Guest Column | July 21, 2020

Building A Channel Program In A SaaS World

By Steve Stewart, Smartsheet

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Twenty years ago, most channel programs were supporting a transactional business. Today, successful channel programs are focused on building long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships, and as a result, the way partners are prioritizing program benefits continues to evolve. Why is this? One core reason is technology advancements from legacy hardware services to software-based solutions.

As SaaS solutions continue to displace legacy products and take a bigger slice of the overall channel business, we are seeing new revenue models, business models, and distribution models pave the way. This requires channel program leaders to implement new forms of enablement that are optimized for the evolving landscape, enabling partners to increase profitability and drive customer satisfaction.

To create a mutually beneficial program in today’s SaaS world, channel leaders should always account for three components of their program. These include the following:

  1. Focus On Value-Added Services And The Flywheel Effect

Partner-delivered services are core to any SaaS-focused channel business model. While the commission on reselling or referring your products is a nice benefit, the real profit for partners is from the breadth and depth of services they can offer alongside your product.

Some of the most common services include consulting, custom software development, configuration and implementation, and training services. In addition to greatly increasing the profit per deal, these services also drive greater customer satisfaction, leading to a higher rate of renewals and a better opportunity for expansion within accounts.

Additionally, many SaaS-focused partners enter an account with a small footprint, but through quality products and services build highly profitable relationships over months and years as different individuals and departments discover the same benefits. I like to call this the flywheel effect.

  1. Emphasize Education And Training At The Core

Education and training are more important now than ever before – and it goes beyond just understanding your products. With 70 percent of the B2B buyer's journey complete before a salesperson even gets a call as reported by SiriusDecisions, channel partners are looking to you for resources on how to lead with a business transformation message, training on how to deliver advanced services, and understanding your own internal best practices across the entire sales cycle.

It’s also important to create resources in multiple formats, such as on-demand videos, instructor-led courses (virtual or in-person) with follow-up tests, and ongoing communications and sales enablement resources. This allows partners to consume information in the ways they find most effective.

And these resources should evolve along with the needs of the customers. For example, through-partner marketing with a focus on digital tactics is key. If you know which keywords most effectively convert in paid search campaigns for your company in the U.S., why not package those into a channel marketing program for partners in Spanish, French and German language countries? Resources rooted in proven tactics and trends will set your partners up for success.

  1. Build A Channel-Centric Marketplace

Empowering partners to build unique IP on your platform is a game changer. It allows them to leverage their vertical expertise and experience to develop applications that solve specific use cases, opening new doors for your joint business while solving more customer needs.

Building a marketplace takes this concept to the next level, by allowing partners to easily market, sell, and track success. Oftentimes, SaaS vendors will have a dedicated marketing manager who works with the product teams to build and maintain the marketplace. But equally important, they need to work with channel partners to create processes to review and submit solutions to showcase it most effectively on the marketplace.

Customers will then reap the benefit of having easy access to leverage your product in new and innovative ways. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved, including vendors, partners, and customers.

Channel programs rely on constant evolution to ensure partners and customers are receiving the greatest value, and in return delivering the best results for your company. I’ve found these three areas to be especially important in building a successful channel program in today’s SaaS world, but I’d encourage channel leaders to always ask for feedback from partners, other leaders, and iterate as they go.

About The Author

Steve Stewart is the head of global channels at Smartsheet, the leader for enterprise achievement. Before joining Smartsheet, Steve held channel leadership roles at BMC Software, Spectralink, CA Technologies, Level 3 Communications, and Sun Microsystems. Steve lives in Boulder, Colorado where he enjoys skiing, long bike rides, and spending time with his three daughters.