Buyers today are armed with information about products and services they find through digital and social channels even before they walk in a store or sit down with a sales representative. According to a Forrester survey, 74 percent of business buyers conduct more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase.
In this age of the informed customer, channel marketing strategies must evolve. Channel partners no longer enjoy the role as the voice of authority on a vendor’s offerings. Instead, they must demonstrate they possess the expertise required to recommend solutions that fit the specific needs of prospects and customers.
Vendors relying on channel partners to drive revenue growth must ensure they have the right partner enablement programs in place to achieve sales effectiveness. Today, this requires programs that prepare channel partners to succeed as subject matter experts and strategic consultants to gain the confidence and trust of buyers and build relationships that pave the way for future sales.
Comprehensive training together with on-demand content-rich partner portals are key. Without the right technology and training programs, channel partners tend to develop their own messaging and sales tactics to position a vendor’s products and solutions. The result may not only be missed opportunities, but market confusion on the vendor’s value proposition, which can diminish the sales and marketing potential of an offering.  Ultimately, partners may be motivated to move on to competitive products to meet their revenue targets.
Partner enablement programs that ensure a healthy channel to take advantage of new market opportunities, satisfy the needs of the informed customer and address the challenges posed by the emerging cross-channel business model.
Keep it simple and straightforward
An effective partner enablement program should be simple and straight forward, yet flexible. Partners should be able to select from a range of tools to capture opportunities in their key markets and adapt to market and changing customer dynamics to meet their goals.  
To this end, partner programs should present program members with a range of benefits, certifications, financial incentives and discounts across a clear-cut membership structure. Partners should also have the ability to easily advance membership levels via certifications and specializations.
Prepare partners to be trusted advisors
Vendors must provide the personalized education, training and resources partners need to evolve into a trusted advisor. A content-rich centralized partner portal is critical in providing one place for partner sales representatives to access everything they need to make and close a sale, including content related to performance, new opportunities, sales strategies and training.
Materials should include a customizable presentation builder and other off-the-shelf marketing assets to support full-service campaigns and customized training tools. Not only should the portal be easy to navigate it also should recognize the various partners and their teams and present relevant, personalized information.
Address the omni-channel head on
The omni-channel evolution is in full swing and while it presents challenges, it also provides opportunities for vendors and partners who can meet the needs of customers for integrated on-line and in-store experiences.  
Since the majority of today’s customers explore products online; vendors and their partners need to work together to provide a seamless shopping experience. This starts with enhancing analytics to assure better outcomes. Basic activities should involve improving the quality of online images and simplifying messaging and calls to action.
Vendors should also consider deploying new mobile app capabilities to provide immediate visibility across multiple order and inventory systems to optimize order management and delivery.
Maximizing the potential of channel partners through strong partner enablement programs requires an investment of time and resources. But properly enabling partners with the right tools and processes ensures winning results.