Partner Relationship Management (PRM): The Ultimate Channel Sales Podcast

03 - 3 Little-Known Ways to Engage Your Channel Partners

October 25, 2021 Magentrix Season 1 Episode 3
Partner Relationship Management (PRM): The Ultimate Channel Sales Podcast
03 - 3 Little-Known Ways to Engage Your Channel Partners
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Our guest, Tan Tran has been in the channel space for nearly a decade now and throughout this time, he has left an imprint on many partners’ channel sales efforts. Today, he is a Channel Development Manager at SAP Concur. 

Topic summary: 

Your channel partners’ devotion to engaging with your brand depends on your approach to your partners: 

  • Do you provide them with personalized experience and do you go above and beyond to provide them with everything they need? 
  • What do you do to set yourself apart from the other vendors they work with?  
  • What do you do to keep yourself top-of-mind for your channel partners? 

And lastly, how far along in the future do you plan for when it comes to managing your channel partnerships? The relationship management of channel partners has evolved and future channel programs may not be the same as they are today. 

All this makes it crucial to know how to best engage your channel partners so that you can create a bond they won’t soon forget and ultimately, get the most out of your partnerships. 

Tan shares 3 little-known ways to engage channel partners: 

  1. Define the opportunity with channel partners 
  2. Commit to a cadence with them 
  3. Ensure visibility and transparency 
  4. (Bonus) partner relationship management (PRM) systems 

Listen to the full episode for all of Tan’s tips on channel partner engagement.

Read the blog: https://www.magentrix.com/articles/blog/3-Little-Known-Ways-to-Engage-Your-12-7-2021

(0:00) Introduction 
(2:13) Tan Tran’s background in channel sales 
(4:49) Have a solid partner engagement strategy 
(6:57) Little-Known Way 1: Define the opportunity with channel partners 
(8:29) Little-Known Way 2: Commit to a cadence with channel partners 
(12:13) Little-Known Way 3: Ensure visibility and transparency for channel partners 
(14:14) Helping partners uncover new streams of revenue 
(20:58) (Bonus) Little-Known Way 4: Partner relationship management (PRM) systems 
(23:00) What happens if you don’t engage partners? 
(26:46) Follow these best practices for a faster ROI 
(28:39) Conclusion 

Paul Bird 00:05  

This is Partner Relationship Management (PRM): The Ultimate Channel Sales Podcast.

Welcome to another episode of The Ultimate Channel Sales Podcast. I'm your host, Paul Bird.

Your channel partners’ devotion to engaging with your brand really depends on your approach to your channel partners. Do you provide them a personalized experience? Do you go above and beyond and give them everything they need? What do you do to set yourself apart from other vendors they work with? Also, what do you do to keep yourself top-of-mind with your channel partners? 

And lastly, how far along in the future do you plan when it comes to managing your channel partnerships? The relationship management of channel partners has evolved and channel programs may not be the same today as they will be in the future. 

All of this really is crucial to knowing and understanding how to best engage your channel partners so that you can create this bond they won't soon forget and ultimately, you'll get the most out of your channel partners. 

Our guest today has had a number of very positive things said about him: solving partners issues that impact revenue and growth, that his approach to relationship building has really driven a lot of traction with reseller partnerships that they share with others, that his innovation, his strategic perspective in streamlining the business process has opened up new verticals and opportunities for his channel partners. And there are a number of things that people have also shared about working with him. 

He's been in the channel space for nearly a decade and throughout this time, he's left a big impact on many channel partners he's worked with. Today, he's the channel development manager at SAP Concur. 

He's here with us today to share his tips and tricks. And we're going to focus on three little known ways to engage channel partners. 

So please welcome Tan Tran. Welcome to the show Tan, it's great to have you here! 

Tan Tran 02:10  

Thanks, Paul! That's great, and thank you for having me. 

Paul Bird 02:13  

So Tan, maybe you can give us a little bit more about your background, maybe some highlights of your career and your relationship with the channel thus far.

Tan Tran 02:21  

Yeah, for sure. I'd say I've been pretty fortunate enough these past 10 years to have experienced developing channels in different states of their journey. 

From a direct multibillion dollar cloud software organization that's looking to find a way to break into the world of partnerships, to a multibillion dollar software organization that's looking to increase market share and it's heavy channel footprints already, and finally to a multibillion dollar enterprise hardware organization that's really, what you call, pioneered partnerships in its three tier distribution model. 

