Correct Ways to respond to “Thanks!”

happy-thanksgiving-pictures1I know as channel professionals we feel like we don’t hear the phrase “thank you” enough from our partners. So when we do receive gratitude for our efforts, it’s important to respond in a way that really strengthens our partnership.

A couple of year’s ago I read a wonderful and very appropriate post from my friend at influencePEOPLE. Brian Ahearn is a Cialdini Method Certified Trainer and, through his blog, trainings, and workshops, he helps people influence others. If you want to hear your clients, friends, and family say “yes” more often, you should definitely subscribe to his blog.

In his Thanksgiving-week blog, “Correct Ways to respond to ‘Thanks!’” he points out how most people typically respond to the phrase “thank you”:

  • “No problem.”
  • “No big deal.”
  • “Just doing my job.”
  • “I would have done it for anyone.”
  • Or worst of all, silence.

In the words of Ahearn, people need to “strike each of these responses from their vocabulary!”

I couldn’t agree more. When it comes to engaging with your channel partners, it’s important to take advantage of any and every opportunity that’s available. Here are some suggestions for how to respond next time your channel partner offers their appreciation to you:

  • “You’re one of our most important channel partners, so I was happy to do this for you.”
  • “That’s what long-term partners do for one another. Thank you for trusting us.”
  • “That’s part of the great service you can expect when you deal with us. We appreciate you, your business, and our continued partnership.”
  • “It would have killed an ordinary person but I was glad to risk it for you.” (Some people will appreciate the humor)
  • “That’s part of the great service you can expect when you deal with me.”
  • “I was happy to do it. I appreciate you (and your business).”

During this holiday season, it is so important to count our blessings and give thanks. But equally as significant is how you respond to those that take the time to say “thank you” to you.  Whether you are around the dinner table or the boardroom table, don’t miss a wonderful opportunity to deepen your relationships with those around you.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Move the Channel,
Travis

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profileAbout the AuthorTravis Smith is the CEO & Founder of Move the Channel, a worldwide network and community of channel marketing & sales Chiefs and channel thought leaders. He also is a leader at HMI Performance Incentives, a channel engagement, and incentive company focused on Technology Channel Incentive Strategies. Travis helps some of the most respected companies in the world design, implement, and manage their domestic and global channel incentive programs.

Channel Marketing: Don’t Give Your Partners the (Full) Playbook

simple-game-planA couple of year’s ago I wrote a super bowl-edition blog entitled “Give Your Partners Your Playbook.” Since that time, I’ve changed my stance on this topic. Sure, you can call me a flip-flopper, but the fact is that advances in technology have changed the landscape of channel engagement.

Consider this: depending on their formations, personnel, and different variations of each play, the average NFL offense can have upwards of 500 plays in their playbook. Now, this isn’t an insurmountable number, and players can certainly master each of these plays, but it takes lots of mental preparedness and studying in order to become an effective offensive player.

If it’s difficult for an employee that gets paid millions of dollars to learn a playbook, think about your partner’s salespeople who have multiple playbooks to consider.   Your playbook today is most likely your partner portal.  Yep, just about every case study, sales tool, and resources one would ever need is in your partner portal.    It’s good that your partner salespeople and sales engineers have access to the playbook, but don’t expect them to know it or even be able to navigate it.

Don’t give them the playbook, give them the “game plan.” By only giving them the overarching game plan, the likelihood of them actually absorbing the “plays” and strategy increase ten-fold.

Over the last 5 years, the industry channel organizations has been spending time, money, and resources on answering the question, “How can we be more efficient with our communication and become easier to work with?” As an industry, we’ve been successful with implementing Partner Portals, Learning Management Systems, Partner Relationship Management Systems, etc. These have been positive, even necessary steps for industry growth. But now, with the foundation of all these past investments in place, we need to transition from simply giving our partner sales and sales engineers “access” to these resources, to actually leveraging these systems and enabling these people so that they become more comfortable, compliant, and successful in growing their businesses while selling our products.

spotlightThis can be achieved by shining a spotlight on the five important channel behaviors that can transform into eventual sales. This spotlight is your channel engagement platform. A channel engagement portal blankets over all your channel resources and makes it easy for your partner’s people to identify the top 5 key plays (behaviors) that lead to sales.  Those plays might include: certification trainings, viewing a new product launch video, downloading a new case study, reading a recent favorable Gartner report, setting a meeting with the regional business development manager, a new account introduction, or whatever else we know continues to move the sticks for fresh set of down.

“But Travis, can these things/behaviors be tracked and measured?”  Absolutely!  And we if they are “good” and should be measured, then they also need to be rewarded with incentives.

