How to Attract and Retain the Best Channel Partners and Distributors

If you depend on channel partners to take your products to market, you know how important it is to identify, recruit, and retain the best distributors.

When it’s time to acquire new partners, or replace under-performing ones, approach the process as you would hiring a new employee.

When hiring, you consider the experience, background, skills and value a candidate will bring to your organization. Once that ideal candidate joins your team, you provide them with the right tools, resources and feedback so that your new hire can be productive and profitable, and by extension, so can your business. In the same way, the right channel partner selection requires knowing what you want in a partner and communicating your expectations.

You can do this be creating an ideal partner profile — specific criteria used to identify and qualify partners to ensure they possess the attributes required to fulfill the company’s priorities and its target customers’ requirements. Think of it as a job description for hiring new partners that are engaged, productive and profitable.

Some companies even use it to evaluate the growth potential of their existing partners and to help plan and execute channel partner training.

To determine the ideal profile of a partner, here are a few key elements to consider:

  1. What skills and experience do they need?
  2. Does this potential partner possess the right industry focus and technical skills, as well as the right selling capabilities and capacity?
  3. Is this potential partner positioned with the right customer base, geographic coverage and value proposition in relation to other solutions or products they sell?

It bears mentioning that potential partners are vetting you, too. What resources do you make available to them so that they can be successful? Do you provide a streamlined and efficient way to share leads, collect feedback, and distribute critical sales materials including timely updates?

Here, you can put on your sales hat and explain the ways in which your company and your partnership offering are more attractive than your competitors.

Your partner prospects, at least the ones you want, may already be selling other products for other suppliers. You need to introduce your company’s unique value proposition and explain why it will lead to a higher-performing relationship.

Much like employees who perform at their best with the right tools, channel partners excel when given the best tools to drive revenue for their suppliers.  Providing high-quality sales leads, collecting on-going feedback, and proactively engaging to help them improve their sales process all go a long way to retain the best channel partners and recruit the next best one.

Stop Using CRM to Manage Your Channel Partner Relationships

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software has long been considered one of those must-have applications to help businesses sell to customers. After all, it’s a billion dollar industry that’s as ubiquitous in sales departments today as telephones and rolodexes were of yesteryear.  Yet, CRM’s usefulness as a revenue optimization tool has its limitations. In particular, as an effective tool in managing channel relationships.

If your goal is to maximize every opportunity to close more deals, a CRM will leave — or perhaps has already left you — wanting more.

That’s because CRMs are a horizontal approach to sales automation designed for use in a conventional direct sales business model. Its shortcomings become glaringly transparent when trying to force CRM features and functions into an indirect sales environment.

Unique requirements of channel sales & marketing

A CRM system overlooks the unique requirements of channel sales and marketing, offering very little to help a channel partner track opportunities, provide visibility to their partners, and convert more leads to sales.


Channel engagement is a multi-tiered process comprised of numerous processes, from partner recruitment and engagement to enablement and management, none of which are directly addressed by current CRM systems. CRMs are great for managing contacts and providing a snapshot of sales and marketing activity—assuming all the information has been captured —but they aren’t compatible with the dynamic, multi-tenant environment of the channel.

Effective channel enablement requires real-time lead sharing, training and education, and proactive engagement.

Purpose built for optimizing Channel Relationships

In lieu of trying to make a solution work in an environment for which is was not designed, organizations selling via the channel should consider a software platform purpose-built for channel revenue optimization — ideally one that integrates a comprehensive range of channel management functions in a single, easy-to-use interface.For companies that sell through both direct and indirect channels or prefer the CRM to remain the system of record for the business, you can integrate a channel solution with a resident CRM system, enabling a single, unified view of both selling activities.

As you consider your options, look for an intuitive solution that allows you and channel partners to easily capture, organize, track, pursue, and close leads. It should connect and unify all manufacturer relationships in one view, and enable opportunity tracking and visibility to the right players in real-time.

The difference between a CRM and a channel revenue optimization system is that the latter approach actually improves channel sales. Quite simply, the proof is in the results. Companies that implement a tool purpose-built for channel revenue optimization experience double the conversion rates of those who do not.

The ChannelTech Stack is More Than a Partner Portal and a CRM

This is the second in a two-part series on how to build a successful ChannelTech Stack. In our first installment, we discussed the four key elements required to develop a results-driven channel partner technology stack. If you missed it, catch up here.

Leveraging today’s technology to enable channel sales requires an approach that goes beyond traditional partner portals and customer relationship management (CRMs) systems.

