3 Little-Known Ways to Engage Your Channel Partners

    Table of contents:

    • Introduction: 3 little-known ways to engage your channel partners
    • Have a solid partner engagement strategy  
    • Little-known way # 1: Define the opportunity with channel partners
      • Remember the opportunity at all times
    • Little-known way # 2: Commit to a cadence with channel partners
      • Finding the right frequency for your cadences: One size doesn’t fit all
      • Early engagement with partners builds a foundation for commitment
      • Once they commit - establish the path forward 
    • Little-known way # 3: Ensure visibility and transparency for channel partners
      • Use reporting tools to facilitate transparency
      • Transparency fosters trust in your relationship
    • Helping partners uncover new streams of revenue
      • Leverage channel partners’ expertise for diversification
      • Identify strengths and weaknesses within your channel
      • Channel partners who can offer a customer more: Help partners develop other partnerships
    • (Bonus) Little-known way # 4: Partner relationship management (PRM) systems
    • Conclusion:
      • What happens if you don’t engage partners?
        • Positive effects of proper partner engagement
      • Follow these best practices for a faster ROI 
    • Closing comments:
      • Tan Tran’s background in channel sales
      • SAP Concur 


    Your channel partners’ devotion to engaging with your brand depends on your approach to your channel partners:  

    • Do you provide them a personalized experience?  
    • Do you go above and beyond and give them everything they need?  
    • What do you do to set yourself apart from other vendors they work with?  
    • What do you do to keep yourself top-of-mind with your channel partners?  

    And lastly, how far along in the future do you plan when it comes to managing your channel partnerships? The relationship management of channel partners has evolved and channel programs may not be the same today as they will be in the future.  

    All of this really is crucial to knowing and understanding how to best engage your channel partners so that you can create this bond they won't soon forget and ultimately, you'll get the most out of your channel partners.  

    Our guest, Tan Tran, has had a number of very positive things said about him:  

    • Solving partners issues that impact revenue and growth.  
    • His approach to relationship building has driven a lot of traction with reseller partnerships that they share with others.  
    • His innovation, his strategic perspective in streamlining the business process has opened up new verticals and opportunities for his channel partners.  

    These are just some of the things channel partners have had to say about working with him.  

    He's been in the channel space for nearly a decade and throughout this time, he's left a big impact on many channel partners he's worked with. Today, he's the channel development manager at SAP Concur.  

    He's here with us to share his tips and tricks and we're going to focus on 3 little-known ways to engage channel partners.  

    Have a solid partner engagement strategy  

    Paul Bird: Why don't we get started with the basics? Can you tell us why it's crucial that organizations have a solid partner engagement strategy in place and what can go wrong if they don't have things prioritized accordingly?  

    Tan Tran: That's something that I think channel managers and people in leadership roles face every day. Which is, how can we operate in a more effective and efficient way?  

    And let's face it, the truth is that when we're partnering out there, there are organizational, cultural, and process differences. And a lot of times, it's hard for us to accept that and we want them to apply it to our methods and our organizational processes. But that's not the reality, right? What we do have in common, is a common goal for revenue, that's for sure.  

    "When you don't have the proper goals, incentives, process, and support in place, you won't only have a costly channel program with unsatisfied partners, but it can potentially damage your overall brand, and hence, affect what that revenue goal is at the end of the day."

    I'd say it's very, very crucial you make sure that you figure out how you can really partner up together and have that alignment in place so that we have a common understanding of what we're both trying to achieve.  

    Paul Bird: That's something, when talking with channel chiefs, that I hear quite a bit. There's two schools of thought.  

    One is to go wide. They want to be able to capture every possible organization that will represent them for their product and services. Like the way that Microsoft did it - 10 years ago, everyone was a Microsoft partner.  

    Then you also have people now that are laser-focused. Where they're defining the ideal partner profile and then recruiting people that fall into that profile.  

    To your point: if you don't get this right, it could actually damage your brand because these are the people that are on the street that are now attached to your name - I agree with that completely. If you don't get it right at the start, it can be difficult to go back in the future.  

    Little-known way # 1: Define the opportunity with channel partners  

    Paul Bird: As far as the best practices go, what comes to mind first, on the ways that you can engage these partners accordingly and get that mindshare that we're all looking for.  

    Tan Tran: If there's a bit of trust within your channel marketing, and from a channel programmatic standpoint as well. That being aside, from an engagement standpoint, one of the key things that I think is overlooked, is defining what the potential opportunity is for every engagement you have with the partner.  