Altogether, I'd say it's been quite a journey and applying this unique experience to a lot of different ways of how I manage partnerships has really been helping me, and really helping my partners as well, to be able to achieve what they're looking for in return on investment. So, I'm very happy.

Paul Bird 03:10  

Great! Maybe you can share a little bit about where you are now at Concur?

Tan Tran 03:14  

Yeah, today I manage what we call our system integrator partnerships across the country. These organizations typically conduct services consulting. They're really more geared towards the larger accounting firms that we have. So the big four. Then within the second tier, we have a ton of different VARs that support the channel organization as well. 

I think from what people may already know, SAP Concur is the leader in travel and expense automation. That being said, I think there are two things that a lot of people may not know. Which are, despite being a leader, we are also making significant headway into the leader space for invoice automation as well. 

I think from a legacy perspective, people tend to just think we're a T&E company. But I think when we look at it as a whole, it's much more holistic than that. So that's exciting and I think it's going to be a great journey for us in the upcoming years as well. 

The second thing that I think people may not know is that, in my experience, at least, we have the most diverse channel that I've ever seen. From travel management companies to Fin-Tech and bank organizations, which I've also had the chance to be a part of and manage, to ADP for payroll, American Express, which is one of our legacy partners, as I mentioned, system integrators and VARs, private equity as well. And finally, a vast network of app integration partners that really complement our customers' experience and journey as they become a customer of Concur's. 

So, it's a fun and very unique experience at Concur. I think it gives me the opportunity to be able to really apply and help the channel organization really grow.

Paul Bird 04:49  

Wow, that really is quite a diverse channel, that's for sure. So why don't we get started with just the basics. Maybe you can tell us why it's really crucial that organizations have that solid partner engagement strategy in place and what can go wrong if they don't have things prioritized accordingly?

Tan Tran 05:08  

That's a great question, Paul. That's something that I think channel managers and people in leadership roles face every day. Which is, how can we operate in a more effective and efficient way? And let's face it, the truth is that when we're partnering out there, there are organizational, cultural, and process differences. And a lot of times, it's hard for us to accept that and we want them to apply it to our methods and our organizational processes. But that's not the reality, right? What we do have in common, is a common goal for revenue, that's for sure.

Paul Bird 05:39  

Well, they say cash is king, right?

Tan Tran 05:41  

Exactly, and when you don't have the proper goals, incentives, process, and support in place, you won't only have a costly channel program with unsatisfied partners, but it can potentially damage your overall brand, and hence, affect what that revenue goal is at the end of the day. 

I'd say it's very, very crucial that you make sure that you figure out how you can really partner up together and have that alignment in place so that we have a common understanding of what we're both trying to achieve.

Paul Bird 06:09  

That's something when talking with channel chiefs that I hear quite a bit. There's two schools of thought. 

One school is to go wide. They want to be able to capture every possible organization that will represent them for their product and services. Like Microsoft, the way that Microsoft did it. 10 years ago, everyone was a Microsoft partner. 

But then you also have people now that are really laser focused. Where they're defining the ideal partner profile and then recruiting people that fall into that profile. 

But to your point, when it comes to, if you don't get this right, it could actually damage your brand because these are the people that are on the street that are now attached to your name. So I agree with that completely, that if you don't get it right at the start, that it can be difficult to go back in the future. 

Maybe we can focus on some of these little known ways. As far as the best practices go, what comes to mind first, on the ways that you can engage these partners accordingly and get that mindshare that we're all looking for.

Tan Tran 07:09  

That's another great topic to dive into as well. 

If there's a bit of trust within your channel marketing, and from a channel programmatic standpoint as well. That being aside, from an engagement standpoint, one of the key things that I think is overlooked, is defining what the potential opportunity is for every engagement you have with the partner. 

And at all different levels. From a CEO, to the owner, to partners that own a specific chair of a company, to even the individual contributors that manage the accounts and whatnot, and even the bench that's going to be delivering on the services. It's identifying what the potential opportunity is. 

