Introducing new products to your channel partners? You better have a good one of these…

… a COACH.

Coach showing the right way to follow

You’ve heard me speak fondly and share the great deal of loyalty, appreciation, and pride for my High School Basketball Coach, Coach Gray. Many of the lessons he imparted to us as juniors and seniors have stayed with me to this day, and it seems a bit strange now to think that in the course of my life, one of the most important and inspiring teachers I ever had was a “coach”. Through his vision & leadership, he was always able to get the most out of his players.

Coaching is a skill that is as required in business as much as it is in sports. For example, take channel marketing and sales leaders. Much of their efforts are spent designing, implementing, and marketing the perfect partner program. Discounts structures, rebate tiers, MDFs, CO-OPs, partner benefits, etc., are all foundations for any Channel Partner Program.  Developing a great playbook is important, but without the right players and coach… its all for not.

I’ve recently been involved in a project where we (the manufacture) are introducing an enhanced solution to established and successful alliance partners.  This new ‘enhanced’ offering has great potential to onboard a whole new segment of our partners’ customer base while introducing our partners to new customer associations altogether.  Sounds like a no brainer right?  Well it is, but it is easier said than done!  We know that to launch a new initiative with your partners takes a skilled and deliberate communication to get all the players working together.  I recommend a coach’s approach.

I learned the following simple approach from Tracy Austin.  He is the best business coach I’ve ever worked with.

1.) Ask Question – For example, what are your goals this year, Mrs Partner?

2.)  Listen – No, I mean like REALLY listen!  Use your intuition and business acumen to discover how your initiative will help them achieve theirs.

3.)  Feedback – Let them know you were REALLY listening and summarize what you heard and understand.  Then coach them on how your initiative will help them with their goals.  Above all else, help them with their goals.  If your goals don’t align with theirs, that’s OK.  Remember bad news early is good news, better to know now than invest time, money, & people on an initiative that never had a chance.

4.)  Action Plan – If you do find consensus, it’s time to put a plan on paper… but not just any plan… THEIR plan.

5.)  Accountability – Hold all players (including yourself) accountable.  I prefer to schedule face-to-face quarterly meetings to discuss progress, adjustment, and forecast.

This takes time, energy, organization, and leadership—basically a coach’s approach. In the short-term, this can lead to increased mind share, market share, and sales. In the long-term, you will have a partner who is loyal and appreciative, and who takes pride in working with your championship-caliber organization. Just don’t expect them to call you “coach.”

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