In any partnership, the key to success is getting both partners on the same page, with shared goals and an agreed-upon plan for reaching them. When everyone is pulling the cart in the same direction, and the relationship is based on good communication, an understanding of both party’s needs and priorities, and a clear delineation of responsibilities for to reach the outcome, a partnership will thrive.
However, all too often in channel partnerships, joint planning is an afterthought, if it occurs at all. While channel partners are independently run business, focused on their own strategic business plans and meeting their own goals, they are also measured on their ability to meet certain revenue objectives and targets as established by their channel partners and vendors. Every aspect of their performance is measured, and ultimately, a channel’s rating with the vendor depends in large part on partner performance as well.
With that in mind, it only makes sense that ongoing joint planning should be a part of any partnership agreement. Planning both at the beginning of the partnership to establish baseline goals, and then revisiting plans over the course of the relationship, can keep everyone working in sync and improve the overall success of the venture.
The Keys to a Successful Plan
Many channel partners are reluctant to undertake joint planning with their customers because they don’t want to be seen as overstepping or controlling the relationship. However, outlining goals and developing a plan together isn’t about taking control. It’s about keeping the partnership energized and fresh, and ensuring everyone gets the maximum benefits.
In some cases, channel partners have instituted online tools that allow customers to make forecasts, input different values, and model different outcomes quickly. While these self-service tools are a good way to test different ideas and gather information, an online form or application does not replace the value of a face-to-face (or even Skype) meeting in which everyone can hash out their organizational goals, discuss barriers, and develop solutions that might not be possible using an online tool. Not to mention, filling out a form to create a cookie cutter plan is not going get partners excited and motivated to follow through.
During the face-to-face meetings, it’s important to cover at least four important aspects of the plan:
What are the goals that your partner is trying to meet? How do they align with your goals and the vendor’s goals? How can you support your partner in meeting those goals?
During this discussion, you need to determine how the partner will market the products and the expectations for doing so. As a channel partner, it’s your responsibility to educate your partners as to the tools they have to ensure success with the plan. What collateral do they have access to? What are the new developments they need to be aware of? Projects often fail because the people involved do not have the information and tools they need to be successful, so be sure to provide everything that they need to know.
Outlining expectations for your partner’s investment, as well as your own, prevents unpleasant surprises and gives everyone the tools they need to make smart budgetary decisions.
Execution Plan and Timeline
It’s not enough to simply determine goals and objectives and come up with a plan. You need to know how it will be executed. Discuss execution, and determine a timeline and action plan with specific assignments and deadlines to ensure follow-through.
Consider investing in a collaboration platform, even one you yourself are selling as part of a distributor-reseller partnership like Cisco HCS, which allows for seamless collaboration via the cloud to ensure that everyone stays on track and obstacles are identified and overcome before they push the plan off track.
During this phase of planning, it’s also useful to identify any potential obstacles to the successful execution of the plan and develop responses. For example, distribution partners may need additional training in order to offer a higher level of service, or provide better service to existing customers. Acknowledging these obstacles in the planning phase and addressing their potential impact — and developing solutions — is an important step toward success.
Joint planning is a good first step to jumpstart a new partnership and ensure that existing partnerships remain on track and continue to improve and grow. By defining the goals, the KPIs, and an action plan, your partnerships will thrive. It may be a time-consuming process, but it’s one that will reap major benefits for your business.