    Remember the opportunity at all times

    Tan Tran: And at all different levels. From a CEO, to the owner, to partners that own a specific chair of a company, to even the individual contributors that manage the accounts and whatnot, and even the bench that's going to be delivering on the services. It's identifying what the potential opportunity is.  

    A lot of times, we're so lost in the weeds of what we're doing every day, it's easy to confuse all the dust in the air and forget what the opportunity at hand is. At all points, whether it's escalation, an alignment meeting, an account mapping session, people sometimes forget what the opportunity is at hand. But if you keep following revenue, everything gets put into place afterwards.  

    "As a channel manager, your role is really to be an advisor to the organization and not just to the owner, but to all different levels within the organization."

    If you can help guide them with what the opportunity is at hand and how to achieve that, I think that's one of the things that's definitely being forced upon us every day, but it's easy to forget what the focus is.

    Engage partners

    Little-known way # 2: Commit to a cadence with channel partners  

    Tan Tran: Then, as well, it's a commitment to a cadence. This is very key because a lot of times people are busy and you tend to forget to engage with each other, to communicate. And like any other relationship,  

    "you have to commit to having that cadence, because through that cadence, you and your partners, what you're really doing is building and engineering your engagement together to be the most effective that it can be."

    You'd be surprised, the more you engage and commit to a cadence, you start to identify how you can really go to market together. And the person on the other end, who is partnering with you, what their strengths and weaknesses are.  

    That's very key. I think a lot of people know that cadences are very important but it's easy to forget and fall out of cadence as well. I would definitely encourage to maintain that.

    Paul Bird: I completely agree.  

    First having that goal - let's set the mutual target together. But if you don't have that ongoing conversation, if you're not revisiting it through a cadence on some kind of scheduled basis, then it's really easy for life to get in the way of what you're trying to accomplish together.  

    Finding the right frequency for your cadences: One size doesn’t fit all  

    Paul Bird: How often do you think a channel manager or a channel pro should have these cadences? Is this something that should be done weekly, monthly, biweekly? What do you think the best practice is when it comes to setting that timeline where you're going to be revisiting your mutual goals?  

    Tan Tran: Another great question to ask your partners is: what's right for the current state that we're in? And it's not a one size fits all. It really depends on your relationship with the partner, what their appetite is, and what the opportunity is at hand.  

    At different levels, it really depends. But as you're starting off, finding out what the right cadence is within that month is going to be really effective as you continue to build and nurture that relationship.  

    Let's say you fast forward five years and you've had a really good cadence together. I'd imagine that you've probably scaled the business to a certain point where you have to make sure there's people in place that are doing what they're doing, that they have the direction and have the guidance, and then from there on, it's a bit of management to ensure that everything's running smoothly at the top level.  

    So, maybe you can kind of ease off on the pedal a little bit with cadences. But overall, at the end of the day, it's what's the opportunity at hand and how much cadence should apply to that opportunity.  

    I leave that up to how each of us define what the opportunity is at hand. But if you look at that, you'll figure out what the rhythm and the cadence is.

    Early engagement with partners builds a foundation for commitment  

    Paul Bird: It'll also show a level of commitment from the partner as well if they're committing to these mutual goals, if they're committed to an ongoing dialogue. That commitment is also really key for having that level of engagement with those partners directly.  

    "If they're not engaged, then they're not going to give you the time that you need to reach your mutual goals."

    Tan Tran: We talk about this and it seems a lot easier than it is because sometimes just getting people to commit in itself is very hard. But there are a lot of things that need to be put in place early onwards, from a leadership perspective, to ensure that there's an interest and there's a commitment level to having a cadence.  

    Once they commit - establish the path forward  Once that has been put in place, it is very crucial, at least in my experience, to ensure that we're figuring out how to best engineer this relationship together.  

    Paul Bird: Absolutely. Early on, that's really important. If you don't get a partner engaged and making good forward progress in the first 30/60/90 days of the relationship, if you're not on the right track and setting up that ongoing dialogue, then the likelihood of them being successful coming out of the onboarding process drops significantly, if that dialogue isn't happening.  

    Little-known way # 3: Ensure visibility and transparency for channel partners  

    Paul Bird: If we start looking at some other ways that you can nurture and engage those partners, any other suggestions that we could dive into a little deeper?  

    Tan Tran: There's different states and different levels you have to manage within partnerships that you are accountable for, but ensure that there's visibility and transparency with what you're trying to achieve.  

    Use reporting tools to facilitate transparency

    Tan Tran: That's also been really important because if there are reporting abilities to understand how you can achieve something, then within that, your partners begin to understand what the opportunity is at hand and how they can really contribute, use, and leverage their experiences to ensure that you're going to reach your goals.  

