If your business is like most, your team includes individuals well beyond your office walls. You can only hit your goals if a variety of channel partners – resellers, service organizations, consultants, and more – meet theirs, too.
The significance of your channel partners’ success is crystallized most clearly with resellers. As your revenue targets increase year over year, your company counts on existing channel sales players to scale their output. When naming the top three drivers of hitting their 2015 revenue goals, 79 percent of sales and marketing executives told Docurated, an enterprise SaaS content solutions company, that improving the productivity of existing reps and partners was critical.
As the face of your company’s product, the value of training your channel partners cannot be overstated. They will be selling your solutions to customers, providing support and, sometimes, training customers to use your products. You want them to know your product as well as you do – and creating and implementing a channel partner training program is just the way to accomplish that.
Building a channel partner training program is a multi-layered process, but the project can be approached in a strategic and agile manner. Understanding the root of your channel partner problems, outlining a solid plan for execution and preparing for challenges are all pivotal steps to success. Use this comprehensive guide as a blueprint for developing your high-impact channel partner training program.
Solving for channel partner problems
Channel partners can be an invaluable resource for attracting new customers or expanding operations. But in order for them to boost performance, channel partners must have the right support from your company. The best way to increase their odds of success is to provide them with more thoughtful, accessible, engaging channel partner training.
When asked what gives their channel partners the most trouble, only 6 percent of business leaders surveyed by Birch Worldwide said ‘Education and Training.’ But what those leaders fail to recognize is that many common challenges of working with channel partners stem from (or can be solved through) education. For example:
- In the same Birch Worldwide poll, 21 percent of leaders said that customer onboarding questions were one of the biggest issues their channel partners faced. Wouldn’t implementation concerns and onboarding issues be easier to solve with the right foundational knowledge?
- According to a 2012 IBM study, 65% of CMOs feel unprepared to manage the growth of their sales channels. Won’t channel partners with more advanced training be better equipped to operate with minimal oversight?
- Broadly, one of most businesses’ biggest concerns – and rightfully so – is that it’s too easy for resellers to abandon ship and partner with competitors, since they’re not as attached to the business as a traditional employee. But isn’t a reseller who has committed to, and completed, a formal channel partner training process (by earning an internal certification or otherwise) more likely to feel connected to your company and invested in its success?
Aligning channel partner training to business KPIs
Once you have a grasp on the root of the problems channel partner training can solve for, it’s time to map those problems to real KPIs. This will help you get a clear picture of the return-on-investment for your elearning program and make sure that the learning outcomes are closely aligned with business-level KPIs.
Let’s take the example of training for your value added resellers. Some of the ways you know how well that function is doing include tracking performance on customer satisfaction, churn, net promoter score, etc. So when you are designing online training for these channel partners, you’ll be able to measure the value of that training better over the long-term if the the learning outcomes are built with those KPIs in mind.
Overall Satisfaction and NPS
Probably the most important KPIs of all are how satisfied your customer is with the service or product or if they would recommend it. This is usually captured as Net Promoter Score (NPS). So providing elearning courses for your channel partners that drive performance in this area is crucial.
For example, courses that teach how to communicate with your customers will help VARs to talk about your product in an educated way. Depending on the experience of your channel partners, you may offer basic training in good communication skills.
Some potential learning outcomes from these types of courses might be:
- Able to understand and identity what good communication and its benefits.
- Able to apply best practices when engaged in an online chat.
- Able to correctly check for a satisfactory resolution to a customer question.
Outcomes like these can be indicators of the value of your channel partner training program. Positive results on these means the course is effective, and if the results move in tandem with your business KPIs, it means you have good alignment and the course supports the business goals.
The churn rate is the number of customers who decide not to renew after their subscription for a particular service ends. Although predicting the churn rate of your customer base is not an exact science, a proactive channel partner elearning program can help lower your churn rate by enabling representatives to retain customers.
For instance, when they are better instructed on how to deal with their confused customers, they're less likely to think of the situation as your company's fault. So in elearning courses like this, some potential outcomes might be:
- Know how to handle common customer questions.
- Know how to identify unused features in the project and to recommend them.
- Know how to refer customers to the appropriate documentation or learning modules.
Upsells, Cross-Sells and LTV
Upselling and cross-selling are important business drivers that increase the customer lifetime value (LTV). A solid elearning program should teach your channel partners how they can get those upsells and cross-sells.
Some of this has to do with communication, but a lot of it has to do with teaching selling techniques that not everyone may come to their job with. Elearning courses should include topics such as easy tools for selling, the fundamentals of the selling process, and how to look for potential sales leads.
Some KPI outcomes may include:
- Can apply basic tools and fundamentals for sales success.
- Can apply basic sales communication skills.
- Can identify and foster potential sales leads.
Outlining your channel partner training plan
Now that you understand the why in building your channel partner training program, it’s time to determine the what. That is – what type of training content will you deliver and how will you product that content? If you don’t know where to start, the best thing you can do is create a plan.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before you begin to create content:
What sort of training do your partners need?
