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Why Channel Partner Recruitment Is A Key Focus for Tech Vendors in 2021

Tom Perry
by Tom Perry - January 15, 2021

2020 shone a bright light on the technology channel and as a result of a tough year, many Vendors are concerned that their channel is not quite in the shape it needs to be to deliver their indirect revenue goals over the next 3-5 years. For many Vendors, this has accelerated the need to evaluate Partner portfolios and to search for and recruit different types of Partners.


The Vendors we have engaged with over the past 12 months are all seeking to augment their current channels with new types of Partners, to deliver an increased channel revenue load. So, this whole area of Partner recruitment is something that we at Sherpa think is going to really take off in 2021.

What is Driving Partner Recruitment in 2021?

In the main, there are a couple of key drivers that are causing Vendors to turn their attention to Partner recruitment this year.

Firstly, there has been a massive acceleration towards cloud technology throughout the Covid pandemic. Vendors are under pressure to move to the cloud, which has a knock-on effect for their Partners as not all channel Partners are ready for the cloud environment.

Secondly, instead of investing time and money on bringing a group of existing Partners up to speed – which carries a risk that some might not be able to get there - Vendors are on the hunt for new Partners who can demonstrate characteristics such as:

  1. Good at software as a service (SaaS)
  2. Already have service operations around renewal
  3. Focus on net new revenue growth
  4. Enjoy upwards of 90% customer retention rates
  5. Have invested in client satisfaction processes and technology

Different Types of Channel Partners

The topic of recruitment continues at pace within channel circles, in particular, the emergence of different types Partners and in greater volumes, all of which add complexity. The inference is that the strategy around recruitment will become a much greater challenge for Vendors in 2021 and beyond.

We see the different types of channel Partners as falling into three main categories.

Top layer

This is where you have systems integrators and global systems integrators (GSIs) that do large amounts of revenue but are hard to recruit. There is a gap in a lot of Vendors’ portfolios at this level.

Middle layer

Where we’ve got traditional re-sell and distribution players. Vendors appreciate that this layer is where they typically need to build more vertical expertise into the channel as a whole and assign this specialist work to channel Partners who are experts in those particular markets.

Bottom layer

A lot of Vendors are saying they need more agents, referrers at the influence level. This is the most under-developed area of the channel but can deliver huge returns.

👉 Related Insights: Growing GSI Partnerships Requires a Uniquely Different Approach

Planning for Partner Recruitment

Channel Partner recruitment is a long cycle activity that takes between nine to 15 months from start to finish, as that’s how long it usually takes for a new Partner to get to revenue. Vendors will find the best Partners when they invest time and energy in the preparation work, which often includes.

Step 1 - Evaluate your existing Partner portfolio

Would you buy a new car just because a warning light has come on? Probably not. The same could be said when it comes to new Partner recruitment. Before you start thinking new Partners will solve everything that’s broken, you need to look closely at your current Partners and objectively evaluate whether more can be done to get faster gains – at the same time as considering recruitment. This evaluation also helps with your next step which is to create the ideal Partner profile.

Step 2 – Consider the recruitment experience

Recruitment is the first step in the Partner journey of a successful and valuable long-term channel partnership. To win the hearts and minds of potential Partners, a Vendor must think about the recruitment experience, which involves:

  • Articulating Value - clear articulation of programme values, opportunities and what support is provided by the Vendor to create a valuable partnership and to align to Partners’ objectives.
  • Capture and Nurture Interest - create a clear pathway for potential Partners to register their interest, and then engage with content and collateral that serves to build an understanding of your programme’s values and benefits so that initial interest is nurtured into qualified prospects.
  • Convert - echo the message proposition to Partners and their end-users that began in the recruitment process through a consistent sales experience that guides them to contract.

Step 3 - Build your ideal Partner profile

If Partner recruitment has been given the green light, start to build out your ideal Partner profile based on three different levels of attributes:

  • Business Compatibility – are they going in the same direction? Is their business sound? Can you see their value proposition and ambitions alongside yours?
  • Cultural Compatibility – channel is a relationship business. You have to ensure that the relationship will work not just at the very senior level –but also how they will sell and serve your joint clients
  • Coverage – do they have or are they looking to expand into new markets – across different verticals, different market sizes, different geographies?

Step 4 - Interview prospective Partners

Now that you understand what you want in a Partner, it’s time for a good fact-finding session to establish if partnering is mutually beneficial. Aside from the usual questions, you’ll want to hone in on:

  1. What’s really going to drive a decision in a Partner - because this isn’t ALWAYS commercial. It could be how close you will be to the Partner and the level of direct support you will give.
  2. Understanding the make-up of their existing Vendor portfolio – you need to establish things like whether this partnership is likely to displace an existing relationship. This is a particular consideration with enterprise tech Partners as loyalty to Vendors is a big part of the strength of their relationships or, will you be complementing what the Partner already sells e.g. they sell multiple back-office solutions that your technology integrates well into.
  3. Try to gauge the security of the potential relationship or ‘lifetime Partner value’ - it takes many months to recruit new Partners and Partners themselves also invest time in onboarding with new Vendors. So it’s important to start a conversation about this early on in the process as both parties will be looking to make this a long-term, sustainable relationship.
With channel ecosystems being less defined by exact Partner types, now is the time to get creative with business models. Re-think previously dismissed Partners or those who you previously held a relationship with – you never know what’s changed since you engaged with them – and don’t be afraid to consider new types of Partners that don’t immediately jump out as prospects. They might bring value in new ways such as service, build, implementation and influence.

Channel Partner evaluation, search and recruitment play an important role in building your channel space for sustainable growth. And build you must as when the time comes, companies are going to want to accelerate away from this global pandemic with their pent up budgets and ready-to-go projects.

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