In sport, it’s not about winning one match, one game, or one race. It’s about winning championships. And that’s no different in the channel. Team bosses want to get their drivers in winning form. Taking them from Formula 4 all the way to Formula 1. Vendors want to take their partners all the way to platinum status. You need to help your partners to help their end-users. But do you know how to keep your partners happy?
This is part 2 of our six-part series ‘Steering the channel’ in which we take a closer look at how to build a scalable & predictable channel. In this series we’re comparing Formula 1 drivers to channel partners, teams to vendors, and the car to the ultimate partner experience. In part 1, ‘Create your success team’ we outlined what an ideal channel team looks like. In this article, we’ll look at how to keep your partners happy.
When Daniel Ricciardo left Red Bull for Renault in 2018, the entire F1 world was shocked. When Fernando Alonso left Renault in 2018, only to come back to what is now Alpine in 2021, minds were blown. Illustrating how crucial it is to keep your drivers happy if you want them to stay.
On the other side, there’s Max Verstappen, who has been with Red Bull Racing since his first race in 2016 and signed a contract until 2028. Talk about loyalty.
So what makes some drivers stay and others go – and how does this relate to the channel?
While the performance of the car is undoubtedly one of the most important factors (every driver wants to drive a winning car), when choosing to stick with a team, there’s more to it.
Relationships with the team
Just like Formula 1 drivers, your partners are becoming more and more demanding in an increasingly competitive landscape. A simple phone call once in a while ain’t going to cut it. You need to create an outstanding partner experience, providing added value to your partners at every step of the partner journey.
Offering enough 1:1 time with your partner account manager for instance. Kick-off the new season (fiscal year) together to create a joint success plan. Building trust and sincere attention will build a strong and long-lasting relationship.
Look at the trust between Mercedes engineer Pete Bonnington and Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton needs to be able to trust Bonnington at every turn. And in the same way, you need to make your partners feel they can always rely on you.
Relationships with teammates
It was clear for everyone to see that Daniel Ricciardo was never going to be allowed to beat his teammate Max Verstappen at Red Bull. Who knows, this may be the fate of every Red Bull racing number 2.
But this is true in the channel as well. If you consistently focus on one partnership over all others, there will be walkouts. A great relationship between drivers creates a good atmosphere in the entire team. Try to facilitate cooperation between your partners as well, and enable them to co-create, work together on deals, and launch joint marketing campaigns.
Pull your partners up to the highest level
Just like Formula 1 drivers, your partners want to get to the highest level possible. Because the more popular your partner, the more end-users they’ll have.
In addition to creating the best partner experience for them, it means you will grow together. How do they grow their business? By creating the most value for end-users.
And it’s up to you to take them there.
End-users as advocates
Advocates are the holy grail of any vendor. You want your end-users coming back time and time again. Not only through renewal but being aware of you constantly. New product launches. Add-ons and upgrades to help them do their work better and faster. Continuous hardware and software support. You name it.
You want end-users talking about you to their peers. Talking about you online.
The ultimate way to do this is by enabling your channel partners, creating a scalable go-to-market approach. Deliver the ultimate experience to them so that they can deliver the highest value to their customers.
Visibility at scale
You need to be visible to your end-users if you want to stay top of mind. We often see that partners’ most popular vendors are the ones that keep coming up with campaigns, keep in touch, stay visible. Proactively! That means you shouldn’t ever expect your partners to come to you. Meet them where they are. On their terms.
Sponsorship is a powerful tool, but it’s hard to measure success. We realize having your logo on an F1 car might be a step too far. So consider how you can be visible at scale together with your partners. For instance by providing shareable social posts, launching joint campaigns via LinkedIn and Facebook advertising, and content pushed directly to your partners’ websites.
Not all partners are created equal
Partner programs often work based on partner rankings. Registered, silver, gold, and platinum. It’s been around for decades and is becoming a little outdated, but we don’t see it going anywhere for now.
First things first, you need to be realistic. Not every driver will make it to Verstappen or Hamilton status. Just like not every partner will go platinum. Even though they share that ambition.
To start with, there are your registered partners, comparable to the drivers for Haas, Alfa Romeo, and Williams. These can be partners that are new to the game, or partners that are looking to grow. Just like drivers, these registered partners need to prove themselves to their vendors. Often they are not equipped with the best cars or biggest budgets, but through training, they can amass experience to get to the next level.
Then there are your silver partners, comparable to team drivers for Aston Martin, Alpha Tauri, and Alpine. These partners – much like their driver counterparts – can really go two ways. A team like Alpha Tauri is all about the incubation, fresh young drivers looking to get some mileage before moving onto the big boys. Then there are the drivers who have been around the block. They’re comfortable where they are, but always looking to iterate and improve to get to the next level. It’s the same with partners, some will continue to move through the ranks quickly, others as a slow and steady pace.
You’ll find the gold-standard drivers at teams like Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, and Ferrari. They have established names with established drivers and their eyes on the prize. They have proven track records, win races, and could easily go all the way. In partnerships, these are the partners with multiple trained employees, access to MDF budget, their own account manager on the vendor side, discounts. Lots of perks but not quite the level of…
Your platinum partners are like world champions: Verstappen and Hamilton. It’s a status reserved for very few. In partner land, these are the ones that bring in the largest part of your revenue. And if you want to keep them, you’ll need to pamper them. Often these drivers have been with their teams for years and years. Because their teams have trained them. The same goes for partners. If you adopt them, train them, and continuously nurture them, they will grow their business alongside yours.
Your channel team starts and wins through human relationships. The ones you have with your partners, and the ones partners have among themselves. You want the experience to feel like they’re part of a winning team.
See your partner program as a training program for partners. Champion F1 drivers don’t start their career in Formula 1, they start when they’re kids. Karting, winning small races. That’s when the teams start paying attention. Helping kids go through the ranks of F3 and F2, all the way up to F1.
And once they make it, they will need the ultimate car. That ultimate car is like the ultimate partner program and creates the ultimate partner experience.
But don’t forget, every team is different. And even within one team, each driver has their own unique car configuration. Your program should be designed to lift your partner through the ranks, through dedication and personalization.
More about building that ultimate experience – or car – in the next part.