Every day, I find myself drawing parallels between the channel sales leaders I work with and maritime navigators. This is primarily because they share a basic task: to plot the course for where they plan on taking the ship next. A more interesting explanation is that because my grandfather sailed with the Irish Navy and I am fascinated with all things that float, it’s an easy connection for me to make.

So, when “Jane,” the channel chief of a global tech giant, shared her most recent leadership challenge with me — how to sell with global systems integrators (GSIs) rather than just selling through solution providers — I could smell salt in the sea air while providing my response:

night sky stars

Throughout history, sailors in the Northern Hemisphere have faced countless challenges when heading out to sea. Unchartered waters presented hidden obstacles, while navigational errors resulted in essentially sailing the oceans blind until resources were depleted, never arriving at the port of call.

Navigators solved this problem after identifying a consistent reference in the sky: a star that was always usable to determine bearings and provide direction, especially in times of distress. That constant was the North Star.

Similarly, Jane was charged with navigating a sea of variable conditions. Se risked going off-course and burning through resources. Because she hadn’t sold with GSIs before, her inclination was to go after a few of the big names and dedicate her team to aggressively pursue the partnerships.

She resisted when I suggested that instead of immediately focusing on the “who,” she needed to first dig into the “why” while establishing “what” the expected outcome would be, and “when” it was expected. Only then could we plot the “how” and ultimately determine the “who.”

“I don’t have all year to figure this out,” Jane replied. “I need these GSIs in order to make our number next year.”

Like many channel sales leaders, Jane had overlooked that she already has a North Star: the ideal partner profile (IPP). The answers to the “why, what, when, and how” questions already existed, so we only needed to revisit the IPP process and leverage what we already knew to navigate to where Jane wanted to be.

The following examples illustrate two of many reasons why channel sales leaders should prioritize the development and management of an IPP process.

One: As A “Job Description” For Hiring New Partners

Why do many b-to-b suppliers find themselves with a largely unproductive partner community, resulting in the oft-cited statistic that 20 percent of partners typically do 80 percent of the work? Our research indicates the prevalent underlying cause is organizations’ failure to apply the same level of rigor to recruiting new partners as they apply to hiring new employees. Channel sales leaders often have not prioritized the development and adoption of an ideal partner profiling process for partner-driven initiatives. As with new employee recruitment, the process of recruiting new partners should start with defining a clear vision of the attributes of the best-fit candidates. This is what we referred to as an IPP, a job description for hiring new partners.

Defining a partnership as “ideal” or “focus” is seemingly straightforward; the ideal partner organization stands out from others in its ability to accomplish the goals of the relationship. Once an ideal partner is identified, the channel chief’s team pursues prospect partners that share similar characteristics — or those that look ideal.

Two: As A Predictor Of Future Performance

The ideal speed (or velocity) can be used to indicate how quickly a partnership will achieve specific goals. The profile can help the channel chief set proper expectations for when a partnership will realistically impact overall corporate performance. To do this, establish a timeline for the expected completion of milestones in a partnership, such as certification training or improved conversion rates.  These data points become elements of the ideal partner profile.

Also, the elements of an IPP should be used with prospect partners during the recruitment process to establish expectations of what good looks like, in terms of partnership performance. They should be used to measure and reflect the partnerships progress, as well as partnership shortfall.

When rolling out a new channel sales motion or enhancing an existing partner ecosystem, the IPP is a constant reference that will help you navigate with confidence. While the channel continues to evolve, ideal partners have never been more critical to an indirect channel sales organization. As our client Jane and other channel sales leader navigate the waters of today’s indirect channel, these profiles are is an enduring navigational tool to guide you towards your North Star.