Tony Fox, Vice President of Sales and Development of Channel Partners at bswift, joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss protecting your brand by choosing the right partners, solutions partners vs channel partners, business acumen and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
So bswift has two main categories of partners; solutions partners and channel partners. Can you explain the key differences between those two groups and the role that they play in your sales ecosystem?
With our channel partners it’s really a fairly simple relationship where we reach out to an entity or they reach out to us and we license our software. It ends up acting for bswift as a distribution channel, we license our software, and then our channel partners take on the effort of selling, implementing, and monitoring the software in an ongoing basis as they deliver it to their end users. End users in this scenario are usually employer groups but can be individuals, but again, mostly employer groups.
Aside from the distribution pathway, it really is a business laboratory. So as we further develop our software, and ours is an evergreen technology that has three full releases per year, we like to take input from our channel partners as they interface with the market, and then they bring back recommendations and suggestions for how we should innovate going forward. So that’s really a channel partnership right there.
Our solutions partnership is slightly different, and really it comes down to aligning ourselves with what we call “best-in-class vendor partners.” So what we would do is identify maybe a best-in-class medical partner, for example, Aetna insurance. We could align ourselves with MetLife, Unum, or, perhaps, Guardian on the ancillary and work-type products. And when we have a solution partner, it has the effect of stocking the shelves, so to speak, for an end user employer group. So as they enter on to bswift, our channel partners have the ability to select from our portfolio and solutions partners and bring their product to their employer groups. It makes implementation much easier, it makes price negotiation much simpler, and it really just enables everything to work properly and as a whole.
You wrote a blog fairly recently called “The Unexpected Benefits of a Channel Partnership,” and one of the benefits in that blog that you state is “simplify the pivot,” and I really love this philosophy. So, if I’m looking to engage in a partnership with another organization, how might the partnership help me simplify the pivot?
So first, I feel I should probably apologize in advance if I’ve coined a new corporatism, “simplify the pivot.” I figured that’s worth at least thirty points in a great corporate-phrase buzzword game. So, my apologies in advance. But by definition, a pivot is changing the way you do business. It doesn’t mean you have to move away from what got you to the level of success where you are..
When you become a partner with a successful channel partnership organization, what you should be entering into is a certain level of market expertise, a certain level of operational expertise, and, without using the word “expertise” again, really knowing how the process works. What it can do if you’re a channel partner, and let’s say you’re a broker, it can ramp up your learning curves, it can help your investment, because we all know that distributed software systems are not free, it can help your investment pay off a lot more quickly.
Now, you have to partner with somebody who has a good product and a good process to go along with it, but your partner also needs to be able and willing to deliver on your organizational expertise. They can know how they’re doing it and how to do it successfully. If bswift doesn’t pass that on to each and every one of its channel partners, again, there’s an opportunity for success there that we’ve missed.
Can you summarize for us what you think some of the most critical elements are that a channel leader should consider? You know, really put yourself in the shoes of someone who is really just getting going, starting from scratch.
The two biggest pieces are, you have to understand your audience…and again, these are going to sound trident, they’ve been repeated a couple of hundred times, but the fact that they’re basically synonymous with channel partnership and there’s something to that. You have to understand who your audience is and who you sell to, and you have to understand why they should want your product. So, along the lines of who you sell to, benefit administration is a perfect example of as you grow a company and as you grow your channel partnership line of distribution, early on in the process, you want to get ink on paper. You want to get contracts signed. You want to focus on your immediate top-line revenue.
Over time, and as you move away from that immediate urgency to get revenue in the door, you’re going to find that there are partners that are better suited to tell your story, than some of those early ones, the ones that you just kind of signed in a mad rush. And maybe they’re better at operations and deliverables, and they’re going to lessen your chance of brand damage. Because if you damage a brand in the marketplace, to your third-party, you don’t have a lot of recourse. Probably another facet to that, I call it “over-targeting”, or being so specific in your perceived market that you kind of ignore the rest of the ecosystem to use your word.
And, for benefit administration, the perfect example is focusing so heavily on the brokerage market that you ignore those, I would call them tangential partners, like enrollment companies, and payroll companies, and PEOs, and carriers that need to set up exchanges. The universe is a big thing, and you don’t need to focus, or really, over-focus on just that brokerage group. So if you understand what you have and why a certain group wants it, it can come in upon you when you’re developing a channel partnership system to mentally try to broaden that out as much as possible. The more targets you have, statistically speaking, the more you’re going to land.
To learn more about protecting your brand by choosing the right partners, solutions partners vs channel partners, business acumen and more, tune in to episode 26 of The Allbound Podcast.