B2B Channel Programs: The Ultimate Checklist

Adam Smartschan

Partner & Chief Strategy Officer

Many business-to-business manufacturers and software vendors rely on a channel program as part of their sales strategies.

But building an effective B2B channel program isn’t easy. Your referral partners, resellers and VARs aren’t going to magically start pushing your products just because you ask.

That’s why this B2B Channel Program Checklist exists.

It’s designed to help OEMs and developers create an engaging experience for partners – and profit for everybody.

Two B2B channel program partners shaking hands.

But why have a B2B channel program in the first place?

Answer: Because captive sales and support teams can’t do everything.

Unless you’re absolutely huge, it’s rare that you’ll have enough salespeople to effectively cover the entire country (or world).

Even if you have the sales coverage, someone needs to help end-users deploy, maintain and upgrade their solutions. That requires a huge support team if you’re doing it yourself.

Enter partners and value-added resellers. They expand your sales footprint nationally or internationally, and provide hands-on help at every stage of the process.

In exchange, they make a margin on the product itself, as well as professional services fees.

Remember, You’re Not Their Only Vendor

Here’s the thing about partners, resellers and VARs: Most sell and support multiple products.

That means you’re not always their top priority. And if you don’t maintain your channel program right, you never will be.

Here’s how to stay top of mind, engage your VARs and make them want to sell your solution first.

B2B Channel Program Checklist

Brand Your Channel Program

B2B channel programs benefit from names, logos and a defined style.

These can be simple, but they assist greatly in building supporting documentation and assets.

Think About Training

How will your resellers and partners know what to tell clients about your products? Make sure you establish a training program.

This can be on-demand video content, timed webinars or even in a classroom setting. Whatever your VAR training program looks like, make sure you keep it up to date and easy to attend.

Establish Financial Incentives

This is the most important part of any B2B channel program. How do your partners get paid? Resellers and the like are motivated by money. You need a clear margin structure – and a clear way to articulate it.

Don’t make this too complicated. Ideally, you’ll want to offer standard discounted pricing to VARs, and some sort of deal on maintenance and priority support.

A lot of software vendors will offer something like 40% off list price for resellers. Additionally, it’s good to pass them leads in their geographic area. VARs love that.

Define Partnership Tiers

Many effective B2B channel programs have tiered partnership structures, based on sales, training goals or other KPIs. The higher the tier, the better the margin.

(In other words, give your resellers and partners a good reason to stay engaged and at the top of their game.)

Consider Co-Op Dollars

Co-op dollars help partners create self-sustaining advertising and marketing impact. They use them to promote themselves and you simultaneously. Be sure to budget for this, because the other vendors your VARs work with almost certainly are.

Develop Website Guidelines

Every partner in your B2B channel program will have a website. How should they refer to you? Where should they link? And what can you provide them to make it easy?

(At a minimum, get them your logo(s) in a high-resolution format and give them some kind of partner badge.)

Build a Partner Web Portal

Partners need a specific place on your website to access program information, register leads and deals, order collateral and merchandise, etc. This needs to be easily accessible and simple to use.

Examples of good partner portals include:

Create a Turnkey ‘Company Store’ for your VARs

The easier you make it for partners to obtain collateral and branded promotional material, the more likely they are to use it.

A “company store” model, in which a third party prints and holds materials, then handles shipping, is extremely effective. (Office Service Company in Pennsylvania is darn good at this.)

Design Branded Collateral

Wholesalers need some form of leave-behind collateral to prove that your services are worth their client’s investment. These can be co-branded, or simply produced under your brand. Either way, every major service offering or product needs at least a one-sheeter.

Establish Deal Registration

A major problem with B2B channel programs is the lack of visibility into deals. The master brand loses control quickly.

How will you incent VARs to “register” new deals with you, and how will you follow up to (a) see progress and (b) uncover areas for improvement?

Update Your Own Website

If you’re building a channel program, your website needs to make very clear that that’s how it does business. The program should be clearly articulated, with eyes primarily on recruiting new VARs.

Ruckus Wireless does a good job with this on its website.

Focus on Lead Generation

A channel – particularly a young channel – needs to be fed leads. The most direct avenue for this is traditional demand and lead generation on your own website, with inbound opportunities handed out by core competency or geography.

Even the most channel-heavy companies need to invest in lead gen, so don’t skimp on content and SEO.

Create a Channel Conference

Successful B2B channel programs strive to bring members together at least once every 24 months to share information, receive training, network and become closer as a team. This is a long way off for a new program, but it’s something to strive for.

Stay In Touch With Your Partners

A B2B channel program without communication might as well not exist. If prospects aren’t beating down your wholesalers’ door for your product or service, they’re going to forget about you. They’re busy folks, after all.

What does the ongoing communication strategy look like? How do you ensure engagement lasts beyond signup?

Eliminate Friction at Sign-Up

How will wholesalers and resellers actually apply to be part of your program? What does the web infrastructure look like? How are you eliminating barriers for “good” ones, while weeding out the chaff? And who’s responsible for follow-up?

Streamline the Onboarding Process

A new partner has been approved. Great! Now what happens?

Great B2B marketing and sales channel programs include some form of welcome basket, immediate access to critical materials and training, and a personal “coach” or internal representative to help ensure success for both the VAR and the parent brand.

Address Channel Conflict Proactively

The delineation between wholesaler-provided services and direct offerings needs to be crystal clear. There should be no confusion for partners, nor end customers.

Adam Smartschan

Adam Smartschan heads Altitude's strategic marketing and branding efforts. An award-winning writer and editor by trade in a former life, he now specializes in data analytics, search engine optimization, digital advertising strategy, conversion rate optimization and technical integrations. He holds numerous industry certifications and is a frequent speaker on topics around B2B marketing strategy and SEO.