Captain “Sully” Sullenberger was about to crash land US Airways flight 1549 into the Hudson River. Saving the passengers and crew required that everyone be absolutely aligned on the mission. I had the pleasure of seeing Captain Sully tell his amazing story last year. Above all, I’ll never forget Sully describing how he gained complete alignment with his flight crew and every single person on board. He did it using just 7 words; “this is the Captain, brace for impact.”
While our channel missions may not be as critical as crash landing a jetliner, team alignment is just as critical to mission success. In the first segment of this 3-part article, I described the steps in defining a channel strategy. This segment focuses on how to gain alignment on your channel strategy across the company and throughout your channel ecosystem.
The Channel Alignment Challenge
Gaining the strategic alignment critical to mission success can be difficult in any company. Channel alignment is even more challenging due to how channel teams are organized. In many companies the channel team has its own sales, marketing, and operations staff. These folks tend to operate separately from the direct sales, marketing, and operations teams. And typically with a different set of goals and compensation plans.
“One silo that remains resilient is that of the channel or alliance partner ecosystem.” Jay McBain, Does Your Channel Run in a Silo
No matter how your company is organized, you can build internal alignment to the channel strategy, starting with alignment to goals and activities.
Alignment to Goals and Activities
As a channel leader, you should be meeting frequently with the key stakeholders in each of the functional areas in the company. Working together, you can establish jointly-owned goals aligned to the channel strategy. Furthermore, you can define the activities required by each functional team to achieve their respective goals.
Leaders from each of the functional teams should participate in these meetings to ensure that they buy into the goals. Consequently, they’ll be more likely to drive the work required from their teams to support the channel strategy going forward.
Here’s an example of activities that might be required by each functional team in support of the channel goals:
- Segment partners by revenue, capabilities, and potential
- Train the Channel team on business planning
- Complete business plans with top 100 strategic partners
- Segment accounts by direct vs. channel-led sales
- Implement a compensation-neutral sales plans
- Provide partner sales teams coaching on how to find and progress leads
- Develop 5 channel marketing campaigns
- Implement lead passing to strategic partners
- Provide social media training to 50 partners
Professional Services Team
- Provide services training to strategic partners
- Outsource install and config services to partners
- Allow partners to prime all services on non-enterprise accounts
- Simplify reseller agreements
- Streamline due diligence
- Provide click-through licensing to resellers
Gaining agreement on these activities takes time. Often it can feel like an impossible task. The amount of time and effort to reach channel alignment is a good indicator of the level of commitment by each of the functional area leaders to your company’s channel goals and objectives.
It’s commonly known that a message is usually more effective when repeated over and over. There’s an old marketing adage called the Rule of Seven. It says that a prospect needs to hear an advertiser’s message at least seven times before buying the product or service. Communicating your channel strategy internally, especially in a company with a direct sales culture, may require repeating your message seventy seven times.
Here are some things I’ve found can assist in getting the message across and building alignment to the channel strategy:
- Provide communication tools for functional leaders to communicate channel goals and strategy within their organizations
- Set up quarterly meetings with your channel organization to remind them of the strategy, get progress against goals, review Key Performance Indicators. and adjust as needed
- Set up quarterly meetings with functional leaders inside and outside the channel organization to discuss strategy, progress on key activities, inhibitors, and action items
- Have a monthly internal newsletter to give updates on strategy, share success stories, wins, recognize team members and partners
Your partners want a clear idea of your channel strategy so they can determine if and how their business strategy aligns to yours. Moreover, they want to see that the actions your company is taking support that strategy.
Relationships are the foundation of any partner ecosystem and trust is the foundation of any relationship. That’s why it is so important that the activities of your sales, marketing, services, and other teams support your channel strategy and the partners aligned to that strategy. Misalignment is the seed of mistrust.
Following are some ways that you can communicate and drive alignment of your channel strategy with your partners:
- Highlight your channel strategy, goals, and progress every change you get in front of partners – at annual partner conferences, regional events, and one-on-one quarterly business reviews
- Visit with your key partners on a regular basis along with your company’s functional leaders to share your strategy and gather partner feedback on your company’s alignment
- Do periodic partner surveys to test partners’ knowledge of your channel strategy and their opinions on the level of alignment within your company
By this point we’ve defined the channel strategy and are working continuously to build channel alignment. Now it’s time to make sure we have the right team, tools, and processes in place to execute your strategy. I’ll cover that topic next in part three.
Read Part 1 Is Your Channel Program about to Run Aground