How to Improve Partner Onboarding Process
Ken Thoreson and Keith Lubner team up again to provide expert advice on activities taking place in the channel. This week’s topic, partner onboarding
Computer Market Research (CMR):
What is partner onboarding? What implications does it have on long and short-term relationships between vendors and partners?
Technically, partner onboarding is the process by which a vendor fully enables and trains a partner on the vendor’s technology, sales message, operations, and overall go-to-market plans. However, partner onboarding really should be considered an ongoing experience in the eyes of the vendor, focused on continual training encased with proactive prompting and reinforcement. Too often, when a partner initiates the onboarding process, it goes by quick and without fortification. By making the experience with the vendor smoother and more applicable, the vendor creates a tighter relationship with the partner that typically produces revenue sooner and for a longer period of time. Tightening up the onboarding paradigm speeds up product adoption, increases market share, and shortens the sales cycle.
What are some of the obstacles that vendors are faced with during the onboarding process? What about the partners?
Obstacles can be defined in a few words; resources, commitment, and focus. Partners have only so many resources to allocate to product/sales training for new and existing vendors. This is even more prevalent nowadays as it relates to the cloud.
Commitment becomes crucial. While the vendor is totally committed, the partner may consider a new offering as a “nice to have” or a minor piece of their total business. Therefore, they will commit the least amount of time and effort to qualify for onboarding.
Focus can also get in the way. Partners need to sell and deliver existing products/services to attain sales and profit requirements to maintain and grow their business. That being said, time spent onboarding becomes a natural second priority to them.
Historically, exceptions occur when a partner requires a new offering to complete a proposal/bid or implementation. In those cases, a sense of urgency can hurdle the obstacles surrounding resources, commitment, and focus.
At what point in the onboarding process is it considered a “success”? Can “proper” onboarding be defined?
We like to suggest that “success” begins before any agreements are even signed and before training programs are initiated. In most situations, the vendor’s mission is to “sign up” new partners and pass them off to an operations person that ensures that the partner has passed their certification tests. Hope is placed in the partner to then sell product and distribute standardized marketing promotions. Success is reached when a vendor salesperson properly selects the right partner, assesses their potential, creates a launch plan, and assists that partner on quickly selling to their first few clients. This process will also ensure a greater percentage of partners that become sustainable and move along the accelerated revenue curve.
What is the biggest misconception surrounding partner onboarding?
“Build it and they will come” is entirely false when it comes to partner onboarding. Vendors have been lured into thinking that as long as they build a portal and have some training materials in it (e.g. certification programs), partners will enter it, absorb it, and then sell.
Quite frankly, it never really works that way. As a takeaway to the readers, always think of “proactively pushing” onboarding information to the partner. Don’t wait for them to find time to allocate to your new product and your training portal.
Are there tools available to facilitate partner onboarding? Is the value there?
Fortunately, there are some tools that can help, but not many. The best tools combine access to training materials with an engine that proactively pushes the partner through the onboarding process – from “getting to know” the vendor, to product training, sales methodologies and pipeline building. The system, or engine that can hold the partner accountable throughout the journey and report on their progress is key. Our firms, C3 and Acumen, have partnered to create a platform for this exact process.
What is the number-one piece of advice that you give to vendors to improve their partner onboarding process?
There’s a few. Take a proactive approach to onboarding and drive resources to the partner in order to make it easy for them to build a sales/marketing plan. Also, train their people rather than create a portal and wait for partners to take the training and hope that they find prospective clients.
About Ken Thoreson and Keith Lubner
Over the past 17 years, Acumen Management Group’s consulting, advisory, and platform services have illuminated, motivated, and rejuvenated organizations throughout the world. Thoreson is a sales management thought leader and is recognized as an expert in sales execution, revenue generation, compensation, forecasting, recruitment, and training within the sales function. Over the years, Thoreson has assisted many organizations in guiding their onboarding process.
Keith Lubner, founder of Channel Consulting Corp (C3), has over 25 years of experience within the channel. Lubner’s firm specializes in enabling technology vendors in channel strategy, design, program development, and execution. He has worked with many of today’s leading companies in developing successful channel programs and channel strategies, and has quickly emerged as a leading channel authority – especially in the areas of channel acceleration and productivity. His company’s recent projects have revolved around sales and marketing enablement, accelerated partner sales initiatives, and proactive partner onboarding.
About Computer Market Research, Ltd.
Computer Market Research (CMR) delivers cost-effective, SaaS applications to channel organizations across the globe. CMR aims to assist these organizations in managing channel data, optimizing trade promotions, and building effective distribution channels. With over 30 years of industry experience, CMR’s innovative solutions convert data into intelligence. CMR is headquartered in San Diego, California. To learn more, visit www.computermarketresearch.com.