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,


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