Is it Time to Re-Write Your (Channel Partner) Vows?

Posted on June 14, 2015

By Scott Salkin

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Is it Time to Re-Write Your (Channel Partner) Vows?

It’s still vivid. The moment my wife and I recited our vows nearly five years ago on a quiet, private beach in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It was our past, present and future coming together as a pledge of allegiance to one another. We were no longer individuals. Now we had the power and promise of each other. We had a partnership. And together, our potential was boundless.

It continues to be.

And many of the same principles are, for very good reason, applicable to business. As an organization, especially in tech, your job is to innovate and grow. But to scale most effectively – on budget, within means and to shareholder expectations – simply cannot be done alone.

Yet, when recently surveyed, 80% of the partner base of ten of the most successful tech companies in the world reported feeling a lack of trust, a lack of relevant communication, and even feeling flat-out ignored by the very manufacturers whose products or solutions they were selling.

Sound like a healthy partnership to you?

The fact is, while so many areas of business have seen substantial amounts of innovation and advancement over the past several decades, the methodologies and technologies with which organizations manage and grow their channel partnerships simply have not. Or, as Gartner VP and distinguished analyst Tiffani Bova recently said to a roomful of technology CEOs and legacy partner relationship management (PRM) software vendors at this year’s ChannelVisionaries Conference in Newport Beach, California:

“The complexity of the B2B partner channel has left it stuck in a stationary state of muscle-memory for nearly thirty years. It’s time for someone to innovate. Or many of you will die.”

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In other words, it’s time to take your partners by the hand, look them square in the eyes, and…RENEW. YOUR. VOWS. Help them be great or risk the consequences.

Allbound – a New Paradigm for Partnering

Hearing Ms. Bova’s words at that conference was almost as exhilarating as hearing the violinist start her rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” back in Cabo as my bride-to-be started down the aisle (I’m sorry, honey…I said almost!).

You see, in one facet or another, I’ve spent my entire career working in the “channel”…

  • As an Account Manager at Cisco, where a Value Added Reseller (VAR) was part of every single deal I worked;
  • As a product marketer at NetPro Computing (now Dell Software), where I was in charge of making sure our channel had the training and resources to succeed; and
  • As the CEO and Founder of IDS Technology Marketing, a B2B marketing agency focused on delivering services across all spectrums of the technology channel.

And by all means, having worked hand-in-hand with literally hundreds of very smart marketing and sales leaders over the years, one thing consistently rang true:

The methods, processes and technologies used by businesses to manage, measure and improve the sales performance of their channel partners is brutally outdated, and in many ways broken.

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So, we set out on a journey to fix it, bringing together a rag-tag team of futurists with heavy-duty experience in partner sales and marketing and a shared mission of “changing the channel.” Here’s what we knew:

  1. There must be buy-in from the top-down. The commitment to growing an indirect sales channel needs total buy-in across the organization. Staying front-of-mind and providing partners with simple, efficient access to people and resources to help them accelerate pipeline requires company-wide support – both vertically and horizontally. The results can be game-changing.
  2. Your partners’ initial desire and expectation is to be wildly successful with your company and product. You just tied the knot and expectations are huge! It’s human nature to go into every partnership expecting greatness. And just like a marriage, it takes commitment, communication and lots of love to maintain a fruitful, healthy, productive relationship for both parties.
  3. The natural tendency is for partners to tune you out. All too often, when the honeymoon is over we get swept back into our day-to-day routine. And these days, it’s easier than ever to get distracted. Making things even more difficult is the fact that, unlike a marriage, your channel could have you supporting dozens, hundreds or even thousands of relationships at once. Using the right technologies to communicate and collaborate without being too intrusive or overwhelming can help ensure you have enough love to go around.
  4. You can no longer rely on personal relationships to build partner loyalty. We’ve all heard it: today’s B2B prospects are 60-70% through the sales cycle before engaging a sales rep. In other words, it’s not about finding the “A lead,” it’s about being the “A solutions provider.” Today’s most successful organizations are experts at turning their customers into die-hard, loyal fans and evangelists. The same can be said for partners. Relationships are built through your ability to effectively deliver value, thought leadership, attentiveness and expertise. Partners want to be your fan. They want to feel like a part of your team. And don’t forget, they want nothing more than to be wildly successful with your company.
  5. You have got to focus on time-to-value (TTV). Over the last decade, our world has turned into one where instant gratification is the norm (especially for the generation of millennials who are taking over the workforce). So, you’d better have technology armed and ready to deliver the knowledge, tools and resources they need, where and when they need them. And don’t forget – while “apps” are great for consuming content, when was the last time you walked into your office or local Starbucks and saw anyone doing actual work on a mobile app? Make sure the tools you provide to your partners are web-friendly, user-friendly and accessible on any device, NOT just an iPhone, iPad or Android.
  6. It’s time to move the channel to the cloud. Legacy, home-brewed portals and clumsy, inflexible PRM systems are expensive, outdated and can often cost upward of $100k per year in licensing and maintenance alone. Consequently, these systems have become colossal roadblocks to channel growth and innovation and keep smaller organizations from reaching the next level of growth as margins continue to shrink. Today’s most savvy, cost-conscious businesses have already migrated their most critical applications to SaaS-based, cloud platforms with lower-cost subscription models. And now you can do the same with your channel.

