Every December, industry experts and analysts share insights into the coming year’s predictions for the channel and almost every year they stress the need for partners to evolve from being resellers to solution providers. According to Darren Bibby, program vice president for channels and alliances research at IDC, suppliers need to be the catalyst for this change. "It will persist unless vendors intervene," he said. A recent article even described how vendors should embrace the idea of creating “transformational” workshops to help partners move to more of a niche solution specialization. Providing support for these partners as they move their focus is no easy task. As the article states, unlike traditional partner programs which included a checklist of must-haves such as discounts, incentives and rebates, the task of developing programs for partners that sell complex solutions, joined systems and cloud products is far from cut and dry.
As technology solution providers evolve and specialize, the ways we empower them from a vendor perspective must evolve too – not in what we provide for partners but in how we provide it. For the changing vendor partner relationship to be effective, channel marketing strategies still need to include robust training, proper sales tools, and measurement that documents success. Our imperative is to provide this support in the context of how we guide partners toward their own unique solution orientation.
Here are some considerations for each of these efforts:
The shift required within partner training is to move the focus from “speeds and feeds” that are normally associated with siloed product training, to product interoperability with synergistic technologies and tangible benefits of integration. Armed with this type of orientation, solution providers can discover the natural fit for vendor solutions within diverse customer environments and deliver more (and higher margin) value.
It’s equally important that training demonstrates how the attributes of the vendor’s product supports that natural sales process of the partner’s existing solution sales efforts. If your product feels like a stretch in any way, the partnership will never be a success. Solution sales training effectiveness should also be measured by testing and passing requirements established at the onset. Proper training sets the tone for both the partner and the vendor’s commitment to the program.
Sales collateral in solution oriented selling is much different that product spec sheets. Proper sales tools have to go beyond the education and content that customers can already get their hands on with their own research. Instead, equip partners with a synchronized sales tools approach. Simply put, this means delivering the correct content and medium for the correct personas - at the right time. Solution-oriented tools speak in terms of benefits, not specs, whether they are in the context of easy implementation, expanded capabilities, better management, costs savings or competitive advantage. And different tools should be used to speak to each different type of buyers such as economic, operational or another orientation.
Sales tools should be designed to overcome objections that are commonly presented from in-house decision makers and other roadblocks such that they shorten the sales cycle. By properly aligning the right content, timing and persona, you will provide information that will empower the internal champion with the right tools to convince internal stakeholders to purchase your product.
No one will throw money at something that can’t be measured, so real-time measurements for the ROI of partner success in terms of pipeline and closed sales are obvious requirements. But given that solutions sales have a longer cycle, other indicators are almost equally important to demonstrate sales momentum. Consider tracking the number of sales meetings, qualified leads generated, overall sales activities, and other demonstrations of engagement that historically have correlated with closed sales for that partner’s solution.
Partners will always be apprehensive about sharing customer information with vendors so to capture these types of deeper metrics considering implementing a partner management system that acts as an unobtrusive “third-party” that your partners' CRM can feed directly into. You will not be reliant on them to continually supply numbers and it will enable you to track progress that is organically captured in your partner’s CRM while giving the partner comfort in knowing exactly what information is begin shared.
As a vendor, if you want partners to be successful selling solutions, you will need to help them orient their sales approach to what customers want to buy, as well as where they can make money without depleting your margins. This isn’t news to anyone. Making it a reality takes a commitment from both sides of the table and support that aligns to that goal.
Mark Yeager is chief strategy officer and partner at Yeager Marketing. After twenty years in corporate marketing leadership with companies such as CA Technologies, Pragmatic Marketing, and iLinc Communications, he co-founded Yeager with a goal of creating an agency that truly understands the marketing challenges of technology companies. Yeager is an Allbound partner that creates content, campaigns and sales tools that fuel the Allbound engine.