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Aligning Your Company Around a Culture of Channel Partner Success
Channels by nature are geographically dispersed, and are therefore inherently virtual, meaning technology is mission critical to driving performance. Yet for far too long, channel technology such as outdated platforms and stitched together portals have focused almost solely on the management and control of partners – a method that, in today’s real time, knowledge driven economy puts everyone, including your customers, at risk.
In this ebook, you’ll learn how businesses are using technology and the cloud to transform their channel ecosystems into a model of collaboration and empowerment, injecting purpose and engagement into partner relationships, and building a channel- wide culture of customer success for both manufacturers and their resellers.
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Partners Are Your Biggest Revenue-Building Asset
Channel partnerships, as opposed to in-house sales campaigns, should be a mainstay in every marketer’s arsenal for three primary reasons:
1. They can be rolled out faster
2. They’re lower risk
3. They require less overhead
When properly utilized, channel partners help drive revenues and build brand potency. For example, if my company’s products or services align with my partner’s, we’ll create a mutually beneficial relationship that delivers an immense return-on-investment.
Let’s consider the costs associated with an entire sales team versus the overhead for an indirect sales team. Despite being on my partner’s payroll, these costs can match, and even exceed, the revenues generated by my in-house sales force.
How to Leverage Channel Partnerships for Higher Revenue
Too many vendors fall into the trap of expecting their partners to do all the heavy lifting. However, the most productive partnerships require effort from both parties.
The following four guidelines can help you produce successful channel sales and marketing campaigns:
1. Make sure your partner is a good fit: As a vendor, my partner’s products or services should complement mine, and vice versa. My partner should also possess skills or resources I lack, making the relationship mutually beneficial.
2. Build and maintain a healthy relationship: Both parties should perpetually work toward a position in which we’re both invested and eager to sell or promote each other’s products.
3. Provide them with the right tools: Empowered with the right training, resources and tools, partners can become an enthusiastic second sales force.
4. Don’t bite off more than you can chew: I need to find a partner with whom I can grow, not one with whom I’ll struggle. Think of it like a marriage.
Smart marketing requires recognizing when a channel partner occupies a unique position in the market. If they’ve developed a loyal base of customers who would benefit from my products or services, then introducing a referral partnership or a full product integration can drive sales for both of our businesses to dizzying heights.
The Future of the Channel?
Content, Collaboration, and the Customer
The last decade has brought more change and innovation to sales and marketing than any other time in history – including the advent of television. But at the end of the day, what’s really changed most is the connection points that unite buyers and sellers. In today’s world, with the overwhelming amount of content available online, it is a fully accepted fact that, for the first time, it is the buyer who is now in charge of the sales cycle – and those buyers know more about you and your competition than ever before.
When it comes to IT and the channel, the most critical test for IT vendors and their partners will be their ability to not only attract new customers, but to service and keep the ones they have. In other words – it’s no longer about simply “generating the ‘A’ lead.” Today it’s about “being the ‘A’ solutions provider” for hyper informed prospects who expect you to know their pain points.
In the ‘A’ lead model, “BANT” (budget, authority, need, timeline) has long been the criteria to vet qualified leads. But what are the qualifications for an ‘A’ solutions provider?
Prospects look for thought leaders who are:
• Experts in their field.
• In tune with the industry.
• Known for providing great solutions.
• Financially knowledgeable.
• Technically savvy.
• Socially conscious.
So how do you prove that you have these qualifications with so much other noise out there?
You concentrate on the three Cs – content, collaboration and the customer.
Turning prospects into qualified leads and future customers for your partners requires you to be good at content marketing; there is just no other way around it. But how do you make an impact with limited time and budget – especially when it comes to your resellers?
1. Create original content that is compelling to your prospects and reusable in different formats. Then post regularly and consistently (Note: slapping a partner’s logo and contact information on one of your white papers doesn’t count).
2. Comment on posts and articles on industry specific sites or groups. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind and share success stories or best practices.
3. Retweet pertinent information that you have read elsewhere and think customers and prospects would find valuable. Sometimes, it’s the thought that counts.
4. Engage in online conversations that your partners and their customers are having. Social media is a great place for listening and adding value. So don’t just throw money at a snazzy LinkedIn profile and hope they come find you.
Remember, your partners are often the primary individuals standing face- to- face with your customers.
Collaboration with their executives and sales reps is just as important with them as it is with your direct team.
At the end of the day, channel success relies more heavily on your ability to deliver a near seamless experience for the prospects and customers shared by you and your partners.
How can you help your partners make their customers successful?
1. Make it part of your culture – from the top down. Learn your partner’s mission and vision for the company. And, have them learn yours.
2. Be relentless in knowing and understanding exactly what will make your customers feel successful.
3. Make every customer feel unique – because they are. And communicate regularly about their changing business needs, how your product or service is succeeding (or falling short) in solving them, and any adjustments or industry best practices that might help.
