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3 Questions to Ask When Building a Channel

~This blog was authored by Corinne Sharp and Gail Mercer-MacKay for the Microsft Partner Network~

Microsoft partners are smart, innovative, and eager to make an impact on the lives and businesses of their customers. After working with partners for several years, we have seen that impact grow substantially over time.

One thing that we see partners consistently struggle with is mastering and operating the channels, alliances, and partnerships that are so critical in helping businesses achieve growth at scale. At Microsoft Inspire this past July, we presented a session on the Five Reasons Your Channel Strategy is Failing. This fast-paced, interactive discussion explained how partners can work toward building their own channels in a way that makes sense for their business.

Also at Microsoft Inspire, we sat down with Rachel Braunstein, the host of the newly released Hacking the Future podcast series with Microsoft Partner Network. In our episode, we talk about channel marketing, go-to-market strategy, indirect selling, and overall partner success.

Channel Marketing: Have No Fear

For many partners, channel marketing is either unfamiliar territory or yet another thing on their ever-growing to-do list. The good news is that it's not complicated! Channel marketing, at its most basic, is a set of practices or activities needed to make goods, services, or even concepts available for consumption. For example, Microsoft employs a channel marketing strategy through its partnership with ISV and MSP partners. Microsoft designs and builds the software or devices that partners are then able to improve on and sell directly to customers. By working together, the sales potential of the original product or service is so much greater than it would be if we were working and marketing alone.

Building Your Own Channel

Channel Marketing MPN.png

Channel marketing isn't just for large companies and firms. With the right strategy and focused effort, you can build the relationships and affiliations you need to get your product or service to the right customer quickly and effectively. To get your business on the right track, here are 3 questions to ask before you start building your own channel:

1. Why do you need a channel?

Planning a channel marketing strategy takes effort and commitment to achieve the results that will make your investment of time and money worthwhile. So, before you dive in to building those relationships, start by defining your vision for a channel marketing strategy.

2. Is your solution compelling?

Is your solution compelling enough or profitable enough for another company to want to sell it to their customers? Are you sure that another organization will find your solution interesting and profitable to their business so that a sales rep will be able to drive the customer engagement forward? If not, you should reconsider your channel strategy and do some work in clarifying the value of the solution to the market.

3. Are you asking your channel to do something you can't?

Sometimes we see partners take what we call "a mulligan", and think of their channel strategy as a do-over if their own direct sale strategy doesn't work out. Odds are high if you can't make the solution make sense for a customer, a channel partner won't have success either. If you need to take a mulligan, you need to find out why your solution isn't landing with consumers, and fix the problem rather than wait for a channel partner to save the day.

Now that you know what three questions to ask, learn more about the fundamentals of channel-building and check out Build Your Own Channel Plan from Sharp Perspective. 

Want more insights around how you can leverage the power of channel marketing to help grow your business? Check out the latest episode of the new Microsoft Partner Network podcast series, Hacking the Future. Subscribe for weekly downloads of amazing conversations with industry experts and thought leaders on the cutting edge of business and technology. Download past episodes of the Microsoft Partner Network podcast on iTunesSoundCloudiHeartRadioGoogle Play Music, and YouTube.

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What are your channel marketing best practices? Do you have other strategies to grow your business you can share? Please post your thoughts and feedback below!