As the extended sales and marketing arm of your SaaS company, do your channel partners have the resources they need to show the value of your products, close new deals and directly impact top-line revenue?
Since most partner programs focus on short-term incentives over long-term support, the answer is probably “no.”
But like all good relationships, one of the most important ways to create a meaningful connection is by engaging and supporting your partner’s success over the long haul. And yet—according to a HubSpot survey of more than 2,000 B2B sales reps—distractions, internal disorganization and lack of support causes 20% of stalled or lost deals.
What kind of support is that?
Defining Channel/Partner vs. Sales Enablement
Before we get started, let’s make sense of the lingo.
Channel management. Partner enablement. Channel enablement. These are hot buzzwords in the SaaS world, but they all refer to the same thing: empowering channel partners to sell your software.
Internally, a similar concept is often referred to as sales enablement: when your marketing department provides resources and support to internal sales reps to ensure that prospects have an on-brand, helpful experience as they progress through your sales funnel.
In other words, sales enablement typically refers to supporting your own internal sales reps, whereas partner enablement is supporting external marketing and sales reps working at a channel partner company.
Our Experience on Both Ends Channel Partnership
Kiwi Creative is a full-service marketing agency for B2B software companies. In addition to offering traditional marketing services—such as branding, website development, and inbound marketing—we help our SaaS clients with both sales and partner enablement. On the flip side, we’re also a HubSpot Gold Agency Partner, so we have the unique perspective of also being a channel partner ourselves.
With experience on both the “giving” and “receiving” end of partner enablement, here are the five must-have tactics we recommend implementing at your SaaS company for channel sales and marketing success.
1. Partner Handbook
When you first started bringing on channel partners, you probably took an especially consultative, one-on-one approach. While channel partners do benefit from that individual attention, it’s not terribly scalable for long-term or exponential growth, especially as you bring on more and more channel partners.
A partner handbook takes all the best information for the onset of an early relationship and puts it into one single resource to jumpstart the mutual endeavor. Info like brand guidelines, best practices and key contacts provides your partners with the tools they need to hit the ground running. Think of it like a “starter guide” for teaming up to grow the business quickly, together.
The biggest mistake we see? Forgetting to keep this information updated: a truly effective partner handbook should be a living document. Your channel partners should WANT to reference the handbook first, because they know it’s a valuable resource that’s always up-to-date.
The good news is that the days of a printed handbook collecting dust in a filing cabinet are long gone. The partner handbooks we design nowadays are always electronic, and some of our savvier clients even invest in an online “partner portal” where channel contacts can download password-protected, on-demand resources.
2. Ongoing Education
Your partner handbook will obviously provide some basic tips on how to best position your SaaS product, but to provide even more value to channel partners consider offering specialized, in-depth training.
For an easy way to get started, we’ve seen our clients offer quarterly webinars to channel partners. Most commonly, these are about software feature releases and other technical product specs, but they could also touch on innovative ways your internal marketing team is increasing qualified leads or feature another channel partner’s success story. Whatever you do, be sure to leave lots of time for Q&A and record the session so that partners who couldn’t attend can view the webinar later.
Want to get even fancier? HubSpot offers a full-blown online “academy,” with in-depth video content specific to channel partners and official certifications that you can print/frame. They also have senior-level staff who teach optional “boot camp” webinar courses around pipeline generation and sales skills. And as a partner agency, we’ve taken advantage all everything…it’s amazing.
The important thing to note is that training videos and other digital content don’t need to be terribly professional (i.e., expensive!). Your partners just want the information down and dirty, where they need it and when they need it. And if your partners can share that content with end users, all the better.
3. Marketing Support
Do your channel partners have access to co-branded marketing materials? Or are they running rogue and creating their own off-brand or inaccurate collateral?
Effective sales literature goes way beyond a sales flyer on a given product—buyers expect
resources that will help them make the case up the ladder internally. In fact, a survey conducted by Forrester Research showed that only 34% of tech executives felt that the salespeople they interact with can provide relevant materials.
Truly helpful (not overly salesy!) resources, like ROI calculators and in-depth case studies, can make all the difference in B2B software sales. Creating those materials for your own product and internal sales team is just good business. Making those materials available and customizable for your partners sets you apart from your competitors (and, it’s easy to do!).
Here are some specific templated items we’ve created to help our SaaS clients support their channel partners (as well as internal sales reps):
- Lead nurturing email sequences
- Call scripts—including qualifying questions, objection responses and FAQs
- Product data sheets
- Case studies
- White papers
- Co-branded infographics
Here in the Cleveland market, Hyland Software is well known for their ECM solution: OnBase. While VARs are allowed to create their own marketing pieces, channel partners (like our long-time client, Kiriworks) also have access to a customizable library of content. When time and/or money is tight, we’ve used these infographics and sell sheet templates to quickly get our client high-quality resources that their sales team can use to close the deal.
HubSpot also offers its channel partners a robust marketing resources library through an online portal. Here, inbound agencies like ours can download white labeled templates for case studies, webinar slide decks and everything in between.
4. In-Person Events
Company-wide events—like an annual retreat or off-site sales meeting—have become a mainstay in corporate America. Goal setting by day, team building by night…these get togethers can be amazing for building morale.
But are you doing as good of a job energizing your channel partners as your actual employees?
Last year, 220 partners from 163 agencies came to HubSpot’s annual Partner Day at their Cambridge, Massachusetts HQ to learn first-hand about important changes to the partner program, as well as attend helpful seminars on how to grow their business. This event has become so popular that they started a second partner-only workshop before INBOUND, their huge annual marketing conference.
Don’t have the resources to put on an in-person event? At least send your channel partners some sweet branded swag to get them excited about your company. And think more creatively than just a t-shirt and pen—we’ve seen clients give out customized socks, temporary tattoos and even Yeti logo tumblers.
5. Ongoing Dialogue
On-site employees get regular feedback from their supervisors, or at least an annual review. But how often do you check in with your channel partners to learn about their challenges and success?
At HubSpot, partners are assigned two dedicated reps: a CAM (channel account manager) and a CC (channel consultant). During our regular check-ins, these reps will often leave with a to-do list to help us out, whether that is putting us in touch with tech support or getting us registered for an upcoming event.
HubSpot has also started up a private Facebook group for its agency partners where they can learn from each other. With almost 1,500 members and counting, there are daily discussions between channel partners who view themselves less as competitors and more as a resource to help everyone grow together. Powerful stuff!
How to Measure Partner Enablement Success
In a recent roundtable of B2B channel marketing and sales leaders, SiriusDecisions found that there was a “lack of ownership and accountability for delivering and measuring enablement impact and results.”
So how DO you measure if your partner enablement program is a success? From a quantitative standpoint, you can certainly track sales metrics like increase in average deal size or decrease in close time. But from a long-term, qualitative perspective, it’s also important to track things like partner satisfaction and engagement. After all, your channel partners are probably repping more than one SaaS solution…you want to make sure they’re most passionate and informed about yours!