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The 3 Program Types to Include in Your Channel Marketing Plans

Mike Moore, Averetek

As you plan for next year, you may find that there are large, blank stretches on the calendar where nothing much is happening. Product launches, customer and partner conferences, and industry events dot the calendar, much like holidays did for you as a child (and likely still as an adult).

So, what do we have to look forward to? How do we break up the time? The answer is simple. There are three types of channel marketing programs you’re going to want to run next year. But before we get into the programs, it’s important to consider the needs of channel partners and how best to engage them with support and direction.

Match Your Leadership Style to Fit Your Partners

When planning channel programs, I find it’s helpful to assess channel partners and their competency around the actions you plan to ask them to take. Do they have strong technical skills but struggle when it comes to sales and marketing initiatives? If so, your partners are like most of the IT channel. There are rare exceptions, but too often, program owners give partners more credit than they deserve and craft programs that rely on skills and motivation that partners don’t have.

Consider the Situational Leadership® Model and how it can be applied to channel partners.

From the official site:

The Situational Leadership® Model is a timeless, repeatable framework for leaders to match their behaviors with the performance needs of the individual or group that they are attempting to influence. Situational Leadership® is based on the relationship between leaders and followers and serves as a framework to analyze each situation based on the Performance Readiness® Level that a follower exhibits in performing a specific task, function or objective. Then, based on the leader’s diagnosis, the necessary amounts of relationship behavior and task behavior are applied and communicated to the follower in order to support their needs and advance development.


When it comes to digital marketing, most channel partners have low-performance readiness, an R1 in this model, and need a highly directive approach in order to be successful, the S1 Telling style in the model diagram.

The four quadrants:

  • S1 Telling: Tell them what to do and how to do it.
  • S2 Selling: Work with them, but actively lead & develop the plan of action
  • S3 Participating: Have them develop the plan and run it by you. Let them know you’re here to support them.
  • S4 Delegating: Let ‘em run.

If all your channel programs are S3 or S4-type programs, you won’t see the results you’re hoping for if you’ve failed to accurately assess your partners’ readiness. By creating programs that map to your partners’ readiness and that offer the right amount of direction, you and your partners will be much more successful.

There are three program types that you can use to match your partners’ readiness with the right mix of direction and support:

  1. Enablement Programs – the goal of this program type is to improve the readiness of your partners.
  2. Engagement Programs – the goal of this program type is to improve the readiness of your partners and direct them to perform specific actions.
  3. Empowerment Programs – the goal of this program type is to utilize the existing readiness of your partners and to support the plans they develop.

Enablement Programs

With Enablement Programs, your focus should be on skill building. Offering training programs that address business, sales, marketing, and technical skills will prepare your partners for the future. This kind of program works well when you recognize a need to improve the readiness of your partners but don’t have a specific program or activity for them to engage in after the training. The benefits of this kind of program are seen over time.

For sales and marketing topics, I recommend looking at the HubSpot Academy program. They offer numerous free training courses that are beneficial whether people use HubSpot software or not. Look for the Inbound Marketing and Inbound Sales courses. You might create an enablement program that encourages channel partners to obtain the Inbound Marketing and Inbound Sales certifications to earn an incentive, like an Amazon Gift Card.

You could even use this type of training and certification to serve as a prerequisite for participating in an Engagement Program.

Engagement Programs

Engagement Programs combine training with one or more actions that allow partners to apply their newfound knowledge to the real world. While an Enablement Program may offer more high-level training, Engagement Program training is more specific to the task, program, or campaign at hand.

For example, an Engagement Program designed to support a new product launch would feature training about the new product version and about how to execute the marketing activities you expect partners to deliver. If you want partners to host a local through-partner launch event, you’ll want to explain the key messages associated with the new product version, how to deliver a to-customer presentation, how to demo the product, and how to plan a successful event.

The first part of the program is the training. The second part is the action you want the partner to take. It’s important to provide consistent direction to ensure partners complete the required steps. Monitor their progress, communicate frequently, and don’t be afraid to create some urgency around the actions needed. To make a program like this successful, you can’t launch it and check back with partners in a month or two.

To keep the energy and fun going during an Engagement Program, I recommend developing a creative theme with associated prizes and incentives. Using popular movies, television shows, or musical acts for inspiration, you can have some fun and make a memorable program. Since these programs typically run within the span of one quarter, you can use the timebound nature of things to drive the pace. By putting prizes and incentives into the mix, like earning something for completing the training, setting up the event registration page, getting at least 50 registrants, and so on, you can lead partners along the path of success.

This program type should constitute most of your annual marketing plan. You can run more than one Engagement Program at a time. If you limit the programs to the first fifty partners to opt-in to the program, you can use the urgency and exclusivity to build a healthy sense of FOMO in your partner channel.

Empowerment Programs

For the most advanced partners, it’s good to offer Empowerment Programs that are partner-led and vendor-supported. By allowing these sophisticated partners who have the readiness, experience, and resources to develop proposals that they bring to you for funding and support, you’re showing empathy and flexibility which these partners will appreciate.

I do recommend making Empowerment Programs structured and focused, rather than having too broad of a charter. For example, a New Customer Empowerment Program would only consider proposals related to driving new customer growth. Another program might focus on cross-sell, upsell, competitive take outs, or similar goal-oriented initiatives.

Without giving away anyone’s trade secrets, you may also find inspiration from your Empowerment Program activities that lend themselves to Engagement Program ideas you can roll out broadly.

Since a small percentage of partners are ready for Empowerment Programs, I recommend placing an appropriately small amount of budget aside to fund these proposals. By limiting the funds, you can create some healthy competition among your partners where they’ll have to make a strong business case to support their request.

You can use successful participation in one or more Engagement Program as a prerequisite for participation in your Empowerment Programs.

Putting it All Together

As you build out your plan for the year, I would recommend having at least one of every type of program each quarter. If you have the capacity to run more programs, I would add additional Engagement Programs.


As you can see in the example here, the learning series is the quarterly Enablement Program, a different focus occupies the Empowerment Program slot, and a Tom Cruise movie-themed Engagement Program gets top billing. Rounding out the plan with regular to-partner communication and some funding, content, and tools to make all of this happen, this is a solid plan. Your partners and your team members will remember the programs, and more importantly, they’ll generate the successful outcomes that you all expect from your partnership.

Want more planning advice? Check out the SiriusDecisions Research Brief Channel Marketing: Planning Assumptions 2019.

 Channel Marketing:  Planning Assumptions 2019


Channel Programs, Marketing Planning

Mike Moore, Averetek

Posted By: Mike Moore, Averetek

Mike Moore serves as Averetek's Chief Sales and Marketing Officer. Mike has spent twenty-four years in the IT channel as a channel partner and as a channel and field marketer for software companies like Microsoft, GE Healthcare, and Progress Software.

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