Whether you call them resellers, channel partners or VARs, if your business model and success is contingent on retaining and attracting resellers (resellers is my naming convention for the purposes of this article) you doubtless know that they are a very vocal group. To a lesser or larger degree, you are reliant on resellers for selling your products and maybe implementation services, too. From a bottom line standpoint you’re giving up margin. Additionally, to a certain degree, you’re also relinquishing your products’ branding since your resellers may frequently be the only face your company has to the customer and prospect.
Cutting through the clutter of your reseller feedback and complaints (and, let’s face it -sometimes whining), is no easy task. There is no science to evaluating and managing all these communications from your channel and it’s hard to make any truly sound business decisions based on a potentially qualitative but somewhat nebulous set of feedback. For instance, your sales managers may give you isolated, anecdotal examples of what a couple of channel partners (or maybe even just one key channel partner) are hearing from your customers. Remember: at the end of the day, whether you sell direct or through a channel partner, the customers who buy your products are YOUR customers.
A Reseller Advisory Board can be an invaluable springboard for tapping those closest to the sale on what your customers and prospects are saying about your products, getting critical advice on upcoming releases or strategic business decisions as well as enhancing channel relations.
You may already have a Reseller Advisory Board or are thinking about creating one. From my own personal corporate experience in highly-dependent reseller revenue models, there is a right way to getting the maximum desired results and some noteworthy traps to avoid.
At this point, it is important to note that a Customer Advisory Board is a very different animal than a Reseller Advisory Board. Most notable is that a customer rarely has a hidden agenda in the way that a reseller might. If conducted correctly, a Customer Advisory Board will almost always be a productive exercise with honest, actionable feedback. Reseller Advisory Boards can provide the same gains to your company’s external knowledge set but are far more susceptible to pitfalls.
Avoid these pitfalls when establishing your Reseller Advisory board:
Picking/electing too many of your more “popular” resellers for your Advisory Board: Don’t default to your most vocal resellers or those that make up your classic 80/20 revenue production. Likewise, don’t be tempted to solicit resellers that you know will give you “nod” feedback. Mix up the audience. Change the advisory board members every year. A caveat; you may want to retain one or two key resellers who have continually participated and provided meaningful feedback.
Pick reseller partners who follow the rules of engagement (register leads, pay you on time, and don’t have an overly aggressive personal agenda). Make the appointment to the Board somewhat official (without legal obligations).
A “soft” agenda: Your Reseller Advisory Board meetings should not be a dog-and-pony show. Carefully consider the issues you and your partners are facing together. Be honest – if a product release is seriously compromised, the agenda should address that. Ask them for their opinion on how to proceed. The right agenda and invited company participants is key.
Real life example: One of my most embarrassing moments at a Reseller Advisory Board was when I held a senior marketing position with a $1b company. I was asked to present our marketing past and future initiatives and key learning. I had doubts from the get-go about the real value of my presenting the content that the Executive team asked me to craft. My presentation contained defensible statistics on increased leads we were providing for our resellers. My PPT slides, data points and statistics had been vetted by our Executive Management prior to the Advisory Board meeting. After the fact, I knew that I had good reason to trust my intuition. On the day of the meeting it was evident that not every reseller in the room was getting more leads. What was clearly missing from our discussion/agenda was a discussion about our sales department’s somewhat arbitrary lead distribution methods. Lesson learned.
Resellers have their own agendas. It’s understood. They are independent businesses that have a synergistic relationship with your company that can create fuzzy lines. Their focus is on their own bottom lines, not yours. A successful Reseller Advisory Board should mitigate personal agendas as much as possible and be mediated according to a fixed agenda that creates maximum objective feedback on the business critical initiatives that affect both the company and the reseller channel.
An unprofessionally organized meeting: For any Reseller Advisory Board to deliver on expectations for both the company and the advisory board members it is important to follow some basic rules. Establish the frequency of the meetings (whether quarterly or twice a year) and stick to it! Notify the advisory board members well in advance of the day, time, and location of the next meeting. Hold the meeting in a professional setting – that could be your company’s office or an off-site meeting facility either near your offices or remotely if the members require a mutually convenient geographic location.
Do use A/V presentations and provide the advisory board members with a hard copy of the presentations. Designate someone within your company to take minutes! Conduct the meeting with respect for everyone’s time and moderate effectively so that the meeting doesn’t go off topic or one person is hogging too much “air time.” Politely, but firmly, divert the conversation if it is devolving into a whine session or if your reseller board members are becoming antagonistic with each other.
Irregular meeting schedule: Nothing reduces the credibility of a Reseller Advisory Board more than postponing or cancelling regularly scheduled meetings. I reiterate: establish the frequency of the meetings and stick to it!
Being unaware of the perceptions of the rest of your channel: Be very upfront in reseller communications that you have, or are establishing a Reseller Advisory Board. Many resellers may be suspicious about why they weren’t chosen or what is being discussed in these meetings. Negate any mistrust by outlining for all of your resellers the goals of the Reseller Advisory Board.
Feedback not communicated to the rest of your reseller channel/company: Not everything that is discussed during the Reseller Advisory Board meetings needs to be communicated to the outside world. Parse the meeting notes for relevant topics and board member feedback that translates into actionable items for your company. Communicate that information to your reseller community through follow up group reseller conference calls or web casts.
A Reseller Advisory Board requires commitment and forethought. Managed correctly, it can provide your company with a productive avenue to increased reseller engagement and partnership. Engaged resellers ultimately mean more focus on your products and more focus equates to more sales.