So don’t overload your Partners with 500 different plays to choose from—give them your five best that can be run utilized successfully again and again and again.

As always, send me a note if you’d like to discuss or talk through some of these ideas together. And feel free to join in on this conversation at Move the Channel Group, your exclusive destination for Channel insights and innovation.

Move the Channel,

Travis

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profileAbout the AuthorTravis Smith is the CEO & Founder of Move the Channel, a worldwide network and community of channel marketing & sales Chiefs and channel thought leaders. He also is a leader at HMI Performance Incentives, a channel engagement, and incentive company focused on Technology Channel Incentive Strategies. Travis helps some of the most respected companies in the world design, implement, and manage their domestic and global channel incentive programs.

5 Principles for a Channel-Committed Company (Living the Five)

father-and-son-fishing-at-sunset-aaron-bakerWhen I was a young boy my Dad taught my brothers and me that with the 5 “C’s” we could accomplish anything we set our minds to. These 5 “C’s” were courage, conviction, concentration, consistency, and moral conscious (but of course, when he saw a teaching moment he’d often work in other “C’s” from time to time too!)

The 5 C’s remind me of 5 principles that are key for manufacturers to accomplish what they’ve set their mind to.   Many sales organizations struggle with going “all in” with a Channel go-to-market strategy. Instead, they often like to keep their options open and see if the direct model is going to be this quarter’s big winner. Unfortunately, that approach can only last so long—it rarely ever succeeds as a long-term solution. The fact is, if you are ever hoping to expect more from your channel partners, then they need to know that their partner is going to be “all in” with them.

Now, I don’t claim to be my Dad, but I’d like to take a page out of his playbook and offer my own set of principles for channel partner success. So, if you can try and LIVE these 5 principles, you and your partner will both know that one another is “all in” when it comes to your partnership. These 5 principles came to me in church when I learned about the book “Living the Five” by Jim and Jennifer Cowart.

  1. You can’t reach your company’s full potential Alone
  2. Growing partners challenge and change your organization (for the better). How can we help our partner grow?
  3. Successful growing partners embrace sharing in a channel community (Create a healthy ecosystem)
  4. Winning manufacturers serve their partners first, then there is potential for win-win
  5. Being a Channel-Committed Company is more than just a business decision—it’s a lifestyle or company culture

As always, send me a note if you’d like to discuss or talk through some of these ideas together. And feel free to join in on this conversation at Move the Channel Group, your exclusive destination for Channel insights and innovation.

Move the Channel,

Travis

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profileAbout the AuthorTravis Smith is the CEO & Founder of Move the Channel, a worldwide network and community of channel marketing & sales Chiefs and channel thought leaders. He also is a leader at HMI Performance Incentives, a channel engagement and incentive company, focused on Technology Channel Incentive Strategies. Travis helps some of the most respected companies in the world design, implement, and manage their domestic and global channel incentive programs.

Do THIS, before you Launch a Channel Partner Acquisition Campaign

Which Partner do I target?On Thursday I had a stimulating conversation with two fellow Channel Movers whom I had met in the  Move the Channel Group. Jill & Sean head up the North American channel programs for an exciting company looking to aggressively grow through an enhanced partner strategy.  She had reached out to me to see if I might serve as a sounding board for her regarding an important partner acquisition initiative her technology company was tackling. Of course, being the channel nerd that I am, I enthusiastically accepted her invite for this exciting brainstorming session.

During our talk, I came to realize that it’s a great time to be at Jill’s organization. They’ve established many best practices with their channel partner program that are opening up huge opportunities both in their current ecosystem and among new markets. Based on their recent increased activity among their current partners, they are looking to make new channel partner acquisition a measurable goal for the upcoming year, and currently have their sights set on attracting two distinct types of partners:

1) Traditional VAR Partner (more transactional)

2) Strategic Alliances, or what is referred to as a Strategic VAR or System Integrator (S/I).

Now, this organization has a high standard and requirement for both partner types.  They are definitely looking for established and respected partners with the proper focus and infrastructure to deliver and represent their product. Wisely, they also require that their partners possess a minimum number of focused salespeople and sales engineers. In other words, competence and quality is a requisite for them.

So, during our brainstorming the first thing we did was articulate the differences in approach depending on the type of partner we were seeking. The typical strategy to acquire a strategic alliance partner is vastly different than the strategy to bring on a traditional channel VAR partner. One major distinction is the basic profile of the two:

  • Traditional VAR is a specialist in 1.) Their solution,
  • Strategic Alliance Partner is a specialist in 1.) Their solution AND has 2.) a laser focus on their industry.

