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Want True Partnerships? Joint Planning Is Critical

By Jason Jacobs

Capturing partner attention begins with understanding just who you’re dealing with. Channel partners are independently run, entrepreneurial entities. They’re regularly engaged in strategic business planning and tightly focused on executing and meeting goals. 

Channel partner reps are measured by their ability to meet the revenue objectives and targets established by that business plan. Every week, month, quarter — performance against plan is being measured.

How will you help with the success of these plans?

Vendors spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to gain mindshare and then measuring that through tangential metrics, like site or portal clicks and MDF expenditures. These metrics can signal a kind of attention, but think about it more carefully: You don’t really want attention. You want sales, and so do your partners. How will you work together to make sales?

The way to work out the answer to that question is regularly scheduled joint business planning sessions.

As a channel manager, your job isn’t done when you’ve recruited some partners. Those partners have other vendors they’re working with and won’t spend their valuable time presenting your offering if the value of doing so is unclear.

Sitting down and planning with partners allows you to understand the specifics of what they’re trying to accomplish and establish a path for helping them achieve it. Vendor and partner get a clear picture of common goals and a mechanism for ensuring both sides are holding up their ends of the bargain. Done well, joint business planning enables true partnership. It secures mindshare because partners are clear that it’s in their interest to give it to you.

Aligning Goals: A Natural Path to Engagement

Joint business planning begins with the question: “What are our goals here?” It’s not completing a form online. Partners don’t get aligned or energized by completing a form. In-person is ideal, but Skype is effective too. The point is to make sure there’s meaningful interaction beyond the kickoff months and a motivating clarity about what everyone’s working toward.

You also need a plan to prevent joint business planning stagnation.

Start with a good business planning template. Companies like Sirius Decision can provide a frame for the information, and partner relationship management software can manage any plan, but neither can write the plan for you. There’s no substitute for both sides coming together and jointly buying in on goals.

The initial plan is critical and takes the most work, but over time it gets easier. Subsequent plans build off previous, with some increases on top of your base. Incorporate 30-, 60- and 90-day rolling plans of execution, and keep the process alive by taking time during the initial planning session to plug subsequent sessions into everyone’s calendar.

Take advantage of the opportunity for team-building. Use those subsequent meetings to revisit and revise. Make sure the meetings are structured — just reading over the plan won’t keep partners committed to it. Where are the big wins? Where are we stuck? How will we get through it? Keep the sessions succinct.

Partner relationship management software and a portal help keep the plan in front of stakeholders rather than languishing on the partner manager’s hard drive. With the plan living on the partner portal, both sides can edit and read the latest version and can easily refer back and see how they’re doing against their targets. You can include it on each partner’s log-in page so they’re reminded every time they visit your site.

This makes review sessions easier too. For example, you may be halfway through Q2 and have only hit 30 percent of the $25,000 goal everyone agreed to. That clarity helps get everyone focused on closing the gap.

Make It as Painless as Possible – Or It Won’t Happen

Keep in mind that sales people would rather be selling than planning, so streamline the process and use every opportunity to spell out for reps why it’s in their interest to focus on your mutual goals.

The big question: If you don’t have a joint business plan, do you and your partners really have a partnership?

Remember, that which gets written down gets done, and partners who plan together succeed together. Done well, joint business planning provides a reliable mechanism for harnessing the best efforts of vendor and partners. It demonstrates to partners that you are committed to their success and have the processes and systems to back it up. Vendors who are integral to a partner’s business in this way have a natural tendency to stay front-of-mind.

(Channel managers who are driven to peak performance will want to read “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” by Harnish Verne, a primer on hyper-growth business planning, a key skill for entrepreneurs — that is, most of your partners.)

Jason Jacobs is the CEO of Channeltivity, an all in one channel management software solution. He is responsible for Channeltivity’s overall vision and strategy. As a serial entrepreneur, visionary leader and seasoned high growth startup CEO, he brings his expertise in launching and growing technology and technology-enabled services companies to the organization.

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