What is Partner Enablement?
Partner enablement is a fundamental part of any successful business. Channel partners are an extension of your company, and they need to be armed with the tools to succeed. Just like traditional sales teams, partner sales reps need access to valuable content that helps them close deals. At its core, partner enablement is about giving partners the knowledge and skills needed to do their jobs more effectively.
Unlike traditional sales teams, however, partners are external companies who sell your product on your behalf in exchange for a commission or other reward model. It’s important to understand what makes partners different from internal sales reps so that you can build a partner enablement program tailored specifically for them.
Why is Partner Enablement Important?
As your business grows, you likely want to expand your product reach by partnering with other companies. Implementing a formal partner enablement program can help increase revenue and improve the experience for everyone involved. Because of this, partner enablement is worth considering as part of your overall growth strategy, it also helps you to better manage your partner relationships.
When done well, partner enablement offers benefits to both parties—the seller and the buyer:
1. Improvement and Support of Partner Performance.
The most important reason why partner enablement is important is because it will help you support the performance of your partners. A lot of companies do not have a proper strategy in place for their partners and this is one of the biggest mistakes that they can make.
The more you invest into your partner’s training and marketing, then the better your sales will be. You should always look to continually improve upon your partners’ performance, as this gives them a greater chance at succeeding in their industry which in turn brings more sales for you – everybody wins!
2. Increased Customer Satisfaction.
When your partners are experts about the product they’re selling to their end customers, the more likely customers will feel confident in choosing your company. This in turn leads to:
- Better customer engagement
- Improved customer satisfaction scores
- Improved customer loyalty rates
- Increased customer lifetime value
- Improved customer retention
3. Building Your Channel Faster.
When you’ve taken the time to build out a partner enablement program, you’re able to bring your partners up to speed faster, which in turn leads your partners to start selling faster. You’ll be able to provide them with the resources needed to re-sell your products and services, and not hit any major roadblocks.
4. Increased Profitability.
By giving your partners the tools they need to be successful in their job, you increase their ability to sell and make more revenue. This can lead to increased profitability for both you and your partner. These tools can vary from marketing materials to training sessions. Whatever it is, don’t assume your partners know everything about your products or services; give them the materials that make it easier for them to succeed.
5. Facilitating Scalability.
As a business grows, scalability becomes an increasingly important issue for the leadership team. When you begin to scale your business, you need to know that your partners can manage their own growth. If they are unable to do this, it creates unnecessary pressure on your internal resources and processes.
Partner enablement allows you to scale your business by:
- Ensuring your partners have the knowledge and skills needed to represent themselves as informed and effective sellers.
- Providing 24/7 access to information so they can answer prospect questions in real time with real answers.
- Delivering up-to-date content that keeps pace with product/service changes
- Facilitating engagement with external communities where prospects often perform their research.
5 Stages of The Partner Enablement Lifecycle.
The following lifecycle provides a detailed, step-by-step overview of how partners can be enabled throughout their journey.
Partners must first identify your product or service as an opportunity for their business. This stage can often become more complex as a result of multiple decision makers within the partner organization needing to make the purchase decision. It is important that during this stage you provide relevant content that caters for multiple levels within the organization and outlines potential value.
In order to deliver the best possible enablement, it is essential that you understand the partner's business objectives, key business drivers, business model, business plan and customer profile. You should also understand the sales and marketing strategy of your partners.
There are a variety of ways to conduct discovery. The most effective way is to get direct access to the partner and conduct an interview with them. However, it is not always possible or practical to have direct access. If this is not possible you should use other avenues such as interviews with your own sales force or marketing teams that have worked with the partners in question in order to gather information on which they base their decisions when selling or marketing your products or services via partner channels.
When you become a business partner, it’s natural to ask yourself: “What comes next?”
Starting with the Welcome stage, here's what you can expect right after you sign up:
- Welcome kit – You’ll receive an email with all the info you'll need to get started.
- Welcome call – Your partner success manager will reach out within 5 days of signing up to help answer questions and plan your first steps as a new partner.
- Welcome email – Get tips and tricks from our product team about how we recommend leveraging your new partnership.
- Partner portal – Access this online dashboard for all the tools you need to make the most of your partnership.
- Welcome gift – Receive a gift for becoming a business partner (typically an item that showcases your new partnership).
Once you have fully qualified your partner, it is time to begin the onboarding process. This is where you take the first steps towards a successful partnership. As with the qualification stage, your partner will also be performing these steps on their side of the house.
During this phase, you will work cooperatively with your partner to:
- Perform a legal and financial review.
- Complete sales training for both organizations.
- Develop a joint business plan that defines how both companies will work together.
- Create a partner marketing plan that shows how both companies are going to promote each other and your joint solution sets.
- Establish a joint technical roadmap that allows for interoperability and integration between products from both organizations.
- Establish a joint go-to-market plan which details how both organizations' sales teams will sell together into accounts.
- Establish a joint support plan for providing support for customers using solutions from both organizations after they have been sold in by each organization's sales team.
At the enable stage of the partner enablement lifecycle, you'll want to provide your partners with high-quality training and certification. You may also want to reward them for their efforts, as well as provide them with any resources they need in order to perform at a high level. By enabling your partners effectively, you can set them on a path toward success with your business.
Partner enablement is a journey. Some partners need more education, others are ready to be challenged, and others are looking for ways to add value in new areas. Whatever your partners’ objectives, you should have a clear plan in your mind of the path you want them to take.