A lot of times, we're so lost in the weeds of what we're doing every day, it's easy to confuse all the dust in the air and forget what the opportunity at hand is. So, at all points, whether it's escalation, an alignment meeting, an account mapping session, people sometimes forget what the opportunity is at hand. But if you keep following revenue, everything gets put into place afterwards. 

I think as a channel manager, your role is really to be an advisor to the organization and not just to the owner, but to all different levels within the organization. If you can help guide them with what the opportunity is at hand and how to achieve that, I think that's one of the things that's definitely being forced upon us every day, but it's easy to forget what the focus is, right? 

Then, as well, it's a commitment to a cadence. And I think this is very key because a lot of times people are busy and you tend to forget to engage with each other, to communicate. And like any other relationship, you have to commit to having that cadence, because through that cadence, you and your partners, what you're really doing is building and engineering your engagement together to be the most effective that it can be. 

You'd be surprised, the more you engage and commit to a cadence, you start to identify how you can really go-to-market together. And the person on the other end, who is partnering with you, what their strengths and weaknesses are. 

So I'd say that's very key. I think a lot of people know that cadences are very important but it's easy to forget and fall out of cadence as well. So, I would definitely encourage to maintain that.

Paul Bird 09:16  

I completely agree. 

First having that goal, right? Let's set the mutual target together. But if you don't have that ongoing conversation, if you're not revisiting it through a cadence on some kind of scheduled basis, then it's really easy for life to get in the way of what you're trying to accomplish together. 

So when you think about those cadences, how often do you think a channel manager or a channel pro should have these cadences? Is this something that should be done weekly, monthly, biweekly? What do you think the best practice is when it comes to setting that timeline where you're going to be revisiting your mutual goals? 

Tan Tran 09:51  

Another great question to ask your partners that you have together is, what's right for the current state that we're in? And it's not a one size fits all. It really depends on your relationship with the partner, what their appetite is, and what the opportunity is at hand. 

I'd say at different levels, it really depends. But as you're starting off, finding out what the right cadence is within that month is going to be really effective as you continue to build and nurture that relationship. 

And let's say you fast forward five years, and you've had a really good cadence together, I'd imagine that you've probably scaled the business to a certain point where you have to make sure there's people in place that are doing what they're doing, that they have the direction and have the guidance, and then from there on, it's a bit of management to ensuring that everything's running smoothly at the top level. 

So, maybe you can kind of ease off on the pedal a little bit with cadences. But overall, I think at the end of the day, it's what's the opportunity at hand and how much cadence should apply to that opportunity at hand. So, I kind of leave that up to how each of us define what the opportunity is at hand. But if you look at that, you'll figure out what the rhythm and the cadence is.

Paul Bird 10:56  

It'll also show a level of commitment from the partner as well if they're committing to these mutual goals, if they're committed to an ongoing dialogue. That commitment is also really key for having that level of engagement with those partners directly. If they're not engaged, then they're not really going to give you the time that you need to reach your mutual goals.

Tan Tran 11:18  

Yeah, we talk about this and it seems a lot easier than it is because sometimes just getting people to commit in itself is very hard. But there are a lot of things that need to be put in place early onwards, from a leadership perspective, to ensure that there's an interest and there's a commitment level to having a cadence.

But, once that has been put in place, it is very crucial, at least in my experience, to ensure that we're figuring out how to best engineer this relationship together.

Paul Bird 11:47  

Absolutely. Early on, that's really important. If you don't get a partner engaged and making good forward progress in the first 30/60/90 days of the relationship, if you're not on the right track and setting up that ongoing dialogue, then the likelihood of them being successful coming out of the onboarding process drops significantly, if that dialogue isn't happening. 

Tan Tran 12:12  

Absolutely, yeah. 

Paul Bird 12:13  

Maybe if we start looking at some other ways that you can nurture and engage those partners, any other suggestions that we could dive into a little deeper? 

Tan Tran 12:22  

Yeah, I'd say there's different states and different levels you have to manage within partnerships that you are accountable for, but ensure that there's visibility and transparency with what you're trying to achieve. 

I think that's also been really important because if there are reporting abilities to understand how you can achieve something, then within that, your partners begin to understand what the opportunity is at hand and how they can really contribute and use and leverage their experiences to ensure that you're going to reach your goals. 

