How to Manage the Four Types of Channel Sales Partners

For organizations that use indirect channels sales partners for all or part of their revenues, Channel Partner Managers (CPMs) play an essential part of those companies’ success. Unfortunately, in working with our clients, we find that the role of the CPM is often defined too vaguely. Without clear guidance, a CPM will spend too much of their time simply reacting to partner requests, instead of working proactively to develop and maximize channel partner sales results.

A CPM’s role should reflect the kinds of channel partner types with whom that manager is working. There are four different types of channel partners:

  1. “Sell to” partners – these typically embed your product inside theirs and resell it. In essence, these partners are your customers, and you generally have very little to no visibility to their end customers.
  2. “Sell through” partners – these are typically dealers or distributors. CPMs may have some visibility on these partners’ end customers, but don’t actively engage with them. Instead, CPMs working with “sell through” partners generally focus on enabling their sales force to sell.
  3. “Sell with” partners – CPMs generally play an integrated support role to these partners’ sales teams, and they have a high degree of visibility on these partners’ end customers and prospects. CPMs are often called in on “sell with” partners’ sales calls as a subject matter expert. In many cases, the CPM also acts as a virtual sales coach to partner sellers.
  4. A hybrid – many channel partners use more than one of the above models, depending on the sales situation, and so, the CPM may have to play multiple roles in support of those partners.

Finding the Right Partner Success Criteria

A CPM’s success criteria will differ, based on the type(s) of partners with whom they work.

  • If you’re working with a « Selling to » partner, then you want to provide expertise and help that partner to build the best possible solution that would be most appealing to their end customers, while being equipped to go out and sell it. Know how your partner differentiates their solutions. The attributes of your product that support their differentiation will matter the most to them, whether that is low-cost, high reliability, or some other value metric.
  • If you’re working with a « Selling through » partner, then they probably also sell other companies’ products, so you are competing for their attention. You need to capture their hearts and minds so that they feel more comfortable and better equipped to sell your offerings. They need to understand how selling your capabilities enables them to make money. It also helps if they see you as easier to do business with. Recognize that you are in a competitive situation and emphasize your relative advantages to other solution providers.
  • If you’re working with a « Selling with » partner, then you need to work with them to help identify the optimum situations for you to collaborate and define the rules of engagement. Understanding your channel partner’s selling process – or if they don’t have one, suggesting a buyer-aligned sales process to them – will help you to know when to engage most effectively in support of winning their opportunities.
  • If your partner uses a hybrid model, then you need to define the different types of sales situations that your partner encounters, and come to an agreement about how and when you can best be of help. Our Channel Partner Alignment Worksheet (described in a previous blog post) can help set clear expectations and establish alignment between a CPM and a channel partner.

CPMs can work with one or more types of partners, depending on the channel strategy and partner programs. Understanding what kinds of partners your organization works with is fundamental to knowing how best to support them, and is critical to the success of CPMs.

We’ve prepared a convenient infographic that illustrates the different types of channel partner sales models, to help you determine the best way to work with each of your partners.

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