The result of this distinction is that while we can have MANY traditional VARs as partners, it only makes sense to have 1 or 2 strategic alliance partners per industry. As you can imagine, each group needs their own tweaked or configured channel program that appeals to their unique motivators, and thus the subsequent acquisition plans can vary greatly.

Let’s look at the VAR that specializes in their solution, not their industry.  With these partners they are extremely competent at the products and all the parts associated solution.  As a manufacture, our product(s) is usually an important part of their offering.

What does a strategic alliance partner look like?   Well they have all the attributes of a traditional VAR but have four major elements that make them “strategic” in the partner world.  First, they usually provide core enterprise solutions.  Second, their core solution is mission critical to their customers’ operations. Third, 80%+ of their core product is owned and built in-house; in other words, they will sell their partners’ products, but only as an enhancement or add-on to their core. Lastly, they are usually laser-focused on a certain industry and therefor a leader in market share.

After identifying the distinct profiles of the two partner types, the question Jill, Sean, and I attempted to answer was: How can Jill’s & Sean’s organization cut through the noise and all the other competing options (other vendors trying to partner too), while avoiding the status quo?

The answer, we decided, was to understand what’s important to each partner type.We Understand Your Needs

To start, we discussed how an organization like Jill & Sean’s could help the Traditional VAR achieve their objectives:

  • Profitable Business – A VAR usually has 3 buckets of product categories:Low-margin products – if your products falls in this bucket, you want get ANY interests
    1. Decent-margin products
    2. High-margin products.
  • Reoccurring Business – does your product offer opportunities for reoccurring revenue?
  • Sales and Marketing Integration – Does your channel program give them access to external people and tools that will make them successful and help leverage best practices?
  • Exclusive Club – Does your program make them feel special through with public recognition?
  • Clear goals and expectations – Does your partner onboarding help the new partner set obtainable and clear goals for the partnership to be considered a success?
  • Performance Incentives – If the above goals are achieved, is there something extra offered? Does your channel incentive program shine a light on “good behavior” and reward for Key Performance Indicators like training modules, account introductions, and deal registration at the partner’s sales and sales engineer level? We call your partner’s Sales and Sales Engineer the channel point of influence or POI.

 

As for the Strategic Alliance Partner, a partner might help them realize their goals through:

  • Profitable Business – Your product must fall in the high-margin bucket! This might be achieved by giving them the ability to own the installation, offering 1st line of support, and/or customization opportunities.
  • Reoccurring Business – Your product must fit their business model and be a good source of reoccurring revenue.
  • Stickiness – There might be an opportunity to partner even at a lower margin, but only if your product offers stickiness. In other words, does it enable them to become more integrated with their customer, thereby increasing “switching cost”.
  • Sales and Marketing Integration – Your standard product material won’t work. The Strategic Alliance Partner expects their partners to help their marketing team develop marketing strategies specific to their core products & solution.
  • Exclusive Club – In many cases a Strategic Alliance Partner might ask for the ability to “white label” your products. They certainly don’t want you working with their competition.
  • Clear goals and expectations – Does your partner onboarding program help the new partner set obtainable and clear goals for the partnership to be considered a success?
  • Performance Incentives – If the above goals are achieved, is there something extra offered? Your performance incentive platform must have the flexibility built in to target and reward the strategic alliance partner’s sales team (POI).

 

In retrospect, this was a timely conversation for me because I had spent my entire career working in the more traditional VAR channel, holding positions along the way with Manufacturers, Distributors, and Resellers. Most recently, I spent two years designing and implementing Strategic Alliances & Strategies for a world-class multibillion-dollar software company.   It is great to be back at HMI Performance Incentives helping other tech channel organization enhance their channel programs through engagement and incentive strategies.

I hope sharing this brainstorm session with you helps you Move YOUR Channel!  To join the conversation please come to the Move the Channel Group on LinkedIn!

Thanks to Jill and Sean for a rip-roaring good time! Let’s connect soon and chat some more!

Move the Channel,

Travis

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Transforming your channel? Focus on building the new.

The Secret to change is to transformational-chess-piecesfocus ALL of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.   – Socrates

This is certainly true when it comes to transforming your alliance channel partnerships.

I’ve had many second half and “what’s next” planning sessions with alliance partners the last few weeks.  The overlying theme from these meetings and
Executives seems to be “how do I Transform my channel.”  This week alone I’ve met with two senior executives of industry-leading organizations who both suggested that transformation of their channel has become a priority.  Although this is not a new idea, most of my channel initiatives in the previous years had involved trying to inspire MORE of an existing behavior within the channel. But transforming the channel is about “Building the New”.  And it’s not just about a tweak here and a turn there. These executives want to fundamentally change how their channel partners and partner salespeople do two things: a) How their partners interact with their company, and b) How their partners Engage and sell to the end-user.

