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Channel Partner Discussion Groups

Learn more about channel discussion group strategies, and how to develop a successful framework.

Relayware Partner Relationship Management

Channel Partner Discussion Groups

If you give them a good reason why, they will come.

Recall those fateful words whispered to Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams – "If you build it, they will come." It's a great device to advance to plot of a film. But it's less compelling when it's your rationale for setting up a partner discussion group.

Here is a not uncommon conversation in a channel management meeting: "Hey, we really want to start a discussion group." "Why?" "Oh, just to get partners talking to each other."

Start with Objective

You want a discussion group because you want partners talking. Okay. But why? What do you want them to talk about? What are you trying to accomplish? And which partners do you want to attend? New partners? Old partners? Big partners? Small partners? And most important: What's in it for them? Put yourself in your channel partners' shoes. The cold hard fact is that many discussion groups fail because partners don't really get anything out of them.

If you can define a real need (beyond "just talking to each other") and if you can build a real plan, and if you can explain to your channel partners how much they will benefit from participating in it, a discussion can transform to your partner network as well as your channel sales.

There are a lot of important steps to follow in establishing, managing and maintaining a discussion group. We'll get to that. But channel sales is all about selling, so let's start by talking about how you can sell the idea of a discussion group to your partners. Let's talk about what's in it for them.

Reward Participation with Higher Partner Status

At the top of the list of what's in it for your partners is the same as what's in it for you: cold hard cash. Let's say that you are an end customer, and you're shopping for a really big, enterprise-wide SaaS solution. You whittle your list down to the two most promising partners to work with. One of the partners is a reseller who can get your solution to you for a very nice price, and says they can also install it for you.

The other partner is one of the vendor's Certified Platinum Partner. Yes, this partner's price is higher. But they provide full support, and have good reviews and ratings from lots of customers. Part of the reason they are a Platinum Partner is because the vendor has rewarded them for participating in the partner discussion group, where they have answered installation questions for other partners who also sell the SaaS solution, but in a different geographical area. They've even helped the vendor improve its installation process. Together, the badges on their site and their status as a top-tier partner clearly establishing their expertise.

Knowing all this, which partner are you going to give your business to? If it's a big installation, odds are you'll choose experience and reputation over price.

And Higher Status Means Higher Profits

And then there are the financial benefits of being in a higher tier. Recognition and reward for participating in discussions usually take the form of dollars, points, or discounts. Rising to a higher tier might earn a partner an extra 10% discount off everything they buy. So not only can partners advertise to potential customers that they are your Platinum Partners and benefit from the status attached to that–hey can also make more money.

What's Top of Mind Worth to You?

For vendors themselves, the rewards of an effective discussion group are equally compelling. In the short term, of course, the more your partners sell, the more you make. But there are significant long-term benefits as well.

Partners deal with multiple vendors. If your discussion groups are engaging your partners—if they are getting their questions answered; if they are climbing to higher tiers and making more money, then they are more apt to sell your products over your competitors.

The more you engage with your partners, the more they engage with you. It literally builds to a trusted advisor-type relationship where you become their sole supplier. And that's the ultimate goal, isn't it? To build engagement so your partners choose to sell your products instead of your competitions'.

The Mechanics of a Successful Discussion Group

A new discussion group can follow a couple of different trajectories. If you've based the group on the "if you build it…" methodology, the framework might look something like this:

Stage 1: Woo Hoo! "We're launching a discussion group!"

Stage 2 Excitement. "Yay! We're going to get lots of really interesting conversations going!"

Stage 3: Confusion: "Wait. Why are we here? Why are we going to talk about? What the point of doing this?"

Stage 4: Disillusionment: "Hey, wait a minute. No one is participating?!"

Stage 5: Dissolution. "I guess discussion groups just don't work." 

A Better Framework

As we said above, the key to a successful discussion group is making it clear to partners how participation in it will help them get more business and earn more money. Here are pointers on the four main phases in the life of a discussion group that can increase your chance for success.

Phase one: Strategy

When you are still contemplating a discussion group for your channel partners, ask yourself the following questions: What would be the purpose of the group? Who would participate in it? Would it be for people from the same organization to discuss deals, opportunities, etc.? Or would it be across the organization, to allow partners to collaborate with other partners. Would it be for sales support? Product support? To support the vendor's customers? And make sure you have executive engagement: discussion groups require resources.

Phase Two: Promotion and Management

Once you've decided that it makes sense to start a discussion group, you have to promote it—a lot! So who is going to do the promotion? Who is going to tell partners what the group is for, how is it going to work—how they will benefit by participating in it? You've got to actually get partners to sign up. You've got to get them started—get them posting and engaging. You've got to find knowledgeable hosts and ask questions that will draw your partners in. You've got to ignite the group just like you strike a match to start a fire. And if it's hard to light, it might take a lot of matches.

Phase Three: Engagement

Once you get partners involved, you have to keep them engaged.You need to continually communicate to partners how they are benefitting from their involvement—that they're solving each other's problems and getting points for it. The most successful discussion groups are rewarding. If, say, a partner can check a box in the discussion group indicating that an answer has solved your problem, then maybe the partner who answered it gets a hundred points or $100 dollars or free training.A partner can go from being a contributor to an advisor to a trusted advisor and get the status of being recognized as community leader among their peers.

Phase Four: Measurement

As with all channel activities, the success of a discussion group should be measurable. Question #1 should be whether the group is contributing to higher sales. Is it resulting in more leads? Greater customer satisfaction?

Are you gaining channel partner mindshare? How many and how often are partners participating? Are they taking advantage of the opportunity to rise to a higher tier?

Metrics can also help the group become more successful: What topics do partners respond to the most? What incentives work best? What is the most effective role a channel manager can play in keeping partners engaged?

Making the Commitment

Channel managers who are thinking about creating a partner discussion group need to make sure that it is more than just a matter of checking off a box on their list of things to do.

In the first place, channel partners are busy people and need to have a very good reason to take on another responsibility. Make it clear to them from the outset exactly how they will benefit from being a part of the group. Make it easy for them to get into the discussion space.

And then there is the opportunity cost. Creating a viable discussion group requires a significant investment in time and resources on the part of the vendor—both to establish the group and to keep in functioning over time.

If you approach the process with a plan and a commitment—and make it crystal clear to partners how the discussion group can transform their business, you can escape the odds and build a resilient, engaged and, ultimately, very successful partner ecosystem.

For more information, reach out to 2112 Group.