What Makes a Stellar Partner Program?

Posted: 9/13/2012 by Norma Watenpaugh

CRN recently released their annual partner program review which grades partner programs based upon a number of criteria including vendor investments in program offerings, partner profitability, partner training, education and support, marketing programs and resources, sales support and communication. We would like to extend our congratulations to all those vendors who achieved the acclaimed 5-star rating!

A lot of thought goes into designing a partner program. A well-crafted program is more than a smorgasbord of benefits and requirements for partners. Program elements need to align with your partner program strategy. Partner program objectives can be to target incremental market opportunities, drive innovation on a vendor platform, or provide supplemental services around a vendor product. With a clear partner strategy, you can build program elements which enable and reward the strategic outcomes you are trying to achieve.

Program benefits generally fall into two types: those that build capability and those that reward performance. Training, certifications, and specializations are capability builders and are often requirements to advance through program tiers which allow partners to gain access to greater benefits and more lucrative incentives.

The other dimension to program design is to understand partner motivations. How do they grow their business? What drives their profitability? What program benefits will partners value in helping them achieve their goals and objectives and thus build a relationship and loyalty?

But how do you know what program benefits partners will value? We encourage regular partner loyalty surveys which can give you these insights and help you fine tune your program. We found in one survey that partners highly valued sales and marketing support but the vendor program was very weak in this area. Increasing benefits in this area helped the vendor increase their loyalty ratings the following year as well as grow their business through partners.

Increasingly, we see programs that enable partners to increase the attach rate of services to product resale. These are transformational benefits enabling partners to realize more profit through high margin service business.

One overlooked area of program excellence is execution. A strong partner community cannot be built if your execution is spotty. You need to be able to reliably track partner investment in training, certifications, and specializations as well as partner contributions in revenue. Partners will expect that these elements are accurately tracked and their advancement through tiers progresses without snags. You also need to be on top of deal registration, MDF funds, and lead distribution and manage those programs smoothly and with timely response. Failure to do so will erode partner loyalty and use of those programs will decline so neither you nor your partner benefit.

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