5 Essential Building Blocks for a Channel Partner Program


Author: Barry Mueller

Have you ever wondered how a company stops selling directly to customers and starts selling through channel partners? CYREBRO, a big name in the cybersecurity world, decided to make this change.

This big change wasn't easy. It took CYREBRO about two years to completely adjust to this new way of selling. They had to do more than sell to different people. They also had to completely change how they marketed their products, which meant doing twice as much work.

Channel partners

For this article, we talked with Sarah Goldstein, the head of product marketing at CYREBRO. She explained why and how the company successfully shifted to selling indirectly to expand their market coverage.

Ready? Let’s dive in!

Why Did CYREBRO Start Using Channel Partners?

The move to work with channel partners like managed service security providers (MSSPs) is part of a bigger trend in the cybersecurity field. This method helps companies serve their customers better, especially SMBs that rely a lot on MSSPs. MSSPs take care of the IT and security jobs for other companies, so these businesses can focus more on their main work without having to worry about managing these tasks themselves. So, CYREBRO realized that onboarding MSSPs as channel partners would be an effective way to reach these organizations.

But, as CYREBRO shifted its focus to channel marketing, they had to redo their marketing strategy.

As Sarah puts it, “You've got your end users and you've got your partner. So you're selling through partners to end users. So it's essentially like doubling everything you're doing."

They made sure everything from product descriptions to sales tactics was made to be passed through partners who would then share it with the final customers.

This change increased the responsibilities of product marketers at CYREBRO, who now had to meet the needs of direct consumers and also help their partners sell CYREBRO's products better.

These are the five main strategies they used to manage this work effectively.

Create an Ideal Partner Profile (IPP) to Attract the Right Businesses

Just like marketers make customer profiles to better understand who they’re selling to, they also need profiles to figure out which business partners will best help them distribute their products. These partners might be big worldwide distributors, local sellers, or MSSPs.

The main thing is to pick partners that match well with what you're selling.

As Sarah explains, "As great as your product or solution is, it needs to fit within the other suite of solutions they're offering to their customers."

If your product doesn’t work well with what they already offer, it won't help them grow their business.

Then, by knowing what your partners aim for, what challenges they face, and what they need, you can create marketing messages that show how your product adds value to what they offer their customers.

Treat your Channel Partners as an Extension of your Sales Team

It's important to treat the salespeople at your channel partner companies just like your own sales team. This means giving them lots of training so they know your product as well as you do. Here's how to do it:

  1. Expand Your Sales Force: Think of your partners' salespeople as part of your own team. This helps you plan better for supporting them.
  2. Build a Strong Foundation: You must be very clear about who you are and what your product is all about—this is what Sarah calls having a "strong sense of self." Knowing and explaining what makes your product valuable and different is very important.
  3. Provide Regular and Thorough Training: Create a training program that teaches your partners everything they need to know about your product, including how to sell it, use it, and show it to potential customers. This training should be easy to get to and might include videos, quizzes, and even certificates to make sure they can sell your product well.
  4. Make Continuous Updates: Just like you keep your own sales team updated with new features and changes, you should do the same with your channel partners. This will probably mean having regular online meetings to keep everyone on the same page.
  5. Let Go of Control: It's important to accept that you can’t control everything your partners say or do when they sell your product. But, by giving them clear and consistent information and training, you can reduce misunderstandings and make sure they represent your product well.

Overall, the goal is to make sure that your partners know as much as your internal team, helping to spread your sales further and boost your product's success in the market.

Build Sales Enablement Materials for Your Channel Partners

Training isn’t enough. You also need to give partners sales materials so they know how to best sell your products.

As Sarah says, “The more you can give them and the more clear you can be in who you are and how your product benefits their clients, the more they're going to use what you give them and not improvise on their own.”

Here’s how they did it:

  1. Double Up on Sales Materials: You need two types of sales materials: one set to attract and inform your partners, and another set for your partners to use when they sell to the end customers. These materials include brochures, one-pagers, and sales decks.
  2. Communicate Marketing Guidelines: Before your partners use these materials, it’s crucial to share your marketing guidelines with them. This ensures they use your logos, images, and messages correctly, keeping a consistent brand identity.
  3. Balance Control and Flexibility: While it’s important to guide your partners to keep brand consistency, you also need to accept that you can’t control everything. Clear guidelines help, but partners will still decide how to present the materials.
  4. Offer Localized Materials: Since partners are in different regions, it’s helpful to adapt the sales materials to meet local needs and languages. This makes sure the materials are relevant and effective for different markets.
  5. Continuously Create Content: You need to keep creating and updating these materials to support your partners and ensure they have what they need to sell as your product changes.

In short, it’s important to prepare thorough sales enablement materials for partners while maintaining brand consistency and allowing some flexibility to meet local needs and partner branding strategies.