    That's a bit broad, but if you apply that towards a leadership alignment or an account mapping session. Being transparent with sharing information has been very key because if you don't have that ability, it's hard to be able to allow partners to understand how much they really need to share. And what do they need to focus on to ensure that you guys are providing each other with enough intel into the market.  

    "At the end of the day, we are experts in our fields and we need to be able to work together and share that intel so that we can go to market together."

    I can't say how important that is to me and my journey with my partnerships in the past 10 years.

    Transparency fosters trust in your relationship

    Paul Bird: It establishes the relationship of trust. And that's the foundation of the partnership going forward. If you don't have that transparency, if you haven't established trust with your partners, then do they really have a good reason to trust you?  

    That approach of making sure that you've got clear set goals, that you have this level of transparency and trust going on, being able to strategically work together, like you say, to do account mapping and targeting like that, that is really great advice when it comes to building and establishing those relationships right from the get go.  

    Partner revenue

    Helping partners uncover new streams of revenue  

    Paul Bird: When you're going through and working with these partners, having your ongoing cadences and discussions, any strategies on what you can do as a vendor to help your partners uncover potential new streams of revenue?  

    Tan Tran: As a channel manager, you're really looking to build an ROI for them. Partners, at the end of the day, are businesses that are looking to invest in vendors like yourself.  

    As an advisor, how can you continue to play that role and help them earn that trust, lead them to different ways of managing their business, earning different revenues, and investing in the areas that can help them diversify that revenue as well? Understanding, from a market perspective, where are you, as an organization, lacking a lot of resources or the ability to invest in that area?  

    A lot of times when you're a large organization, it's hard for you to move the needle, because you may be a very big ship and it's hard for you to turn on a dime.  

    Leverage channel partners’ expertise for diversification

    Tan Tran: When you leverage partners who are experts in the field, that potentially have a venture ready, or a subject matter expert in the field, or they have vertical experience. Finding out what it is that they have already as IP, or intellectual property, and applying it towards where you are looking to invest, is a key way and really low hanging fruit for partners to be able to already establish what they have as IP and intellectual property, so that they can achieve revenue really, really quick.  

    A great example for that has been, for us, in the areas of consulting. We are talking to organizations that are at the enterprise level and public sector level and federal organizations as well, and for us, we lack the vertical intelligence in it.  

    But there are partners out there that have created contract vehicles, established frameworks, established different contracts to be able to purchase with the government, most importantly, relationships and the contacts that they have, and how can we, rather than reinventing the wheel, partner up with very credible organizations out there, and help us fast track that establishment quicker.  

    So that we can develop the framework, we can have the credibility, and we can have the necessities to ensure that we're compliant with the ways of purchasing within the government or even enterprise organizations that have large roadmaps.  

    How can we get these large organizations that are partners today and help us fit our strategy into that roadmap and be compliant so that we're achieving our goals much quicker and more effectively as well?  

    How can you help your partners understand where you are looking to grow within your organization? Then from there, you'll see that partners begin to realize how they can help you and diversify that. And through that, they'll diversify their revenue as well.  

    Identify strengths and weaknesses within your channel  

    Paul Bird: When I was early on in my channel career, I was working for a software company out of New Jersey and they already had a channel. They had around 400 channel partners spread right across the US. They also had international distribution and a number of other facilities to go to market. But the territory that I was managing was just along the east coast.  

    There were all these channel partners that we had and I didn't really have a good understanding of how we could work together. So, I used a product called Microsoft Maps where I put in basically 55 channel partners between New England and South Florida. I took three weeks, starting in Boston, and I visited all of them.  

    I sat in their office, and did my best to understand what their business is, what their goals were, how we could work together, how can I help your business? What I found, after visiting all of these partners, sitting with them face-to-face, is that my channel was really diverse.  

    I had people that were really focused on the Microsoft environment that were basically value added resellers. But then I had all of these specialty organizations that did things like computer telephony integration, phone systems, etc. Where we were not really a core product, but we were part of a side offering they had.  

    Even the focus when it comes to their customer base. I came across people that only, in the US, dealt with state and federal. So for me to be able to work with them on a deal for a private organization, it's just not in their mandate, in their wheelhouse.  

    That's really great advice of being able to understand what the capabilities and what the strengths and weaknesses within your partner channel are. Because if you have that landscape, you can direct it in the area that you want to go and achieve those goals that you set out together.  