That's a bit broad, but if you apply that towards a leadership alignment or an account mapping session. Being transparent with sharing information has been very key because if you don't have that ability, it's hard to be able to allow partners to understand how much they really need to share. And what do they need to focus on to ensure that you guys are providing each other with enough intel into the market. 

At the end of the day, we are experts in our fields and we need to be able to work together and share that intel so that we can go-to-market together. I can't say how important that is to me and my journey with my partnerships in the past 10 years.

Paul Bird 13:38  

It establishes the relationship of trust, right? And that's the foundation of the partnership going forward. If you don't have that transparency, if you haven't established trust with your partners, then do they really have a good reason to trust you? 

That approach of making sure that you've got clear set goals that you have this level of transparency and trust going on being able to strategically work together, like you say, to do account mapping and targeting like that, that is really great advice when it comes to building and establishing those relationships right from the get go. 

Paul Bird 14:14

When you're going through and working with these partners, having your ongoing cadences and discussions, any strategies on what you can do as a vendor to help your partners uncover potential new streams of revenue? 

Tan Tran 14:29  

Yeah, I would say that's really the ongoing topic all the time, which is, I'll say, as a channel manager, you're really looking to build an ROI for them, right? And partners, at the end of the day are businesses that are looking to invest in vendors like yourself. 

So as an advisor, it's really how can you continue to play that role and help them earn that trust, lead them to different ways of managing their business, earning different revenues, and really investing in the areas that can help them diversify that revenue as well, right? I'd say really understanding, from a market perspective, where are you, as an organization, lacking a lot of resources or the ability to invest in that area. 

And a lot of times when you're a large organization, it's hard for you to move the needle a little bit, because you may be a very big ship and it's hard for you to turn on a dime. 

So when you leverage partners who are experts in the field, that have potentially a venture ready, or a subject matter expert in the field, or they have a vertical experience. I think finding out what it is that they have already as IP, or intellectual property, and applying it towards where potentially you are looking to invest in, is a key way and really low hanging fruit for partners to be able to already establish what they have as IP and intellectual property, so that they can achieve revenue really, really quick. 

A great example for that has been for us in the areas of consulting. I'll use a great example, which is we are talking to organizations that are at the enterprise level and public sector level and federal organizations as well, and for us, we lack the vertical intelligence in it. 

But there are partners out there that have created contract vehicles, established frameworks, established different contracts to be able to purchase with the government, most importantly, relationships and the contacts that they have, and how can we, rather than reinventing the wheel, partnering up with very credible organizations out there, and helping us fast track that establishment quicker. 

So that we can develop the framework, we can have the credibility, and we can have the necessities to ensure that we're compliant with the ways of purchasing within the government or even enterprise organizations that have large roadmaps. 

How can we get these large organizations that are partners today and help us fit our strategy into that roadmap and be compliant so that we're achieving our goals that much quicker and more effectively as well. 

So I'd say, how can you help your partners understand where you are looking to grow within your organization, and then from there, you'll see that partners begin to realize how they can help you and diversify that. And through that, they'll diversify their revenue as well.

Paul Bird 17:07  

I actually have a real-life story that really pertains exactly to this topic. 

When I was early on in my channel career, I was working for a software company out of New Jersey and they already had a channel. They had around 400 channel partners spread right across the US. They also had international distribution and a number of other facilities to go-to-market. But the territory that I was managing was just along the east coast. 

There were all these channel partners that we had and I didn't really have a good understanding of how we could work together. So essentially, I used a product called Microsoft Maps where I put in basically 55 channel partners between New England and South Florida. And I took three weeks starting in Boston, and I visited all of them. 

I sat in their office, and basically did my best to understand what their business is, what their goals were, how we could work together, how can I help your business? And what I found is that after visiting all of these partners, sitting with them face-to-face, is that my channel was really diverse. 

I had people that were really focused on the Microsoft environment that were basically value added resellers. But then I had all of these specialty organizations that did things like computer telephony integration, phone systems, and things like that. Where we were not really a core product, but we were part of a side offering they had. 

And even the focus when it comes to their customer base, I came across people that only, in the US, dealt with state and federal. So for me to be able to work with them on a deal for a private organization, it's just not in their mandate, in their wheelhouse. 

So, that's really great advice of being able to understand what the capabilities and what the strengths and weaknesses within your partner channel are. Because if you have that landscape, you can direct it in the area that you want to go and achieve those goals that you set out together. So that's really great advice, Tan.