Your partners may need to be trained to use, understand or support your product. They need to know how to talk to customers about it and how to sell it. Occasionally, partners need more general sales training – a course in how to make a sale, for example. Partners may even require certification in a certain type of technology or software product in order to sell it effectively. To get your juices flowing on how to answer this question, here’s a closer look at product training and general training,
Channel partners need to know the ins and outs of your products and services. This is where certification comes in. In many cases, being a channel partner means being certified by a company both to sell and support its products.
While this sort of learning can be done in a classroom, it’s commonly offered online, especially for software vendors. Large corporations offer online academies for their partners, but smaller companies can also offer online training by using learning management systems. These systems allow them to build and deliver training and certification to partners remotely.
Occasionally, partners may need more general training, such as a sales course or certification in a type of technology.
For example, as more and more software companies begin to sell cloud solutions, there is more need than ever to provide cloud-related training to partners who might not know how to talk to customers about the cloud and its related security and privacy issues.
In this case, because the subject is so broad and not tailored to any one product or service, you might consider sending your partners to an outside trainer like CompTIA, which provides vendor-neutral IT certifications.
There are several vendor-neutral certifications available. While the merits of third-party certifications can be a subject of debate, vendor-neutral certifications take the onus of providing all necessary training off the manufacturer. You don’t need to provide your own training if you can send a partner to a pre-existing course.
Should you provide the channel partner training yourself or can your company outsource it?
If you need to train your partners to sell your specific product, you will probably need to develop your own training module. If, however your partners need more basic training, you might be able to send them to a vendor-neutral program.
How should you provide your channel partner training?
Do you need to provide in-person training to demonstrate a product, or can you deliver it online, using a learning management system? Perhaps a hybrid approach, in which some training is delivered live while other training is conducted via an online portal, would work best for your company and partners.
What is your budget?
If you have the money, you might be able to hire an instructional designer or a videographer. If not, you can create course materials online using tools that allow you to shoot and edit video, add quizzes and tests or share presentations.
Overcoming channel partner training challenges
It’s not uncommon to face difficulties when trying to effectively manage company partnerships. Many companies find the relationships complicated by vast education gaps, outside influences, and a wealth of other factors.
Like so many relationship problems, however, the solution lies in better communication. From the inception of any channel partnership, it’s crucial to establish an open dialogue about goals, tactics, and expectations. And while the best way to do that is through highly effective, ongoing training, driving training adoption, engagement and completion can be a challenge.
The first step to overcoming potential opposition to channel partner training is to commit, from the top of your Channel Marketing or Channel Sales department on down, to creating a lasting culture of learning among your partner network. After that, it’s about using enhanced training to tackle each of the challenges holding back your channel partnerships.
Challenge #1: ‘Outsider’ Attitudes
No matter how you slice it, none of your channel partners are ‘true’ employees of your company. Since they’re not at the office with you, they may not understand the ethos behind your business or recognize the impact (positive or negative) you feel from their treatment of customers or leads.
The Solution – Incorporate Corporate Culture: The best way to eliminate an “us not them” attitude among channel partners is to introduce them to your unique corporate culture and welcome them into it. Create training content on the origins of your business, its core values, and its approach to customer management, and make it a mandatory part of your channel partner training program.
Challenge #2: Structural Issues
As your channel partner relationships mature, you end up communicating with them less often. Yet just because your partners have stopped asking questions and requesting certain items doesn’t mean they don’t need information. If your training materials, sales collateral, and other important resources aren’t organized effectively, your partners will take the DIY approach of making them up themselves. This creates unnecessary problems.
The Solution – Better Resource Content Through Online Courses: Your partners must have always-on access to the tools they need to be successful. Provide them with dedicated logins to a modern learning platform where they can access on-demand courseware. Encourage them to revisit useful training videos, download all your latest resources, and use chat functionality to reach you if they don’t have (or can’t find) what they need.
Challenge #3: Competitor Influences
Channel partners are typically solicited by (and contracted to) a multitude of different companies. This creates and/or exacerbates an array of issues. For instance, a new partner in your network may have a long-term relationship with another company and be attached to that entity’s way of doing things, or a reseller’s employees may be assigned to too many partners and confuse another company’s policies and processes with yours. In any case, a channel partner’s competing loyalties can make it difficult to ensure that it focuses an appropriate amount of time, energy, and attention on your business.
The Solution – Multi-Tiered Training & Monitoring: Requiring your resellers to complete multi-level training programs over time will keep them informed on your product and the most effective ways to sell it. If you utilize a cloud-based LMS complete with user tracking features, you’ll be able to monitor partners’ completion rates and engagement with your content to keep them accountable to expectations.
Using channel partner training as the long-term solution
In the long run, your channel partner training program can help you not only track the ROI of training and empower partners with up-to-date product information, but it can be used to transmit company culture and values to your partners. When a training program is built and delivered consistently, your channel partners can proudly represent your brand in the marketplace, resulting in more effective partnerships that contribute significantly to the growth of your business.