April 27, 2023

The Growth Game: Tips for Working with Partners at Different Growth Stages

Business partners are not all created equally.

MANY partner programs fail to take this into account with programs that assume all partners have similar skills sets, goals and marketing and sales teams.

One of the foundational modules we cover in our channel training programs is called the Partner Growth Matrix. The chart is shown above, and the big idea here is that this framework helps channel managers understand the key traits and skills partners possess at each stage of their development. By understanding  strengths and weaknesses, channel leaders can determine the best places to invest co-marketing dollars. The Growth Matrix is also helpful in determining how to best help each partner advance to the next level of development. If you can measure skills, you can create more effective and customized partner strategies.

This framework is simple and helps manage partners in three important ways:

1)     It helps determine where a parent company should invest its channel funds – MDF, etc.

2)     It provides channel managers with a better starting point to co-create go-to-market programs.

3)     For channel leaders looking to develop the sales and marketing skills of their partners, this is a great way to understand how to help each partner.

Here’s a quick overview of the Business Partner Growth Matrix:

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Puppy Dogs. These are partners who have no discernable marketing plan and often lack real differentiators. Because of these gaps, channel investments rarely show returns.

            Strategies for Puppies:

  • It may make sense to reduce or remove investment if no ROI is being achieved.
  • If joint go-to-market campaigns are happening, it is advised to keep the campaigns simple and manageable and not include complex tactics.
  • Puppies need help! A good place to start is to review, and help enhance, their core messaging including their value proposition and differentiators.
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Workhorses:   There are a lot of workhorses out there. These are partners who are technically savvy and know what they are good at. However, they aren’t that strong in how they position themselves in the market. In other words, they have solid operations but are less strong on sales and marketing side.

Strategies for Workhorses:

  • Invest selectively. Consider sending leads that are specifically within a workhorses' core strengths.
  • If joint go-to-market campaigns are happening, help them strengthen their value proposition as well as their lead follow up process. It is important to ensure that your workhorses have a strong salesperson who can follow up on the leads you are investing in.
  • Help Workhorses advance by providing sales and marketing coaching and training for those who show they are willing, and able, to learn.

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The Caterpillar:

These partners have both technical skills and an ability to convert leads into closed deals. They may have certain gaps or inconsistencies in their systems (CRM, ERP, et) but overall, they are well positioned to succeed if given a larger pipeline.

Strategies for Caterpillars:

  • Invest in your caterpillars! Help them track and manage leads and make sure they have a functioning lead nurture system (I'll be writing about this in future newsletters).
  • Caterpillars have potential to grow into something even better. Look for ways to help guide these partners in areas of stronger marketing-to-sales cooperation, stronger messaging that ties to the businesses' larger vision and help them become thought leaders in their industry.

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The Butterfly:

These are the partners everyone hopes for. These rare specimens have killer messaging, tight marketing strategies that align with their sales teams. Let's be honest, they are rare! When you find one, invest in them!

Strategies for Butterflies:

The best advice for butterflies is to stay out of their way and let them keep winning deals. For the large MNC partner programs that may be harder than it sounds. Help your butterflies get through the bureaucracy so they can spend time doing what they do best which is building pipeline and growing customers.

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The guidance above is the tip of the partner iceberg, but the Partner Growth Matrix provides a solid starting point to better manage and grow business partner eco-system.

Reach out to me if you want to discuss this further or check out our training programs!

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