Selling is an art form that requires different strategies and talents to get the job done. One of the strategies many business owners and marketers use to expand their businesses and reach new audiences is an indirect-sales model known as channel partner management. 

If you’re considering launching a channel partner program but are unfamiliar with the concept, continue reading this article. We’ve discussed important aspects of channel partner management you should know about, including what it is, types of channel partners, and helpful tips for managing channel partners. 

What is channel partner management?

Channel partner management (CPM) is the process of developing and maintaining relationships with sales and marketing partners, otherwise known as channel partners. The goal of CPM is to help a company increase its sales and reach its target market. Stellar channel management will help your partners promote you effectively, reach new markets, and generate more leads and sales.

Note that CPM can be a complex process, as it involves managing multiple relationships. Besides carefully selecting your channel partners, you should ensure you manage those relationships effectively. Effective channel partner management always involves a written contract so partners know what to expect. 

Incentivizing channel partners

Channel partner management always involves paying a commission, or other incentive, to reward partners for their sales and marketing efforts. Businesses use different types of incentives to motivate their partners. You could offer monetary incentives, such as bonuses and discounts; non-monetary incentives, such as training and support; or recognition and awards. 

Each type of incentive has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to choose the right mix of incentives to suit the needs of your channel partners and your business. We’ll cover more on choosing the right incentives later in the article.

Types of channel partners

Channel partners are third parties that help promote, sell and distribute a company’s products or services. So, any individual or business who promotes or distributes your products or services to new audiences under contract, and who doesn’t become a direct employee of your company, counts as a partner. 

Our guide to managing channel partners applies to all channel partnership types, including:

1. Affiliate partners

An affiliate partner promotes and sells your company’s products or services in exchange for a commission. Affiliate partners can be individuals or organizations. In both cases, they create content to drive sales for your business. They’ll promote affiliate links to your site and earn a cash commission on each sale.

To be successful, affiliate partners need careful management. This includes setting clear commission structures, providing marketing support, and ensuring that they know the products or services they’re promoting.

2. Referral partners

A referral partner is a contracted company or individual that refers new customers or leads to your business in exchange for a commission. In other words, referral partners are like marketing partners who help you generate new business.

There are many benefits to working with the right referral partners. For one, referral partners can help you reach new markets you might not otherwise have access to, through the trust their peers place in them. Additionally, referral partners can provide valuable insights into your target market, which can help you tailor your products and services better. And, of course, referral partners can help you generate new business quickly and efficiently.

3. Resellers and distributors

Resellers are businesses that purchase products or services from a company and then resell them to their own customers. Resellers can be either brick-and-mortar stores or online retailers. 

Distributors are businesses that help get products or services from a company to resellers. Distributors typically have a large network of resellers that they work with and they provide them with product or service information, pricing, and marketing support. 

Both resellers and distributors play an important role in channel partner management as they help promote and sell a company’s products or services. As such, they can be part of an overall channel strategy. 

4. Recruited advocates

Brand ambassadors are one type of “recruited advocate” channel partner. They are individuals recruited by a company to promote its products or services, and they are already fans of the brand they’re asked to promote. Brand ambassadors typically have a large social media following and a trusted influence among that audience. 

5. Wholesalers and retailers

Wholesalers are businesses that buy products in large quantities from manufacturers and sell them to retailers. Wholesalers typically have a large network of retailers that they sell to. This means that they can help companies get their products into the hands of many consumers.

Retailers are businesses that sell products to consumers. Since they have a lot of contact with consumers, they can provide companies with feedback about their products and what consumers are looking for. 

Wholesalers and retailers play an important role in channel partner management because they help companies reach their target markets. 

6. Value-added resellers (VARs)

VARs, also referred to as expert resale partners, are resellers who offer additional services on top of the products or services they resell. These services can include installation, customization, training, and support. VARs typically work with a smaller number of resellers than distributors and they offer more hands-on support.

As channel partners, VARs promote other businesses by developing marketing materials, such as product information sheets and brochures. VARs can also host events, such as webinars, to promote the products and services of their channel partners. By becoming a channel partner, VARs can help other businesses reach new markets and grow their channel sales.

7. Integration partnerships

Often, SaaS companies form integration partnerships with other, non-competing software companies, and agree to have each other’s software seamlessly pass information between their two programs. Each partner lists their product on its marketplace as a product that integrates with their own software. 