4. Benchmark, evaluate and revise your contributions through communication and collaboration.
A great example of this is Infusionsoft, a hyper growth SaaS company. Last year, at their ICON partner summit, CEO Clate Mask took the stage in front of their growing partner base and said this:
“At Infusionsoft, it is our sole purpose to help small businesses succeed. And as our partners, as the individuals standing face -to -face with the customers we’re proud to share with you, it’s our purpose to, together, help you help small businesses succeed.”
Partnering wasn’t just a piece of Infusionsoft’s revenue plan. It was a core component of their overall purpose – one that would be executed together with their partners and with the customer top-of-mind.
And that’s why you see so many of today’s top partner programs belonging to businesses who have cultures where collaboration and the customer are always front of mind. And, where strategies and capabilities are in place to drive their message forward with outstanding content that can be easily shared and evangelized on nearly any platform, at any time.
Does Your Channel Belong in a Museum?
noun chan·nel chanәl
A strait or narrow sea between two close landmasses; a means of communication or expression as (1) : a single path along which information passes (2): a fixed or official course of communication.
Phoenix- based Avnet is one of the world’s largest (100,000+ customers, $27.9B in revenue, Fortune #108) and most respected (nine years as one of Fortune’s “Most Admired Companies”) players in the IT channel.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit their corporate headquarters, one of the very first things you’ll see is a 1,000 square foot museum right there in the lobby.
Commissioned in 2005 by then CEO Roy Valley and Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, the museum commemorated Avnet’s 50th anniversary with a collection of treasures that practically takes you through a hands-on history of information technology. You’ll find a 1941 Motorola car radio; a 1949 GE 14” portable TV; a 1957 Guild Starfire III electric guitar; original products from Macintosh and Apple; microprocessors from 1972 to 2005; even modern-day, state-of-the-art IBM blade servers. If the Cloud could be bottled, this is where you’d find it.
The Avnet Museum is an amazing portrayal of the role that IT, and more specifically the IT distribution and sales channel, has played in the development of our modern world. It’s also an amazing portrayal of the extreme changes and tremendous advancement that have taken place within the industry. And perhaps never before has change and advancement in IT and technology been more rapid or disruptive that what we’re seeing today. But that change is taking the channel to new heights.
In days past, channel sales and marketing were focused on management and control. It was a back-and-forth, linear communication relationship from the customer to the vendor and back. Familiar, comfortable and steady, it was a tried-and-true method of doing business. However, technology and changing business patterns have altered that model forever.
The Meaning of the Word ‘Channel’ is Changing
Let’s give Avnet one more relic to add to their museum – the traditional idea of channel management. NetApp UK&I Managing Director Elliot Howard spoke about this very topic at NetApp’s Insight event in Berlin. In summary, he said: “The word ‘channel’ doesn’t have the same meaning that it used to… the phrase does not reflect the changing role of the way the vendor works with partners.”
Put simply, selling nearly anything today takes an ecosystem – exponentially so when selling IT solutions. In addition to traditional partners and resellers, influencers typically include:
• Vendors and manufacturers
• Financial partners
• Shipping and logistics partners
• Technology partners
• Partners of partners
• Freelancers and contractors
• Customer partners
All of these vendors, partners and influences are now involved. On top of that, companies with multiple departments may be involved in a single partner-led sale, such as:
And we haven’t even mentioned multi-technology solutions yet, where we personally have seen solutions comprised of 50% Cisco, 25% VMware, 10% IBM and a smattering of others.
Cooperation Over Competition
So you may be asking, “How I can manage this checkerboard of relationships? How do I focus?” I think it’s useful to conceive of modern channels as more cooperation than competition, especially in IT. All these interconnections make the whole relationship more of a collaboration than ever.
There needs to be more transparency and adaptability. Companies have to be more flexible with “old school” rules, more transparent with who has access and more open about visibility into data.
It’s time we start focusing on real innovation and collaboration amongst the ecosystem of influencers in a modern buyer’s journey, resulting in customers who are likely to stick around for a long, long time.
Our human resistance to change has been well documented for years and has kept many an executive and organizational coach in business. We like what we’re comfortable with. It’s safe. It’s secure. We know what to expect. Change can be scary. However, old school “push” marketing is no longer a viable option for building relationships with potential customers. In case you’re wondering, push marketing tactics look like this:
• Speaking at (instead of with) prospects and customers
• Sending out messages to unwilling, unreceptive people
• Creating campaigns or experiences that ignore user wants and needs
This “spray and pray” model is exactly what most technology manufacturers are accustomed to doing with their partners and resellers. Pick a product, come up with a campaign, buy a list, then BLAST and dial. Beware of vendors pitching technologies and apps that further enable or even automate this horrid “lead generation” process.
It’s time to take a good, hard look at your entire sales ecosystem. There are “solutions” on the market that promise to make your life as a channel account manager or channel marketing manager easier. And, perhaps for the moment, they will. But automating old school, push marketing strategies is one of the greatest dangers to the entire marketing and sales technology industry.
We are better than this. We have the information, the research. It’s up to us to decide to use that information to overcome our human desires to remain the same. Your partners deserve it. And more importantly – so do your customers.
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