A product guy leading a reseller program: 3 things I learned + books to check out

In March of 2020, I began my shift from being Director of Product Management for Open LMS to focus instead on kicking off a new reseller program. Quite a challenge not only because this was new to me, but because we were doing this as a company independent of Blackboard, our former owner, and during a pandemic, which certainly added uncertainty to the mix.

As we ended 2020 with strong relationships built, objectives accomplished, and another role change coming for me, it’s exciting for me to reflect on the experience of working with partners. Specifically, it’s interesting to think about what some of the traits that a background in product management could bring to a reseller program.

Here are a couple of lessons learned in this experience:

1. You need to do a discovery phase.

There are specific sets of questions that, as a product manager, you’ll need to ask permanently about your products:

  • Who are our customers/users?
  • Will our users buy this?
  • Will they use this?
  • What problems are we solving? 
  • What value are we creating?

Usually, the answers to these questions transform as the product evolves, but one thing is right: These questions need to be asked and validated via direct engagements, experiments, etc. This is what we could call a discovery phase.

If we were to translate this reasoning into the reseller world, the discovery phase for a reseller program mostly means understanding why partners would want to do business with your company. Some questions that you may ask are:

  • Why would partners sell our products and services?
  • Why would they prioritize us in their portfolios?
  • What value are we creating for them? 
  • What problems are we helping them solve for their customers?

All in all, you want to ask these questions to get to know your partners as you would like to know your customers as a Product Manager. This insight is a must, and you cannot take any shortcuts with it.

2. As there is User Experience, there is also a thing called Reseller Experience.

If you always try to delight your customers, why would you treat your resellers any different?

As you build your product features, you can’t neglect the critical role that your user experience has. No matter how cool you think a feature of your product could be, if it’s not easy to use, accessible, useful, etc., it won’t stick.

With resellers, some UX components can be translated into a couple of questions to ask about your organization and the experience you provide:

  • How easy is it to do business with you?
  • How usable is your product and sales information?
  • How accessible is your team? (I can’t stress enough how important the team is. The Open LMS team is fantastic and each person act as an owner of the relationship with resellers. That’s a critical part of the success of the program)
  • How valuable are your assets to support performance?

I’m a big believer in removing friction from experiences. It works for a product, it works for marketing, and it certainly works for reseller programs.

Ultimately, how easy and engaging are you making it to your resellers to work with you? Why would they want to engage if your program is too complex or focuses on being punitive?

Think about all the points that compose the reseller experience and what things can be simplified, improved, or eliminated to make your resellers’ life easier.

3. Your program, as your product, needs to differentiate.

As with product management, working on a reseller program presents many opportunities to get lost in day-to-day work and overlook the long term. But that’s a trap!

To take things to the next level for your reseller program, you need to think about what is is unique about it, focus your efforts, and target your actions towards making differentiation stronger. “Trace a roadmap,” if you will.

This is where strategy work comes in to play but first let’s talk about a common pitfall: thinking pretentiously about micromanaging partners or telling them how to run their business. 

If we compare this to product management, it would be similar to forcing customers to quit some actions because it won’t fit your product. Soon enough, customers would find a replacement that solves their problems and understand their world. The same will happen to partners if they experience that kind of push.

Another pitfall around strategy creation is focusing exclusively on sales targets and call it a day. Although important, those targets alone miss a couple of significant components of a strategy:

  • Identifying the core challenges and opportunities: considering both the internal and external factors that could take your reseller network to an advantageous position. What position is that? how is it different from the rest of the players in your market?
  • Making a choice: Selecting the most critical thing to work on that would lead to the best possible outcomes for you and your partners. This is similar, up to some level, to what you could do on product prioritization in the product management world. If you were to achieve just one thing in the next couple of months. What would it be and why?
  • Defining an action plan: setup the speficic actions that will move the needle towards the desired advantageous position. Strategy withouth coherent action, is just an statement of your intentions. What actions will support your sales target? How would it work long term?

A product generally doesn’t play on an empty competitor field, and if it does, it is not for long so you want to strenghten what makes it unique. In the same direction, you want to do your homework on your reseller program strategy in order to differentiate it from the many other vendors and programs out there that are competing for your reseller’s time and attention.

Bonus track: great reads for you to consider.

There are some great books out there about Channel Sales and Reseller programs. Here is a couple I would recommend to help you get started:

Books about reseller programs

Not about resellers, but worth checking out as you build your program

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