    Channel partners who can offer a customer more: Help partners develop other partnerships  

    Tan Tran: If you are fortunate enough to be in a channel that's very diverse, you'll find that there's key partners that have a specific boutique skill set. A lot of times these partners are also looking for ways to partner with other organizations as well.  

    A great example was, I worked with large consulting companies. I've worked with large VARs, distribution VARS, across the country that are very well known from a North American perspective. I've also worked with banking organizations.  

    What we did was - how can we help make the experience for the customer that much better? Because these customers are banking with somebody today, they're going to need somebody to consult them from an accounting perspective, a tax perspective, compliance perspective, they're going to need somebody to help them with procurement sourcing as well. So how can we connect the dots for these customers?  

    By doing that, what we found out was, we're helping our partners develop partnerships within their own as well. Through that, it helps solidify your brand and your channel organization together. Because if you do have a very strong channel organization, it ultimately affects your brand at the end of the day.  

    "Being able to connect the dots with our channel organization really has helped solidify that much better of an experience for our customers."

    If you are fortunate enough to have a diverse channel, really look at ways to connect the dots for your partners, because you'd be surprised what you can uncover not just for yourself, but for your customers and also your partners.  

    Paul Bird: You become that trusted advisor. You're no longer tied to a single product or service offering. You're now becoming that trusted source for more than just a single transaction.  

    Partner relationship management (PRM)

    (Bonus) Little-known way # 4: Partner relationship management (PRM) systems

    Paul Bird: As we go back to the little known ways to engage partners, what do you think the role is of channel programs and partner relationship management systems? How does this apply to the engagement level of channel partners?  

    Tan Tran: I have not been as fortunate in this area to be able to have a way to manage partners, from a systematic standpoint, with tools. But, obviously, having that is very crucial so that you really understand where the state of your partnership is today, what the journey is for each partner that's looking to invest within your organization, and be able to manage all the different aspects of the business.  

    A lot of times, US channel managers, you don't have the time, and you don't have the ability to prioritize everything at any given point. It's very hard for you to do that, especially if you're traveling and you're on the road.  

    But with a pandemic, it's really helped people manage their business at the push of a button, sitting in their office chair. It's making people realize how they can be more effective with managing their partnerships.  

    "If you have the ability to manage your business, and have that digital overview of what that partnership state looks like, within your channel today, it is extremely, extremely valuable for you to identify where the missing ingredients are"

    to ensure that, from a distribution standpoint, you got that checked off. From a skillset standpoint, a certification standpoint, you've got that checked off. From what the opportunity is at hand, understanding where that is currently today, that can be checked off. Also, the different milestones that you're having from a commitment standpoint with partners, that's being managed and checked off as well.  

    If there's a way that you can manage that, from a top view down, especially in a digital way, that will just make you that much more effective to ensure that you are able to not just fast track, but also identify what's currently missing, ensuring that I've got more coming from my partners.  

    What happens if you don’t engage partners?  

    Paul Bird: With all of these best practices and strategies that we've been talking about, what do you think some of the risks are, if you don't have those in place?  

    Tan Tran: It goes back to the return on investment for both sides. At the end of the day, it's time for everyone, and to not be able to reach your investment, that can be very unfortunate.  

    But the other unfortunate part is the repercussions that you can have from it. If you engage in an opportunity together, the customer may have a very bad experience with how the process was laid out, especially if a purchase had been made but the deliverables were not delivered at the end of day. That is a very unfortunate experience for the customer.  

    "Through that, it creates a very unhappy experience for the partner as well. If you're misguided, your partners become misguided. The net of that is, the customers become very unhappy."

    Then the other part is, what else is being communicated and misguided out there that you may not be aware of?  

    The repercussions are very compelling. You have to be sure that you're guiding your partners in the right direction because it can be very damaging for your brand.  

    Paul Bird: I've seen this as well. Here's the challenge: if the customer has a poor experience, they're likely to share that with a number of their colleagues. If they end up leaving and going to another company, that experience they had with your product or service offering continues on.  

    It's maybe not one opportunity that you've lost, but it could end up being many opportunities. The same thing applies with channel partners. If they have a good opportunity that they're working, and they're working hand in hand with you, if the ball drops and they don't get the deal then, unfortunately, they're going to be really hesitant to engage again.  

    I've had this happen to me in the past. I was working for an integrator just outside of the Toronto area and we had a large government client where we were the incumbent service provider and their software offering was coming up for renewal. But as with all government contracts, they put this out for bid.  