As we explored in last week’s post, the aim of technology stacking is to make difficult business process more fluid, efficient and transparent — the end goal being a higher-functioning and higher-performing relationship with your channel partner. Neither partner portals nor CRMs, by themselves, move the needle for businesses that recognize the value of optimizing channel revenue through improved distributor engagement and better pipeline visibility.

Here’s why:

Partner Portals: The passive approach to channel engagement

A partner portal is a web-based application that allows a manufacturer’s channel partner or distributor to obtain direct access to marketing resources, pricing and sales information, as well as technical details or support. For example, the partner portal may list new promotions or discounts for the partner, allow the partner to examine service memoranda, or connect the partner with an assigned sales support representative for configuration assistance. The partner portal is typically accessed through the manufacturer’s web site, and requires the use of secure logon credentials assigned to the partner.

As a sales enablement tool, partner portals are ineffective. They suffer from low utilization rates and infrequent updates and maintenance by the companies that host them.

In pursuit of a competitive edge, manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to draw channel partners’ attention to their latest products, discount deals or incentive programs. But adding more bells and whistles to a partner portal is like putting lipstick on a pig. Because at the end of the day you’re faced with the same shortcoming: placing the burden on your channel partner or distributor to engage.

CRM: A square peg in a round hole

If your company markets products or services directly to an end buyer, a customer relationship management (CRM) system is a fine solution for automating your sales process and tracking opportunities in the pipeline. But for those companies whose products reach their final destinations through a network of distributors or channel partners, a CRM — on its own — is not the right tool for the job. That’s because CRM systems are designed to automate and optimize the relationship between a vendor and its customers. Channel partners, however, are not your customers — at least not in the traditional sense.

In the indirect sales channel space, you rely on your partners to generate revenue by selling your products effectively in the locations you designate. With so much revenue riding on these critical business relationships, it’s necessary that you have a tool in place that’s been specifically designed to actively engage with them. Channel engagement with CRM software alone will cause you and your partners to miss out on opportunities.

A CRM system is designed to “speak the language” of a single company. While effective for tracking sales activities in a B2B or B2C landscape, they are inadequate when used among companies who rely on each other for up-to-date information about leads and sales opportunities.

In a channel sales environment your platform must be able to share information and update channel partners in a way that is centralized and unified. That way, channel partner sales activity is clearly visible, which leads to better forecasting and sales support.

If your goal is channel revenue optimization by way of improved distributor engagement and better pipeline visibility, traditional siloed approaches won’t get you there. To increase productivity and sales, look for ChannelTech Stack solutions that emphasize technology-driven processes that make the most of your channel relationships.

4 Strategies to Create a Results Driven Channel Partner Technology Stack

Are you throwing technology darts at a wall and hoping they land near the bulls-eye?

We all know that technology can play a critical role in fixing challenging business processes.

But technology — by itself — isn’t a magic pill. Anyone who has dealt with the data silos, underutilized technology, and integration headaches all caused by the “throwing darts” method will attest to that.

The goal, then, is to move away from “random acts of technology” and create a logical, functional structure based on well-defined processes. Think of it as the drumbeat of your marketing technology.

If you’re new to the concept of technology stacking in marketing, here’s a quick primer: It’s the grouping of technologies that organizations use to conduct and improve their marketing activities, and are most often associated with making the difficult processes easier.

The conversation around marketing TechStack has largely been used in context of traditional B2B or B2C companies. Below, we explain the core categories required for channel-based selling organizations to build a successful ChannelTech Stack.

The four essential building blocks of a ChannelTech Stack are:

1. Communication

  • Build a closed loop and integrated communication flow between you and your channel partners.
  • Create lines of bi-directional communication
  • Disperse information in the right place (including mobile) at the right time so that lead quality increases, conversion rates improve and revenue generation increases

2. Engagement

  • Supply proactive relationship management whereby channel partners receive the sales support, product training/certifications, and incentives they need when they need it
  • Offer sales support in-context; don’t expect partners to seek it out (ie, portals)
  • Previously referred to as Partner Relationship Management (PRM), evolve your processes to a more active engagement at scale with a channel partner network

3. Orchestration

  • Map and optimize workflow related to finding, engaging, and converting customers
  • Look beyond the automation of repetitive tasks like Partner Marketing Automation, to orchestrating the entire sales processes

4. Insights

  • Expect better data on sales cycles, buying patterns, win/loss ratios
  • Analyze data in a single system of record for channel revenue execution

Building a ChannelTech based on these core principles leads to greater efficiencies, revenue optimization and competitive differentiation, but finding them all in a single platform, until now, has proved elusive. With a Channel Revenue Optimization platform like LeadMethod, companies can deploy their ChannelTech stack on a single platform.

In our next blog post, we’ll explore in more detail the features and functions of a well-designed ChannelTech Stack. Stay tuned.