Tan Tran 19:12  

I would say if you are fortunate enough to be in a channel that's very diverse, you'll find that there's key partners that have a specific boutique skill set. A lot of times these partners are also looking for ways to partner with other organizations as well. 

A great example was, I worked with large consulting companies. I've worked with large VARs, distribution VARS, across the country that are very well known from a North American perspective. I've also worked with banking organizations as well. 

What we did was, how can we help make the experience for the customer that much better because these customers are banking with somebody today. They're going to need somebody to consult them from an accounting perspective, a tax perspective, compliance perspective. They're going to need somebody to help them with procurement sourcing as well. So how can we really connect the dots for these customers? 

By doing that, what we essentially found out was, we're helping our partners develop partnerships within their own as well. Through that, it really helps solidify your brand and your channel organization together. Because if you do have a very strong channel organization, it really, ultimately affects your brand at the end of the day. 

Being able to connect the dots with our channel organization really has helped solidify that much better of an experience for our customers. So I'd say if you are fortunate enough to have a diverse channel, really look at ways to really connect the dots for your partners, because you'd be surprised what you can really uncover not just for yourself, but for your customers and also your partners. 

Paul Bird 20:45  

You become that trusted advisor, right? Now you're no longer tied to a single product offering or service offering, you're now becoming that trusted source for more than just a single transaction. 

Tan Tran 20:58  

Absolutely. 

Paul Bird 20:58  

As we go back to the little known ways to engage partners, what do you think the role is of channel programs and partner relationship management systems? How does this really apply to the engagement level of channel partners?

Tan Tran 21:15  

Yeah, I would say I have not been as fortunate in this area to be able to have a way to manage partners from a systematic standpoint with tools. But, obviously, having that is very crucial so that you really understand where the state of your partnership is today, what the journey is for each partner that's looking to invest within your organization, and be able to really manage all the different aspects of the business. 

A lot of times, US channel managers, you don't have the time, and you don't have the ability to prioritize everything at any given point. It's very hard for you to do that, especially if you're traveling and you're on the road. 

But with a pandemic, it's really helped people manage their business at the push of a button, sitting in their office chair. It's making people realize, how can I be more effective with managing my partnerships? 

If you have the ability to manage your business, and have that digital overview of what that partnership state looks like, within your channel today, it is extremely, extremely valuable for you to identify where the missing ingredients are to ensure that, from a distribution standpoint, you got that checked off. From a skillset standpoint, a certification standpoint, you've got that checked off. From what the opportunity is at hand, understanding where that is currently today, that can be checked off. Also, the different milestones that you're having from a commitment standpoint with partners, that's being managed and checked off as well. 

So I'd say, if there's a way that you can manage that, from a top view down, especially in a digital way, that will just make you that much more effective to ensure that you are able to fast track, not just fast track, but also identify what's currently missing, ensuring that I've got more coming from my partners.

Paul Bird 23:00  

Now here's the question, with all of these best practices and strategies that we've been talking about, what do you think some of the risks are, if you don't have those in place?

Tan Tran 23:08  

I think it goes back to the return on investment for both sides. At the end of the day, it's time for everyone, right? And to not be able to reach your investment, that can be very unfortunate. 

But the other unfortunate part as well is the repercussions that you can have from it. Where, if you engage in an opportunity together, the customer may have a very bad experience with how the process was laid out, especially if a purchase had been made but the deliverables were not delivered at the end of day. That is a very unfortunate experience for the customer. 

Through that, it also creates a very unhappy experience for the partner as well. So if you're misguided I think your partners become misguided. The net of that is, the customers become very unhappy. Then the other part is what else is being communicated out there and misguided out there that you may not be aware of. So the repercussions are very compelling that you have to be sure that you're guiding your partners in the right direction, because it can be very damaging for your brand.

Paul Bird 24:09  

You don't get the second chance to make the first impression, that's for sure. 

Tan Tran 24:12  

Absolutely. 

Paul Bird 24:13  

I've seen this as well. Here's the challenge, if the customer has a poor experience, they're likely to share that with a number of their colleagues. And if they end up leaving and going to another company, that experience they had with your product or service offering continues on. 

