Finding partners is relatively easy. By some estimates there are nearly 600,000 partner organizations around the world. In the US alone, there are an estimated 200,000 partners.
But not all partners are equal. They serve different customers, have varied capability levels and have many distinctions on how they go-to market.
The result is that it can often feel like you are hunting for a needle in a haystack when it comes to finding the right partner.
Let’s start by focusing on the partner recruitment challenge. What is the objective of recruitment?
Define Your Need
All vendors start out recruiting for geographic coverage. They want to move in or dominate a specific market territory. The first thing they need is partners that can give them this geographic coverage. They will always try to recruit the best partner, but sometimes compromises are required to make sure they have any qualified partner in the market.
Next, they focus on sales. After you have coverage, vendors now start to look for bang-for-the-buck. Do I have the right partner? Sometimes this is a subtler question – am I getting the ROI from my partner network I need?
The result of either are the same. They now start to look for competitive or other high potential partners. Coverage is no longer the goal. Going after specific, targeted partners becomes the goal.
The third need evolves from the second. It grows from a recognition that if the best partner offers many different vendor’s products with no real preference, they might be generating volume but they aren’t driving business.
This type of recruitment is about securing position with key partners- making sure you are the brand preference within the partner.
The ideal is to make sure you are accomplishing all three objectives – geographic coverage, sales volume and brand preference within your partner channel. Of course, this is easier said than done.
Before we get into what you should be doing with the best practices, let’s cover off on the five traps of partner recruitment.
Avoid The Pitfalls
Pitfall 1: Being too numbers driven
The first trap is to be too numbers driven. This often happens when the field is asked to grow the number of partners by x%, resulting in people focusing on the activity of partner recruitment instead of the outcome of business development. This is one of the most expensive traps of any recruitment effort. The result is often a large increase in support costs and usually only a much smaller gain in new customer and additional sales.
Pitfall 2: Having tunnel vision about sales growth
The second is having tunnel vision about your sales growth. It is easy to show dramatic sales growth if the original sales base is very low. Likewise, a large growth number for a partner selling your products isn’t necessarily great if they have a higher growth rate for your competitor’s offering – you are losing market share if that’s the case. Sales growth is always an objective of partner recruitment but you must be holistic in your point of view. Benchmark new recruits against similar sized partners already in your partner network. Measure more than just sales revenue – look at new deals won, frequency of proposing your product offerings, alignment with your joint sales programs to measure whether a partner is shifting to an offering.
Pitfall 3: Avoid creating incentives for behavior already happening
The third pitfall is the most insidious. Vendors will sweeten the pot for partners as part of a recruitment effort. “Sell me and I will give you a lead”, or “here is a special incentive for new business” and so on are common practices. Avoid setting up an entitlement. Too often newly recruited partners have a burst of energy when first recruited because of these special incentives and extra attention, but when those end, there is a dramatic decline in partner productivity. If a partner is only sells your stuff because you are paying them to do so, then you will always have to pay them to do so. Channel incentives do have a role in partner recruitment but it should be to create habits and change behavior and not to just reward basic activities.
Pitfall 4: Having too narrow of a focus
Fourth is having too narrow of a focus. Of course, you should set objectives and carefully target your recruitment efforts, but recruitment takes time. Sometimes it can take a year, or a year and half for a partner to shift their business towards you. We tend to focus on and have a desire for immediate results. This can often lead us to abandon our recruitment efforts before they mature. This is the second most expensive trap to fall into as you can waste a lot of hard work, money and resources.
Pitfall 5: Focusing on recruiting only the top tier partners
The last trap is to only focus on recruiting a competitor’s best partners. Often the easiest way to target which partners to recruit is to look for which partners are selling your competitor’s offerings. While not a bad strategy, you need to be measured in your approach. Many times, a competitor’s best partners have deep relationships, get special incentives and have many other perks not offered to other partners. If you don’t have a compelling business proposition, you can expend a great deal of energy and see very few results. Often it is better to chip around the edges and target the second tier of a competitor’s partners. These partners produce sales but are often not nearly as entrenched as the very top partners.