Use a Channel Partner Portal

Having a "partner portal" is very important for businesses that work with channel partners. This is crucial because channel partners are not part of the company’s staff and do not have access to the company's internal systems, like G-Suite or Microsoft 365.

Here’s what you should know about building and maintaining a partner portal:

  1. Provide Training and Onboarding: The partner portal should hold training materials and handle the onboarding process for new partners. This helps partners learn about the company’s products and how to sell them effectively.
  2. Include Deal Registration: One of the first features added to a partner portal should be deal registration. This lets partners record the deals they are working on, making sure they get credit for the leads they bring in and that these leads are safe from being taken by other partners.
  3. Add Visibility and Tracking: The portal allows the company to see what deals are coming up and keep an eye on what their partners are doing. This helps companies figure out which partners are bringing in business and which are not.
  4. Choose the Right Portal: Sarah mentions the importance of picking a partner portal that can grow with your business. It should work well with your other systems like a CRM, support all necessary functions like training and deal registration, and be cost-effective even as you add more users.

Overall, a partner portal is crucial for managing relationships with channel partners, making sure they have the resources they need to sell your products, and allowing you to track their progress and effectiveness.

The next thing you should consider is the demo.

Allow Product Marketing to Be Involved in the Demo

It can be really helpful for the product marketing team to play an active role in managing the demo platform because they know how to position the product in the marketplace. By controlling the demo platform, the product marketing team can make sure the demonstrations match the marketing strategies and show off the product's value.

This control lets them shape the demo to highlight the product's strong points and main features that will attract potential buyers.

Here are three additional points that helped the CYREBRO product marketing team own the demo environment:

  1. Reflect Product Changes: A good demo platform should show the latest version of the product as it is. This means any new updates, improvements, or features that are added to the product should show up in the demo. By keeping the demo platform updated in real time, you give an honest and current view of the product, which helps build trust with potential clients. Accurate demos also stop differences between what is promised during the sales process and what the customer gets, reducing the risk of customers being unhappy.
  2. Separate Demo Environment: It’s important to have a separate demo area that is isolated from the main development environment to ensure smooth and professional demonstrations. This separation means only the finished and perfect parts of the product are shown, without any ongoing development problems, bugs, or tests that might confuse potential customers. An isolated demo environment keeps the presentation focused only on the parts of the product that are ready to be sold, providing a clean, controlled, and consistent experience during demos.
  3. Allow for Agility: Giving the marketing team the power to quickly change the demo environment is key to keeping it useful. This ability lets the marketing team adjust the demos to show new marketing efforts, react to new market trends, or change the messaging based on feedback, all without having to wait for technical changes from the R&D or IT departments.

This flexibility ensures that the demo platform continues to be an accurate and effective sales tool that can be customized to meet the specific needs of different audiences or market conditions.

How did CYREBRO accomplish this?

CYREBRO used Demostack to Empower Channel Partners to Give On-Brand Demos

At first, CYREBRO tried to use their own demo system, but it had many problems. Bugs and tests from the actual product would show up in the demos, confusing potential customers. Also, only the busy R&D team could make any changes to it.

Sarah realized they needed a better way to handle demos.

She explains, "It's really critical for us that partners can run demos for prospects. We needed a solution that could be easily used not just by our sales force but also by the exponentially growing number of partner salespeople."

After looking at different options, CYREBRO chose Demostack. It was on a separate platform, it allowed for quick changes, and it was very similar to their actual product.

As Sarah reports, "it was really the closest we got to our actual platform in terms of performance. It was like 95% to 99% the same."

This decision was very important not only for direct sales but also for helping their partners. For a company like CYREBRO, where the platform's features are a major selling point, it's essential for partners to show the product early when making sales. Demostack made it possible for partners to effectively use demos, letting potential customers see what the platform can do right away.

Also, Demostack is easy to scale and access; partners just need a link to get to the demos. This is much simpler than the old system that required setting up access for each user. This improved efficiency is especially helpful because of the rapid increase in users from CYREBRO’s growing network of partners.

Final Thoughts on Working With Channel Partners

When CYREBRO switched from selling directly to customers to using partnerships as indirect sales channels, they needed to make some big changes.

This big move really made CYREBRO rethink how they did marketing and expanded what their product marketers had to handle. These marketers now had to make sure their channel partners were well-equipped with the right tools and knowledge to succeed. After all, this transition involved more than just a new way to sell their products; it was a total makeover that doubled the effort required in creating detailed partner profiles, redesigning sales materials, and setting up effective training programs.

CYREBRO also started using Demostack. Demostack allowed them to provide realistic and up-to-date demos of their products, making it much easier for partners to show off what the software could do for potential customers. It was essential for ensuring that partners could clearly communicate the value of CYREBRO’s products.

By selling through partners, CYREBRO could build on the trust that already existed between MSSPs and their clients. Their experience is a great lesson for other companies thinking about making a similar shift, showing that with the right preparation and tech partners, moving to indirect sales can boost growth and strengthen the sales network.

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