Recruiting partners is a necessary step to building any channel practice. Of course, you need partners to build your channel and create your ecosystem. But is there a point at which you can do too much of a good thing? Is there a point when recruiting has a negative effect on your ecosystem? Actually, yes, there is a point, and it is often only discovered when it is too late.

Recruiting must happen. We all know that. Just like we humans need water to survive, it is possible to drink too much water, just like you can recruit too many partners. The tipping point comes when you have a mature channel ecosystem and begin to employ recruiting as a growth strategy.

Like most channel executives, you’ve probably done your analysis on the top partners and how much they produce for your company. It used to be an 80/20 rule, with 80% of your revenue being produced by 20% of your partners. But I’ve seen it be more like 90/10 and even 95/5 in the worst cases. So, what happens when your 20%, 10% or 5% of partners start to level off – or worse – decline in revenue year over year? This is a huge red flag, and the instinct may be to “add more partners” to make up the difference. But is this the right thing to do?

In the short term, adding a new partner, and having that partner bring new potential clients with additional revenue is a good thing. It will make up for that short fall and on paper, your numbers still look good. But the problem is, you haven’t fixed your underlying issue, and you’ve just created another one in the meantime.

In the long term, you can’t continue to recruit new as a way to make up for a decline of your top partners. You will reach a point where you can’t recruit enough to cover up the gap and end up with too many new partners in different stages of ramping and flood the market with competition and channel conflict. Not to mention the costs associated with ramping so many new partners will outweigh any revenues these new partners could possibly bring to you. Now you’ve increased costs and added competition for all your partners. Of course, this is a worst case scenario, and while it is possible to recruit and not feel ill effects, you need to be very deliberate in your recruiting strategy.

So, what is the answer? How do you support an existing channel and recruiting efforts? Here are a few best practices to help strike that balance:

  1. Smart Recruiting – While some recruiting efforts cast a wide net, if you are in a mature ecosystem, you’ll want to be very focused on the profile of the partner you want to attract and go after only that type of partner. Since you don’t want to overload your onboarding and ramping resources, you’ll want to seek out the perfect partner profiles and practice smart recruiting. That is, only recruit the exact type of partner, in limited quantities, that will benefit you in the long term.
  2. Prioritize Resources – You need to think about all the resources you have to support all of your partners and prioritize resources for each type. You need to be sure that you are not putting all your efforts in the “new and shiny object” basket and ignoring your existing, revenue producing partners. Make sure your faithful partners get what they need to continue to produce in your market.
  3. Segment Your Partners – Along with prioritizing resources, segmentation gives you the methodology and guidance for prioritization, and an established way to show partners what they get and why. It also helps guide partner behavior and encourages goals for partners to reach within your program.
  4. Invest In Your Program – If you recall the original problem that was occurring was the declining revenues from top partners. Instead of reaching for the “recruiting silver bullet”, think about how you can address the original problem by supporting your existing partners and cultivating the shining stars that could become part of your top partner group. Sometimes this means adding additional benefits, or creating initiatives that drive a specific behavior. Your best bet would be to talk to your top partners and find out why there is a decline, and then get creative to address those reasons and find a solution.

As your channel ecosystem shifts and changes, it is important to really understand what is driving the good and bad behavior. Don’t get caught in the trap to celebrate the good and cover up the bad. In the end it will not serve you or your partners. Remember there are costs and benefits to every decision you make with your program. Be mindful of the economics of recruiting and don’t fall into the trap.