You’re at a cocktail party of friends and “friends of friends.” It’s a nice evening. You start talking to someone new who at first seems interesting. However, five minutes in you’re looking for an excuse to get out of the one-sided conversation. They’ve talked about their trips to Europe, their CrossFit routines, and their new ideas for a startup. The problem is they didn’t let you talk, and when you tried they quickly rerouted and moved back to their own story.
This is a classic case of “talking at” someone instead of “talking with.” The latter form of communication is two-sided. You engage someone by talking about shared subjects, and reciprocating interest from the other person with genuine interest or delight of your own.
This “talking at” dynamic is unfortunately found in business relationships. Within organizations there are partner relationships that are too one-sided. In channel partner relationships, many firms are experts at “talking to” their partners instead of engaging them in collaborative engagement.
Has your channel program become the overbearing cocktail party guest? If you want to regain your status as “everyone’s favorite guest”, then read on for some tips on shifting to a more collaborative approach for your channel partners.
Improve Your Communications
Part of transitioning away from “talking at” your channel partners is reviewing your communication methods. Look at your emails that go out to partners about new products or services or other news. Do these messages ask for feedback? Are they written in a way that suggests you understand the partners’ pain points?
Also take a deeper look at your collateral. Are you offering answers to the partners’ common questions? Is the material written from just your perspective, or do you take into account the goals of your partners? A quality channel management program (we’ve got a good one) will make it easier to collaborate with partners to develop communication programs that make sense. Listen to your partners by reviewing survey data and simply speaking to them directly. Maybe your current materials aren’t describing your product the right way. Perhaps you need a 100-word brochure, not the 500-word version that reads like a “wall of text.” If a partner relays to you what really matters to the customer, then pay attention! Talk with them to figure out how you can both adjust strategies to meet the customer’s needs. Once information flows more freely between you and the parties you’ll see an increase in trust and accountability. This will develop into mutual respect and keep both sides focused on success, instead of bickering or feeling like the other party isn’t listening.
Set Goals Together
The first broader step is to adjust your mindset. Do you currently think channel partner reps work “for” you? You need to change that thinking to understand you’re collaborators, and really you work for them to make their sales more effective and lucrative. When you’re thinking about making changes to the program, think about gathering partner input and consider how the changes will affect their ability to set.
A written plan of goals is a great way to get your team and the channel partners on the same page. The creation of the plan requires collaboration, otherwise you’re telling the partners what to do and what you expect without considering their input. It’s a fundamentally two-sided process. You need their input to determine multiple goals and expectations including:
- What exactly are you and the partner going to do for onboarding?
- Are you expecting results that are just too unrealistic? Where’s the middle ground?
- What are some of the obstacles in the way for both parties meeting their goals?
- Are you going to finish that sandwich? (making sure you’re paying attention!)
When it comes time to close deals, are you there to help your partners? Think about ways you can conduct business development together. Talk to customers as true partners, and be sure to sing the partner’s praises as much as you talk about your amazing product or service. Create processes that ensure customers can achieve success continuously through both your and your partner’s efforts.