Growing Your Business with an Effective Partner Advisory Board. Here's How.
A partner advisory board provides leadership in identifying, cultivating, and strengthening a technology vendor’s relationship and business interactions with the rest of their channel partner community, industry leaders and influencers, other IT vendors and potential clients. It also provides external guidance to a vendor’s leadership team on their corporate strategy, go-to-market plans, reseller channel programs, marketing activities, and product or service portfolio.
As the name implies, the partner advisory board includes representatives from your channel community. These members are on the front lines of your industry on a daily basis, meeting with customers and observing changes up close. The objective is for them to share their knowledge and expertise with you as your strategic business advisors.
When organized and managed correctly, a partner advisory board can be one of your most successful tools for growth, enabling you to expand your partner community; increase partner retention, loyalty, and engagement; significantly widen your sales footprint; obtain market insights; and quickly adapt to changing customer needs.
Benefits of a Partner Advisory Board to Your Organization
- Strategic Direction
It is beneficial for you to receive insights on the strategic direction of your business from “outsiders” who can objectively assess your product/service portfolio, pricing, growth plans including organic growth and possible M&A opportunities, go to market strategy and internal operations.
- Increase in Sales and Revenue
Partner advisory board members believe they have a greater stake in the success of your business and will champion your organization within their own companies, to their clients, and across the industry. This relationship can enable you to sell additional services to existing customers, engage new prospects, increase referrals, and more quickly adapt to customer and industry requirements.
- Positioning and Strategic Marketing
Channel partners are in the trenches on a daily basis working with and listening to their clients. Advisory board members understand firsthand the changing needs of their individual clients, as well as the market as a whole, and are able to recommend messaging and product positioning changes.
- Product Development
Since your board members are on the front lines of the sales process, they can also be your trusted advisors for new product validation, successful market penetration, beta testing and in-depth user and technical feedback.
- Partner Satisfaction and Engagement
Who knows more about the challenges, needs, and objectives of your channel partners than their peers? Board members will give you the honest, unvarnished truth about the state of your channel program and what you need to do to make it a success.
Building Your Advisory Board
How can you ensure that your advisory board will be successful in supporting your organization and helping your management team to achieve your business goals? Here are four key steps.
Select the Right Board Members
The Right Mix of Partners
It is important to select a diverse mix of partners who represent a cross section of your channel community. This is not a popularity contest, nor should you select only those partners who sell the most. Select partners based on what is important to your business goals. Some criteria might include geographic reach, company size, growth potential, industry focus, technical expertise, or breadth of product offering.
- Partner Participation
Remember that the goal of an advisory board is for its members to actively participate and communicate freely, driving actions which are beneficial to both your business as well as all channel partners. It should be a win-win for both sides. Therefore, it is imperative that you select partners who are vocal and express their expertise, industry knowledge, and suggestions without hesitation.
- Yes-Men vs Truth-Speakers
Urge your board members to always speak the truth no matter how awkward it may be for your team. If all you are interested in is having your channel partners agree with every suggestion or plan you have, simply telling you what you want to hear, then don’t waste your team’s time or your partners’ time by convening an advisory board. Nothing will change.
- The Ideal Number of Partners
The value of your advisory board is realized in its individual members and their expertise, willingness to actively participate and honesty in sharing their beliefs, rather than the group’s overall size. Six or seven well-chosen channel partners may deliver greater value to your business than a larger group of twelve or fifteen members.
Define How You Would Like Board Members to Participate
The purpose of an advisory board is not just to talk among yourselves. It is to take action, helping to drive change in both your company and your partners’ companies to achieve increased sales, revenue growth, and customer acquisition. Action requires active participation. But, depending on the location of your board members, frequent in-person meetings may not be possible.
When establishing member guidelines, consider the following:
- Will you conduct in-person meetings quarterly, bi-annually or annually?
- Will all in-person meetings be held at your corporate office or at an offsite location?
