Dave’s note: Here comes my favorite “tell-it-like-it-is” CEO, Kim Shepherd, with another of her pieces from her experience managing a completely virtual company with over one hundred employees located through the United States and beyond.
By Kim Shepherd
In 2006, I gave a keynote speech at the Newspaper Association of America’s national conference in Chicago. During the speech, I spoke to a group of managers who have seen their revenues shrink by over fifty percent in recent years. I gave them a speed lesson on how the newspaper business can build a new river of cash through channel partnerships.
A Channel partner is a person or a company with a complementary service, who is knocking on the same doors as you, and who is connected. I don’t mean that they are on LinkedIn, attend networking groups, and talk a big game. I mean connected to the degree that when she tells a member of her network to jump, that member says “How high?” Rather than viewing him as a potential competitor, view him as a partner with direct influence over your prospect list.
Isn’t that someone you want on your team?
With a little bit of structure and ingenuity, you can supplement your sales efforts by leveraging channel partnerships. At our company, we have Channel partners who are previous clients, major corporations, and some of the most respected consultants in our space. Compensation doesn’t have to be complicated, either. Just take what you would normally spend on a sales lead, and give that to the Channel partner in the form of a revenue share.
[Email readers, continue here…] The most important rule is to feel good about any dollars that go to a Channel partner. I remember during one leadership meeting, our Operations Manager brought it to our attention that we were writing $80,000 in Channel partner checks that month and what were we going to do about that? My response was: FANTASTIC! Writing lots of Channel partner checks is the right kind of problem to have—it is not a fixed cost and it means business is coming in. Win–win.
The challenge for the person at the head of this initiative—which is currently my role—is that you have to accept that you will kiss a lot of toads before you meet a prince. Much like any sales organization, you are going to run into three types of people: hunters, gatherers, and vegans. You’re familiar with hunters and gatherers, but when meeting Channel partners, you’ll also run into people who really just want to go out to lunch and talk, go out to dinner and talk, meet for coffee and talk. They have the potential to waste big chunks of my time, so I classify them as “vegans” for being so low in calories. Good Channel partners are hunters with a “protein–rich” diet of connections.
Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to classify a Channel partner until you have some time invested, but I have never felt that any time spent with a potential Channel partner is wasted. Some Channel partners I had flagged as vegans after several lunches and no leads actually turned into “octopuses,” or a “hub” Channel partner who introduced me to eight other potential partners. I take a long–term view to the time I invest, and know that every now and then, I will meet an octopus in an unexpected place.
The final word on Channel partners is in keeping with my overarching message on glue. For a Channel partner to be a long–term asset to your company, wrap them up in your culture as much as possible. At our company, we give our Channel partners customized web portals where they can log on and instantly see their pipeline and upcoming payments. We also invite them to our All–Staff meetings for a dose of the Kool–Aid, as well as our annual holiday networking party for a bigger, more elaborate “thank you.”