The following business partner enablement lifecycle is designed to take your partnership from “onboard” all the way through to “grow.” The stages can be used as a roadmap for onboarding new partners and helping them grow their businesses—providing you with a framework for how programs are structured, what content is included at each stage, and how metrics can be used to measure success throughout the process.
3 Steps to Planning Your Partner Enablement Program.
Partner enablement programs are an essential part of growing a successful business. But, before you start setting up your program, you need to set up your team.
Before you can start creating a solution, make sure you've defined the problem. You should have a clear understanding of why the partner enablement program is needed and what it will bring to your business.
Once you've defined the problem and set up the right team, it's time to get started planning! There are three things that every plan should include: goals, a strategy and an execution plan.
Step 1. Set Goals.
Set Goals for the Partner Enablement Program
The first step in setting up a successful partner enablement program is to set goals. You need to answer questions like: “Why are you creating your program?" and "What do you want your partners to accomplish?”
Once you have answered these and other questions around those lines, it’s time to develop the enabling skills needed for sales teams and marketing teams at both your organization and their organizations.
Step 2. Develop a Strategy.
No matter how big or small your firm, it’s important to develop a strong strategy for how you want to engage with partners. The more thought you put into this process, the better the outcome will be. And keep in mind - the first strategy will likely not be perfect. It’s okay if you have to make changes as you go.
Here are some questions that can help guide your partner enablement program strategy:
- How many partners do we need?
- What is going to differentiate us from our competitors?
- What is our competitive advantage?
- What is our unique value proposition?
Step 3. Develop a Plan of Attack.
Once you've identified your needs, it's time to develop an action plan. This is the part where you get to roll up your sleeves and figure out a way to execute on all of those ideas that have been floating around. Here's a quick checklist for creating your plan of attack:
- Analyze current resources and PRM Tools
- Determine gaps in resources and tools
- Develop a training philosophy based on gaps identified
- Define milestones and tasks needed to create training materials
- Set deadlines for each milestone/task (and communicate these deadlines to your team)
- Manage progress
5 Partner Enablement Metrics Your Need to Track:
A good partner enablement process should be both effective and efficient at every step!
To be effective means that the process helps your partners achieve their goals in a way that is useful to them. To be efficient means that it takes as little time as possible to get there. The best partner enablement processes are designed with this in mind – they only give partners the information they need, when they need it, and in a way, that’s easy for them to understand.
These enablement metrics will help you determine how effective and efficient your partner enablement process is:
1. Knowledge Testing and Retention Rates.
Testing is a really important metric to measure because it directly shows how much your partners know about your products and services. Knowledge testing and retention rates should be tested at the beginning of your training process, during the training process, and at the end of the training, the process to see how much knowledge has been gained throughout your partner enablement program.
You can test by asking questions that include multiple-choice, true/false, or short-answer responses. You can also use gamification techniques with quizzes such as points for correct answers or by adding leaderboards to see who got the most answers right. Both are great ways to keep people engaged especially if you’re giving out rewards for high scores!
Your results will tell you how well your content is performing. If they scored well on one topic but not another then maybe it's time to switch up some of your content around that subject area in order to better engage them.
2. Assessment of Content Consumption.
Partners need to consume content. The first step is understanding how much they’re consuming, which can be broken down into five categories.
- How much content do partners consume?
- The number of pieces of content consumed by each partner per week or month
- How many times a partner consumes a piece of content (how often and how long?)
- What types of content do they consume? Is it in-person training or on-demand webinars, product collateral, company news, and so on?
- Where do they consume the content? At the office or at home? On their phone or tablet? On your learning management system (LMS) or on YouTube?
- When do they consume the content: during training sessions, after work hours, before work hours, etc.?
- How often do partners access and share new information on social media channels like LinkedIn and Twitter (indicate interest in the brand’s messaging)?
3. Collaboration and Activity Levels.
Collaboration comes in many forms and most companies have some element of collaboration in their workflows. As part of your enablement strategy, you need to understand what collaboration and activity levels are good indicators of partner success.
The best way to get partners engaged with your brand, programs, products, and services is through social learning – when peers help each other out. To track this metric, ask yourself if your partners are:
- Collaborating with their peers (using social learning tools)
- Collaborating with your company for program support (attending webinars, asking questions on forums)
Increasing these types of activities will increase engagement levels and improve the quality of results for that channel.
4. Training Completion Rates.
The completion rate reflects how many partners have completed the training courses you've offered them. This is a crucial metric. If partners aren't completing your training, chances are that it either isn't sufficiently valuable or easily accessible or both.
While this isn't the only metric you need to look at to determine whether or not your partner education is engaging and effective, it's an important one nonetheless. In order to increase engagement, you need to be able to measure and analyze what people actually do with your materials, not just what they report doing.
The completion rate gives a good indication of how partners are interacting with and using these materials. A high completion rate means that the content you are producing is well received by the partner community and should be further developed; a low completion rate means that you should focus on improving the content or delivery. Your training completion rate should increase over time as more partners take advantage of your materials and feel empowered by them.
Partner Enablement has Many Facets, but the ROI is Worth it.
First and foremost, partner enablement is about understanding partnership on a deep level. Defining the objectives, identifying the best partners for your company, monitoring the performance of this partnership, and consistently improving each step of this process will help you succeed in creating lasting value out of your partnerships.
Partner enablement is an investment in itself—you want to make sure that you are getting a return on it. By taking advantage of the tools available to you and creating more strategic partnerships, you can maximize ROI and better support all the phases of your business development cycle.