So it's maybe not one opportunity that you've lost, but it could end up being many opportunities. And I think the same thing applies with channel partners. Where if they have a good opportunity that they're working, and they're working hand in hand with you. If the ball drops, and they don't get the deal, then unfortunately, they're going to be really hesitant to engage again. 

I've had this happen to me in the past. I was actually working for an integrator just outside of the Toronto area and we had a large government client where we were the incumbent service provider, and their software offering was coming up for renewal. But as with all government contracts, they put this out for bid. 

It's interesting because we were the incumbent, this company actually took all of our RFP material, and it was significant. This was a multi month process, in order to prepare a response. We shipped it out to their head office, they went out, signed all the places where they needed to, but then they stuck a big disclaimer right on the front of the RFP response from their legal team. 

What happened? This was shipped to our client, not back to our office. They immediately opened, read the agreement, closed the RFP response, all the CDs and printouts and everything, shipped it back to our office without even looking at it. So how did that make me feel as a channel partner? I can tell you that we immediately stopped carrying their offering.

Tan Tran 26:01  

That's a great example. 

On the flip side, the positive effect that it can have is, as we know, CFOs move around quite a bit, CEOs as well. IT managers and CIOs also are on the same boat. And you also mentioned partners as well. 

When they have a positive experience, it just makes your ability to influence them in the next organization that they move towards that much easier because they had a great experience with you. A lot of times the network of CFOs and CIOs and CEOs out there, it's not that big. So when they talk about your brand, and your name is being brought up without you knowing, it's very crucial that we lead by example, and we lead with value. So the experience is carried on even when you are not there to witness it yourself.

Paul Bird 26:46  

As we start to get things wrapped up, from your perspective, if we follow these best practices of establishing the common goal, making sure that we have good dialogue with consistent cadence, what do you think a channel organization can expect when it comes to the health of their channel? Do you think it will translate into higher sales levels and impact the growth of the actual channel partner themselves?

Tan Tran 27:13  

Yeah, at the end of the day partners are looking for return on investment. I think we've echoed that quite a bit. And how you can achieve a faster return on investment really depends on what the opportunity is at hand, what the process being laid out is, what are the resources provided, what the commitment level is, and what the cadence level is, given the relationship. 

If these things are in place, what we can expect is a quicker return on investment, not just for you, but also for the partner. And the other part, that we kind of forget, as channel managers is, it's a quicker return on investment for the customers as well. Because if the partners are guided in the right direction, and they're certified and trained, they're able to get a quicker return on investment for the customer. 

And when customers have a quicker return on investment, you typically will see a quicker return on investment as an ISV or as a manufacturer as well because they're quick to sign. And not just that, if partners are trained correctly, when you're looking at cross selling or your ability to nurture existing customers, there are endless opportunities for you to be able to solidify new streams of revenue or other product offerings that you may have as well. 

So a quicker return investment is key so that customers have a great experience, so that they can continue to invest within your portfolio that much quicker. So I think the net result is you will see your partners utilizing what resources you have as a brand, as an organization to help you uncover revenue much quicker and much more effectively.

Paul Bird 28:39  

Alright Tan, that is all great advice. Thank you so much for being a guest on our show today. It's been a pleasure to have you here. 

Tan Tran 28:46  

Paul, thank you so much. And again, thank you for having me. Best of luck with everything. 

Paul Bird 28:49  

Thank you, Tan.

All right guys, thank you for listening to The Ultimate Channel Sales Podcast and please don’t forget to join us next time where we’ll have Heather Margolis on the show to discuss Are Your Channel Partners Getting the Attention They Need (and Deserve)?  For more information, please visit channelsalespodcast.com.

If you haven't already, please like and subscribe to our podcast. And if you enjoyed this episode today, please leave us a five star rating. And don't forget to share with your friends or professional network. Anyone who would enjoy it. See you next time on The Ultimate Channel Sales Podcast.

Introduction
Tan Tran’s background in channel sales
Have a solid partner engagement strategy
Little-Known Way 1: Define the opportunity with channel partners
Little-Known Way 2: Commit to a cadence with channel partners
Little-Known Way 3: Ensure visibility and transparency for channel partners
Helping partners uncover new streams of revenue
(Bonus) Little-Known Way 4: Partner relationship management (PRM) systems
What happens if you don’t engage partners?
Follow these best practices for a faster ROI
Conclusion