How to build a successful channel organization

Dell’s channel chief offers some suggestions how companies can effectively build or improve their channel programs.

Cheryl Cook Dell 300

Dell channel chief Cheryl Cook

Over the past year, Dell has revamped its PartnerDirect channel partner program and has grown it to contribute to over 40% of Dell’s global revenue. The road wasn’t exactly easy, but with a plan in place and a commitment to improve the channel experience for partners, we have been able to turn the program into one that has become an example for others to follow.

How did we do it? And most importantly, what are some ways that you can incorporate some of those tactics to transform your channel program into a world-class one? Read below for some ideas on how you can get your own partner program up and running.

Research your partners

What kind of program would you like to build? Is your product better suited for smaller, local resellers or for distributors and system integrators? It’s important to have a clear strategy early on in developing your program to be able to provide the level of support and incentives to channel partners you’re aiming to work with. Keep in mind these same partners might be used to receiving a wide range of incentives and support from your competitors.

Once you figure this out, get to know a sampling of partners in the niche you are trying to carve. Think of it as lead qualification for your program – who does the company currently partner with already? Will you always have to go up against your competitors? Do they complement your product?

Implement an omni-channel approach

If you think channel sales and your “normal” sales teams are two separate entities, think again. In this day and age it’s important to enable your partners to sell your product in a way that is the easiest for them, while enabling your salesforce to close a deal sooner rather than later. Sometimes the easiest route is through the channel, and sometimes it’s not, but it’s important to tear down silos and link parallel tracks within your sales organization for the good of your revenue stream, your partners and your customers alike.

Training and Support

Partners are an extension of your salesforce and it’s important that they have access to similar information as your company’s inside and outside sales representatives. Most importantly, it’s crucial that you offer partners hands-on experience with the products you are selling through the channel. Depending on the size of the partner, they might have several solutions similar to yours that they can also sell. Engage with the partners’ representatives early and often so they have an opportunity to fully understand and sell your products ahead of the next vendor on their list.

It’s inevitable that things go wrong in IT. Another often overlooked area of channel programs is how will you provide support? Are you going to have to train your partners or will your partners connect their customers to your support organization? Or a mix of both? This is another question you need to address in your channel strategy.


Your incentives need to be financially sustainable while also providing your partners something of value. Believe it or not, it’s a common mistake to dream up incentives that are not monetarily viable in the long-run. Think about where you are as a company and where you want to be in the future to offer an incentive that is attractive and innovative. Most importantly, make it easy for your partners to sell more of your products in a way that sustains your growth.

Get to know your partners

When you’re first starting your program, be sure you are equipped with a budget that supports your channel plan and that would make a partner, VAR, GSI or distributor want to do business with you. Spend the time getting to know this extension of your salesforce – in person as much as possible so that you aren’t just relying on phone calls and email communications.

Your partners hold valuable insights about your products and can be a boon to gathering more information on what is really working to sell them and what is not. The engaged partners will always find new and creative ways on how the two of you can join forces and invest in initiatives such as migration readiness, go-to market campaigns, advisory services and other ways on how the two of you can provide more value for customers.

Cheryl Cook is Vice President of Global Channels & Alliances for Dell, where she is responsible for ensuring a consistent and coordinated approach to Dell’s Channel, Alliances, strategic ISV and OEM partners.