Like affiliates, integration partners place links to the other software’s website on their own pages, and earn rewards when anyone who comes from their site makes a purchase. However, their objective is far more purposeful than that of affiliates, because they’re promoting each of the SaaS products in tandem. The greatest value in this partnership comes from the brand awareness and sales that each SaaS concurrently brings to the other. 

Managing channel partners: Our top 10 tips

Channel partners can help your business reach new markets, expand its customer base, and increase sales. However, there are also some challenges that come with managing channel partners. Here are some helpful tips for managing channel partners so you can circumvent those challenges:

1. Create a partnership plan

Partnering with other businesses to act as your salespeople can help you reach new customers, enter new markets, and improve your chances of success. But before you can find and manage partners, you need to create a partnership plan.

A partnership plan (also called a partner program template) is a document that outlines your preliminary goals and objectives for partnering with other businesses. It should also include information on how you’ll find and select partners, the responsibilities you’ll give them, how you’ll manage the relationship, and how you’ll reward your partners.

Creating a partnership plan will help you to think about your goals for partnering and make sure that you are able to find and manage partners effectively.

2. Set and track mutual goals

One of the best ways to nurture channel partner relationships, and ensure that everyone is working towards common objectives, is to set and track mutual goals. This way, you can ensure that everyone is on the same page and that everyone is working towards the same objectives.

When setting goals, start by establishing what goals the channel partners will help you accomplish that you couldn’t accomplish on your own. After that, set specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) KPIs that will enable you and your channel partners to track their progress toward your goals. 

Examples of SMART KPIs include:

  • Acquire at least X new customers within a given month, quarter, or year.
  • Grow your customer base by X% in a given month, quarter, or year.
  • Generate a minimum of X amount of revenue in a given month, quarter, or year.

Setting and tracking mutual goals with channel partners is important for several reasons. First, it helps ensure that everyone is working towards the same objectives. Second, it allows you to hold each other accountable for results. Finally, it enables you to track progress and identify areas where improvements can be made.

3. Use PRM software to streamline partner management 

The tasks and data involved in managing channel partners are usually too overwhelming to accomplish manually. 

PRM software (software for managing channel partners) is the cornerstone of successful partnership management, as it lets you easily track your partners’ activities by creating and distributing sales links for each partner. 

  • As it tracks sales, it automatically rewards partners with the rewards you’ve chosen.
  • It also lets you set up a portal where you can train partners, give them resources they need for success, and communicate back and forth with partners
  • PRM software gives the partners full visibility on their sales efforts too, so you’re always on the same page. 

Be sure to choose a PRM software that manages the type of partners you’ve chosen, and that integrates well with your existing suite of software tools. Referral Rock offers PRM software that manages all types of partners, including affiliates, referral partners, ambassadors and other channel relationships.

4. Have partners sign a partnership agreement

In order to have a successful channel partnership, it’s important to have a well-drafted channel partnership agreement in place. Channel partners must sign this written contract prior to starting the partnership. 

This agreement should cover all aspects of the partnership, including:

  • The terms and conditions of the partnership,
  • The roles and responsibilities of each party,
  • The rewards and financial gains partners will gain from the partnership.

By having a clear and concise agreement in place, both parties will know exactly what is expected of them and there will be no surprises down the road. The agreement protects both parties in the event of unethical behavior and provides a way to end a partnership if one partner doesn’t act in accordance with the agreement. 

5. Offer attractive partnership incentives

In order to attract and retain channel partners, it’s important to offer attractive channel partnership incentives. There are different types of incentives to offer channel leaders. The most common incentive is a percentage commission on each sale, paid in cash. Co-investing also works as an incentive for business partnerships, where you pay for some of the partner’s sales or marketing costs in exchange for sales results

Aside from cash, you can offer non-monetary rewards, such as gift cards, tech items, or vouchers. You can also offer non-tangible rewards, such as trips and partners-only events like dinners and admission to conferences. Or, recognize your best partners in online spotlights.

Market development funds and sales performance incentive funds are common channel partner incentives. Compare the pros and cons of these below.

Managing channel partners: channel incentive programs


If you have multiple channel partners, you should create different incentive structures for each, as they have different goals. By offering relevant incentives, you’ll not only motivate your channel partners to sell your products and promote your brand, but you’ll also help build loyalty among channel partners and create a sense of partnership.

6. Onboard and train partners well

There are several reasons why you should take the time to onboard and train your new partners. First, it’ll help ensure that they are able to collaborate with your sales team to effectively sell your products or services. Second, it’ll help them build stronger relationships with your customers. And finally, it’ll help them better understand your company and your brand.

