If you formed a Channel Partner Advisory Council, which Partners would you want to participate?
Follow me as I blog my way through my book: 99 Questions to Jump Start Your Partner Channel Brain.
Advisory Councils are worth the effort, believe me. Properly managed, they provide insight you couldn’t duplicate in 100 focus groups. And while it’s true that in some industries Advisory Councils can be a bit of a boondoggle, the majority are all business.
The key question you first need to answer is, “Why?” –once you go down the [Advisory Council] rabbit hole, it’s nearly impossible to return. (think: red pill vs. blue pill)
Here’s the process I recommend:
1. Why do we need a CP Advisory Council?
Perhaps no surprise, the most common reason isn’t “market insight/feedback” or “better decision-making” or “improved communications.” Nope, it’s Politics. One vendor summed up this way:
“I was forced to set up an Advisory Council. All our competitors had them and our top Partners expected the extra kissing-up. It felt like an entitlement. Something we owed them now that we had grown to a ‘certain size.’ Grant you, we’ve learned to make the best of it, but it took time to figure that out.”
Good or bad, politics is reality. Just be clear about what’s behind the curtain and plan accordingly. In fact, if you’re savvy, you should be able to take advantage of it.
2. What’s the purpose of your CP Advisory Council?
Even if you’re forced into it (for political reasons), the purpose can still be to:
- Gain much-needed market insight or feedback to existing and planned Channel programs.
- Help us make better decisions. A sounding board for testing new ideas, plans.
- Improve communications with our entire Partner Channel and use the Advisory Council as a two-way conduit.
- Objective guidance on our business, practices, products, people, goals.
What you want to figure out is this: How can we make certain our Advisory Council pushes us to be at our very best.
Do that and you’re off to a superb first step.
3. Recruiting the right participants
Much like fraternity rush (when it’s done correctly—unlike the Omegas in Animal House), your aim must be on “rounding out the house.” This means recruiting a cross-section of Partners based on:
- Competing lines
- High-growth (younger Partners, no doubt)
- Participant age
- Listener vs. talker (overloading on either is a bad thing)
Don’t miss that last bullet. If these people aren’t fun to be around, you’ve just hooked your ladder to two years of torture—like sitting in a classroom for 32 hours of squeaking chalk.
Besides achieving a cross-section of participants, one NON-NEGOTIABLE is that council members must be empowered to make decisions for their organizations.
The last thing you want is to hold a meeting, get buy-in (with everyone standing in their chairs cheering!)—only to have the whole thing shot-down a week later when the members go back to their companies and aren’t able to persuade the real decision-maker to hop aboard.
4. Roles and responsibilities, administrative
This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road: the details.
Here are some general guidelines for consideration:
- Attend at least ____ meetings per year (length, location or virtual).
- Be available for ____ telephone calls each year from your staff seeking advice of the Partner.
- Reimbursement policy.
- Term (most council memberships have an initial two-year term).
- What specifically are you counting on them to contribute (expertise, thinking, ideation, etc.)?
- Who in your organization is going to drive this? If you’re the top-dog, you can’t be the point-man.
- What does the Channel Partner get? (also see related article: The intangibles and the tangibles).
5. Next step, bring in an expert
Those are the highlights from my personal experience. Think of them as things you should do all on your own in the quiet and comfort of your office before deciding if you’re ready to form your own Partner Channel Advisory Council.
The next step is to get professional advice, even if it’s limited to reading white papers on the subject.
A terrific resource for you is Sean Geehan, founder and CEO of Geehan Group. The advantage of working with an Advisory Council expert should be obvious—unless you want to enjoy the trauma/drama of figuring it out on your own.
Here’s just a snippet of advice from Sean:
Avoid at all costs:
- Recruiting vicious competitors.
- Inviting customers onto your Partner Channel Advisory Council.
While it’s tempting to do this, your Partners won’t be able to get out of selling-mode. (a really great point!).
- Mixing titles/levels.
If you want C-level execs, keep your recruiting to that. Partner presidents and marcom directors, for instance, are an uneven balance.
- Plan for listening 80% of the time.
This means you have to provide materials to your members in advance so they have time to prepare. Aim for more member dialog vs. your monologue.
While you don’t have to execute on everything you discuss, you must provide a timely, post-meeting summary with your prioritized follow-up action plan.
“Basically, you want to say, ‘Here’s what was said, here are the agreed-upon priorities, and here’s what we’re going to do.’ It’s tangible evidence of the time they invested.”