- Many organizations continually make bad choices in the partners they allow into their programs
- Like hiring a new employee, accurate channel partner selection requires knowing what you are looking for and what you expect them to do
- The development of an ideal partner profile should be treated as a requirement – not just a best practice
An ideal partner profile is a list of the specific criteria that should be used to identify and qualify partners to ensure they possess the attributes required to fulfill the company’s priorities and its target customers’ requirements (e.g. coverage, compatibility, capabilities, capacity, creditworthiness, commitment). Some companies use it to evaluate the growth potential of their existing partners and plan partner training. However, ideal partner profiles are primarily used to help companies identify and select the right partners to recruit. Think of it as a job description for hiring new partners that are engaged, productive and profitable.
The importance of proper channel partner selection to success in the marketplace cannot be overemphasized. However, despite the obvious importance of using an ideal partner profile to drive accurate partner selection, very few companies are deriving the full benefits that this tool has been proven to deliver. Here is a list of five best practices:
- Requirements vs. best practice. Can you imagine hiring a new employee into an important position without thoroughly evaluating his or her appropriateness for the job through a resume, application, interview, reference and/or background check? All too often, companies put their fate in the hands of new partners who have not been fully vetted. Given the opportunity and true bottom-line costs a new partner represents, a rigorous, due diligence approach to partner selection that includes using an ideal partner profile should be a requirement. To optimize channel partner recruitment, ideal partner profiles must become part of the organizational mindset and culture.
- Long-term vs. short-term value. An ideal partner profile is worthless if it is not set up to evaluate the right attributes in potential partners. Start by looking at your current partners – focusing on the most successful ones – to identify common attributes that can serve as performance predictors. However, it can take a year or more to ramp a new partner, depending on the offering’s complexity. Therefore, to ensure new (and existing) partners are capable of delivering long-term value, it is even more important to develop the required attributes, depending on where your company is going and not where it has been. In the IT space, for example, consider the move to a subscription-based model – the partner attributes associated with this form of delivery are considerably different than those of a premise-based or perpetual license model (e.g. billing, sales motion and marketing).
- Objective vs. subjective. To drive a fact-based and accurate selection process, convert the ideal partner profile into a quantitative scorecard. The scorecard should rate each partner attribute/selection criteria (e.g. range of 1-5, where 1=poor and 5=excellent) and weight the relative importance of each attribute category or individual attribute (e.g. range of 1-3, where 1=desirable and 3=critical), to arrive at a total maximum score that reflects an ideal partner. However, because a potential partner is rarely an exact match to the available candidate pool, a minimum score should also be established (although it is prudent to also set a mandatory score for critical criteria). If a potential partner scores below the minimum, that does not necessarily mean that the partner should be immediately disqualified. It means that the rep (or distributor) that is recruiting the partner must come to management with a solid justification of why an exception should be made.
- Dynamic vs. static. One of the traps that even well-functioning companies fall into is viewing the development of an ideal partner profile as a one-time event. An ideal partner profile may need to be modified on the basis of changes in the product, markets, the target buyer and the target buyer’s purchase requirements. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the supplier to reassess and make any needed adjustments to the ideal partner profile at least once a year. For example, in the introduction stage for new technologies, the buyer typically needs higher levels of pre- and post-sales support, making targeted resellers that offer value-added services the appropriate recruitment target. However, if a product is in the mature stage and highly commoditized, low price may be the buyer’s key requirement, thus making e-commerce and mass merchandisers potentially more appropriate channels.
- Structured vs. ad hoc. Unfortunately, most partner account managers have little experience in acquiring new partners. Their focus is generally on managing the existing ones. Also, recognizing that someone that is good at farming may not be good at hunting, best practice is to have resources dedicated to recruiting and onboarding new partners, commonly referred to as partner development managers. However, whether dedicated or non-dedicated resources are used, for the ideal partner profile process to work partner recruiters must be supplied with the training and tools they need to be successful. Examples include a selection guide explaining why and how to accurately evaluate potential partners, and a tool guide describing each of the available recruitment resources and how and when they should be used (e.g. collateral, sample telemarketing scripts and an ROI calculator).
The best practices outlined in this blog will take some time and effort to implement. However, effective ideal partner profile implementation is the first step toward ensuring that your organization spends its time, resources and investment on the right partners. To quote Jack Welch, “Nothing matters more in winning than getting the right people on the field.”