Part of the art of channel marketing is being able to influence key stakeholders in the channel without having the most powerful tool, the influence of direct compensation. Our channel stakeholders aren’t employees and therefore we don’t control our channel partner’s compensation plans. That being said, we do have significant control at the partner firm-level, and therefore we have the ability to adjust pricing discounts, offer rebates, and create MDF thresholds, all of which can encourage the partner to take their channel in a new transformative direction. If we want to change our business-as-usual approach to the channel, we must not be afraid to use every tool in our toolbox.

Another powerful instrument that can be used to transform your channel strategy is a wisely crafted channel incentive program. We’ve already talked about levers you have that can impact your partner at firm-levelBut what about motivating the Point Of Influence (POI) of our sale? The POI typically identifies the partner’s sales people or Sales Engineers that interface with the end-user/end-buyer and own the relationship. The question is: How do we reach and engage these important channel influencers?change tranform

With a well-designed channel incentive program we can focus on building the new and accelerating the transformation of our channel. What are some transforming behaviors we can start to influence?

  • Building the New — There are many different degrees of training. There is everything from “Readiness” lessons and quizzes to full-blown Accreditation programs. Of course while any readiness initiative can be rolled out in weeks, a more significant accreditation program will usually take significant time & effort. Also, we know if Partner Salespeople (POI) invest their time in these training initiatives—whether its 15 minutes or 15 hours—this mindshare WILL ultimately translate into market share.  Readiness initiatives should be hosted in your Channel incentive or engagement portals that target the POI audience.
  • A New Partnership — Transformation of the channel isn’t just about how our channel goes to market but how the channel partner works and interacts with us (the manufacture or distributor). This may be asking our channel partners and channel partner salespeople to change how they engage, where they engage, and what they engage at our organization. For example, for years manufactures and distributors have been investing in various partner resources including partner portals, partner marketing automation, etc. Although these “portals” are certainly still valuable resource centers, most organizations have started to realize that the “Do it yourself” approach makes it difficult to measure the effectiveness.
  • A New message for the End Buyer — As mentioned above, the DIY approaches haven’t worked as planned. There’s a concrete need to guide our channel partners especially at the POI to market and communicate the New…. products, services, and approach.  When and how end-buyer communications are executive is often a trackable behavior and therefore one that can be incentivized in your channel engagement portal.
  • Selling to a New Stakeholder . . . the Decision Maker — It’s not only what we’re selling that is New: it’s who we’re selling to. Setting up meetings with the right people or the New decision makers is something else we can influence. With a decent CRM setting meetings with right people is a trackable behavior and therefore one that can be incentivized in your channel engagement portal.

These are just some examples of trackable and rewardable behaviors that can help you transform your channel. Remember, the Secret is to focus ALL of your energy on building the new, or what will transform your channel. A well-designed and properly managed channel incentive program can help you do that.

Have you been tasked with transforming your channel? Are you reaching the partner firm-level as well as at the Point of Influence (POI)?

As always, send me an email with questions, comments, or to set up a call.
Move the Channel,

Travis

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Have we out-kicked the coverage when it comes to Channel and Alliance Partnerships? 

puntIn American football, this analogy references the idea of the punter having such a good kick, that he out-kicked his special team’s coverage.  The tremendous kick has the cover team out of position at no fault of their own.  As a result, the kick returner is able to capitalize and runs the kick back for a game swinging touchdown!  It is hard to find a more disappointing and pivotal play in sports than a punt return for touchdown against your team!

In channel marketing & sales, we are starting to out kick the coverage. There is no doubt, channel marketing automation tools and channel sales tools are more advanced and effective than ever.  However, is that a bad thing?   Should we tell the punter to not kick it so far?

Of course not!  Bombs away!   But, we do need to rethink our coverage team and plan.  Your channel and alliance managers need to adjust to the terrific “kick” and provide even deeper coverage.  The booming kick isn’t a reason to scratch the play…  its reason to sprint harder, faster, further.  Just like the booming technology is reason to increase your relationship efforts and understanding with your channel partners.  Too many think the marketing automation and sales tools are reason to let up.  Wrong!  In fact, more than ever we need to “up” our coverage.  
Channel Account Managers (players) shouldn’t take the play off and Channel Chiefs (Head Coaches) need to remember how vital good players are to winning.  A good kicker is a huge asset but don’t stop coaching and properly incentivizing your cover team.