  7. Collaborative technology (NOT an iPhone app, people!) is critical to building a competitive advantage. Your partners aren’t in your weekly sales meetings. They don’t have access to your in-house engineers. And they can’t just login to your server or stroll over to your marketing team to request a campaign or piece of collateral to help move the pipeline. Investing in a cloud-based, user-friendly, partner sales acceleration platform is mission-critical to growing your channel, overseeing partner activity and pipeline, and gathering the right analytics to drive to performance.
  8. You must relentlessly measure and manage your partners. Today’s businesses are more metrics-driven than ever, and so are the pay-structures of key executives and decision makers tasked with managing growth. Fortunately, as business metrics have evolved, so have the tools and technologies for business leaders to define, track, report, and interpret the overwhelming amounts of available data. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the channel. After all, most activities taking place within your partner ecosystem occur outside the reach of your internal systems. Often the only metric left is revenue – an important KPI, but one that can only reveal so much. By moving your channel to a SaaS platform that centralizes and tracks partner activities down to the rep-level, you can finally access the data you need to see exactly how your partners are performing, help them continuously improve, and close more revenue faster.
  9. A great user experience leads to more engaged partners. More engaged partners are more confident. And confidence leads to sales. Get the picture? In a 2015 Gallup poll of adult technology users ages 25-45, more than 70% reported having an “enjoyable” experience with the technology they used in their everyday personal lives. Yet only 15% reported an enjoyable experience with the technology they used at work. It’s an unarguable fact that more engaged employees are more effective. But simply providing your team with a software platform or “app” to automate a few tasks or deliver a PDF to their mobile device doesn’t necessarily solve a problem. In fact, it could do just the opposite. Today’s users, from your recently onboarded millennials to your most seasoned sales reps, demand a user experience that’s simple, easy-to-use, and engaging while also helping them get their work done better and faster.
  10. At the end of the day, it’s all about the customer. As it should be. In the most prolific partnerships, one half feels like an extension of the other. You can finish each other’s sentences. And, ultimately, reach for and accomplish bigger, better things. In business, those bigger, better things lead back to your customers. Your combined ability to provide your customers with the utmost value throughout their entire lifecycle is quite possibly the greatest single factor to any partnership’s sustained, long-term growth. And in today’s cloud economy, where customer churn is as critical a KPI as pipeline and sales, access to the tools and resources that help you, together, deliver maximum sustained value to your customers can be your most important competitive advantage at a time when switching vendors has never been easier.

Saying “I Do” All Over Again

There isn’t a more critical term to a partnership than “I do.” And there’s no better time than now to revisit your growth plans, rethink your channel strategies and renew your vows to your sales and marketing partners. According to Tiffany Bova, “there is nothing we can do to slow down the pace of change we are facing…however, we can work hard to become more agile and adapt to those changes more quickly, without disrupting business too much.”

The age of “digital Darwinism” is upon us – those who don’t adapt to the tremendous changes taking place in the technology landscape and don’t adopt a more partner-centric, user-friendly, data-driven, customer-first approach may just not survive.

Scott Salkin

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