It’s one thing for a technology vendor to want a successful channel program with IT solution providers, MSPs and other partners. It’s quite another to achieve that success. Building a partner program takes care planning, discipline, investment, and patience—just to name a few things.
You also have to know where to start, how to gauge success, and how to take the next steps. If you’ve never done it before, or haven’t been happy with the results, it can be a frustrating experience.
To help tech vendors be more successful, CompTIA’s Channel Development Advisory Council (CDAC), comprised of industry leaders from all aspects of the supply chain (including tech vendors, distributors, and partners), has developed a Channel Readiness Assessment tool. Completing the assessment will help companies better understand where they are in the channel-building process, what their strengths and weaknesses are, as well as actionable advice on how to improve with partners.
You can start the assessment here, or first read the following FAQ to get the answers to your most pressing questions about the tool.
What is the Channel Readiness Assessment?
The assessment is intended for technology vendors to measure how prepared they are to engage in a channel model, and where they might make improvements. Users are asked a series of guided questions based on their company’s current channel processes and practices. Based on those responses, the assessment generates scores in several categories and provides actionable advice on how to improve perceived weaknesses.
Why did the CDAC believe that a Channel Readiness Assessment was needed for tech vendors?
Council members sensed the need for an assessment based on their collective experiences in the tech supply chain. There’s a perceived disconnect between vendors and solution providers and the goal of the assessment is to produce more successful partnerships. In addition, business models frequently change and adapt as customer needs change and the assessment is designed to help vendors better understand what today’s partners need to accelerate success.
What are some common mistakes that vendors make assessing their own channel readiness?
Vendors may be overestimating their own channel readiness if they consider or call themselves a “channel first” or “partner first” company, but still operate with a direct-model mindset that creates conflict with channel partners in go-to-market efforts, according to CDAC members. Specific mistakes may include the following:
- Having a primary focus on a direct sales force, and a secondary focus with partners. For example, creating content, videos, campaigns, and additional assets for a direct sales force to target customers instead of driving a go-to-market strategy first through the channel. This often stems from individual departments within the vendor organization being more comfortable with direct-to-customer tactics.
- Lack of internal channel education/awareness. While a vendor’s channel team may understand the value partners bring, they aren’t doing enough to educate the rest of the company. As a result, product and services are often created with a focus on the direct customer, not the channel.
- Underestimating the time and initial investment to be successful with partners. Developing a channel practice isn’t a “start/stop” process. It takes time to build the channel and see results. Vendors also need to set appropriate expectations with senior management.
- Viewing the channel as only a sales engine. In truth, partners help leverage cost reductions and improved customer service opportunities, among other benefits.
- Other common mistakes include a lack of internal alignment and buy in across all stakeholders in the company; uneven compensation plans for internal and partners; a process to eliminate channel conflict; and forgetting that their product or service is likely part of a larger multi-vendor solution.
What can vendors do better to improve their channel readiness?
First, complete the Channel Readiness Assessment and follow the guidance based on your score. But more than that, acknowledge across your organization that the channel is a partnership, not a sales engine. Delivering strong outcomes to partners will lead to delivering strong outcomes to customers. Don’t enter into a channel program with preconceived notions about how you’re going to market, i.e., partners will get 10% in shared revenue, case closed. Successful channel programs are cultivated, not launched.
What’s the importance of each of the five sections of the assessment: Strategic Planning, Strategic Alignment, Financial & Resourcing, Enablement, and Operations?
Success requires full business planning and execution, and these phases must be addressed in any business—direct or channel, according to CDAC members. Each section is important to help vendors avoid or eliminate the mistakes mentioned above. Successful channel programs must include buy in from executives, plans to cover investment costs to begin building the channel (tools, recruitment, partner programs, new content etc.).
Strategic planning. The first step in channel readiness is deciding that the channel is a valuable route to market. Planning and buy-in must start from the top to ensure the channel becomes instilled in the corporate culture. That’s where many vendors trying to build a channel for the first time will fail.
Strategic alignment. It’s important for vendors to vet partners—and vice versa. That’s not done very well now, said council members, who compare the quest to win new customers as a “land grab.” It’s critical to choose partners that best fit your organization, rather than authorizing anyone willing to sell your product or service.
Financial & Resourcing. Financing programs are critical to sustaining long-term growth, profitability, and solid relationships with partners. A “let’s see if this works” approach won’t work with partners who other options. Channel programs should deliver successful outcomes and resources for all parties.
Enablement. Investments in training and educating partners will help them develop into extensions of your own sales force. In this stage, it’s critical to recognize that a one-size-fits-all model likely won’t work. There are many types of partners, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and needs.
Operations. The last section measures the ebb and flow between partners and vendors, where establishing strong communications tactics with partners is critical to success. Understanding each of these sections, and building prowess in each, will help build your partner base.
I’ve completed the assessment and received a score. What now?
The assessment includes practical advice and best practices that vendors can implement to improve their channel effectiveness. The guidance was developed by CDAC members, all of whom have built successful channel partnerships through the years. The council hopes users will view their insights not as barriers to break down, but as a bridge to success.
Each completed section offers a comprehensive profile of your channel readiness, with Red, Yellow and Green outcomes to illustrate whether you have a lot of work to do, you can make some improvements, or you’re doing pretty well.
If I received a good score, are there still insights I can use to help improve channel readiness?
Yes. Technology changes quickly, as does the need for the channel to respond appropriately. There’s always an opportunity for continued education and the need for vendors and partners to find new and better ways to work together when launching new products and services.
Who helped to create the Channel Readiness Assessment tool?
The tool was developed by a large group of tech leaders that represented vendors, distributors, and other various types of channel partners. Each link in the supply chain was well represented to ensure the tool returns an honest, complete profile of a vendor’s channel readiness.