So, if you want to ensure that your channel partners are successful, be sure to train them properly by:

  • Briefing them about your brand and how they should represent it:
    • Let them know what they should and shouldn’t say about your brand
    • Lay out standards for content (like images and videos) they might create themselves
    • Establish rules for where they can and can’t promote their partner links
  • Describing your offerings (products or services) and how they should be used,
  • Highlighting your unique selling points and your value proposition
  • Walking partners through how to use your partner portal via video call (if you’ve created a portal)
  • Explaining how their tracking links work and how they can monitor the partner sales they help make

If you are managing multiple channel partners, customize your training to each partner. Focus on how each partner can pitch your offerings to meet the needs of your shared audience without channel conflict. Also, give them assets they can use to promote your business, such as whitepapers, videos, and images. Be sure to offer regular training to keep your channel partners’ knowledge of your offerings fresh. 

cgs importance of partner support


7. Regularly check in with each partner

Checking in with each partner is a vital part of partner relationship management. There are a few different ways that you can check in on your channel partners to ensure that they are meeting your expectations. One way is to have regular check-in meetings, either in person or over video call, to go over how things are going and see if there are any areas that need refining. Review your partnership’s performance together based on goals and data, and identify successes and opportunities to improve And be sure to address any questions they have. 

You can also send out surveys to your channel partners on a regular basis to get feedback on their experience working with you. Finally, you can keep an eye on partner performance by tracking key metrics such as sales volume, customer satisfaction, and support requests.

By doing all of these things, you can get a good sense of how your channel partners are doing and whether or not they are meeting your expectations.

8. Create a partnership community

Creating a channel partner forum can be a great way to keep partners updated on your brand, share tips and best practices, and help each other solve challenges and customers’ problems. This could be a Slack group, private Facebook group, private LinkedIn group, or other exclusive online forum.

Here are a few tips on how to create and manage a partnership community or forum:

  • Keep the forum organized by creating separate sections for each topic.
  • Make sure to moderate the forum regularly in order to keep the quality of discussions high.
  • Encourage partners to help each other out by sharing their expertise and experiences.
  • Offer incentives for participation, such as discounts or exclusive access to new products and services.
  • Use a community page to instantly share updates on your brand, such as new products or product improvements.
  • Share updates on your partner program, such as improved incentives or the release of new assets for partners.
  • Finally, make sure to listen to feedback and suggestions from partners in order to improve the forum and make it more useful for them.

If you have multiple types of partnerships (such as affiliates and resellers), consider creating dedicated forums or communities for each type of channel partner you work with. This will help ensure that your partners have access to the specific information they need, and can help build stronger relationships.

9. Keep the lines of communication open

It’s important to keep the lines of communication open with your channel partners and your entire salesforce. This way, they can reach you anytime they have questions or need assistance. 

There are a few key things you can do to make sure your channel partners can always get in touch with you: 

  • Make sure your contact information is up-to-date and easily accessible.
  • Respond to questions and concerns promptly.
  • Keep your channel partners updated on changes or new developments within your company.
  • Collect feedback on your partner program and your products, and apply this feedback to make your program and brand better with partners’ help.

By taking these steps, you can help ensure that your channel partners always have the support they need to be successful.

10. Invest in partner relationships

It’s important to invest in your channel partner relationships in order to maintain a strong, mutually beneficial partnership. You can do this by inviting partners to events, hosting them at your company, or calling them on video calls to learn about them. 

By taking the time to get to know your channel partners, you can ensure that your relationship is built on trust and mutual respect. By valuing your partners and making sure they feel appreciated, you can keep them motivated and focused on delivering great results for your business.

Wrapping up

The bottom line is, channel partner management is essential for any company that wants to be successful in today’s competitive marketplace.  While there are several ways to manage a channel partnership, the most important thing is to ensure that all partners are aligned with the company’s goals and objectives. By doing this, businesses can maximize the sales and profitability of their channel partnerships.

The success of a channel program also depends on the relationship between the partners and the businesses they promote. By understanding the needs and expectations of your partners, you can provide the necessary support and resources to ensure that your partners are able to successfully promote and sell your products and services. By working together, you can create a win-win situation for both your business and your partners.

Managing multiple channel partners can prove to be an intricate process. Luckily, there is PRM software that helps businesses organize, manage, and scale all aspects of channel partnerships, whether these partnerships are with just one individual or company, or multiple individuals or companies.