Lessons From The Channel

I was invited out for coffee with a friend who runs marketing for a good software company, this week, and I realized that although I’ve been working on channel sales projects for the last 7 years, I’ve never really taken any time to write down what worked, and what didn’t.

I saw a great talk by Jason Lemkin and Aaron “Air” Ross last week at the Salesforce DreamForce for Startups last week, and it made me realize, I need to be sharing more best practices, more often. So, here goes.

It’s kind of funny, because the only book that I know of about channel sales is actually a pretty pricey book, and, today, it’s about 10 years old. I hope somebody else writes a book about selling through the channel. Well, until then, here’s what I’ve learned advising dozens of SaaS companies, and running channel for two of them.

  1. Channel partner on-boarding needs to be systematic and routinized. If you improvise how you do it each time, you’ll get really inconsistent results.
  2. Channel enablement doesn’t need to be costly. Plenty of vendors like Bloomfire make great channel enablement solutions that are inexpensive and easy to use. (Great service from Bloomfire, btw).
  3. Pay partners fast. There is nothing that motivates partners, especially the smaller ones, better than money in the bank. Screwing this one up is not worth the money you’ll save.
  4. Feed the big fish first. If you’re expecting to get larger companies that don’t have a strong history of partnering with SaaS companies up and running, you’re going to need to feed them highly qualified leads. You don’t need to do this forever, but give them some good ones to start with, and walk them carefully through the sales process.
  5. Quid pro quo: If you’re sacrificing margin to these partners, it’s okay to ask them to step up and disproportionately cover co-marketing costs (i.e. conferences, lunches, etc.)
  6. The odds are that your partners have little to no experience in marketing automation. If you don’t teach them how to use very simple marketing automation tools like, say, Mailchimp or AutoPilotHQ, good luck.
  7. If you don’t write all of the marketing copy for them to tweak and edit, good luck, again.
  8. You’re gonna need another email list, just for partners. Send stuff to it about 2–3 per month, not just to show them how to be successful, but to show them how other partners are making money selling your solution.
  9. Debrief together. If you’re doing end-of-year debriefs on your solution, make sure you include the partner — otherwise selling or customer success mistakes can recur from year to year.
  10. Celebrate the wins. It only costs $25 to send a partner sales rep a good bottle of wine when they bring in a good deal. Do it, and do it often. Buy a case of good wine, and reserve it for this purpose.

If you think of anything I might have missed, please post a comment below!

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