Today’s sales channel climates are defined by access to an excess of information, increasing numbers of decision-makers involved in B2B decisions, a plethora of channel technology—and don’t forget the highly competitive markets. All this complicates the channel partner experience and relationship management. As Forrester channel expert Jay McBain puts it, “managing a channel program today has become less of a linear approach and more on-demand with automated workflows, personalization, customization, and scalability.”
Manufacturers can develop better partner relationship management processes and approaches by focusing on the three e’s: experience, engagement, and education. This month, I’ll give each of the three e’s focus in three different blogs. Let’s start with…
By this, I mean your channel partners’ experience with your brand. This could include one-on-one interactions with you, or interactions with your software, products, website, sales promotions, etc. Even if you get along and work well with your channel partners, poor experience can end the relationship quickly. Let’s discuss some channel partner experience areas you can work on.
Third-party sellers often have a bounty of options when it comes to choosing which suppliers to work with. When it comes to products in building, HVAC, machinery, and related industries, safety regulations and standardizations usually dictate a baseline quality of products. Additionally, most end-users and end-consumers don’t have much brand loyalty or recognition for these types of products. This often means that your channel partner relationships are largely influenced by how your channel partners feel about you.
Personalized and customized experiences—or the lack thereof—can have a major impact on your channel partners’ feelings. A Drift study found that channel customers’ “frustrations with services feeling impersonal grew 2x” from 2019 to 2020. To avoid falling into that category, here are some ways you can improve, customize, and personalize your partners’ experience with your brand:
- Use tokens and dynamic content in your channel partner marketing. Many marketing automation systems offer these tools so you can swap out select email and content in your emails and webpages according to the contact information or interests of specific audience members. Modifying messages with personalized sections helps you deliver them the information and resources relevant to them.
- Segment your offers, sales promotions, and incentive program with segmentation tools, you organize your channel partners into groups based on channel partner type, region, performance level, etc. Then you can tailor offers, discounts, sales promotions, and reward-earning opportunities only to those groups for whom these updates and announcements are relevant.
- Create channel program permission sets. Using organizational and hierarchy structure tools in your channel partner program or portal, you can restrict participants’ access to those area that pertain to them. This makes your channel partners’ program experience more convenient and engaging.
Personalization and customization strategies should be built into any technology you use to connect with channel partners. Make sure you’re never sacrificing warmth, familiarity, or helpfulness in order to mass-send your channel marketing. Don’t let tried-and-true personalization tactics—getting facetime or picking up the phone and calling—fall to the wayside.
Website or partner portal UX
Often, your website or app is the first place channel partners go when they have questions about your brand or products. Therefore, a partner portal or website that’s easy to use is crucial to partner relationship management. Unfortunately, as a Drift study reported, the inability to get answers to simple questions is one of channel customers’ biggest frustrations.
There are several things you can do to improve your website’s usefulness and accessibility to your channel partners:
- Make navigation simple. The different areas of your site or partner portal should be obvious and easy to find. Cool and sexy designs are great, but never sacrifice navigation for either—a clean, clear menu is top priority.
- Provide a search function. This improves the partner experience by letting them search for the exact thing they’re looking for. Bonus! You can track and analyze search queries on the backend of your site to find out what your visitors are looking for.
- At least 50% of your web traffic comes from smartphones, so perfect your site’s mobile UX.
- Use single-sign-on (SSO) functionality. If you have multiple web presences—corporate sites, ecommerce sites, incentive programs, or partner portals—consider connecting those sites to a single domain. Your channel partners’ experiences with you are much more convenient and positive when they can get anywhere they need to go from one location, rather than having to memorize multiple URLs.
- Conduct user testing to gather visitor feedback site. Ideally, your user test group should be as similar to your channel partners as possible.
- Make appointment scheduling available. Software like Calendly can integrate with your Outlook or Google calendars so visitors can instantly select and book a time that works best for both parties.
Live chat can provide your channel partners with the convenience and self-service many are looking for. A McKinsey study reported that live chat support was a top-three requirement for best-in-class suppliers, according to 33% of B2B buyers.
Live chat can be a bit of a balancing act, though, particularly when it comes to chat bots. It’s tempting to add every question imaginable to your chat bot, but that’s not necessarily what your channel partners want. A PWC study found that a majority 71% of customers prefer human interaction to talking with a chatbot. I recommend using bots sparingly. Deliver automated messages when no one is available and it makes the most sense, but keep in mind the high likelihood that most of your audience doesn’t enjoy “conversing” with bots.
In today’s increasingly digitalized world, both your partners’ and your customers’ primary experience with your brand is often online. Even if you’re a tech company, you need to implement the features and technology that represent your brand the way you want to be viewed. Do you make channel partners’ lives easier with a convenient ecommerce platform and/or instant, live support? Is your partner portal a hub that generates revenue because it enables, educates, and and engages sales reps? When you start with phenomenal channel partner experience, you fulfill the first requirement of being a valued supplier.
Stay tuned for the next blog in my channel management series, where I’ll focus on enagement!