Take note and make some half-time adjustments that put your channel reps back in position to execute.

As always, please send me a note with your thoughts and your experience.

Move the Channel,

Travis

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Don’t just fill your channel partner’s pail…

beautiful-jungle-waterfall-nature-wallpaper-beautiful-759063643This past weekend my wife graduated from The Ohio State University with her PhD.  She is now embarking on her new career as an education professor working with and preparing future teachers.  Her expertise is in science education, and she cares deeply about improving science education experiences, teaching and learning for all children.

In her dissertation dedication she references one of her favorite quotes by Yeats, and one she applies in her teaching,

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the igniting of a flame.”

As always, when I hear such a powerful and moving statement I try to see how that statement might be applied to moving the channel.

All too often we fill our partners pails with discounts, co-marketing programs, trainings, and everything else that may be on our partner program checklist with hopes that this ‘pail filling’ will be the ignition we are seeking.  To take a step back and examine the pail, have we drenched the partner to the point of stifling the partnership?  Don’t get me wrong, filling the pail with a well-designed partner program is the foundation for a successful and fruitful partnership.  But a foundation is just the beginning.

Lets deliver and communicate a world-class channel program and benefits, but then turn our efforts to understanding our partner’s needs, challenges, opportunities, and passions.  If we can get to know our partner and what drives them we can “ignite” the partnership into a greater business opportunity than ever imagined.Don't just fill your partner's pail

Are you only filling your partners pail?  Where is the source of ignition with your partner?  How do you “ignite” your partnership into growth and profits?

As always, send me a note with your thoughts and feedback.

Move the Channel,
Travis

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Are you ready to “elevate” your company through Channel Partnerships?

4977a0d1cdf53461d5816cffdf683be8I just returned from a company’s National Sales Meeting.  It was everything that a NSM should be; inspiring, fun, rejuvenating, yet exhausting.  The conference’s challenge was to “Elevate”, elevate beyond their past year’s record highs, elevate beyond our comfortable sales room,  to find the biggest room in the world: the room for improvement.

The group, comprised of highly successful sales professionals, all part of a direct sales team.  The company has earned its place as the leader in its core industry through excellent Executive and Sales management which implements a direct sales strategy executed at a high level .

OK, Travis…  Why are you writing about a direct sales example on a site called Move the Channel?   Wait for it…  A growing, yet small portion of this organization’s business is through channel partnerships and alliances.

So why would a company that is so successful at selling direct invest in a partner channel?

The answer is simple, Innovation.  Going-to-Market Innovation.   The best companies not only innovate what to bring to market, but how to go-to-market.

Strategic channel partners can take a company to new industries, markets, and to new segments of their core industry.  Not only can they do this, they can do it at fraction of the cost and risk.  These costs and risks are minimized by avoiding assembling industry experts and deploying expensive sales people.  That’s right, through strategic partnerships a company can gain instant industry expertise, credibility, and access to the partners’ sales force.

I expect some push back especially with this audience, but a direct sales organization is primed to develop a sales and distribution channel.  They have proven products & services that can be tweaked and customized to the right partner in the right markets.  As a reseller or OEM partner, I’m much more likely to “partner” with a proven winner. 6d496cc1400e3219cc0a017f68a0c957

I’m not claiming this is easy or happens overnight, but with vision, commitment, and the right channel team; a traditionally direct sales organization is in excellent position to leverage its products, sale practices, and respect into new markets through the right partners.

Are you ready to elevate your company through channel partnerships?

As always, send me a note with your thoughts and feedback.

Move the Channel,
Travis

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Book it! Share a stirring book with your alliance partner

Little BetsAs I look back, the most memorable and stirring incentives I’ve ever received have come in the form of handwritten notes.  For whatever reason, I’ve always appreciated the time and thought that goes into putting pen to paper. It’s a personal gesture that feels far more meaningful than, say, an email. Of those notes that I still cherish and read often, most have been written on the inside of a book. I have a library full of business and leadership books, but the ones that have a special place on the shelf are those with personal messages written in them by a boss, business partner, or person I just greatly respect.

Is there a book that your leadership is reading that could apply to any business? Is there a personal favorite book that has shaped your personality and how you do business? Have you written your own book? One of the better ways to align your channel distribution partner with you and your organization is to have them read the same book as you. You can encourage this process by sending them a title with aFullSizeRender personal message inside. It’s a terrific gesture of respect and inclusion in your go-to-market strategy.

What books have you read that would be a good one to share with your alliance partners?

If you email me with a book gift idea I’ll make sure to accumulate a list from the responses and share it back.

Best,
Travis

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