- As an alternative to quarterly in-person meetings, could you conduct more frequent Skype calls and meet in person once or twice per year?
- How long will each meeting last? 1 to 1.5 hours for a Skype call? A half day for a bi-annual in-person meeting?
- How will you solicit member feedback at other times of the year? Opinion surveys or questionnaires?
- What are your expectations for your partners’ participation? Should they verbally provide expertise, input, and ideas as needed? Speak on your behalf at events? Participate in vendor recruitment activities to onboard new partners? Raise the profile of your company across your industry? Represent the partner community at your vendor events?
The answers to these questions will be different for every vendor based on your individual requirements. No matter your answers, it is important to also remember to:
- Establish an agenda that is specifically focused on the needs and challenges of both you and your channel partners, program updates, identifying and achieving future goals and an action oriented strategy for implementation.
- Inform members of the next meeting date and location well in advance and do not cancel the meeting unless it is absolutely necessary.
- Include in the invitation a copy of the upcoming meeting’s agenda as well as any other pertinent information they should review before they arrive.
- Provide printed copies of all presentations or other materials used during the meeting.
- Have respect for everyone’s time by concluding the meeting on schedule.
Role of Your Advisory Board
Providing a set of clearly defined roles and responsibilities is critical to ensuring that expectations are set up-front. Here are just a few examples of items to be included:
- Length of Term
A term of two years is most common. This gives members enough time to achieve specific goals but not too long that they become complacent. However, you can make member changes at any time should you require different types of expertise or if a member is not attending meetings or actively participating.
- Grounds for Dismissal
Advisory board members can be removed from their position for a number of different reasons including:
- Missing a specified number of virtual or in person meetings
- Actively speaking or working against the best interest of your business
- Acting inappropriately when representing your company at public events
- Not meeting the business requirements or financial obligations of all channel partners
- Partnership Status
There should be no requirement that a channel partner must meet a specific revenue threshold to be considered for your board. However, maintaining standard business and financial obligations and adhering to your channel “rules of engagement” must be a requirement. If an advisory board member’s company is no longer considered a partner in good standing then the member must be removed from the board. Remember that not only are these partners representing the other members of their channel community to your company, but, by your selection of them, they are also presented as leaders and companies your other channel partners can look up to or aspire to be like.
- Reimbursement Policy
If the first question from a potential advisory board member is “what is your reimbursement policy,” they might not be the right person for you to select. Other than your company picking up the cost of lunch or dinner for meetings occurring during those times, board members are not usually reimbursed for hotels, transportation, phone or other expenses when attending regularly scheduled meetings. If you request a board member to attend a special industry conference and speak on your behalf, then some financial reimbursement would be appropriate.
Promote Your Advisory Board to the Greater Partner Community
Do not keep your advisory board a secret. This will foster mistrust in your company by your other channel partners. Be straightforward and honest. Let them know that you are forming an advisory board of their peers and explain your company’s objectives and long-term goals. Promote the activities of your board to the broader partner community, demonstrating that you are actively listening to their needs and challenges. The addition of this advisory board will stand as a confirmation that you are committed to their success.
The Last Word
A partner advisory board is not a one-way conversation where the vendor pushes out new management directives or uses each meeting as a sales platform.
A well planned, properly implemented, and effectively managed partner advisory board has the opportunity to do more for business growth and positive partner engagement than the most successful marketing campaign. It requires a commitment to active listening on your part and true collaboration from both parties. These hand-selected channel partners are your strategic advisors. They are there to challenge you, educate you, and inspire you. An active and engaged board will drive an active and engaged partner community, resulting in more support for your products and steady sales growth.
About the Author
Lisa Masiello is an award winning tech industry marketing strategist, start-up advisor and founder of TECHmarc Labs. She writes on B2B growth, channel management, marketing strategy, customer experience, and CMO success. Chat with Lisa by email at Lisa.Masiello@TECHmarcLabs.com. Connect with her on LinkedIn.