How to deliver a decent partner programme

There are several key mistakes that can undermine any partner programme and make life miserable for resellers and vendors

When it comes to working out what are the elements that make a good partner programme it is probably easier listing those things that are best avoided. Many vendors probably sit down and devise a structure to work with resellers with the best intentions but end up getting it wrong for a number of reasons.

Having sat in the Editor's chair at MicroScope for a fairly long time and reported on numerous channel partner programme launches these, in no particular order, are the areas where things usually go wrong:


1. Lack of customisation - the standard pack and plaque

We all know how the evolution of a vendor's channel partner programme works with things starting single tier with a handful of partners before the ambition grows and a distributor is brought on board and then the channel numbers swell enough to warrant some sort of segmentation. At this point those that are not going to put a great deal of effort in tend to deliver an off-the-shelf, here's one that hundreds of people made earlier, pack and plaque approach. Whether its gold, silver and bronze or platinum, gold and authorised it is an approach that can feel very much like a tick in the box. 

The main problem here is that if the resellers and the customers don't believe in it then it is unlikely to mean much more than some improved rebates and discounts for the top partners. If it is introduced without any real conviction but seen as a must-do because we are at a particular stage of growth then it will lack any real meaning. Opting for something that might not have been designed from the ground up with a specific set of partners and a particular market in mind leaves people feeling uncared for.

"No one sets out to make mistakes but they tend to occur because of a lack of commitment to see things through."


2. Value and revenue - when money does all the talking

Most channel partner programmes are introduced at a stage when a handful of resellers, usually those with a bit of entrepreneurial sprit that were prepared to take on a new vendor when few others would, have been leading the charge for a while on their own.  As things open up to fresh blood it can be a difficult time working out how you pick the best partners. The traditional approach was all about revenue and as a result the household names would always be at the top of the pile. But over the past few years there has been more talk about the need to recognise value. Deal registration is the main mechanism for this because it identifies the smaller partner that starts working on a bigger deal, even if they ultimately lose it to a rival. But quite often when it comes to segmentation it is often all about the money then those boutiques bringing value risk staying as a silver partner despite their hard work.  Bearing in mind everyone loves to talk about loyalty in the channel it could be a tough way to treat those original five or six partners that helped start everything off.


3. Blind eyes - failing to police

Having established a partner programme the most important elements are deal registration, rebates and discounts plus online training, marketing support and leads that the vendor can pass onto the partner.  It's great making a pledge to be supportive but if there is no robustness in the programme or a real threat that certifications could be removed and accreditations stripped then the whole programme will also lose credibility. If partners lose the engineers they need for certifications other partners need to know that it will be followed up by the vendor.

Another challenge that the vendor cannot afford to take lightly is policing its own direct touch team. Not that many vendors are 100% channel and so the temptation is there for a direct sale to be made even when it could have initial reseller involvement. many vendors talk tough about keeping strict lines between indirect and direct but if these are broken, and it only has to be the once, then understandably partners will react with a great deal of negativity.


4. Inconsistency - falling prey to the urge to tinker

When things do go wrong the temptation sometimes for a vendor is to slap a "under new management" sign on top of the channel team and shuffle the pack and hope that the problems of the past can be blamed on the former executives. One of the first tasks that a freshly appointed channel manager likes to do is kick-off a channel review. These beauty parades can undermine the relationships with the vendor if they happen too frequently or end without any real changes being made.  

The other problem can be the more general desire to tinker and roll out major changes on an annual basis preventing the channel from getting to grips with things and always leaving them on the back foot. It might make a good excuse to host a partner conference in a luxury hotel but bogging down resellers with detail is going to hinder them from dealing with the pressing issues of reinventing their business for a cloud world. Partners are trying to deliver technology solutions to customers but some have to spend serious amounts of time developing a Mastermind level of knowledge about a vendor’s partner programme to ensure they get the rewards they are looking for. The more changes that are introduced ramps up that pressure on everyone to try and navigate through the portal and paperwork.


5. Numbers game - when it's all about volume

The most quoted mantras in the channel when it comes to partner recruitment are "quality not quantity" along with "we don't want to be over distributed". But as a channel executive when you are looking at the likes of Microsoft, with its thousands of UK partners, and the likes of Hewlett-Packard, with similar amounts, then the temptation is to sign up hundreds. Some vendors look at established competitors in their space, count the resellers they have signed up and then conclude that the size of members in their partner programme should match it. The bigger the channel and the more likely it is that it is operating to the 80/20 rule with those hundreds of partners responsible for the 20% of revenue being largely invisible to those working in the channel account teams at vendors.


These are just some of the things that can go wrong. No one sets out to make mistakes but they tend to occur because of a lack of commitment to see things through. Getting a partner programme off the ground can take months of planning and numerous meetings both internally and externally with partners. But those that think that's where the hard work stops are the most likely to come a cropper. Launching a partner programme is the relatively easy part. It's making sure that the channel can work with it, respect it and use it to their advantage that is where the real effort needs to be taken.

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