One of the key elements to choosing the right channel partner is determining whether the prospective partner is properly aligned to grow with your business.
This question typically falls into three buckets. One is from the prospective of technology, both in terms of how you are using technology now, and also in terms of how you will use technology in the future. Perhaps the technologies that you already have in place will be all that you need for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, you might plan to add some capabilities that your chosen channel partner would need to support.
The second bucket involves how you intend to grow your business in terms of headcount. Now, it’s true that most smaller businesses will never grow so large that they will extend beyond the scale of most channel partners. But, who knows? Yours might be the exception.
The third bucket for growth involves adding presence in other cities, other states, or even other countries. This is clearly an area where not all channel partners will be able to compete. Perhaps this need will drive you towards one of the large integrators that has assets just about everywhere. But this is not necessarily the case. A number of smaller partners have presence in multiple locations, too. Or, if they don’t have direct presence, they might have reciprocal arrangements with other partners in those areas. And this component might not need to be a show-stopper anyway, depending on how imminent your plans for expansion might be.
The bottom line is to add this level of future-proofing to your list of things to discuss with your channel partner. Ask your partner about the direction in which they would like to evolve their business. However, this question can be kind of vague to just jump into. While there are many ways to engage the topic, you might begin with a discussion about how they see technology evolving in general; then a discussion about how they see technology evolving for companies like yours; and finally, a discussion about how they intend to help companies like yours navigate those changes.
Then talk about your plans for your own business in particular, taking into account your plans for technology, comparing those plans with your partner’s vision, and then adding in other useful information, such as plans for expansion, either by headcount or by location. Get into some fairly specific discussions about how they intend to accommodate these developments. This would include any expansion of their own, into new geographies, higher headcount, or enhanced skill sets.
If you have discussions with other potential channel partners who are vying for your business, this might be a good time to have separate discussions with them, as well.
It is true that changing channel partners is not a hugely difficult process. But I’m definitely recommending due diligence, without investing a huge amount of time and resources, because choosing a partner whose long-term strategy is compatible with your own can go a long way towards building increased business continuity.
Ken Presti has extensive experience in channel program analysis and development. He is the founder of Presti Research. His company focuses on channel and go-to-market programs and strategies in order to help our clients build successful and profitable partnerships with compatible companies.