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Lessons From Allbound: 4 Things That Will Define the Channel Sales Space in 2020

There’s complicated and then there’s channel sales.

According to Forrester, the average partner program contains more than 90 distinct components. Growing those programs in a predictable way used to be a great source of frustration. But then came partner relationship management (PRM) software.

PRM is a tool (or suite of tools) that helps channel sales managers connect all of the various parts of their workflows and, in many cases, do more with less time. And a rising group of PRM companies are pushing the space forward—and quickly. So quickly that it can be hard to keep track of all the recent developments.

Daniel Graff-RadfordThat’s where Allbound, led by CEO Daniel Graff-Radford, is most helpful. Allbound is a PRM specializing in channel sales with customers like Zoom, WPEngine, and Uberflip. Daniel, an 18-year tech veteran, has sat in the executive suites on both the product and partnerships side before taking the helm at Allbound in February — and that means he’s been making some bold bets on the future of the partnerships space. 

Serving Allbound’s channel sales customers has given Daniel a birds-eye view of sorts with insights into all kinds of different strategies. So we asked him what he’s seeing out in the field and what the rest of us should keep an eye out for as we look ahead. 

Trend #1: You should be doing less admin work

In his book Average is Over economist Tyler Cowen makes the case that the future belongs to those who can combine technology with the soft skills of marketing, presentation, and persuasion. In many fields, partnerships included, the ability to strategically implement data and learnings will catapult your career to new heights. 

“Understanding technology and how to read data to make decisions is what is going to separate the best people in channel sales from the rest,” says Daniel. “There’s a lot of automation in our software. But that frees up the channel manager to do different work.”

At Crossbeam, we’ve seen a similar phenomenon. As partnership managers automate and scale data-driven processes like account mapping, they’re free to do more strategic things. What one does with the time created by our tools will be a career-defining decision. You may feel the force of habit pulling you back to some of those now-automated administrative tasks. But it’s time to rethink your job entirely.

“You can now work and prepare more meaningful results with your partner,” says Daniel. “Automation leads to better quality thought, which leads to better outcomes, which leads to better jobs.”

How to Modernize Your Partner Program With a Thriving Partner Ecosystem

Crossbeam CEO Bob Moore joins Daniel in a webinar about the modern partner ecosystem workflow. See a full guide to the video (including timestamped segments) here.

Trend #2: The U.S leads the way, but the rest of the world is catching up. Quickly.

Daniel has noticed that the “What is a PRM?” questions have changed into “Which PRM is right for me?”

“We’ve gone from an evangelical approach to an educational approach. People know software can help, they just don't know if a tool is right for them,” he says. “It’s a more sophisticated buyer.”

This is true in the United States and is quickly becoming true elsewhere—which means an entirely new front of potential channel sales is opening up. 

“It’s happening in an all-of-sudden sort of way,” he says. “Thinking through the skills needed for international expansion is becoming a dramatic part of what we all do. Most of the Western European countries, especially.”

Trend #3: Channel partners follow an 80/20 Rule. Winners will get more out of the 80.

You can’t open a tab on the internet without reading about the Pareto Principle aka the 80/20 Rule. In the case of partnerships, that means that 80 percent of the sales come from 20 percent of the partners. In a pre-automation world, it’s hard to easily determine who is part of the 80 and who is part of the 20. But in the world of automated PRM tools, you can be more strategic than that. 

Channel sales are supposed to be a force multiplier. But if you have to hold the hand of each partner, you might as well be going direct. Using a PRM tool (and data from Crossbeam) you’ll want to keep an eye on three types of partners.

  1. Partners who are showing activity but not as many results
  2. Partners who are doing great but could use more resources
  3. Partners who signed up but aren’t showing the activity of results

You want to cut loose all the partners in category number three, and focus energy on categories one and two.

“That’s how you make the 20s perform even better and help the 80s perform more like the 20s,” says Daniel.

Trend #4: Channel sales will stop viewing PRMs as a catch-all

Whenever a new app or software platform comes along, it’s instinct to see it as the key to the a new, better world. In the same way that switching email clients won’t magically make your emails more manageable, implementing a PRM isn’t a catch-all for your channel partnerships program.

From his blog post, PRM is not for everyone, Daniel says to first make sure:

  1. You have set a revenue target that will come from the channel program.
  2. You even have partners in place (formal or informal).
  3. You’re thinking through the partner acquisition strategies, the aspects of the partner journey, and would like to deliver a world-class partner program setting your organization apart in this competitive landscape. 

If you can’t answer the above or, worse, don’t even know who your partners would be, you should hold off.

“Twenty years ago, people purchased a CRM thinking it would create sales for them. Today we’re more sophisticated and know that a CRM will automate sales process but it doesn’t create sales. PRM is on that same trajectory. It doesn’t create sales but it helps you manage your channel.”