• For channel sales leaders, assuming that you can start out slowly in 2021 and make it up later in the year is not a winning strategy
  • Act now to ensure your team can hit the ground running on the first day of the new year
  • After this challenging year, channel sales leaders must thoroughly profile and assess their partners to prioritize those with long-term growth potential

My father (pictured below) was an All-American in track and field. Although I tried to maintain the family legacy by running track in high school and college, going to the Olympics or even making it to the national championships were never realistic goals for me. However, one lesson I learned from my coaches has served me well in channel sales: If you want to finish at the front with the winners, it’s critical to get off to a fast start.

Even in the best of times, starting the new year off fast is important. If you don’t, you’ll enter Q2 in a hole that will be difficult to dig out of. With the continuing uncertainty and turmoil caused by COVID-19, channel sales leaders must act now to ensure their team can hit the ground running on day one of the new year. After 25 years of leading channel teams and seven years of advising channel sales leaders, I’ve gained some insights into how to do so and, more importantly, maintain that momentum. Here are the five steps I consider most crucial:

  • Refine your channel sales strategy. Begin by refining your channel sales strategy to ensure it’s aligned with the company’s goals and objectives, as well as the channel sales targets for the year. This includes centering your strategy on meeting the needs of your target customers and buyers. Only by understanding and focusing on these needs can you identify and prioritize the right partners with the right skills and provide them with the right enablement to amplify their success.
  • Check partners’ health and growth potential. Too often, organizations prioritize partners for engagement and investment solely on the basis of revenue performance or partner program tier (which is also revenue based). This is unwise under any circumstances — but especially as we enter 2021. Revenue shows what a partner did in the past, not necessarily what they can do in the future. Include metrics in your partner assessment that are leading indicators of growth potential, such as how well partners align with your ideal partner profiles (i.e., would you recruit them?), their level of commitment to your organization, and the health of their business after this very challenging year. Additionally, assess the value they deliver to the organization, including profitability and the percentage of revenue they originate. Among other benefits, this keeps nontransacting partners that are critical to the business from being overlooked.
  • Identify coverage gaps. Do the math! Although this figure varies depending on what an organization sells, ramping a new partner takes more than four months on average, and identifying and recruiting partners takes at least as long. So, if you begin recruiting additional partners to help you achieve your revenue target after Q1, it’ll be extremely difficult for those partners to make a significant impact on your 2021 attainment. Using the results of your assessment of existing partners and a worst-case-scenario estimate of the timing and shape of the recession and recovery, make a list of where and how many new partners are required (the objective should always be quality, not quantity). Then, have a list of potential partners (based on your ideal partner profiles) ready for reps to begin contacting on January 1.
  • Get your partners off to a quick start. If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you know that I’m a passionate proponent of annual joint business planning with your most strategic partners to align on targets and how they plan to achieve them. If your team hasn’t completed a joint business plan yet, it must do so immediately. To maintain focus on the plan, schedule next year’s quarterly business reviews as well. Yes, Q4 is hectic — but as long as you’re not asking for a 10-page thesis, properly training and enabling your channel account managers to conduct joint business planning with your most strategic partners can be one of the easiest ways to accelerate revenue growth.
  • Develop a yearlong channel sales enablement plan. Clearly, working with marketing, training, and sales operations to create and execute a channel partner enablement strategy is critical. But an internal enablement plan is also key to achieving the organization’s 2021 goals. Because developing an effective plan is a multistep process, create and launch the plan as soon as possible. Start by using a tool like our Channel Account Manager Competency Assessment Tool to identify objectively what skills need to be developed. Then, use this information to determine what tools and resources are required to enable the team, as well as to make sure you kick the new year off with the right people in the right roles.

Don’t be fooled into thinking you can ease into 2021 slowly and make it up later in the year. This year, commit to running with the leaders from the start of the race. Internalize at least one or two of these tips to focus on NOW.