, need to be considered and adapted.
For deeper detail and results-driven tips on the tactics listed below for each area, check out Insight's COVID-19 Channel Partner Manual.
1) Channel Sales
How should I focus my channel selling efforts during this crisis?
- Double down on existing opportunities.
- Align strongest talent and partners to highest LTV opportunities.
- Prioritize strategic customers.
- Reinforce expansion and renewal plans.
- Conduct global sales scenario planning.
- Update your joint selling playbook.
- Sell indirect over direct when possible to support your channel's topline.
What support systems and tools can I put in place to maintain partner productivity?
- Ensure executive support is readily available.
- Make full sales cycle support easily accessible.
- Open real-time communication channels.
How do I encourage partner support and outreach internally?
- Mandate direct rep and partner collaboration.
- Introduce activity-driven metrics to ensure regular touchpoints.
What financial and contractual measures can I develop to better support my channel business?
- Offer payment grace periods and accounts receivable flexibility.
- Expand discounting guidelines where possible.
- Extend or introduce proof of concept, trial periods, and pilot programs.
- Increase the number of seats/users for free.
- Review performance-based compensation requirements.
- Ensure prompt and in full commission payment to partners.
2) Channel Marketing
How should I adapt messaging to partners?
- Stop current messaging and automated tracks.
- Define messaging that is authentic to your brand and sensitive to the times.
- Build a strong messaging cadence for partner manager outreach.
- Update partner internet real estate.
How should I approach planned or existing marketing programs?
- Shift Partner Summit and event budget into digital programs.
- Continue with partner award programs with sensitivity to the current environment.
What new marketing tactics should I put in place?
- Leverage digital offers and spiffs to incent engagement and participation.
- Create a COVID-19 Partner Resource Hub.
- Engage your Partner Advisory Board (PAB) digitally to collect feedback and deepen relationships.
- Engage and leverage partners in your Account Based motion.
- Maintain an agile approach.
How should I approach co-marketing and MDF?
- Provide partners with easily personalized messaging for the customer.
- Look for synergies across your partner ecosystem to build time sensitive joint go-to-market plans and co-marketing programs.
- Shift budget to innovative digital co-marketing programs.
3) Channel Enablement
How do I ensure my enablement programming is still relevant?
- Work with Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success to update your target segments and accompanying buyer personas and buyer’s journey.
How do I onboard new partners in this environment?
- Schedule 1:1 virtual onboarding sessions with key channel partner stakeholders.
- Build, leveral and promote self-service capabilities/ tools.
- Make it simple with a direct mail checklist.
- Be flexible with onboarding requirements.
How do I ensure my existing partners are continuing enablement initiatives?
- Schedule 1:Many virtual enablement sessions.
- Use spiffs to encourage engagement.
- Update joint dashboards with additional enablement-driven metrics.
The best way to overcome the challenges of today is first ensuring you are asking the right questions. From there, act swiftly by considering how the current environmental uniquely impacts different types of partners and apply the right tactics to each situation. Partnerships and community are more important in a remote sales environment. Treat your partners as well as you treat your own employees and your customers. Business support will be rewarded with loyalty, and longer-term, sales.
We’re all in this together, and ultimately, we’re always better together.