I often get the question what steps one needs to take when building a channel for a software solution. Let me be clear. It is a labor intensive process and takes time and there really are no shortcuts that at least I know about. It takes time and practice to become effective in outreach. Also, what have changed dramatically the past few years is the amount of available and free information that you can get just by doing search on the internet.
In my case, I also rate organizations and people based on their digital footprint as it really demonstrates whether the organization is a shadow of the past or an organization using modern tools and exposing valuable information about themselves for others to consume. If you are in sales and have 100 contacts, something is wrong. Seriously wrong. Let me drill down in more detail of some questions that you need to be thinking about. They are as follows:
- How well do I understand the ecosystem and the players?
- Do I have pre-existing contacts that I could approach to ask of guidance?
- How should I create a list of potential channel partners?
- What are the steps to take when going after channel partners?
HOW WELL DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE ECOSYSTEM AND THE PLAYERS?
The first questions is one of the most important ones. Before you start approaching potential channel partners, you need to understand what drives them and what could potentially be of interest to them. How much attention do you give to an unsolicited email or call that clearly demonstrates that you have no clue about the business? Spend time learning about the space, there is plenty of information available if you actively search for it.
Some research organizations such as IDC and Gartner have good information you can learn from. Also, remember that ecosystem are huge. Microsoft ecosystem has more than 600.000 partners and multiple “sub-ecosystems”. Once you have figured out where you should put your focus, it is time to figure out how to get some calls going. I tend to do this work personally as I do not see value of somebody else learning about the ecosystem as it is hard to transfer the understanding from one person to the other. Yet again, there are no shortcuts.
DO I HAVE PRE-EXISTING CONTACTS I COULD LEARN FROM?
There is a high probability that you know somebody in the ecosystem or somebody that you can ask for advice. One good tool that I use is LinkedIn Sales Navigator that enables to do research using different keywords that could potentially lead me to the right contact. I often get the question whether I let somebody else do this for me. I don’t. I need to put time myself into understanding who the players are, how they tick and what their drivers are. The reason for this is simple. If I am going to be valuable in the research phase when doing outreach, interviewing or presenting a solution for the interested, I need to know what I am talking about.
HOW SHOULD I CREATE A LIST OF POTENTIAL CHANNEL PARTNERS?
One of the key success factors for your outreach project has to do with the quality of your list. I typically use multiple sources to do this, most of them being public sources. My CRM database has become valuable source of information as 10 years of collecting data translates to thousands of hours of work. The question is how to get the data into the CRM database? You typically have following means:
- Visiting conferences and events and collecting business cards and just meeting people.
- Internet research by visiting web-sites to see find people and manually putting them into your CRM database.
- Using a services such as InsideView.com that enables you to sync company, contact and lead information. Dynamics CRM 2015 Online has an excellent tool to do this and I use it every day.
- Buying a list from a vendor, which can be a bit risky but the only option if you are trying to do outreach to end user organizations with a specific technology.
WHAT ARE THE STEPS WHEN GOING AFTER CHANNEL PARTNERS?
This is where the “rubber meets the road”. Part of your understanding the ecosystem is for you to draft a message that you will use to approach potential channel partners. The message needs to bring the key value proposition that you bring to the table. You should NOT sell anything at this point in time, you should ask for guidance from the target to learn more about their business and you should have something to offer to them. Put yourself in their situation. Do you want to talk to somebody that just tries to push stuff to you? I do not think so. But if you have something that brings real value to the target, then the potential is much higher.
The question that I also get many times is what is a good “hit rate” in these kind of initiatives? In a recent project I approached 700 targets and had 35-40 meaningful discussions. I think that is a pretty good sample of the ecosystem I was going after. It also shows that it takes effort to get to those 700 contacts. I have customized my CRM to collect information from many different perspectives that fits my business model and this is also something for you to think about; all of the hard work you put in collecting you want to make sure you do not loose it. In my case my database includes huge amount of Microsoft related contacts as that is the ecosystem that I focus on.
I approach potential targets either by email using the CRM as my Dynamics CRM 2015 has a third-party plugin PowerObjects PowerEmail enables me to track who opens my emails so I have a better picture of the interest levels. Another way that I approach targets is to use my LinkedIn profile and LinkedIn Sales Navigator. I have been nurturing my LinkedIn profile for years and pretty protective of it as it includes people that trust my judgment who I connect with. LinkedIn is not a spamming tool for me, it is a tool that provides me intelligence of ecosystems and what is happening around me.
Once I get a positive response, I setup a short call with the target. In your introduction email, you need to make sure that you emphasize the call to be short and if it seems early on that there is no interest in collaboration, you need to clearly state that the call can be short. People do not want to waste time in things that does not bring value to them. It is amazing how easily we forget that. When crafting your intro message, try to put yourself in the shoes of the other side. Would you like to have the call with me based on the message?
You should make the scheduling very easy for the target. Send a calendar invite with clear instructions how to connect. After the call, make sure to document the call well in your CRM database. After 10 calls, you will not remember what you talked with the first person on the list.