It’s fair to say that the success of the NonStop community is largely down to the strength of vendor partnerships. Whether on the HPE price list, or selling directly in a crowded market, many opportunities would not exist without a referral or the endorsement of “Frenemies”.
Selecting the right partner is a critical path to representation of a company’s products, its brand or even its vision.
And the source of channel partners is extremely varied. They may already be part of the NonStop vendor community and well known to the broader NonStop community but on the other hand, there are other viable partners out there who are only just beginning to understand the importance of the NonStop marketplace.
Sometimes this source can be as a result of a partner contacting us and simply “asking” to represent Insider Technologies’ products. In the age of the internet and automated prospecting, it is common to receive such unsolicited enquiries from reps and distributors. It may also come about due to a chance meeting with a sales agent at a conference, or through referral by existing partners.
Before agreeing terms with new channel partners, the single most important question to ask is “What do I expect from this partner”?
Channel partners can fulfill many roles. These can include:
- New customer acquisition (and if so which target market)
- Management and support of existing customer’s in their territory
- Customer service
- Logistical support
- Marketing support
- Debt collection
- Value add packaging or selling
- Co-operating with other channel partners in the same territory
In our experience, the best time to establish and agree these expectations with a channel partner is at the beginning of a relationship. It can be extremely difficult and sometimes counter-productive to introduce new expectations to channel partners once the partnership is up and running for a period of time. Following signature on an NDA, we’ll share our business and channel strategy with prospective partners at the early stage of discussions. Information of who we target, how we sell, our competitive advantages and how they can fit into this model is always welcome by professional distributors. The good ones will always want to learn as much about us as we do about them.
We always define our "channel partner profile." This is normally a 1-page document which sets out the characteristics of our ideal channel partner. For example, we may want to include requirements for:
- Access to target customer base: This is probably the most important feature to look for in a new channel partner.
- Territory coverage: What type of sales force is needed and how many?
- Synergistic product line: What product lines compliment ours? Will we allow them to sell competitive products or should they work exclusively with our product?
- Technical know-how: Do they embrace a similar approach to technical delivery?
- Support services: How important is marketing, customer service and logistical capabilities
- Strategic alignment: What type of business do they target, how does this compare with our strategy?
- Experience: What is the minimum time they should be in business for?
- Financial stability: A credit rating and references should be required before formalising any agreement
- Interpersonal rapport: Is this a person/team that we can work with? Do we believe they will be a flexible partner?
- Professional impression: Do they present themselves in a professional way?
This list contains both hard/tangible characteristics of a potential partner's company along with softer/intangible elements (e.g. interpersonal rapport) which are just as important to a business relationship. We try to define the "ideal" characteristics of our channel partners and help to ensure that best in class partners will be selected.
Deciding on the type of partner you need is one of the most important steps to channel development.