    It's interesting because we were the incumbent, this company took all of our RFP material, and it was significant - this was a multi-month process in order to prepare a response. We shipped it out to their head office, they went out, signed all the places where they needed to, but then they stuck a big disclaimer right on the front of the RFP response from their legal team.  

    What happened? This was shipped to our client, not back to our office. They immediately opened, read the agreement, closed the RFP response, all the CDs and printouts and everything, shipped it back to our office without even looking at it. So how did that make me feel as a channel partner? I can tell you that we immediately stopped carrying their offering.  

    Positive effects of proper partner engagement    

    Tan Tran: On the flip side, the positive effect that it can have is, as we know, CFOs move around quite a bit, CEOs as well. IT managers and CIOs also are in the same boat. And you also mentioned partners.  

    When they have a positive experience, it makes your ability to influence them, in the next organization that they move towards, that much easier. A lot of times the network of CFOs, CIOs and CEOs out there is not that big. When they talk about your brand, and your name is being brought up without you knowing, it's very crucial that we lead by example, and we lead with value. So the experience is carried on even when you are not there to witness it yourself.  

    Follow these best practices for a faster ROI  

    Paul Bird: From your perspective, if we follow these best practices of establishing the common goal, making sure that we have good dialogue with consistent cadence, what do you think a channel organization can expect when it comes to the health of their channel? Do you think it will translate into higher sales levels and impact the growth of the channel partner themselves?  

    Tan Tran: At the end of the day, partners are looking for return on investment. We've echoed that quite a bit. How you can achieve a faster return on investment really depends on what the opportunity is at hand, what the process being laid out is, what are the resources provided, what the commitment level is, and what the cadence level is, given the relationship.  

    If these things are in place, what we can expect is a quicker return on investment, not just for you, but also for the partner. The other part, that we forget, as channel managers is, it's a quicker return on investment for the customers as well. Because if the partners are guided in the right direction, and they're certified and trained, they're able to get a quicker return on investment for the customer.  

    When customers have a quicker return on investment, you typically will see a quicker return on investment as an ISV or as a manufacturer as well because they're quick to sign. Not just that, if partners are trained correctly, when you're looking at cross selling or your ability to nurture existing customers, there are endless opportunities for you to be able to solidify new streams of revenue or other product offerings that you may have as well.  

    A quicker return investment is key so that customers have a great experience, so that they can continue to invest within your portfolio that much quicker. The net result is you will see your partners utilizing what resources you have as a brand, as an organization to help you uncover revenue much quicker and much more effectively.  

    Tan Tran’s background in channel sales  

    Paul Bird: Tan, can you give us a little bit more about your background, maybe some highlights of your career and your relationship with the channel thus far.  

    Tan Tran: I've been pretty fortunate these past 10 years to have experienced developing channels in different states of their journey.  

    From a direct multibillion dollar cloud software organization that's looking to find a way to break into the world of partnerships, to a multibillion dollar software organization that's looking to increase market share and it's already heavy channel footprints, and finally to a multibillion dollar enterprise hardware organization that's really pioneered partnerships in its three tier distribution model.  

    Altogether, it's been quite a journey and applying this unique experience to the different ways I manage partnerships has really helped me, and really helped my partners to be able to achieve what they're looking for in return on investment.  

    SAP Concur  

    Paul Bird: Can you share a little bit about where you are now at Concur?  

    Tan Tran: Today I manage what we call our system integrator partnerships across the country. These organizations typically conduct services consulting. They're more geared towards the larger accounting firms that we have, the big four. Then within the second tier, we have a ton of different VARs that support the channel organization as well.  

    From what people may already know, SAP Concur is the leader in travel and expense automation. That being said, there are two things that a lot of people may not know. Which are, despite being a leader, we are also making significant headway into the leader space for invoice automation as well.  

    From a legacy perspective, people tend to just think we're a T&E company. But when we look at it as a whole, it's much more holistic than that. That's exciting and it's going to be a great journey for us in the upcoming years as well.  

    The second thing people may not know is that, in my experience at least, we have the most diverse channel that I've ever seen. From travel management companies to Fin-Tech and bank organizations - which I've also had the chance to be a part of and manage, to ADP for payroll, American Express - which is one of our legacy partners, as I mentioned, system integrators and VARs, private equity as well. And finally, a vast network of app integration partners that really complement our customers' experience and journey as they become a customer of Concur's.  

    It's a fun and very unique experience at Concur. It gives me the opportunity to be able to really apply and help the channel organization really grow.  

    Connect with Tan Tran on LinkedIn.

    Connect with Paul Bird on LinkedIn, book a demo with him, or contact him via email paul.bird@magentrix.com

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